3.12.19 "From the State House" Update by Policy Consultant Andrea Stander

If you have questions or want to get more involved in Rural Vermont’s advocacy work please contact Andrea Stander.

 The “PAUSE” that Refreshes 

 Last week’s Town Meeting Week break was a welcome change – for everyone - from the relentless schedule at the State House. This “break” always seems to come just at the point when half the legislators are sick (or about to be) and in need of rest, and the other half just want to get away from their colleagues, their cramped committee rooms and the cafeteria food.

 For the Rural Vermont team, it was a chance to catch our breath, take stock of where our issues stand and make strategic plans for the second half of the legislative session.

 Insider Baseball under the Golden Dome

The end of this week (March 15th) marks the “crossover” deadline for all policy bills. This means that any bill that seeks to gain passage by the end of this year’s legislative session, must be passed out of its committee of origin. This applies to both the House and the Senate. As always there are exceptions to be had but the push is on to move bills to the next step in the process. It is important to know that the major “money” bills have another week (March 22) before they must meet the crossover deadline.  

All this means that by the end of this week we will have a much better idea of which bills will begin the sprint to the finish line this year and which will continue to be debated into 2020.

Status of Bills that we are following most closely: 

 HEMP S.58  - This bill proposes to amend the requirements of the State hemp program to conform to federal requirements for the cultivation of hemp. It also establishes new registration fees for Hemp growers and processors. The bill is currently in the Senate Finance Committee and is expected pass the full Senate soon.

PESTICIDES  H.205 - This bill proposes to regulate the sale and application of neonicotinoid pesticides in order to protect pollinator populations. Rural Vermont has been working with a broad coalition of organizations and individuals to submit a letter of support for this bill which has over 230 signatories. Read the letter here. We are hopeful that the House Ag Committee will vote this bill out of committee in time for the “crossover” deadline this Friday.

ON-FARM SLAUGHTER H.235 – This bill proposes to repeal the sunset of the authority to conduct on-farm slaughter. Again, we are hopeful that this will be passed by the House Ag Committee this week to meet the crossover deadline.

POULTRY FORAGING & COMPOST H.489 – This bill will amend existing law and definitions to codify as farming the practice of incorporating residual food scraps into poultry and composting operations. It is not clear whether this will be taken up by the House Ag Committee but the Senate Ag Committee has already taken some testimony on this issue and may include some changes to the law in another bill.

 In addition to the priority bills above, Rural Vermont is also monitoring draft bills in the House and Senate Agriculture Committees that address changes to regulation of wetlands, a broad range of rural economic development initiatives and the annual Agency of Ag’s “Ag Housekeeping” bill which contains numerous provisions.  With the help of allied organizations working at the State House, we are also monitoring the draft bill which proposes changes to Act 250.

Links to Committee Agendas for this week are below. 

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 AND PLEASE give Andrea or Caroline a heads up if you do plan to visit!

March 12-15, 2019

House Ag Committee Schedule

Senate Ag Committee Schedule

2.25.19 "From the State House" Update by Policy Consultant Andrea Stander

Below is the Policy/Advocacy Update which covers 2/18-22/19 and looks ahead at the coming week. If you have questions or want to get more involved in Rural Vermont’s advocacy work please contact Andrea Stander.

GENERAL LEGISLATIVE INFO - 

This is the current list of Bills that we are following most closely: 

S.58 - This bill proposes to amend the requirements of the State hemp program to conform to federal requirements for the cultivation of hemp. It also establishes new registration fees.

H.205 -  This bill proposes to regulate the sale and application of neonicotinoid pesticides in order to protect pollinator populations.

H.268 - This is another bill that would ban the sale and use of neonicotinoids and also ban atrazine and glyphosate.

H.235 -  This bill proposes to repeal the sunset of the authority to conduct on-farm slaughter.

H.274 -  This bill proposes to amend the requirements for on-farm slaughter of livestock to allow the farmer who raised the livestock to slaughter the animal. The bill would also allow multiple persons to have an ownership interest in the livestock for slaughter. In addition, the bill would repeal the sunset of the on-farm slaughter authority.
NOTE: We are still waiting for a House bill, sponsored by Rep. John Gannon, addressing the issue of regulation of poultry foraging and compost. We now expect this bill to be released for introduction this week. 

