DOAG: LEGISLATIVE PREVIEW



January 30, 2019

LEGISLATIVE PREVIEW

Jason Bowsza, Chief of Staff, Commissioner’s Office

 

Each year, the Connecticut General Assembly meets to discuss the state budget, and to propose other changes to state statutes that may be necessary. 

This year also brings new leadership in the executive branch under Governor Ned Lamont, and soon will include a new commissioner at the Connecticut Department of Agriculture (DoAg). 

After many years of service to the department, the state, and Connecticut’s agricultural community, long-time Commissioner of Agriculture Steven K. Reviczky retired at the beginning of the new term.  The Department wishes Commissioner Reviczky a long, happy, and well-deserved retirement with his lovely wife, Jill.

Both the new legislature and the new governor were sworn into office on January 9, 2019.

In odd-numbered years, the legislative session runs from January to June, and the legislature is tasked with formulating a new biennial budget. 

In even-numbered years, the session runs from February to May, and the legislature makes any adjustments to the budget that may be required.

The new session brings opportunities for legislative proposals that will benefit production agriculture in Connecticut. 

At the top of that list this year is hemp.  Under the 2018 Farm Bill, the cultivation of hemp is legal under certain, very specific conditions. 

Producers need to operate under a state enforcement plan submitted by the state Department of Agriculture to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for their review and approval in consultation with the United States Department of Justice.  That plan needs to include a number of components:

  • An ability to maintain relevant information about land on which hemp is produced in the state

  • A procedure for testing hemp for appropriate levels of THC (less than 0.3% by dry weight

  • A procedure for the effective disposal of hemp that tests in excess of the allowable THC threshold

  • A procedure for conducting annual inspections of hemp producers in the state, at the point of planting and of harvest, at a minimum

  • And a certification to USDA that the state has appropriated adequate resources and personnel to carry out the objectives of the state enforcement plan.

The last point is critically important.  DoAg needs to affirm to the federal government that adequate staffing levels are available to carry out the program, or the number of approved growers/harvesters will be severely limited. 

DoAg believes that there is opportunity to stand up a hemp program in Connecticut that allows for Connecticut producers to diversify into a new crop, but in order to do that, the specific requirements of the federal government need to be followed.

Absent that approved state plan, administered through DoAg, it would still not be legal to grow hemp in Connecticut.

There are other issues under consideration that would boost agriculture in Connecticut, as well. 

Bills have been introduced that would create a more level playing field for farm wineries, farm breweries, farm cideries, and even a farm meadery. 

Legislators have expressed interest in transferring regulatory responsibility of honey and maple production from the Department of Consumer Protection to DoAg.

The General Assembly will be considering ways of supporting renewable energy generation without adversely impacting prime farmland by utilizing space along highway rights-of-way, a concept that is very popular in neighboring Massachusetts.

DoAg has a modest legislative package this year, introducing a total of six bills.  DoAg is seeking to secure the authority to issue citations to perpetrators who violate agency statutes. 

This will be particularly significant in enforcing provisions of Connecticut Grown statutes.  By securing such authorization, DoAg will be able to better support farmers who produce and sell their goods right here in Connecticut. 

DoAg is also seeking parity among promotional costs concerning Connecticut’s apple growers.  A very small number of apple growers have been covering the costs of promotional work on behalf of the entire sector. 

At the request of the Connecticut Apple Marketing Board, DoAg has submitted legislation that will ensure that each producer pays a nominal cost, as opposed to a select few paying the entire cost associated with the marketing campaigns. 

For many years, DoAg has sought the repeal of the herd share statute that was passed in 2015.  A bill has been submitted to seek that repeal again this year.

DoAg’s opposition to this statute is twofold: it seeks to remove licensing and inspection requirements from a dangerous food source (and a food source that is safe, available and properly inspected through other practices), and because of the ambiguity pertaining to liability that is created by the existing law if someone should contract an illness from the consumption of unlicensed, unregulated raw milk.

There are many legislative concepts that have already arisen that DoAg is watching diligently including issues pertaining to farm labor, the regulation of maple syrup and honey, water rights, and the acquisition of development rights on farmland. 

All of these legislative concepts remain under consideration, as the session is just getting underway. Over the coming weeks, these and many other legislative concepts of interest to farmers in Connecticut will be scheduled for public hearings, and the public will have an opportunity to weigh in. 

It won’t be clear what concepts will ultimately become law until the session concludes at midnight on June 5th, but DoAg will continue to work with stakeholders and partners to advocate for the best interests of farming and agriculture in Connecticut until the gavel falls at midnight.