“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.”
Members of the Senate are again making an end run on including the Citizens Right to Action (in other words, sue) (Section 6) in any number of bills. If you recall, this section was removed by Representative David Deen, chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, after hearing from several Franklin County farmers due to the lack of accountability for suits brought without substance.
Unfortunately, Senator Chris Bray and his Natural Resources Committee members are working to keep this conversation going and have attempted to (or will be trying to!) add this language to any bill they can find that is germane.
You will find information on the original language on the back of this UTGD alert.
The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to take testimony on the original version of S.260 (as passed by the Senate) on Thursday. Members of that Committee include Representatives Grad, Conquest, Burditt, Colburn, Dickinson, Jessup, LaLonde, Morris, Rachelson, Viens and Willhoit.
Members of the Senate Natural Resources Committee include Senators Bray (email@example.com), MacDonald (firstname.lastname@example.org), Campion (email@example.com) and Pearson (Cpearson@leg.state.vt.us). (The fifth member, Senator Rodgers, has worked to keep Section 6 out of the bills). And Senator Ayer (firstname.lastname@example.org) has promoted tile drainage bills as well as other language not in the best interests of Farm Bureau members.
We need your help! If any of your representatives serve as listed above on the House Judiciary Committee, please call the Sargent at Arms at 802-828-2228 to leave a message. They will ask your name and where you live as well as your phone number. Please leave a message that you do NOT want Section 6 – Citizens Right of Action – from the S.260 Water Quality Funding Bill added anywhere! There is NO protection in this language for farmers who are complying with all laws and could require significant attorney fees on the part of the farmers with no chance of recouping the loss.
The House Natural Resources Committee struck this language after much discussion.
This language will allow anyone to sue a farmer and an Agency and require them to defend themselves against an accuser, even though in the end the farmer has been found to be in compliance with all laws. Legislative Counsel has noted there are already laws in existence that allow citizen suits; proponents say this is a way to “force” the Agencies (Agriculture and Natural Resources) to enforce the regulations.
Please email the Senators noted on the previous page – or YOUR senator if not on the list – and ask them NOT to promote OR support Section 6 Citizens Right of Action contained in the original S.260 passed by the Senate. (You can also call them at the Sargent at Arms!!)
C'mon, Vermont Farm Bureau members! Now is your chance to make a difference. You've read about the challenges we've been having at the Statehouse – here is your opportunity to help us stop some of it!
Call the Sargent at Arms – 802-828-2228 – or email the list of senators TODAY!! Five calls can make a difference!! But we have over 2,700 members!!
How many of you will help? It's supposed to be a rainy day – you aren't going to be in the fields or the sugarbushes. Five minutes to make a call – to make a difference!
Thanks – Your Statehouse Team – Joe, Annajo and Jackie
UPCOMING SCHEDULE - WEEK OF 4/24-28
These reports will be getting pretty slim on information as we go forward, since most of the action will be taking place on the House and Senate floors. Morning committees in the Senate are no longer meeting, except for Senate Natural Resources, whose members continue to "adjust" bills from House and Senate Agriculture Committees.
House Agriculture will be welcoming a familiar name to agriculture - Phil Benedict - to talk about several aspects of S.276. When Phil was at the Agency of Agriculture, we always knew when the end of the session was coming, because Phil would show up at the Statehouse!! Welcome back - for a day, at least!
One of our UTGD readers sent in a correction to the report on H.915, the Pollinator Protection bill. I used the word "glysophates", which is wrong. I should have said this: "The predecessor of neonics - organophosphates -are toxic to humans but not insects." Thanks, Kimberly!!
House Ways and Means will continue to look at funding sources for S.260 (Clean Water Funding Bill) at 1:00 on Tuesday.
Senate Natural Resources will listen to a list of witnesses regarding H.663, the On Farm Accessory Business bill, on Wednesday, with more discussion and a possible vote out on Friday at 10:00.
Senate Natural Resources is also continuing to make changes to H.904, the AG housekeeping bill from the House Agriculture Committee. They are again deleting portions important to the House and adding other language such as tile drainage mapping and public access to nutrient management plans.
Tuesday will be a busy day for debate on the Senate floor, as S.101 (Right to Forestry) will be discussed and H.903 (Regenerative Agriculture) and H.915 (Pollinator bill) will be read for the third and second times, respectively.
Farmers and advocates testifying in front of Senate Institutions about funding equipment for water quality projects must have made an impression on everyone, as House Corrections and Institutions has scheduled time on Thursday at 10:30 to hear more about the Phosphorous Initiative. Hopefully, funds will be returned on the House side version of the Capital budget and money will be available for these high-ticket pieces.
