Under the Golden Dome

“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.

Helpful Reports for the 2017 session are:

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. 


The Miner Institute 2016 Annual Report on Tile Drainage. 

Vermont’s Pollinator Protection Committee REPORT TO THE VERMONT LEGISLATURE AS REQUIRED BY ACT 83 OF 2016 SESSION 


February 23,  2018

Contact Jackie Folsom, Legislative Director at crkdbrks@aol.com


Bills are moving in and out of committees this week, as crossover dates loom and time is running out. Since this is the second part of the biennium, any bill that does not “cross over” to the other chamber prior to next Friday, March 2 (except for the money bills which include Appropriations, Transportation, Capital Construction and Fee bills) has very little chance of becoming law this year. Bills that remain “on the wall” (tacked to the bulletin boards in committee rooms) will die at the end of this year’s session. Some bills will lose their independent status and become amendments to others if they are “germane” (meaning they are relevant to the underlying bill). And some will die this year but return next year!
Monday, February 26 – Orange County Farm Bureau will host their Legislative Luncheon at the Walt Gladstone Farm on Monday, February 26.
Monday, March 5 – Orleans County Farm Bureau will host their Legislative Pancake Breakfast in Irasburg 

Thursday, March 15, 2018 –  Vermont Farm Bureau will host our next Farm Bureau Day at the State House  followed by a full board meeting  at VCIL 11 E. State St, Montpelier from 1:30 -4:00pm.

Please check our calendar page at  http://vtfb.org/vermont-farm-bureau-calendar.php - for events, including County meetings and Legislative Events.

The House Ag Committee heard testimony from Vermont Farm Bureau as well as Richard Hall and Seth Gardner, local dairy farmers, and NOFA/VT on H.661, the Regenerative Agriculture bill. Although VFB has no specific policy on regenerative agriculture, we expressed concern on the vagueness of the definition of “regenerative” and countered that many farms are already using these practices; also, the bill would have appropriated funds to assist in dairy farms to transition to organic. It was noted by Seth Gardner, organic dairy farmer that NO organic coop was currently accepting new members and coops were, in fact, decreasing the price of milk paid to the farmer. A representative from NOFA/VT testified that this bill was premature, as there was currently no certification process or identifiable definition of “regenerative” and requested waiting on approving language until those had been developed. VFB also noted that the new program proposed in this bill would place authority with the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board; we testified that it is VFB policy that ALL oversight for any agricultural programs remains with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.
On Thursday, a draft bill (18-0886) was introduced to the House Agriculture Committee that would establish the Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program to provide technical and financial assistance to farmers to achieve certification as an outstanding environmental steward. This program is currently a pilot program and almost 10 farms have applied to participate.

 S.260 has found its way to the Senate Agriculture Committee, where a walkthrough of the bill with Legislative Council revealed major differences of opinion between these members and Senate Natural Resources. Treasurer Beth Pearce again reiterated her platform and suggested how to raise funds and urged the Committee NOT to “kick the can down the road” and pass this bill without funding attached. The current language forms two separate study committees made up of 15 different people to report back to the Legislature next year with funding proposals. Only one of these study groups includes anyone from the Agency of Agriculture.
Section 7, CITIZEN RIGHT OF ACTION, was remanded to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which heard testimony last Friday and subsequently voted 5-0 NOT to approve inclusion of this section in the bill. Members felt the process was already in statute and no additional language was necessary.
Section 10 involves a pilot project for the Lake Carmi watershed and includes language for the Agency of Natural Resources to determine individual TMDLs for each farm and “in consultation with the Agency of Agriculture” determine how those farms should meet the TMDLs. Laura DiPietro, Senior Water Specialist for the Agency, has been doing yeoman’s work explaining to multiple committees what has been done in the last year and reminding legislators that extra employees and funding has only been available for one year. Also, the RAPs have only been in effect for one year so there is no data on implementation rates or successes.
This bill will probably look quite different when Senate Agriculture finishes taking testimony and making changes; word is that the bill is about half the size since arriving in committee.

S.276 has been sent to Senate Natural Resources for a walk through and testimony. This bill has also changed significantly since being introduced by Senator Starr.\

S.70 introduced by Senator Ayer has had an amendment added and will be discussed on the Senate floor on Friday. This bill has to do the nutritional value of children’s meals and what type of beverages should be included in them. I am guessing that the focus of the language is towards fast foods restaurants but could affect meals served at agritourism sites if children’s’ meals are billed as a separate item.

The House Natural Resources Committee has been looking at H.730, which proposes to authorize the ANR to declare a lake in crisis if the condition of the water poses a potential harm to public health, a risk to the environment or is likely to cause significant devaluation of property value. This bill would allow Lake Carmi to be declared a “lake in crisis.” Laura DiPietro spoke again to the need for time and patience to allow current plans to kick in, including RAPs and water enforcement plans. Representative Deen seemed to weigh her testimony carefully; time will tell if the bill is voted out of committee.

Representatives of the ASPCA visited with House Ag to promote H.750, which would add yet another label to the markets regarding a special Animal Welfare Certification. It doesn’t appear that this will make it off the wall.

Senator Starr introduced S.255 to deal with a variety of subjects including hemp, subsurface tile drainage and permitting fees for wetlands. Testimony is ongoing.