We are also following several "committee bills" that are still in draft form: PLEASE NOTE: These bills are changing weekly, if not daily, so these links may not represent the latest version of the bills.

House Ag Committee bill making changes to regulation of wetlands

The Senate Ag Committee also has a bill making changes to regulation of wetlands but the Committee Chair, Sen Bobby Starr does not make electronic copies available. Contact Andrea if you would like to receive a copy of the current version of this bill.  
REMINDER: Small Farm Advocacy Day #2 is Thursday Feb 28, 9:30-2:30. We have secured time on the agendas for both the House and Senate Ag committees that morning. This is a unique opportunity for farmers to share info about their farms as well as their perspectives on issues being considered by the committees: On-Farm Slaughter; Hemp; Wetlands regulation; Poultry foraging and compost, regenerative ag practices, water quality regulation and funding or any other issues of concern to them. IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW ARE INTERESTED IN ATTENDING - PLEASE CONTACT Andrea or Caroline

ISSUE UPDATES:

Hemp - The Sen Ag Cmte passed S.58 on Fri. 2/15. The bill has been  referred to Senate Finance because of the proposed new fees. Senate Finance has scheduled a walk-through of the bill for Thurs. 2/28 at 3:30PM. If you are interested in learning more about this and all things Hemp, I strongly recommend subscribing to and following Netaka White's Blog: "Tak About Hemp."

On-Farm Slaughter - Two bills have now been introduced on the House side: H.235 sponsored by Rep. Charen Fegard and 30 co-sponsors. This bill would simply eliminate the sunset clause without making any changes to the law. H.274, sponsored by Rep. Sam Young, also removes the sunset clause and makes amendments to the law which would enable the farmer to perform the slaughter and allow multiple people to purchase the animal. It also directs the VAAFM to develop, in consultation with farmers, best management practices for on-farm slaughter. The House Ag Committee has scheduled testimony on both these bills on Wed. at 10AM. If you are interested in testifying about on-farm slaughter as a farmer or consumer or if you just have questions, please contact Andrea.

Tom Gilbert of Black Dirt Farm testifies before the Senate Agricultural Committee about poultry foraging.

Tom Gilbert of Black Dirt Farm testifies before the Senate Agricultural Committee about poultry foraging.

Poultry Foraging & Compost – We expect Rep. Gannon’s bill on this issue to be introduced this week. The group Poultry Farmers for Compost Foraging met last week with Rep. Gannon to discuss strategy for building support for this bill. If you are interested in this issue please contact Andrea.

Pesticides - Rep Troiano's bill H.205 banning the retail sale of neonicotinoid pesticides has been introduced. The House Ag committee took two hours for testimony last week. Thanks to all the citizen advocates who came to the State House to testify. There willb e additional testimony taken this week and Rep. Partridge has indicated that her committee wants to move this bill to meet the crossover deadline. The Pesticide Coalition will be meeting again on 2/26 and will be discussing this bill in addition to other policy initiatives.

Changes to Wetlands Regulation - The House and Senate Ag Committees continue to work and take testimony on their respective committee bills that seek to amend regulation of wetlands. This is proving to be a VERY complex issue because of the intersection of state and federal laws and regulation and the many entities that are involved in regulating wetlands.  Rural Vermont is eager to hear from farmers who have or anticipate issues with wetlands on their farms. Please contact Andrea if you have info or questions.

Links to Committee Agendas for this week are below. 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 AND PLEASE give Andrea or Caroline a heads up if you do plan to visit!

Feb 26 – March 1, 2019

House Ag Committee Schedule

Senate Ag Committee Schedule


2.12.19 "From the State House" Update by Policy Consultant Andrea Stander

It’s all about the Committees now! As we enter the second month of the legislative session, bills are being actively debated in committees and some are beginning to move to the floors of both chambers for votes. Also, major issues are now having public hearings scheduled. There was a huge public hearing on the Abortion Rights bill last week and the Governor's office has announced 5 community-based public hearings on the Gov's Budget. You can see the schedule here.

Rumor has it that there are close to 900 bills in the House bill drafting “hopper”. They all have a deadline of Feb 21st to get drafted and released for introduction.  The Senate now has almost 100 bills introduced and they have no deadline for bill drafting requests during this session of the biennium. Consequently, the bulletin boards in each of the committee meeting rooms are filling up with the small white index cards that list each bill number and title that has been assigned to that committee.


