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 


May 22, 2017

Contact Lyn DesMarais, Legislative Director (802) 345-2958 or at lyn.desmarais@gmail.com 

Date Correction: Farm Bureau Annual Meeting is Friday and Saturday November 3rd and 4thth, 2017. Please Save the Date
Resolutions Committee Meeting: October 19, 2017
Resolutions Due: October 12, 2017

The House met for about 20 minutes on Wednesday the 17th. Then it worked all day Thursday and into the early hours of Friday morning with the Senate. They both passed the budget and tax bills, with the rumor being that the governor will veto them. It sounds as if various legislators are still working on a compromise with the governor’s office so it remains to be seen what will happen. At present the last week of June is being suggested as when the legislature would come back to deal with a gubernatorial veto. Vermont’s fiscal year begins July 1.
S.34 With the miscellaneous agriculture bill, H.495 (described last week), S.34 was the other major piece of legislation worked on by the agricultural committees this session. S. 34 passes with little drama.
Section 1: There will be created within the Vermont Housing and Conservation board a Rural economic Development Initiative to promote and facilitate access to funding and other technical assistance and priority in funding to dairy businesses, value added forest products, value added food industries, phosphorus removal technologies, composting facilities and outdoor equipment and recreation businesses
Section 2; granting the VAAFM $75,000 to implement the rural economic development initiative.
Section 3: The Vermont Milk Commission will meet to review and enhance milk price stabilization ideas and act as a think tank for what Vermont Dairy farmers need in the 2018 Farm Bill.
Section 4: This section charges the Executive branch to cross promote loan, grant and incentive programs in an effort to prevent silos of information from being created.
Section 5: energy efficiency charge. This section allows for small commercial and industrial consumers to get credit for self-administering their own energy efficiency plans.
Section 6 makes a change in language to the authority section of 30 V.S.A. section 209, chapter 218 (c) adds the following language “with due consideration to the State’s energy policy under section 202 of this title and to its energy and economic policy interests under section 218e of this title to maintain and enhance the State’s economic vitality.”
Section 7 reduces the current stack fees from anaerobic digestion of agricultural products, agricultural by-products, agricultural waste or food waste to $1,000
Section 8. A capital equipment assistance program is created within the VAAFM to allow for funding of new or innovative equipment for manure application, phosphorus removing equipment and to implement nutrient management plans. These sections also implement the 90/10 cost share, with a ceiling of $300,000, for said equipment.
Section 9 exempts certain forestry equipment and its parts from sales and use taxes. The equipment covered is:
Skidders with grapple and cable, feller bunchers, cut-to-length processors, forwarders, delimbers, loader slashers, log loaders, whole-tree chippers, stationary screening systems, and firewood processors, elevators and screens.
Section 10 amends 32 V.S.A. section 907 (k) (k) to read:” The statutory purpose of this exemption for timber cutting, removal and processing machinery in subdivision 974 (51) of this title is to promote Vermont’s commercial timber and forest products economy.
Section 11 adds a workers’ compensation study to look at why Vermont’s rates in subsets of certain industries are so high. This study is to include agriculture and forestry.
Section 12 puts in place two sunsets one for sections 1 and 2 (2021) and another for the phosphorus removal grant criteria (2023).
S. 135 As part of an omnibus economic development bill, small business retirement plan passed in the waning hours of the term. The bill allows businesses with fewer than 50 employees to voluntarily create a secure, vetted retirement plan option for its employees. The hope is to have it up and running by January 2019

Wrap Up
It was a good legislative year for our farmers and foresters. There were many small wins. Several legislators, who have been there a long time, thought it was one of the best years for farmers and foresters in their memory.
There was recognition that phosphorus removal from manure and equipment to minimize run off are costly and so several bills included tax breaks, access to capital with a 90/10 cost share and reduction of the digester fees.
 The state took a more active role in promoting and sustaining our dairy farmers and it is hoped that changes to and new programs of relief to survive global market troughs will be built into the next farm bill.
Foresters finally got recognition that their industry also is in economic turmoil and they received much needed tax breaks on their equipment and parts, and have a small program to help them buy skidder bridges. The legislature is more aware of the dire state of some of the forest product commodities, and the new federal tariff assessed against Canadian lumber products coming into the USA. It’s small but a good start.
The chain bill was transformed into educational literature.
Great appreciation to Bob Starr who battled for famers especially at the end of the term, and to Carolyn Partridge and Richard Lawrence for their calm tenacity. Both agriculture committees are very good, dedicated and devoted to promoting and sustaining agriculture in all its forms and sizes all over Vermont. Non agriculture members who were very helpful this term were Janet Ancel, Sam Young and David Ainsworth.


