“Under the Golden Dome”, is emailed weekly to subscribing members to keep them apprised of legislative developments at the Vermont Statehouse that affect agriculture. Legislative priorities are set annually by the organization following the elected delegate session determining policy in November.
April 4, 2018 / Montpelier, VT - This week the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Boston regional office announced that the Vermont Agency of Agriculture has made significant progress toward meeting the state’s water quality goals.
In a letter to the Agency dated April 2nd, EPA regional administrator Alexandra Dapolito Dunn noted, “Your staff have clearly been working hard to get new programs off the ground, rapidly award large amounts of new funding to priority phosphorus reduction projects, ramp up inspection programs and establish the new comprehensive tracking and accounting system. The many milestones that have been completed reflect this excellent progress.”
Several events of interest this week, mostly having to do with water, and I hope some of you can take advantage of good travel weather and join us at the Statehouse for any of these:
Tuesday, April 10, 2018: 2+2 Reception in the Cedar Creek Room from 4 – 6, introducing the newest members of the program as well as honoring Bob Parsons.
Wednesday, April 11, 2018: Western Climate Initiative Report in Room 11 at 9:00 am. Hosted by the House Economic Development Committee, a delegation from Quebec will be discussing issues surrounding climate change north of the border.
Thursday, April 12, 2018: At 10:00 a.m., the Lt Governor's office will be hosting a film in Room 10 entitled “The Lake Effect”. I have no more information than that, but someone from VFB will be monitoring the films purpose and direction.
Thursday, April 12, 2018: At 10:30, the House Agriculture Committee will be hosting Dr. Heather Darby and a group of farmers from the Lake Carmi Watershed in Room 11 to discuss research projects on the fields as well as projects the farmers have instituted. The Senate Agriculture Committee has also been invited, as well as House and Senate Natural Resources. (According to Committee schedules, the House Natural Resources Committee will be attending the movie screening mentioned above.)
Saturday, April 14, 2018: Beginning at 3 pm, AFBF staffer John Newton will be presenting information about the Dairy Revenue Protection Insurance Program promoted by AFBF at the VFW in Middlebury VT. The discussion will be followed by the 3rd Annual Ag Appreciation Dinner and Dance from 6:30 to 11. The entire day is hosted by Addison County Farm Bureau. Please check vtfb.org for more information.
Thursday, April 18, 2018: A Unity Press Conference celebrating agriculture and forestry's role in Earth Day will be held at the Cedar Creek Room at 10:00 a.m. President Joe Tisbert will be speaking and all farmers and foresters are invited to attend. The House Agriculture Committee will be presenting a resolution on our behalf during the floor session, which begins at 1:00 p.m. Please plan on staying and being introduced!
Bills being discussed this week continue to be S.276 (Senate Economic Development bill from the Ag Committee). The House Ag Committee is working on it Wednesday. It's been very confusing to try and follow this language, as there are three versions of the bill and the House is trying to make sure they take testimony from anyone interested. They were working last week on the electrical rates portion of the bill.
House Natural Resources will continue to discuss S.260 (the water funding bill) and in fact have asked House Judiciary to look at Section 6 (citizens right to suit) on Friday. You may remember that Senate Judiciary took no position on that section. Chair Deen from HNR is determined to finish amending the bill and vote it out by Friday.
The agritourism bill – H.663 – is being discussed in Senate Agriculture on Tuesday, as various amendments to the original language have caused a rift in the carefully crafted coalition. We are trying to get back to the original language as passed by the House and work on a baseline to be used for further discussion next year.
If you have the opportunity to visit Montpelier anytime within the next month, please make sure you send me an email so that I can introduce you to your legislators (if need be!) or take you around to committees. On Thursday, the VFB Team will be on hand – Joe, Annajo and myself – to work through all the clean water issues but it would be great if some of you attended, too!
This week was certainly a proud and positive week for Vermont agriculture in general and dairy farming in particular! On Tuesday, 15 students from the 2+2/FARMS Program visited the Statehouse and spent over an hour with the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee. The students were all well-spoken and offered helpful suggestions (and occasional criticism) regarding the VTC/UVM partnership. When asked about their goals, many of them noted "going back to the home farm" or "starting my own farm" as well as "working for a genetics company" or working on AG policy in the Statehouse! The reception - one of the sponsors was Vermont Farm Bureau - was well attended and a resolution on behalf of Bob Parsons was read and given to his family. A resolution was also read congratulating the four newest members of the 2+2/FARMS program and each student received a copy. Congratulations!
Kudos to Dr. Heather Darby and the farmers from the Lake Carmi Watershed!! A highly educational, one hour presentation by Dr. Darby focused on misconceptions about phosphorous and farming in the watershed. Then, she introduced all the farmers currently working land surrounding Lake Carmi. Several of them spoke about being afraid to come in - not because of what would happen to them at the hearing, but what would happen to them in the media the next day. But they came and they spoke - tearfully, hesitantly, defiantly but always politely and with civility and pride. Room 11 was overflowing with farmers and industry representatives. Members of various media were also in attendance - let's hope they come away with a better story about farming than what's been in the papers and on the web!
S.101 Right to Forestry
This bill was passed out of the House on Tuesday and was up for second reading Thursday. Deputy Commissioner of Forests, Parks and Recreation Sam Lincoln was very pleased with the language and thanked everyone for working so hard on it. I don't believe there were many changes from the Senate version, so there may be simple concurrence on this as opposed to a conference committee.
