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 15, 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
Thank You
Thank you, every one of you, our members, for coming to the State House this session. We had great turn outs for our two legislative breakfasts on January 25th, and February 22nd. We also had great member turnout at the Agritourism workshop on March 29th, the Vermont Dairy Producers Alliance legislative reception March 30th, the 2 plus 2, 25th year celebration on March 31st ,  the 2018 Farm Bill discussion on April 20th and the New England Agribusiness and Feed Dealers Association legislative breakfast April 27th . In addition, Vermont Farm Bureau hosted a unity meeting on February 1st at the Vermont Farm Show.  We've had many productive conversations with legislators and the Agency throughout the session. Addison County's weekly legislative breakfasts have been well attended. Several other counties held legislative meetings during the term. It's a great way to get your collective ideas before your legislators. It is often said at the State House that Government is run by those who show up.
Educational Workshops
We are interested in hosting several educational workshops per year for our farmers. Do you have ideas on what you'd like to learn more about? At a minimum, we intend to host another Agritourism Workshop in the southern regions of Vermont this year.
The session has not ended
The legislature has not yet adjourned. It is still trying to come to a resolution over the budget, re the negotiation of Vermont's teachers' health care contracts. Legislators are being told that they need to be back this week Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.  There may be a compromise, or the Legislature may vote for the budget and have the Governor veto it. If so there will be another session in June and one is still being proposed for the fall once Vermont knows the details of the federal budget.
The Miscellaneous Agriculture Bill
The Agricultural Committee of conference met Friday May 5, (H .495), and May 11 (H. 495). They came to compromise between the House and Senate, and then the compromise language was passed by the Legislature.
H 495 The Miscellaneous agriculture bill includes all the following:
1. Minor language changes to the Assurances of Discontinuance section of 6 VSA sections 13.
2. Clarification: add clarifying language to how the VAAFM must give notice to someone, capitalizing words and making a few other minor changes to current law at 6 VSA sections 16.
3. Clarification: acceptance of real property section amended to simplify the rules regarding acceptance.
4.Language addition:  Meat inspection in  6 VSA section 3306 (i) was amended to include the words "or a good commercial practices plan for poultry"
5. Weights and Measures Licensure Late Fee: includes a weights and measures late fee
6. Working Lands: the working land criteria for granting monies are changed to add that the Working Lands Enterprise Board establishes criteria which prioritize assistance "to farmers and foresters." It is done in practice but legislators wanted it spelled out and the legislature further asked that rules to be written by January 1, 2018 to set these criteria out.
7. Multi- year license: establish a multiyear license program for up to three years. This should provide some savings to the license holder and less administration costs to the VAAFM
8. Tile drainage and Privacy of Nutrient Management Plans. These were the two sections in this bill which were fought over. Originally the VAAFM was supposed to start rulemaking for tile drains in January 2018. The Agency came before the legislature in January asking for an extension to 2022. They felt that the RAPs were going to require all their available staff and they needed time and patience to roll them out. This portion of the bill took testimony in both the House and Senate Agriculture committees and Secretary Tebbetts' request was passed by the House. When this bill got to the Senate, it was approved by Senate Agriculture and then was rerouted through Senate Finance (due to monies needed for the forestry section below). In Senate Finance, Senator Bray amended the tile drainage language.  Some Senators wanted a concession for voting for an extension. They wanted the tile drains on farms identified, mapped and monitored and they wanted the rulemaking begun in 2020. This language was adopted by the Senate, with a further amendment, the Starr amendment, which gave farmers nutrient management plans privacy. The bill was sent to the agricultural conference committee who had jurisdiction, had taken testimony and had knowledge of what tile drains are and how they are used on a variety of farms. That committee stripped out the Bray language, and kept the Starr language.  However, a weekend onslaught of emails and texts from various environmental groups made a Senate floor fight highly likely. Marie Audet, of Blue Spruce farms, Peter James of Monument Dairy, and Jeff Sanders of UVM extension came quickly up to the State House on Wednesday to explain to Senator Bray, among others, about the value and role of tile drainage in water quality efforts. The conference committee decided to replace both Bray's language and Starr's language with a study to be done by the VAAFM (due November 2017) and to recommend whether and how the VAAFM will collect information on tile drainage and whether and how nutrient management plans shall be available to the public.
Call To Action
The "discussion" on these two issues on Wednesday and on Thursday in the State House and the pressure exerted on the committee of conference about the two amendments to this bill show the deep distrust and discomfort between environmental advocates and farmers in Vermont. The environmental groups accused the VAAFM of being unfit to regulate the farming community. They advocate yet again that all water quality issues be regulated by the Agency of Natural Resources. Please talk to your representatives.  Rep Harvey Smith urges farmers to tell their story and show how we farmers are now at the water quality table and that the environmental groups should be working with us not against us.  It seems clear that farmers really need to engage their representatives all over Vermont. Get them into your truck or car, and get them to see what you do, how you are doing it and why. Explain why the VAAFM is the appropriate regulatory agency for agriculture and finally explain to them why privacy of personal information in your NMPs is important to you (and add in any other issues you are having). Constituents matter.
 9. Current Use
There was a change to current use language include river land buffers required by the RAPs as eligible for inclusion in current use. There were a few rare cases where such land was removed from the current use program. This language change ensures they are still in the program.
Also under current use the date for enrollment remains September 1, but the date for certifying agricultural land is still being used as such, is being moved to November 1.
10. Milk's definition was amended to be consistent with the rest of the chapter as coming from a cow, sheep or goat. 6 VSA Section 2672   
11.  Forestry The bill creates a water quality assistance program which creates a 90/10 state/forester cost share immediately specifically for allowing skidder bridges to be purchased by foresters. The bill also allows a sales and use tax exemption on forestry equipment, parts and the motor fuels that run them. The equipment covered is as follows: 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.  As in agriculture, this list may be able to be expanded into the future.
In Other news
Methane digesters in Vermont have had their digester stack fees reduced to $1,000 from $4-$5,000.
Phosphorus removing equipment is now available to farms with a 90/10, state /farm split via the Capital Equipment Assistance Program
The Vermont Milk commission will start meeting again to guide Vermont farmers through the Federal Farm Bill.
A workers compensation study will be convened to look at the causes of the very high rates in some subsets of forestry and farming.

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. 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 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.