 House Agriculture heard from Mike Palmer and Charles Mraz, beekeepers, in support of H.688. This bill would ban Neonicotinoids pesticides as well as treated seeds. Cary Giguerre, Agency of Agriculture Pesticide Specialist, has offered significant testimony surrounding this issue, including the history of pesticide use in Vermont and insects affected by them. The Committee is not inclined to ban neonics OR treated seeds and is currently working on compromise language.

This language was introduced as a draft 18-0870 to deal with Tree Wardens, onsite vs. offsite processing plants and exemptions from Act 250, Current Use issues and purchase and use fees/taxes. Colleen Goodridge from Goodridge Lumber in Albany attended to speak about her challenges with the Act 250 process and offer suggestions. Jamie Fidel from Vermont Natural Resources Council offered some pro-active language to work with Commissioner Snyder to make the bill stronger. One thought is requesting parity with exemptions in Act 250 with agriculture. Rep. Amy Sheldon, chair of the Act 250 Commission looking at the next 50 years, has requested no changes to the Act prior to the completion of 6 statewide listening sessions and the final report due to the Legislature in December.

 An eleventh hour re-write of H.780 was offered by the International Association of Amusements Parks and Attractions through their lobbyist from MMR on Tuesday, and Rep. Dick Lawrence has been working with Legislative Council to understand definitions and merge the two bills. The plan is to present the updated language to House Agriculture on Friday and then take a copy to the NH/VT Fairs and Fields Days Meeting in Fairlee on Saturday, where several ride companies and Vermont Fairs will have an opportunity to comment.


 I’d like to do a little education about what actually happens Under the Golden Dome and how the process works.

 Here are the first three steps:
 The bill is introduced and undergoes First Reading: Any legislator from either the House or Senate can sponsor a bill to amend Vermont law. The bill is assigned a number and then introduced on the floor of the sponsor’s chamber during First Reading.
Bill Referral: Upon first reading, the bill is referred to a standing committee of the chamber based on the bill’s subject. The bill may be subsequently committed to other committees based on the subject matter. For example, a bill may be sent to the House Agriculture Committee, which may include a fee of some kind. This would require the bill to head to either Ways and Means to agree to the fee or Appropriations to include the fee in the budget.
Committee Consideration: If the committee decides to pursue the bill, the committee may take testimony on and recommend amendments to it. This is often the place where we ask Farm Bureau members to weigh in with comments or suggestions. Committees vote on any amendments and whether to pass the bill out of committee are taken by majority vote. Representatives work very hard to gain a unanimous vote in their committees, since this will be noted on the Floor and a close vote in committee may result in a negative vote on the Floor.
 I’ll add to this information next week!

 After it is voted out of committee, the bill is sent to the chamber floor for second reading. A member of the committee in charge of the bill will report their recommendations as well as the committee final vote and names of witnesses; members may propose amendments and any of these are debated. The chamber will vote and a majority vote on amendments (if any) will then have the chamber vote to read the bill for a third time.
Third reading happens the legislative day after the second reading and is another chance for anyone to propose amendments and debate the bill. Then the members vote whether or not to pass it to the other chamber for consideration.
After passage in one chamber, the bill sits there for one legislative day and then goes through the same process in the other chamber. The bill is assigned to a Committee of Jurisdiction (where it has relevance, in other words, Ag bills usually head to Ag committees). If the second chamber proposes any amendments, then the bill must go back to the first chamber for concurrence (agreement) on the amendments.

If the two chambers are unable to agree on the bill or amendments, a committee of conference may be appointed where three members of each chamber will attempt to reach a final version which will be submitted to both chambers for approval. The Senate and House cannot amend the report and will adopt or reject it by majority vote.
If both chambers agree on the final version, the bill passes and is sent to the governors who can sign it into law, allow it to become law without his signature, or veto it. If the bill is vetoed, both the House and Senate may override the veto by a two-thirds vote in each chamber.
If the bill is signed into law or becomes law without his signature or the governor’s veto is over-ridden, the bill becomes an official Vermont law and is assigned an act number and will make its way into the “green” books.

 Please encourage your county board to host a legislative event during the session. The best time to get your legislators in town is on Mondays, since they aren’t in session that day (although this changes later in the calendar).
Also, start planning your candidates’ events! This is an election year, and there will be a lot of questions to ask and people to get to know! This is an important part of Vermont Farm Bureau’s advocacy - GET INVOLVED!
Call me if you’d like some help with either of these at 802-426-3579 or crkdbrks@aol.com.
 Next week will be the last UTGD until after Town Meeting - but don’t forget the Vermont Farm Bureau Legislative Day scheduled for March 15th!
Have a great weekend!
Jackie Folsom, Legislative Director

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How to submit written information to committees and how to get around the Vermont State House:

Vermont State House
Budget Speech (audio)
Budget Speech Read copy:

Newshounds: for those of you who want a daily dose please subscribe to Morning Ag Clips: Newshounds

 Any one of many AFBF publications: AFBF,  Vermont Digger, Morning Ag Clips, VT Farm to Plate, NRCS USDA Gov

Handouts Agricultural Committee

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.

House Committee on Agriculture and Forest Products

Senate Committee on Agriculture

Sen. Robert Starr, Chair, rstarr@leg.state.vt.us

Sen. Anthony Pollina, Vice Chair, apollina@leg.state.vt.us

Sen. Brian Collamore, bcollamore@leg.state.vt.us

Sen. Carolyn Whitney Branagan, cbranagan@leg.state.vt.us

Sen. Francis K. Brooks, fbrooks@leg.state.vt.us

Contact me at 802-426-3579 or crkdbrks@aol.com.