ISSUE UPDATES:

Hemp - Both the House and Senate Ag Committees, along with the House Economic Development Cmte all heard more testimony from hemp producers and processors last week. RV's volunteer Hemp Advisor Netaka White testified to Senate Ag. He alerted the Cmte to an emerging federal regulation issue (FDA) that has caused some states (NY, Maine) to require that consumable CBD products be pulled from store shelves pending a ruling from the FDA on whether they will be classified as drugs. If you are interested in learning more about this and all things Hemp, I strongly recommend subscribing to and following Netaka's Blog: "Tak About Hemp." Both the House and Senate Ag committees, as well as the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee. heard a presentation from entrepreneur David Muller who has a proposal to develop the old Windsor prison as a state-of-the-art hemp processing facility. This proposal is in the early stages, but there was a lot of interest from legislators.

Taxing & Regulating Adult-Use Marijuana Sales - Testimony will continue to be taken on S.54 in Senate Judiciary this week, and they intend to vote the bill out of committee by the end of the week.  The current bill does not embody equity and access to markets and viability for small farmers and growers, it does not embody adequate criminal justice reforms or reparations for those directly and indirectly impacted by prohibition and criminalization, it limits participation in the industry for people with criminal records, and ultimately; does not it treat this as an agricultural issue and is not being approached with adequate agricultural literacy.  H.196 is the House bill addressing taxing and regulating marijuana sales. It has been assigned to the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs but they have not yet taken any testimony on it. It is expected that the Senate will be the active bill this session.  Contact your representatives if you want to see a more just and equitable bill.

On-Farm Slaughter – Rep. Sam Young of Greensboro has submitted a bill drafting request for a bill to maintain and improve the on-farm slaughter law. We should see that bill sometime next week. Rep. Charen Fegard, a new legislator from Franklin County who serves on House Ag will be introducing a simple bill to remove the sunset.  We continue to talk to legislators about co-sponsoring Rep. Young’s bill to maintain and improve the current on-farm slaughter law. Sen Ag Committee Chair Bobby Starr has also mentioned that he is interested in "fixing" problems with the law, including eliminating the sunset.

Poultry Foraging & Compost – The Poultry Farmers for Chicken Foraging group is working this week to provide potential edits to the poultry foraging bill that is being drafted at the request of Rep. John Gannon of Wilmington. We are also seeking co-sponsors for this bill.

Pesticides – This week’s scheduled meeting of the Pesticide Coalition will focus on identifying possible campaign goals that members of the Coalition can collectively support and that meet a set of criteria. 

Rep. Chip Troiano of Stannard will finally be introducing a bill this week that will seek to ban consumer use of neonicotinoid pesticides. 

Water Quality Funding - This week the Senate Natural Resources Committee will be taking testimony on various clean water funding proposals. On Thurs & Fri of this coming week, the committee will be marking up their committee Clean Water Funding bill - which is not yet available online. 

Changes to Act 250 - The House Natural Resources Committee spent the past week taking testimony on various issues that are addressed in their committee bill to make changes to Act 250. This week they are continuing to take expert testimony focused on the major sections of the bill. IMPORTANT: One change that is being proposed is to lower the elevation threshold for activities that would require an Act 250 permit from 2500 feet to 2000 feet. Please contact Rural Vermont if this change would impact your farming or forestry operations.

Changes to Wetlands Regulation - Both the House and Senate Ag Committees held discussions last week about committee bills they are developing to address proposed changes in the way wetlands are regulated. That work will continue this week. Rural Vermont is eager to hear from farmers who have or anticipate having issues with wetlands on their farms.

If you have questions about Rural Vermont’s Policy & Advocacy work or would like to get involved please contact Rural Vermont’s Field Organizer Graham Unangst-Rufenacht or our Policy Consultant Andrea Stander.



 1.27.19 "From the State House" Update by Policy Consultant Andrea Stander

 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.

 ISSUE UPDATES:

 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.

WHAT'S NEXT? - 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.

Please contact Andrea or Graham at least the day before if you do plan to visit!

