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 


April 17, 2017

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

2018 Farm Bill
With seasoned senators and representative Welsh in the US Congress we stand the best chance that Vermont may get in a while to influence policy for small agricultural states. Although our state representatives understand that this is primarily a federal undertaking they want to hear your issues and continue to advocate for you throughout this process and have seamless communication between federal and state on this issue. That is the hope. In furtherance of this desire, Senate and House Agriculture Committees warmly welcome Vermont Farmers to room 10 in the State House on April 20, 2017 from 10 am to 12 pm for a meeting on what farmers need in the next Farm Bill. American Farm Bureau has been working on the next farm bill for more than a year now We intend to work with them very closely to get the best treatment we can for our farmers. Please come.
Water Quality
H 510, a bill from House Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife, which passed the House of Representatives, was taken off the wall today in Senate Natural Resources and Energy and they took testimony for nearly an hour. David Ainsworth presented the bill, legislative counsel walked it through and Jim Leland from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) testified. We testified very briefly as well. This bill allows the VAAFM to waive the 10 % cost share for certain farmers if they cannot afford to pay their 10 % cost share either in cash or kind. The VAAFM said they would rarely need it but it does allow them, at their discretion, to use it. At the moment, it may be more symbolic, but sends a signal that the legislature is serious about clean water and does not intend to bankrupt farmers with the RAPs. The bill goes next to Senate Agriculture. Thank you to everyone who helped us get this bill moving from David Deen and David Ainsworth, to Senate Agriculture and every lobbyist whose ear we bent including Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition and the Dairy Producers Association.
Independent Contractor and Workers' Compensation
The House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development did not move Draft 17-1183, this week. It is definitely on many people's radar, and it is being discussed in private meetings. I am told that workers' compensation is included in several bills, and a study of it is still in play for this year.  The study of forestry and agricultural rates would include recommendations of how they can be reduced. Like the Independent contractor issue, there are institutional challenges to overcome.
House Agriculture:
House Agriculture was extremely helpful to landowners and farmers by again listening to legislative counsel discuss H287, the chain marking bill. They were then able to express to their colleagues the impact this could have on agriculture and forestry tracts.  It went through several drafts this week. Again we thank Joe Tisbert, Art Whitman and Bruce Shields for testifying on our behalf and again to all the lobbyists who testified: Green Mountain Co-ops, VAST, Vermont Traditions Coalition and the League of Sportsmen. Again, there were other lobbyists who also spoke to representatives they knew on our behalf. Thank you. American Farm Bureau has been working on the next farm bill for more than a year now. Joe Tisbert's testimony focused on education. The House Committee on Transportation has changed the bill to require the Agency of forestry parks and recreation to create landowner education about the danger of chains, cables and wires without markings. There will be an opportunity for us to add that all Vermonters that recreate on private lands understand the risks of obstacles when riding on private land and not on approved trails.
Senate Agriculture:
This committee also had a busy week. They worked the miscellaneous agriculture bill and looked at several other things beneficial for forestry and agriculture. One item discussed was draglines; another was "skidder bridges" manufactured in Vermont for Vermont's forestry operations and farms. They were very helpful in getting movement on H.510 and will be keeping the miscellaneous Ag bill H.495 open next week. Morning committees in the Senate ended today which include Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources and Energy to allow for more floor time.
Again, thank you to everyone who worked on this bill. We will be following it closely to determine if the current form is kept as it goes through a committee of conference with Senate Transportation. For many lobbyists, these final weeks are when things get exciting. Many committees have miscellaneous bills that they attach other bills to and there is a lot of trading and negotiation as representatives' fight for their bills to be included.

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, made crossover. It seeks to extend the federal exemption for poultry slaughtering numbers in Vermont. It took testimony in House Agriculture and Forestry and got some language changes. It has been criticized by some for taking federal regulation and making parts of it,  Vermont statute, but not all, which may cause conflict. This will be passed out of committee in due course.
S.10   PFOA bill passed through the Senate and is now in the House Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife. This bill seeks to make manufactures of the PFOA pay for extending the public water supply but definitions are broad. This is on its way to being passed in the next few weeks.
S.33   The Rozo McLaughlin Farm to School is now in the House Committee on Agriculture and Forestry. It requires some language changes. This is often a child's best meal, the one served at school. R-M connects the meal with local produce and agricultural literacy. This will be passed out of House Agriculture and Forestry committee in due course.  If you support this program, please let your representatives know.
S.34 was described in prior week's UTGD in detail. It is the cross promotion of rural enterprises/development bill and has multiple parts, including sales tax exemptions for certain forestry machinery. It is now in the house and in about four different committees. It is unclear what parts will survive. House Agriculture took testimony on it this week on the section that reconvenes the Vermont Milk Commission. The stakeholders who testified thanked the committee for its concerns and sentiment but do not support this being done. They walked the committee through the complexity of a federal milk marketing order.
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
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. There was a press conference about it two weeks ago in the State House. It has many supporters and it is predicted it will be back next year. Problematically it's unclear that in parts of Vermont $15.00/ hour would fix the problem.
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) but needed to go to House Appropriations and testimony cannot be scheduled until next week at the earliest. It is said to be on a 2-year trajectory. The Senate bill remains on the wall in Senate Committee on Economic development, Housing and General Affairs.
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.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 word used is "integral". I'm not sure why the committee and legislature hasn't adopted the federal rules on this as every word of the test has been adjudicated.
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 this week. As it is a house bill I'm not sure of its fate.
H. 218 Adequate shelter of cats and dogs, passed through the House floor and is in Senate Agriculture. It has been passed out of Agriculture and is in Senate Judiciary.
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. There is a new draft out and all are waiting on commissioner Snyder to see what he thinks of the new language.
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. It has been requested that the VAAFM's date of 2022 be brought forward for rulemaking but it went nowhere so far.
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. Language will probably be put into S. 127, the miscellaneous transportation bill.
 H. 299 Shell Eggs. This bill seeks to create a voluntary program to certify and clarify consumer labeling on eggs, and their production. It remains on the wall in House Agriculture and Forestry.
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 is on the wall in House Judiciary.  
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 the monies for it were stripped out.
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 was passed unanimously out of committee and passed the House and is now in Senate Agriculture. Senator Starr is keeping it open as are all committees with their miscellaneous bills, until the last possible moment.
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 should be headed to the Senate Floor for a vote.   
H.511, was proposed and voted out of House Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife, to aid farmers who have water quality projects that need to be made, and the farmer hasn't the financial resources to do it, Vermont will pay the farmer's 10% cost share. Please see discussion this week.


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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.