DOAG: The 2014 Legislative Session Begins February 5

This article appeared in the January 22, 2014 edition of the Ag Report.
 
 

The 2014 Legislative Session Begins February 5

George E. Krivda, Jr., Legislative Program Manager, Office of the Commissioner

 

There shall be a regular session of the General Assembly on the . . . Wednesday following the first Monday of February in the even-numbered years, and at such other times as the general assembly shall judge necessary . . . 

 

All regular and special sessions of the General Assembly shall be held at Hartford . . .

 

The General Assembly shall adjourn each regular session . . . in the even-numbered years not later than the first Wednesday after the first Monday in May . . .

 

In the even-year session the General Assembly shall consider no business other than budgetary, revenue and financial matters, bills and resolutions raised by committees of the General Assembly and those matters certified in writing by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and President Pro Tempore of the Senate to be of an emergency nature.

 

--Connecticut General Assembly Session Scheduling Rules

 

The next session of the Connecticut General Assembly commences on Wednesday February 5, 2014, and promises to be exciting as usual.

While it may seem overwhelming to those unfamiliar with it, there really is nothing scary or mysterious about Connecticut’s legislative process. 

 

The General Assembly operates in an extraordinarily transparent manner and provides citizens with some useful tools to follow along from home or the farm throughout the entire session.

First is an information-packed website that serves as a convenient, readily accessible window on activities at the Capitol.

From www.CT.gov, click on “Legislative” from the menu (or go directly to www.cga.ct.gov if you prefer) and a plethora of choices await.

The Citizen Guide is a great place to start.  It provides a wealth of general information about the Capitol, House of Representatives, Senate, and the legislative process.  

 

The Legislative References link offers glossaries of abbreviations and acronyms as well as terms and definitions that make following the process easier.  Then identify your specific legislators and find out how to contact them through the House and Senate links. 

 

The Session Information link takes you to more useful tools, including daily bulletins that enable you to determine events happening at the Capitol during the week.  You can even sign up through the Bill Tracking link to receive notice when the proposals you care about most move through the process.

Another excellent resource is the Connecticut Network (CT-N). 
It provides access to unbiased information about state government deliberations and public policy events through its noncommercial television and webcast coverage. 

 

Managed and operated by the Connecticut Public Affairs Network, a not-for-profit company committed to strengthening civic engagement in the Constitution State, CT-N television is available on basic or expanded basic cable in most areas.  (It is working toward full statewide availability.) 

 

It also offers both live and on-demand video coverage of Capitol and related events through its website, www.CT-N.com. 

 

The Connecticut Department of Agriculture, after a daunting review process, is offering the following six proposals for consideration during the upcoming 2014 legislative session:

AN ACT CONCERNING FARM PRODUCT ORIGIN LABELING REQUIREMENTS (Statutory Reference: Sec. 22-38)

This proposal would require all farm products for sale at any of a variety of farm-related markets in Connecticut to be identified by a sign or label with the name and complete business address of the farm where the product was grown or produced. 

 

This measure of transparency will allow consumers to determine exactly where farm products were grown and thus make better-informed purchasing decisions. 

 

Clearly identifying Connecticut Grown farm products and differentiating them from those grown out of state will (1) strengthen the integrity of the Connecticut Grown brand, (2) bolster consumer confidence in that brand, and (3) empower consumers to better support Connecticut farm families and businesses.

Public Act 11-189 required the Governor’s Council for Agricultural Development to “make recommendations to the Department of Agriculture on ways to increase the percentage of consumer dollars spent on Connecticut-grown fresh produce and farm products . . . by 2020, to not less than five per cent of all money spent by such residents on food.”

Clearly identifying where the product was grown allows customers to make informed choices as to where they would like to direct their own personal resources.

 

AN ACT CONCERNING CERTIFIED CONNECTICUT GROWN MARKETS (Statutory References: Secs. 22-38b(b) and 22-38b(c))

This proposal will better align the Connecticut General Statues with the existing, successful Connecticut Grown Program.  It also will remove an obstacle in the establishment of a program encouraging more Connecticut Grown products in food markets.

The present Connecticut General Statute requires that a grocery store (a business that employs 10 or more persons and is engaged in the retail sale of produce, such as fruits and vegetables; meats; poultry; seafood; nuts; dairy products; bakery products; or eggs) continuously stock 15 percent or more of its shelf space for retail produce and dairy with farm products grown or produced in this state in order to call itself a Connecticut Farm Fresh Market.