One of the Democratic candidates for governor held a press conference at Lake Carmi over the weekend and promoted ending all industrial farming (dairy) as well as any spreading of animal OR human waste on fields. He also commented on chemical over-use by our industry. One of the members from the House Natural Resources Committee was there in support. If anyone has the opportunity to engage Mr. Ehlers in conversation, it may be useful to ask him why he isn't concerned with manure waste being spread from small farms, as he noted he supported those. I'd also love a definition of "industrial farm"! This is why I am encouraging all counties to host a meet the candidate's event this summer! Your questions and voices are incredibly important this year!
Have a great week - in the sunshine!!!
Jackie Folsom, Legislative Director
Many thanks to everyone who turned out for the Vermont Farm Bureau Unity Event at the Statehouse on Wednesday, April 18, which celebrated Earth Day. Continuing our advocacy as a positive voice for agriculture and forestry, members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees as well as representatives of other organizations joined us in the Cedar Creek Room. Speakers included Secretary Tebbetts, Senator Starr, Representatives Partridge and Smith, Deputy Commissioner Sam Lincoln and Chair of St Albans Coop Harold Howrigan who all shared the accomplishments of our industries. President Joe Tisbert served as emcee and offered his own observations on Earth Day contributions of agriculture and forestry. A resolution was prepared by the House Ag and Forestry Committee and was read by Representative Partridge and also introduced on the House floor later that day. Unfortunately, we lost the press when the Sportsmen's Federation filed a lawsuit against S.55 at 10:05, just as our event began. I did hear many good comments from legislators about our promotion and they were happy that Farm Bureau is working hard to form coalitions and speak with one voice when possible, especially when positive comments are offered!
On the flip side, I'm very discouraged by what is happening in the Statehouse. Somehow, we always feel that politics in Washington, D.C., will never occur in Montpelier. From what I've seen, the purpose in some committees has changed from "what is best for our citizens" to "we have to win". Both Agriculture committees were tasked with working on economic development issues for rural communities. S.276, from the Senate Ag Committee, had most of its sections deleted in Senate Natural Resources because of "timing issues". It was sent to House Agriculture, where many of those sections were returned to the bill. In the meantime, H.904, the Agriculture Housekeeping bill, was adopted by the House and sent to the Senate, where it landed in Senate Natural Resources (even though it had not gone there in the House). The Senate is again deleting massive portions of this bill and now including some of their "needs" - tile drainage language and making NMPs for medium and small farms available to the public, among others. It must be frustrating to the legal staff from Legislative Counsel to be downstairs and remove the same language that has just been added upstairs. It certainly is frustrating to advocates.
I would strongly urge Farm Bureau members from Addison, Orange and Chittenden Counties in particular to contact your senators with your concerns. Despite being told repeatedly that no Act 250 language will be considered this year (because of the commission that is working through the summer), H.233 (which sat on the wall all year) has been picked up by Sen. Bray and attached to H.904. H.233 is concerned with forest fragmentation and has undergone a re-write, but is focused on the Act 250 process. It's my understanding that this was not supported by Forest and Parks. I don't believe the tile drainage issue has been investigated by Sen. Bray's committee, but it is something that Senator Ayer is in favor of and Senator MacDonald thinks is absolutely necessary. The Agriculture Agency has discussed tile drainage mapping in another bill that was discounted by Senator Bray but would have allowed aggregate mapping for research and resolution of issues in watersheds, which VFB supported.
I hope that this soapbox commentary is not completely confusing - what I'm trying to indicate is that there are several senators who do not appear to be listening to their constituents - and they need to! PLEASE call them with your concerns and ask them to be more positive towards agriculture and forestry.
S.260 Water Quality Funding
This bill was voted out of House Natural Resources with major changes as noted in last week's UTGD. It spent a day in Appropriations and then went to House Ways and Means. This committee has been taking testimony on a per parcel fee versus an occupancy fee and seem inclined not to accept either process. Testimony will continue next week, but it appears that the Committee may come up with its own idea for funding the Clean Water bill.
H.663 Farm Accessory Business (Agritourism)
Senate Agriculture was busy this week, voting out three bills that all ran into trouble on the floor. This bill had one minor change from the House version, when advocates worked on the inclusion of the word "farmstay" and then developed a definition of that per request of the committee. (Farmstay replaced overnight stay in the bill). For some reason, the bill was found on the Senate Natural Resources Committee schedule as an "introduction" subsequent to which they gained possession of the bill with "concerns". Advocates are not quite sure what those "concerns" are, but witnesses are being lined up for next week. Natural Resources Committees are allowed to question anything having to do with zoning, but the House committee never requested H.663 nor had any questions on the floor. This again is considered a piece of economic development for rural areas. If you are following this bill and would like to assist, please contact your senator (Pearson, Campion, Bray, Rodgers and MacDonald) and ask them to move this to the floor before the end of the session.