 1.14.19 "From the State House" Update by Policy Consultant Andrea Stander

Legislature Opens with Calls for Collaboration and Many Committee Changes

The new legislative biennium (2019-2020) opened on Wed. Jan. 9 with lots of ceremony, tradition, a “freshman” class of new legislators larger than any in decades, and repeated calls for cooperation and collaboration in addressing the State’s pressing needs. In addition to Gov. Phil Scott’s inaugural address, many other legislative leaders took the opportunity to express their hopes for the new session of law-making.

The real legislative work begins this week (1/15/19) as all the committees start to meet. It is in the committees of the House and Senate where the bulk of legislative work is done and this session brings many changes with new chairs of key committees and many changes in the make-up of the committees. Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson was quoted as saying that the task of populating all the committees with a balance of geography, gender, party and expertise was more complicated than setting up the guest seating for a wedding.

The key committees that address Rural Vermont’s top issues – Agriculture and Natural Resources – look  quite different. In the House Committee on Agriculture and Forestry there have been major changes. The committee has shrunk from 11 to 9 members and moved to a new committee room (#32). It’s just down the hall, a bit smaller (where will they put all the food?), but it also has a really nice view out over the State House lawn. Rep. Carolyn Partridge remains the chair and Rep. Rodney Graham, who is an organic dairy farmer in Williamstown, becomes Vice-Chair. The Committee also welcomes three new members: Rep. Vicki Strong is a veteran legislator from Albany but new to Ag; newly elected representatives John O’Brien of Tunbridge and Charen Fegard from Enosburg Falls also are joining the committee which is rounded out by the return of past members Tom Bock of Chester, Terry Norris of Shoreham and Ranking Member John Bartholomew of Hartland. All these changes will present many opportunities for Rural Vermont members to help educate and inform the Committee.

The House Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Committee will now be chaired by Rep. Amy Sheldon of Middlebury who was also the Chair of the Act 250 Commission. It is expected that this committee will be working on legislation to make changes to Act 250 based on the Commission’s Report. Former House Ag Cmte member Rep. Harvey Smith of New Haven has migrated to this committee which also picked up three of the newly elected legislators: Christopher Bates from Bennington, Kari Dolan from Waitsfield and Leland Morgan from Grand Isle. These new legislators bring expertise and represent areas of the state facing water quality challenges. Water quality and how to fund it will also be a major focus of this committee.

Over in the Senate Agriculture Committee there are new and somewhat surprising faces. Sen. Bobby Starr continues as Chair and long-time Progressive legislator Chris Pearson of Burlington has come over from the Senate Natural Resources Cmte to the position of Vice-Chair. Sens. Pollina and Collamore continue and are joined by the newly elected Senator from Addison County Ruth Hardy who will serve as Clerk. We can expect some interesting debates with this new cast of characters.

Down the hall at the Senate Natural Resources & Energy Committee, Sen. Chris Bray of New Haven continues as Chair and Sen. Campion of Bennington has moved up to Vice-Chair. The other new face in this committee is newly elected Senator Corey Parent of St. Albans. Parent previously served two terms in the House, so he just has the challenge of learning the Senate’s “rules.” Sens. MacDonald of Williamstown and Rodgers of Glover continue to serve on this committee, which is also expected to grapple with funding and regulation of water quality as well as changes to Act 250 among many other issues.

A few other important names to know are Rep. Jill Krowinski of Burlington who is the House Majority Leader and Rep. Patricia McCoy of Rutland who is the House Minority Leader. In the Senate, Tim Ashe of Burlington was re-elected as the President Pro Tem and Becca Balint of Brattleboro is the Senate Majority Leader with Joe Benning of Lyndonville continuing to serve as the Senate Minority Leader. This team of legislative leaders work, largely behind the scenes, to direct much of what happens day-to-day under the Golden Dome.

And lastly, in addition to all the new legislators at the State House, Rural Vermont also has a new face at the State House. Rural Vermont’s Policy Consultant Andrea Stander is joined by Caroline Gordon, who will serve as our legislative intern for the 2019 session. Many thanks to Amy Shollenberger and her team at Action Circles for sharing her with us. Caroline is a recent graduate of VT Law School with an M.A. in Food and Agricultural Law & Policy. A native of Germany, Caroline also has an extensive background in biodynamic farming. Read her bio here.