January 28th Update from the Statehouse
1-27-19 POLICY/ADVOCACY UPDATE
The pace around the State House has picked up noticeably with new bills being introduced in both the House (97) and Senate (61 - including three constitutional amendments) The bills introduced so far that relate in some way to agriculture are:
S.58, introduced by Sen John Rodgers will update VT's 2018 Hemp Law to conform with the new Farm Bill regarding the classification of Hemp as no longer a scheduled drug. It is possible that if the Hemp rule-making process reveals other needed legislative fixes, this bill will be the vehicle. In speaking with Sen Rodgers, he said that there will be a companion bill in the House.
S.54 introduced by the Senate Judiciary Committee and others is the cannabis tax & regulate bill and will no doubt get a lot of attention.
H.81 introduced by the House Ag Committee seeks to define "milk" as the "pure lacteal secretions of hooved animals" and make any other substance offered for sale as "milk" to be adulterated and subject to penalty by the VAAFM.
H.79 is another House Ag Committee bill which seeks to expand eligibility for Farm-to-School grants.
Hemp – Hemp has been in the spotlight at the State House. The House Ag Committee is taking a lot of testimony, including from Rural Vermont's volunteer hemp advisor Netaka White. Andrea and Netaka also participated in a stakeholders' meeting with VAAFM to review the first draft of the new Hemp Rules. We still don't have a definite timetable for the public rule-making process but the VAAFM heard loud and clear that the burgeoning hemp industry community wants clarity for this year’s growing season.
On Friday 1/25/19 there was a joint hearing with the House Ag and House Commerce & Economic Development committees. It was organized by a group of growers/processors who have formed the "Vermont Hemp Collaborative." Both committees received a LOT of education and heard a clear message that the industry wants to be regulated but reasonably and fairly. They made it clear they want the Hemp industry to be treated as a separate industry from the recreational cannabis industry. As you probably know most of the energy around Hemp is being driven by the perceived high economic potential of CBD products. It will be important for Rural Vermont to continue to advocate for the development of policies and infrastructure to support development of the diverse uses of hemp and not put all of VT’s “eggs” in the CBD “basket.”
On-Farm Slaughter - We continue to talk to legislators about sponsoring a bill to maintain and improve the current on-farm slaughter law. We will be talking about this issue at the Small Farm Action Day this Thursday 1/31 as a good example of how Rural Vermont conducts its policy and advocacy work
Poultry Foraging & Compost - The "Poultry Farmers for Chicken Foraging" group (PFCF) that Rural Vermont has been working with for the past year, an advisory capacity, will be meeting this week to consider feedback from VAAFM on the proposed legislation that has been drafted by the group. NOTE: If you are or know a farmer who may be interested in this issue, please contact Andrea. Rural Vermont will need to build a strong base of grassroots support for this legislation including farmers, consumers and especially small rural municipalities for whom having farms play a role in receiving food residuals will be an advantage as they work to meet the community-level composting requirements of the Universal Recycling Law (Act 148).
Pesticides - The Pesticide Caucus/Coalition that Rural Vermont is helping to develop will meet again this week. The agenda for this meeting will have a dual focus of establishing a structure for the coalition and initial campaign planning. We have also learned that Rep. Chip Troiano of Stannard will be introducing a bill soon that will likely seek to ban consumer use of neonicotinoid pesticides.
Water Quality Funding - Legislation is beginning to emerge and the Governor's Budget Address last Thursday announced a plan to use the Estate Tax as a source of long-term funding. At the same time the Governor announced that the threshold for the Estate Tax would be significantly raised in an effort to keep wealthy people from leaving Vermont. There is a lot of skepticism about this proposal among legislators. It is also becoming clear that there will be two foci for water quality legislation this biennium: surface/ground water quality and drinking water quality and safety.
Food Justice - There was a hearing this week on the Fair and Impartial Policing Policy in VT. Rural Vermont is monitoring this policy, and stands in solidarity with Migrant Justice, the ACLU of Vermont, and the NAACP of Vermont in calling for its full implementation, for further protections for undocumented people living in Vermont, and further improvements to the policy and its administration.
Coming up this week (1/29-2/1), the House Natural Resources Committee will begin its work on their draft bill that will make changes to Act 250.
Below are links to key Committees' Agendas. REMEMBER: These agendas are subject to change - sometimes daily - so check them frequently - especially if you are making plans to come to State House to visit any committee sessions.
January 28-Feb 1, 2019: