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.


March 9,  2018 - Special Report

The Legislature is not in session this week, so I'm hoping that all of you grabbed your Town Meeting Reports and last week's Under the Golden Dome and headed out to speak with your senators and representatives on Tuesday, or whenever your Town Meeting was scheduled!

This will serve as another reminder of Farm Bureau Day at the State House on Thursday, March 15, 2018!  We will gather in the cafeteria to host coffee and donuts and interact with our legislators before they head off to committees and floor action.  Please plan on being there by 8:00 am.

Best parking is behind the Department of Labor on Memorial Drive – I've mentioned it before in previous UTGDs.  It's free and the shuttle takes off every 20 minutes, starting there on the hour.  Don't be surprised if it's your first time on the bus – it goes up to National Life first but does eventually get to the side door of the Statehouse!  You can pick it up in the same place when you are heading home, but the last shuttle leaves the Statehouse at 5:15 pm.  It's the easiest way to get back and forth, and you don't have to keep running outside to add money to your meter!

Action will focus on the floor of both chambers next week, but we are working to get some of you into the House and/or Senate Agriculture Committees to say “hi” and give input on some of the bills.

Senator Starr's Agriculture Committee will be taking up H.663, the accessory on farm business bill, on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Representative Partridge's Agriculture Committee was attempting to leave scheduling open for most of next week.  Action on the floor of the House will include a second reading of the Amusement Rides Safety Inspection (H.780), the re-written Pollinator Protection Bill (H.915 – this is a new bill number), and the Regenerative Agriculture Bill (H.661) by members of the House.  
S.260, the Water Funding Bill that has been heavily discussed between Senate Agriculture and Senate Natural Resources, currently resides in Senate Finance where there have been some attempts to return language deleted by Senate Agriculture.  Committee members were offered a side-by-side comparison between all three offerings, as leadership is trying to avoid a fight on the floor over language.  This bill still has to go through Senate Appropriations before heading to the floor – stay tuned!  More to come!!

It's always important to talk directly with your legislators, but that doesn't mean you can't talk with those who aren't from your district!  Currently for agricultural matters, these folks need to hear about your concerns for water quality funding issues, including tile drainage as well as rural economic development.
SENATE NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENERGY:    Chair Chris Bray, Chris Pearson, Brian Campion, Mark MacDonald and John Rogers
SENATE AGRICULTURE:  Chair Bobby Starr, Carolyn Branagan, Francis Brooks, Anthony Pollina, Brian Collamore
HOUSE AGRICULTURE AND FORESTRY:  Chair Carolyn Partridge, Dick Lawrence, Paul Poirer, Terry Norris, Harvey Smith, Tom Bock, Rodney Graham, Mark Higley, Jay Hooper, Sue Buckholtz and John Bartholomew.
HOUSE NATURAL RESOURCES, FISH AND WILDLIFE:  Chair David Deen, Mary Sullivan, Steve Beyor, David Ainsworth, Paul Lefebvre, Jim McCullough, Carol Ode, Trevor Squirrell, and Thomas Terenzini.

Another great breakfast of pancakes, sausage and locally produced maple syrup started the morning in Irasburg, where a large group of farm members listened to presentations by Senator Starr and Representatives Mark Higley, Vicki Strong and Brian Smith.  There was also time for Q&A.  President Joe Tisbert attended with remarks about the CREP program out of NRCS with concerns about future funding.  

HERE'S A FACT:    When you read a copy of introduced legislation, the NEW language is always underlined.  Words that are in a bill but not underlined indicate those sections are currently in statute and are not being changed.  Cross throughs (words with a line stricken through) mean the language is being deleted and probably added back or re-worded elsewhere.  A new draft of a bill will include highlighted words; these are words or sections that have been re-worked by Legislative Council and are different from when the bill was first introduced.

I've requested 55 degrees and sunny – too warm to sugar, too cold to plant!
Jackie Folsom, Legislative Director



March 2,  2018

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


The House Agriculture Committee finished work on all the bills they wanted to pass out of their purview and will now focus on debate on the Floor and figuring out what bills they will “inherit” from the Senate during crossover.
The Senate Agriculture Committee is still working on several bills, trying to develop compromises between their viewpoint and that of the Senate Natural Resources Committee.
Next week is Town Meeting and the Legislature is adjourned until Tuesday, March 13, 2018.

Terrific representation of farmer/members in Orange County at Newmont Farm in Fairlee, home of Walt and Margaret Gladstone and their family.  Unfortunately, only one legislator attended the meeting.  There was great discussion about a variety of bills and how folks were inclined to pay for water cleanup (they favored impervious surfaces over per parcel fee).  

Orleans County Farm Bureau will host their Legislative Pancake Breakfast on Monday, March 5, at 10:00 am in Irasburg.  
Check out www.vtfb.org for more information or other meeting dates.
Please plan on visiting with your legislators during Town Meeting; most make it a point to get around to all the towns they represent.

Introduced originally as H.661, this bill was totally re-written to support the Certified Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program which will be a pilot program through the Agency of Agriculture.  It provides technical and financial assistance to Vermont farmers to adopt and implement regenerative farming practices and achieve certification as an outstanding environmental steward.  
Rep. Smith will lead the discussion on the floor on Friday, March 2nd.

H.688 will have a new number, as the Committee rewrote the bill and will support it as a Committee bill.  It was awaiting one member’s vote to move it to the floor.  The bill now proposes to require anyone selling treated corn or soybean in Vermont to offer for sale untreated corn or soybean see; requires the Secretary to assess the effect of neonicotinoid-treated seeds on pollinator losses and to develop and implement an educational program to inform users of pesticides (agriculture AND household) on pollinators.

Representative Deen visited House Ag to discuss H.730,  a proposal to allow ANR in consultation with the Agency of Agriculture to designate a lake “in crisis”.  Although the bill will not be scheduled for a review by House Ag, there was much debate surrounding its intent.  A new addition was the right for up to 15 persons to sign a petition to request ANR to declare a lake in crisis; none of the 15 persons needed to live or work on a lake to request this, and there is concern in the House Ag Committee that this section could be abused.  Rep. Deen did remind the committee that groundwater is a public trust; consequently ANY ONE in Vermont could sign a petition about any watershed.  Rep. Partridge will schedule testimony on specific questions the members had regarding the MOU  between ANR and AAFM and what is currently being done, specifically in Lake Carmi (which began as the focus).

H.780, sponsored by Rep. Lawrence, was voted unanimously out of the Committee on Thursday morning and was written so that the bill only requires portable amusement rides to be inspected for safety but moves the entire process over to the Agency of Agriculture from the Secretary of State.  An MOU will be developed for a study committee to research what permanent rides (such as those at Quechee Village and Santa’s Village) as well as the alpine slides at some ski areas are required to do for inspections and certification of operations.

There was too much controversy surrounding purchase and use versus sales tax and who appoints and oversees tree wardens for this bill to be voted out of committee prior to crossover.  However, Rep. Partridge is likely to add much of the language onto S.101 (another Forestry bill) when that offering lands in House Ag in the next two weeks.  Testimony will continue on those issues.

Many thanks to Senator Branagan for eliminating references to non-fat and low fat milk in the version of S.70 that was debated on the Senate floor.  While the intent was to control food and portions at fast food restaurants, the language could have caused problems for B&Bs and agritourism sites.

S.260 has been bouncing between the Senate Agriculture and Senate Natural Resources Committees, as the bill was reduced almost by half by Senator Starr and his members.  At this point, discussion continues and they are trying to find compromise language so that there won’t be a major fight between committees when it is discussed on the Senate floor.  Currently, they are not in agreement on several major issues but language is changing by the minute and it’s hard to keep updated!  AnnaJo Smith, our VFB intern, sat in Senate Natural Resources on Thursday morning but was not convinced a compromise was imminent.

One compromise that had occurred on Wednesday was a removal of all findings (the language that beings most bills and sets out the reasons for the proposed law); neither Natural Resources nor Agriculture was supportive of the others findings and so at that time, it was decided there would be none.

Section 7, CITIZEN RIGHT OF ACTION, was reported last week in error as being voted out of Senate Judiciary with a 5-0 vote to not support the language being included in S.260.  Apparently that was a straw poll and not a binding vote.  I do apologize!  It’s hard to keep all the moving parts in order!
They did take testimony on Thursday from Secretary Tebbetts as well as John Groveman from VT Natural Resources Council.  AnnaJo reported that after discussion, Senator Sears (Chair of Judiciary) requested that Sen. Starr and Sen. Bray schedule a meeting and work out their differing opinions on this Section.  

S.254 was introduced by Sen. Ayer; it’s sole purpose was to require farms to report locations of tile drainage.  It was determined by the Senate Agriculture Committee that this served no purpose pertinent to water quality and could in fact be a problem for farms (with vandalism of pipes, for example).  Ryan Patch from the Agency of Agriculture offered thoughts on how tile drainage locations could assist the Agency in developing water quality assistance and suggested locations could be included in nutrient management plans.  The Committee decided not to support S.254 and re-worked the next bill - S.255 - with new language.

As noted above, language in S.255 was totally struck (eliminated) and rewritten to include:
    1.    Complaint procedures on Agricultural Water Quality Complaints, including language that does NOT require the Agency to investigate anonymous complaints;
    2.    Nutrient Management Plan Reporting that would allow farmers to report digitally but with a limitation of disclosure;
    3.    Ordering the Secretary to develop a statewide map of tile drainage which will not disclose individual farms but otherwise be made available to the public
    4.    Continues the language regarding hemp
This bill is scheduled for discussion and a possible vote on Friday, March 2nd.
There is much discussion on lots of clean water projects and now there is concern about how much pressure will be put on that fund; just about everything in the Natural Resources and Agriculture Committees have language about “projects funded by the Clean Water Fund” but nobody seems to be adding all this money up into one big number - and determining if that number is what is available.  The week after Town Meeting will likely find both Senate and House on the floor most of the time, as bills from the other chamber are introduced and moved into relevant committees.

HERE’S A FACT:  Ever wonder what those bells and blinking red and green lights are when you visit the Statehouse?  When the members are called to the floor, a red or green light blinks on many stations throughout the building; it means they have five minutes to take their seat in the House or Senate chambers.  A red light is for the House and a green light is for the Senate.  When someone in either chamber requests a roll call (voice vote) on a bill or resolution, the light for that chamber blinks very fast and the bell rings even more quickly, to alert members there is a roll call vote.  The “money” committees - Appropriations, Ways and Means and Finance - are generally not required to be on the floor (particularly nearing cross-over and the end of the session) and so the easiest way to call them for a roll call is to blink the light and ring the bell quickly!  

Cell service is becoming a problem for me - please email crkdbrks@aol.com if you need assistance or have any questions!  Thanks!

DON’T FORGET Farm Bureau Day at the State House is ON MARCH 15TH!!  SEE YOU THERE!

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.

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.