Here’s a link to look up these proposed bills: Bill 2018 once there, type in the number and you can read the bill as introduced.
S.9    The Poultry Bill basically codifies federal law and regulations into Vermont statute. It increases the numbers of poultry slaughtered under sanitary conditions but without inspection of either the facility or the birds from 1,000 to 5,000, and gives parameters for the slaughter of 5,000 to 20,000 birds. It is in conference.
S.10   PFOA bill passed through the Senate Natural Resources and was passed the House with amendment and is on the Senate floor Monday May 1, for further action.
S. 12 The Bunny bill, so called because it deals with a horse named “Bunny” who was shot and killed by an arrow but the owner discovered that there weren’t adequate penalties nor verbiage for prosecution.  S.12 passed the House on Thursday. It increases penalties for the intentional killing or cruelly beating or torturing an animal. It establishes a reckless course of conduct that results in the death of an animal. This would prevent the excuse of drugs or alcohol from an argument of intent. The second change is rolling the bestiality bill into this one. Vermont is only one of 8 states that does not prohibit having sexual intercourse with animals. The bill specifically exempts activities with a bona fide veterinary or animal husbandry purpose. Senate passed it, House passed it with amendments, Senate did not agree to the amendments.  It’s in a committee of conference.
S.33   The Rozo McLaughlin Farm to School was voted out of Agriculture and Forestry, It is scheduled for the floor but it has been postponed three times by a member of Agriculture and Forestry.
S.34 has many moving parts and may not make it to the finish line this session. The Senate and House money bills are trying to get done today or Monday, whereas there are components of S. 34 that cost money. If they cause a hole in the budget, money has to be found elsewhere to fund it. However, Senate Appropriations has Bob Starr in it. If anyone can find money, it will be Senator Starr.  There’s lots of support to help the logging and wood products industry. House Agriculture is trying to move forward three different provisions: the sales tax on forestry machinery and parts, the methane digesters being excused from a stack tax and using monies from the capital equipment assistance program to pay for phosphorus removal equipment. It’s unclear what will happen to the Vermont Milk Commission being called back together. Bob Starr’s pitch for that it that it’s the original language he used and he just wants all groups thinking about the 2018 Farm Bill and assisting in whatever way possible so we don’t lose any more dairy farms, if it could have been preventable. There’s also been language inserted and removed about the Vermont Housing and conservation board administering a program contained in S’34 but with little or no money attached to do so.
S.43. Regenerative Agriculture, introduced in House Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, remains on the wall. The VAAFM has been working on the environmental Stewardship Program for the last five years and is ready to roll out its pilot. As part of this program, many metrics and elements in the regenerative Agriculture bill are measured. The program has an independent third party certification/ verification program, a label, and a large sign at present and may add monetary awards or perhaps funds through existing environmental incentive programs.
S.40, H93, H 64, H 302, H 313, H 428, All propose to increase Vermont’s Minimum wage to $15/ hour. These bills did not make crossover but we will be watching them.
S.82, H. 196 Proposes a Family Leave/ Medical Leave insurance program. This bill was voted out of House General, Housing and Military Affairs, (7-4). It has gone to House Appropriations. A more restrictive form of it for first responders being covered by workers’ compensation has been passed by the House. Vt Digger has been covering this bill pretty comprehensively: https://vtdigger.org/2017/04/27/paid-family-leave-bill-headed-house-floor/
H. 38, an act amending membership on the Clean Water Board, passed through the House, and is in the Senate Natural Resources and Energy. Added to it was the bill to give people over 65 years old perennial hunting licenses. H . 58 and S.20.
H.119 Independent contractor bill from last session has been reintroduced, with a few changes, with two others H.223 and H.323 The House Committee on Commerce and Economic development has decided to write a new bill.  Its draft 17- 1183 and it has stalled in House Committee of Commerce and Economic Development. Once again, the “nature of the work” problem has stalled the bill. In this draft, the test used is “integral”. This bill had drama this week from an otherwise staid committee. Many heard the door slam: https://vtdigger.org/2017/04/28/poirier-throws-hissy-fit-independent-contractor-bill/
H. 137, S. 82, S.34, H. 516 Workers compensation premiums, there is tremendous pressure from constituents to get this resolved, which seems to require resolution of the independent contractor bill.  There are two studies proposed one in S.34, the other in the miscellaneous tax bill: H. 516. I don’t know at this writing how that will be resolved.
H. 141 current use and appurtenant dwelling units, remains on the wall in House Ways and Means
H.197   Mental health parity for Workers compensation. There is some confusion about this bill as to whether it only applies to first responders, emergency workers, police officers and firefighters and the like or whether workers’ compensation will cover all mental health issues caused at work. It passed the House Committee of ways and means but has a way to go:https://vtdigger.org/2017/04/20/house-panel-passes-scaled-back-version-paid-family-leave/
H. 218 Adequate shelter of cats and dogs, passed through the House floor and is in Senate Agriculture. It has been passed out of Senate Agriculture and Judiciary with amendments and is slated to go back to the Senate for a full vote.
H. 223 & H. 323 Bills attempting to define independent contractors and employees. See H. 119 above.
H. 229 Treated Articles Pesticides/ treated seeds.   Last year’s law gave the VAAFM the power to regulate treated articles. This bill asks them to write rules creating BMP s (Best Management Practices”, including the recommendations of the Pollinator Protection Committee on Neonicotinoids.  It remains on the wall in House Agriculture and Forestry.
H. 233 protecting working forest and habitats. This bill proposes to use act 250 to protect important forest blocks and wildlife corridors from human development. It took testimony this week and did not make crossover but Natural Resources Fish and Wildlife are going to keep working on it. The committee has taken a lot of testimony. Testimony continues.
H. 242 This bill seeks to require ANR and the AAFM to create a state-wide inventory of tile drainage installations and push forward recommendations from the Tile Drainage report. It remains on the wall in House Committee of Agriculture and Forestry. But see H.495 above.
H.287 The chain bill is back which requires all landowners in Vermont who want to use a chain cable, rope, wire etc., across a “way” that they know or should know would be used by vehicular travel, must adequately flag it or the landowner or tenant will lose liability protection currently in Vermont law. After numerous drafts and some testimony, it has been converted into an education only requirement from Forests, Parks and Recreation. There will have to be coordination with VAAFM also I would imagine. Education language has been put into S.127, the miscellaneous transportation bill. The House passed the bill with amendments which were not agreed to so this is going to a conference committee. This isn’t the only amendment to this bill.