H.780 Rides Inspection Bill
This was also voted out of Senate Agriculture with one major change from the House version (ALL rides will be inspected now, as opposed to "portable" or carnival rides; this brings in ski areas running alpine slides, etc) that was approved by advocates. It was sent to the Senate floor and they sent it to the Finance Committee, despite the fact there are no new fees or taxes included (there is a fee but it is already in statute). I've written Senator Pollina, who sits on both Agriculture and Finance, and asked him to move this back to the floor as soon as possible.
H.915 Pollinator Protection
This bill also received a 5-0 vote out of Senate Agriculture and is on the calendar to be read the second time today. Discussion developed this week on putting a moratorium on the purchasing of sprays for ornamental and turf fertilizers containing Neonicotinoids by homeowners but members agreed it was unenforceable. It was also noted that neonics are one of the few tools available to get rid of the emerald ash borer. As Andrea Stander from Rural Vermont noted, this bill had no real winners, as neonics can be fatal to bees and other flying insects but are non-toxic to humans. The predecessors of neonics - glysophates - are toxic to humans but not insects.
S.276 Economic Development
This is the bill from Senate Agriculture that had most of its sections deleted by the Senate Natural Resources Committee. It has been in House Agriculture for several weeks and extensive testimony has been heard on all sections. There are now 29 sections dealing with a variety of different issues, including funding and Act 250 issues surrounding trails, tax exemptions on advanced wood boilers, exemptions for small and medium farms NMPs availability to the public, promotion of hemp, and electric efficiency charges, etc. Chair Partridge has been working with Representative Deen (House Natural Resources) and senior staff at the Agency of Agriculture to work out a compromise on NMP language.
Rebecca Weber, Waterkeeper for the Conservation Law Foundation, visited the House Agriculture Committee twice this week - she was speaking on the need to make NMPs available to the public. It did not go well, and the Committee was polite but firm in their challenge to her request. However, to her credit, she did ask to return and did so on Thursday. I don't believe she changed anyone's mind. The recent sewage spill in Burlington was mentioned, and she said that CLF has access to their storm water permits. However, she didn't expound on how that access would have discovered the alleged broken valve that caused the spill, nor how having access would have kept it from happening. There also were no questions about how CLF's access to NMPs would solve the issue of Legacy Phosphorous, especially after Dr. Darby's presentation; Darby's research indicated that 80% of farmers in the Lake Carmi watershed are already reducing P on fields and in the ground but the legacy P will be there into the future.
And Representative Bock summed it up pretty well: "I have 4,000 constituents in my district, admittedly only four farms. I have hundreds of emails a day on guns, education, marijuana and other things. I have never received ONE email on making nutrient management plans public. Whose issue is this?"
H.903 Regenerative Agriculture
This is another bill voted out of Senate Agriculture and is scheduled to be reported by Senator Brooks today on the floor.
Nutrient Management Exemptions
Senate Government Operations held a discussion on the exemption from public of NMPs on Tuesday. Mike O'Grady, Legislative Counsel, sat in the witness chair for questions. Senator Ayer is particularly strong on making NMPs available to the public. She noted a constituent in Addison contacted her because he was "afraid" of reporting his farming neighbor who was doing something that didn't look right. Senator Ayer called in the complaint to the Agency and was not happy with the results. (The Weybridge farmer was not doing anything wrong.) She also made the comment that NO water sampling was being done anywhere, particularly in reference to tile drainage. The Agency disputed this claim and noted there is research ongoing about tile drainage output. Senator White, chair of the committee, was unclear whether an opinion by her members would be relevant, but Senators Pearson and Ayer insisted that this was an issue and since Gov Ops has jurisdiction over open records, it was important. At the end, nothing was decided and it hasn't popped up on their schedule - yet.
Today marks what is supposed to be the final day for Senate Committees that meet in the morning - that includes Agriculture and Natural Resources. However, chairs of the Senate have requested time to continue meeting, and so next week they will begin (if necessary) at 8:30 and end at 10:30 am, whereupon they will be working on the floor. Most committees in both House and Senate are wrapping up their work, as bills which made crossover should be finished and heading for full discussion. And of course, the big bills - Transportation, Education, Capital and Budget - have to be discussed yet. These are usually the last things scheduled. Word is that no one expects to be done until possibly May 19.
Agency of Agriculture representatives and farmers testified in front of Senate Institutions on making funding available for equipment that would assist farmers in water quality issue, such as drag lines and crimpers. Language was in on the House side but subsequently removed. Please contact Senator Flory, chair of the Committee, in support of this funding.
Please keep in touch!! You can email me at email@example.com or call at home (802-426-3579) and leave a message. I'm at the Statehouse most days (Tuesday through Friday) and will be monitoring action on the floor in the upcoming weeks. These are your issues, your policy - your future!!
Thanks for being involved -
From the team - Annajo, Joe and Jackie - proud to be working for you!
Jackie Folsom, Legislative Director
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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.