The 2017 Oregon Legislative session is nearing its end, required to finish business by early July. But with little more than a month left to work, and in a session that has been dominated by the specter of a budget shortfall of over $1 billion, there is still no agreement on state funding and many important pieces of legislation.
As a result of the state’s current budget scenario, many good programs and policy ideas are facing significant cuts or elimination. Meanwhile, fierce debates rage over whether to raise taxes, curb spending – or both – to make up the budget shortfall the state is facing. It is unclear whether these issues will be sorted out by early July, or whether a ‘special session’ to sort them out will be needed later in the year.
In the midst of this, a few key issues remain on the table and your support is critical to helping make sure they move forward. We hope you will take a few minutes to contact your State Legislators at this key time to support the following bills:
HB 2038 – Full funding ($5.6 million) for Oregon’s Farm to School Program. This bill passed the House Agriculture Committee way back on April 4, but still awaits action in the Ways and Means committee. Ways and Means will determine whether and how much funding will be available for this program over the next two years. Though popular, Farm to School is in jeopardy this year – Governor Kate Brown proposed no funding for it in her budget, and Legislators are also considering substantial cuts or no funding at all.
HB 2739 – This bill would protect farmers who have experienced financial losses due to contamination from genetically engineered (GE) crops. It would allow farmers to be compensated by GE crop patent-holders when their products have crossed property lines and caused financial damage. It was advanced by the House Judiciary Committee in mid-April, and had a public hearing in the House Rules committee on May 23. Read FoFF’s testimony in support of HB 2739 to the Rules Committee here.
With time running out on the session, now is a critical time to contact your State Legislators in support of HB 2739 and holding GE patent-holders accountable when they cause farmers financial harm. One other piece of information on this bill: it would cost the state no money.
HB 2085 – This bill would establish a new beginning farmer tax credit in Oregon to encourage landowners to lease or rent land to beginning farmers and ranchers. In the House Revenue Committee, HB 2085 has not yet received a hearing and is at risk of falling to the wayside as the state grapples with how to make up for a nearly $1.4 billion funding gap. Similar tax credit programs aimed at helping beginning farmers and ranchers with access to land already exist in Iowa and Nebraska. And with news that Minnesota has just created a similar beginning farmer tax credit, it is a reminder that it is not too late for the Oregon Legislature to act on HB 2085.
The Joint Committee on Tax Credits began meeting on June 2, so now is a critical time to contact your State Legislators in support of HB 2085 to create a beginning farmer tax credit in Oregon.
SB 805/SB 5524 – These bills would provide funding ($9.4 million) to maintain current service levels for the Oregon Statewide Public Service Programs, including Extension and Agricultural Research. In 2015, the Oregon Legislature made significant new investments in these programs, which has led to new work in support of small farms, on-farm conservation, and more. However, Oregon’s budget crisis has put the 2015 investments at risk. SB 805 passed its original committee earlier in the session and funding decisions are now taking place in the Joint Ways and Means Committee. Read Friends of Family Farmers’ April 17 testimony in support of continued service level funding for OSU Extension and Agricultural Research Programs.
FoFF Testifies at the Oregon Board of Agriculture
On May 11, FoFF presented a series of updates on our legislative work to the Oregon Board of Agriculture, which advises the Oregon Department of Agriculture on policy issues. We were invited to be on a panel to talk about current legislative issues with several other agriculture organizations. Our presentation included details about not only the bills above, but other legislation we’ve worked on this year that either died earlier in the session (like overdue air quality rules for large concentrated animal feeding operations), or have moved forward (like new rules for farm direct egg sales and commercial cider production on farm land). Read our May 11 Board of Agriculture testimony to learn more about the status of all of the bills we’ve worked on this session.
The next meetings of the Oregon Board of Agriculture will take place September 19-21 in Klamath Falls, and November 28-30 in Portland.