H.310 Suitable shelter for livestock by Rep. David Ainsworth, remains on the wall in House Agriculture and Forestry.
H. 317 propose to change current use valuation from its current formula to a flat rate of 25% of fair market value. It remains on the wall in House Ways and Means.
H.325 The bill to ban bestiality has been rolled into the Bunny Bill S. 12
H.328 This bill proposes a ban on the use of Round-up/ glyphosate.  It remains on the wall in House Agriculture and Forestry, but there was some explanatory testimony by VAAFM on its relative toxicity.
H. 337 Rep. H. Smith has asked that methane digesters be relieved from paying air emission fees, which have been recently assessed to farms with the digesters. This bill was rolled into S.34, and will sunset in 2023.
H. 424 An act relating to Act 250 commission- the next 50 years passed out of House Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife. It creates a study committee to look at Act 250. This bill has taken a tremendous amount of testimony for a bill which seeks to create a study committee and as of this writing it has passed out of the senate Natural resources and energy as well. It’s in Senate Appropriations for funding.
H. 440, Humanely Raised and Slaughtered animals creates a certification program and a label for consumer protection. This would establish a voluntary program; certifying that animals are humanely raised and slaughtered. It remains on the wall in House Agriculture and Forestry.
H. 463, concerning animals roaming at large, which would attempt to prohibit criminal prosecution of the owner of said animal. It remains on the wall in House Agriculture and Forestry.
H. 464 allowing farm stands to be included in the definition of farming. It remains on the wall in House Agriculture and Forestry.
H. 465 seeks to get the VAAFM to identify and make recommendations on invasive species management. It remains on the wall in House Agriculture and Forestry.
H. 495 miscellaneous agricultural subjects. This bill is in Senate Finance at the moment. It contains language on delaying rules for tile drainage until 2022. It also contains language on skidder bridges which Forestry, Parks and Regulations would like to have in their efforts in the water quality area.
H. 497, an act relating to health requirements for animals, transport of animals, the transport of animals within the state and the licensing of livestock businesses. This bill left Senate Agriculture and went to Senate Finance, where it received a favorable report. It passed the Senate with an amendment which the House concurred with.   
H.510, See above.
H.516 The Budget
Passed by House and Senate now will go to committee to resolve the differences. Republicans are digging in over teacher’s health care insurance premium payments. https://vtdigger.org/2017/04/28/house-gop-stands-ready-sustain-budget-veto/
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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) 345-2958 or at lyn.desmarais@gmail.com anytime.