No store other than a store certified as a Connecticut Farm Fresh Market may use such words for promotional and marketing activities.

For practical purposes, “Connecticut Grown” has replaced “Connecticut Farm Fresh” in the marketplace.  Continuously stocking (year round) 15 percent of a store’s shelf space with Connecticut Grown product is beyond the ability of most grocers.

This proposal specifically requires that in order to call itself a Connecticut Grown Market, a grocery store must dedicate on a year-round basis a minimum of only five percent of its shelf space to Connecticut Grown produce, but during the months of July, August, and September, it must dedicate no less than 25 percent of its retail produce and dairy shelf space to Connecticut Grown farm products.

 

AN ACT CONCERNING LEASE LESSEE HOLDOVER (Statutory Reference: Sec. 26-194)

Upon the expiration of a state shellfish lease, the lessee currently has the option to apply for a renewal of that lease upon the same terms and conditions as set forth in 26-194. 

 

This proposal renders that renewal option null and void if the lessee is in default in the rent payment or any covenant within the lease up for renewal, within any other state shellfish lease to that same lessee, or within any state shellfish lease to an entity in which that same lessee is a principal or corporate officer.

 

AN ACT CONCERNING THE PILFERING OF SHELLFISH (Statutory References: Secs. 26-225 and 26-226)

This proposal expands the penalty in 26-225 and 26-226 for stealing oysters and creating an injury to an oyster enclosure to include stealing all types of shellfish or creating an injury to all shellfish enclosures on designated or leased grounds. 

 

The Department of Agriculture received input from legislators and regulators encouraging this update so enforcement efforts can be improved.

 

AN ACT CONCERNING CONNECTICUT’S SEED LAW (Statutory Reference: Sec. 22-55)

This proposal updates the current seed law written in 1963 with the Recommended Uniform State Seed Law developed by the Association of American Seed Control Officials.

The present seed law has become difficult to administer as the terminology, technology, and science have all changed significantly since 1963.  Some examples:

 

  • The current law’s lack of distinction between cool-season and warm-season grasses makes it difficult for companies supplying turf-type products to comply with its requirements.
  • Companies supplying seed for native restoration of natural ecosystems are at a significant disadvantage because the existing law’s required germination testing shows their seed to have very low germination rates. This discourages potential buyers even though it is normal for native grass species to take three or more years to germinate.
  • Current technology makes it is possible to label packages with actual seed counts, which is much more useful information for the consumer than seed weight, but the present law still requires net weight.
  • The present law does not allow additional scientifically proven techniques to be used in germination testing.
  • The Connecticut Department of Agriculture has received consumer complaints about flower seed packets that have failed to produce any live plants.  Flowers, however, are not covered in the present Connecticut Seed Law.
  • Consumers could benefit from tree and tree seed labels that include species-specific information about location, elevation, soil type, and climate suitability.

AAC TECHNICAL CHANGES TO THE FARMLAND RESTORATION PROGRAM (Statutory References: Secs. 22-6c and 22-6d)

The Farmland Restoration Program came into existence at the direction of Governor Malloy to reclaim farmland that has gone out of production due to encroachment by invasive plants and overgrown conditions.

Changes to Section 22-6c of the Connecticut General Statutes explicitly define “farmland restoration plan,” elaborate on what treatments are reimbursable, increase the maximum reimbursement on state and municipal lands to 90% (up to a maximum of $20,000.00), and allow for monetary and in-kind services for the farmer’s contribution.

Changes to Section 22-6d will allow broader reimbursement for fencing under the definition of “agricultural restoration purposes.”

These changes will strengthen the program and assist in bringing more land back into production.

 

The Connecticut Department of Agriculture encourages all Connecticut farmers to learn more about, follow along with, and get involved in the state’s legislative process.  Follow the proposals and consider attending public hearings on issues that matter to you most.  Learn how to contact your legislators and/or submit testimony regarding proposals that directly affect your farming operation.  Participating is easy and rewarding once you know how.

Questions about the agency’s legislative proposals and program, or about the legislative process in general, are always welcome.  Please feel free to call the Office of the Commissioner at 860-713-2501 for assistance.