Legislative Update for Week Ending May 14, 2021
Session Winding Down
This has been a pretty slim week as far as committee meetings. The Senate and House Ag Committees have dealt with amendments between most of the bills they discussed and have concurred with the language. This includes minor changes to H.434 (Agriculture Innovation Bill – a change giving the Secretary the final word regarding selling new genetically modified seed in Vermont) and H.420 (amending the number of animals allowed for on-farm slaughter and requiring the Agency of Agriculture and the Legislative Counsel to hammer out language for an animal share).
Adjournment is anticipated to be Saturday, May 22. The Federal government recently sent out guidelines for spending the last round of COVID funding, which may allow use of those funds to make state budgets whole. This will make a big difference in the debate between the Administration and the Appropriations Committee. The Governor does not like the Budget Proposal which moves ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds into line items originally funded by General Funds.
The debate continues between the House and Senate Economic Development Committees as to different needs and wants. The House Committee removed the section that would pay $50 per dependent per month. The Senate is demanding a flat bonus payment that would cost $100 million over the next ten years. The bill has been in House Ways and Means this week as they try to determine the cost to the state’s bottom line. A joint hearing between Ways and Means and House Commerce is scheduled for Thursday morning to try and reach an agreement. The Senate Commerce Committee is pushing for its own results and may not buy into any changes proposed by the House. This is the only other bill besides the Budget Bill that will need to be passed this session and it remains to be seen who will win.
Senate Commerce and Economic Development attempted another walk-through on this bill but ran short of time. It is rescheduled for Friday morning. They discussed the changes made by House General, Housing and Military Affairs which included the exemption for two years of requiring farm labor housing to register and pay the $35 fee. The House Committee wants to revisit the farm labor housing issue in the next session and hear from all involved, including farmers. Senators Sirotkin and Clarkson were not happy with the exemption and did not feel it was necessary in this version of the bill. They may remove the 2-year exemption.
Please contact members of the Senate Commerce and Economic Development Committee with a request to leave this exemption for farm labor housing in S.79, with a commitment by the farming community to participate in discussions in 2022.
An amendment, that Farm Bureau supports, was added to this bill. It adds language allowing an 0.1 acre solar array on land in Current Use to remain in the program if they are in good standing with the Department of Taxes. The House Agriculture Committee was set to discuss this Thursday.
House Natural Resources Committee Hears More Discussion on Current Use and Old Growth Forests
Several witnesses, including Jamey Fidel from Vermont Natural Resources Council, Ed Larson from Vermont Forest Products Association, Jim Leibowitz from Northeast Wilderness Trust, Alan Calfee from Calfee Woodland Management, and Bill Sayre from A. Johnson Lumber Company were in the Natural Resources room on Wednesday to support ongoing review of the draft to change the Current Use Program. The proposed change would allow “old growth forests” (also known as forever wild forests) to become a new designation within the Current Use Forest Program. Many challenges have developed that the Committee has listened to, including a concern that no one really has a good idea of how what percentage of forests is actually old growth, how to transition land from managed to unmanaged forest and are there implications to any conserved land, particularly in the Land Trust.
Commissioner of Forest, Parks and Recreation Snyder is working with Chair Amy Sheldon and others to develop a plan for presentation to the Committee in 2022.
Mr. Fidel noted that VNRC has received a grant that will allow them to track sales of land into development with a digital parcels map, which will assist in determining where forests and farmland are being affected. They hope to have this completed by next year.
Raw Milk and On-Farm Slaughter Q&A
May 26, 2021, Noon to 1 p.m.
The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets is hosting a Web Meeting featuring the Section Chiefs from the Dairy and Meat Inspection Division to learn more about the regulations covering on-farm slaughter and the selling of raw milk. Both topics have had regulatory changes made this session and the Agency is hoping to hear from farmers with clarifying questions and challenges. Included will be a quick overview of information and sufficient time to ask questions in an open and welcoming setting.
Vermont Farm Bureau has sent out a notice of the link and the call in information – please check your inbox for this important notice.
Call in (audio only): +1 802-828-7667,,787813688#
Phone Conference ID:
787 813 688# OR Join via Teams web Meeting: Click here to join the meeting
Vermont Dairy Task Force
The next meeting is Monday, June 7, 2021, at 9:00 a.m. No agenda is available as yet. Vermont Farm Bureau is preparing a letter to the members with resources and clarifying information based on the inaugural meeting.
As the session wraps up, we will be doing more comprehensive reports on what happened to each bill we have been following for you, as well as updates on the budget items that can affect agriculture. We will also include a list of bills still “on the wall” in the Committee rooms that may be considered for action in 2022.
This is the first year of a Biennium. All bills not considered by Committees are still in play. If you have had an interest in something that did not make it to the floor, you still have a chance to participate.
Enjoy the beautiful spring weather. Thank you for supporting Vermont Farm Bureau.