H.663 on Farm Accessory Buildings (Agritourism)
This bill continues its journey through Senate Agriculture. Language was added by this committee to change some Act 250 and some current use qualifications, as well as "including overnight stays" as part of the definition of agritourism. The coalition promoting H.663 did not agree with the Committee on the changes and lobbied hard to return the bill to the House language. On Wednesday during a break between witnesses, Senate Ag unexpectedly took up discussion of this bill. After talking with VFB, the Committee agreed to delete the sections added (Act 250 and Current Use) and use the word "farmstay" pending a qualified definition. The Committee agreed that the other sections could be amended next year but wanted to get a baseline law on the books. This will be discussed Friday morning with a possible vote out. Initially, Senate Natural Resources requested the bill, but since the piece with Act 250 was removed, that may not be necessary.
S.260 Water Quality Funding
House Natural Resources worked through this Senate bill and made major changes to its language, which will undoubtedly result in an interesting conference committee! The House retained the Clean Water Working Group but its task is now to develop one or more funding alternatives and report back to the General Assembly (not the Governor's office) in January, 2019. The per parcel fee is removed and an "Occupancy Fee" has been added; this would result in a $2.00 per room charge for each night of occupancy (read: rooms and meals tax). There was some discussion as to whether this was enough, but Chair Deen noted it could raise $7.24 million per Treasurer Pearce's figures; this along with $17 million from other sources already accounted for, including Property Transfer tax, Capital, Transportation and General funds, would equal $24.4 million; Treasurer Pearce was working on a plan to provide $25 million per year so this is pretty close. The Committee backed off the increase when it was noted that all legislators would be subject to this tax when in Montpelier - ! Actually, this was great mathematics on Chair Deen's part but the concept will certainly raise the ire of the Chambers of Commerce.
The Clean Water Fund Board remains in this language; this group will decide where the accumulating funds should be spent. Water Quality Block Grants remained, but the Citizens Right to Suit was removed (although it is undergoing scrutiny in House Judiciary).
The Lake Carmi Pilot Project was also removed, in favor of Chair Deen's "Lake in Crisis" bill (H.730) which did not receive a hearing in the Senate. This is as problematic as the Pilot Project, because it does open up compliance complaints to a petition by 15 people; however, it does offer financial assistance to farmers or municipalities in order to comply and does provide accountability if a complaint is determined to be frivolous.
This bill is proposed to be voted out of House Natural Resources on Friday morning but will go directly to House Appropriations on Tuesday for a hearing.
H.915 Pollinator Protection
This bill is still being discussed in Senate Agriculture, although there doesn't seem to be much resistance to the proposed language. Erin Sigrist, Executive Director of the Vermont Grocers and Retailers Association, was invited to testify on Thursday and noted that it shouldn't affect her members, as the focus is on seed and feed dealers. We are hoping it gets voted out on Friday or Tuesday, but it would probably go to Senate Natural Resources.
S.276 Economic Development
Part of the VFB team, President Tisbert and Annajo Smith sat in on discussions in House Agriculture as they continue to work through S.276. Thursday, the walk through of the hemp section was highlighted. Mention was made of movement in Washington, DC, as Senator Mitch McConnell was attempting to legitimize hemp and remove the federal restrictions on growing. The committee may review language offered in the 2018 Farm Bill to see how language could be crafted to support our farmers when the Farm Bill is passed. There was also discussion about NMPs being submitted electronically to the Agency of Agriculture, with the further purpose of doing aggregate mapping in watersheds to determine areas of need. If you recall, this was S.255 introduced by Senate Ag which never got out of Senate Natural Resources. This would also keep NMPs private.
H.780 Safety Inspection on Amusement Rides
So close! There was more discussion this morning and some wordsmithing on several pieces of the bill, as the Senate Agriculture Committee tries to find a resolution between portable and permanent ride inspections. The members hope to hear from Legislative Counsel on Friday morning and then vote the bill out to the floor.
Don't forget about Ag Appreciation events at the Middlebury VFW hosted by the Addison County Farm Bureau on Saturday, April 14! AFBF will begin the program at 3:00 pm with a presentation about their milk insurance program; dinner and dancing at 6 pm!
REMINDER ABOUT THE PRESS CONFERENCE ON EARTH DAY, HOSTED BY THE VERMONT FARM BUREAU ON WEDNESDAY, APRIL 18, 2018 AT 10:00 AM IN THE CEDAR CREEK ROOM IN THE STATEHOUSE. PLEASE PLAN ON ATTENDING! The shuttle runs every 20 minutes from behind the Department of Labor. Come stand with us as we celebrate agriculture and forestry!!
As always, stop by for a visit! Or if you have any questions, please email me at email@example.com! Love to host you at your Statehouse!
From the team - Joe, Annajo and Jackie
Jackie Folsom, Legislative Director
Facebook: Look for articles relevant to agriculture at least five days a week on Facebook. Please join Facebook, like us and join in on the conversations.
How to submit written information to committees and how to get around the Vermont State House:
Newshounds: for those of you who want a daily dose please subscribe to Morning Ag Clips: Newshounds
Contacting representatives Email or In Person
At the beginning of each term we publish the member names on each committee of agriculture. The members are easy to contact. It's their first initial; last name @leg.state.vt.us with no spaces.
Please do not use their private home phone numbers, unless you have their permission.
Linda Leehman, Committee Assistant (802) 828-2233
Sen. Robert Starr, Chair, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sen. Anthony Pollina, Vice Chair, email@example.com
Sen. Brian Collamore, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sen. Carolyn Whitney Branagan, email@example.com
Sen. Francis K. Brooks, firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact me at 802-426-3579 or email@example.com.
Vermont Subsurface Agricultural TILE DRAINAGE REPORT. Submitted by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets and the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources January 31, 2017. Prepared for the Vermont General Assembly in Accordance with 2015 Act 64, Section 5.