2016 Summary Capitol Report  
 
              
2016 Summary Capitol Report Sponsored By
 
              

"To enhance, promote, and advocate 
for Virginia's nursery and 
landscape professionals"


That's a Wrap!

The 2016 General Assembly Session is in the books, and the Council tracked and worked on a number of bills this session related to agribusiness. This year was a 9-week "long session," in which the General Assembly crafted and passed a new state budget (see below for a full budget update).
 
In total, 3,286 bills and resolutions were introduced this session, with over 1,800 of them passing. So far, the Governor has approved 366 of these and vetoed just 12, but now that session is over, he has nearly a month to consider all of the bills that passed. The General Assembly will reconvene on April 20th to consider these vetoes and any potential amendments he may offer to bills. 
 
Each session usually has its own "flavor," and this one was no exception. Overall, this session was extremely busy and fast paced, especially in the first few weeks, and as always happens, there were many bills introduced that we were not expecting. But this was also a very good session for agriculture and forestry. We were very successful in the final state budget, and we were able to defeat or amend many bills that would have been harmful to our industry. Furthermore, we were successful in seeing passage of many items on which we worked for the year leading up to session, such as a bill making changes to certain commodity boards, one to create a group to craft a state pollinator protection plan, and one to change the state definition of what constitutes a "noxious weed."

On behalf of the Council, we thank our members for your attention to these Capitol Reports, and action to support our legislative priorities and initiatives during the 2016 General Assembly. It is truly an honor to represent Virginia's largest industry of agriculture and forestry, and each of you, to our legislature.  

Budget Update

Capital Bond Package
 
After over 2 years of preparation, the Council worked with industry partners and Virginia Tech leadership to advance capital funding for new and renovated livestock and poultry facilities at Virginia Tech. The current facilities for livestock, pork, equine, and poultry sciences are aging and antiquated and in desperate need for repairs, renovations, and in some cases, complete replacement. The Governor's bond package included full funding for the first phase of this two-part project, providing critical support for this initiative going in to the General Assembly bond-negotiations. Ultimately, funding for phase one was retained in the final bond package approved by the General Assembly, and we anticipate official planning at the University to begin soon.
 
In addition to funding for this priority initiative for the Council, the bond package also includes $350 million in funds to support infrastructure improvements and growth at the Port of Virginia supported by the Council. Additional funding for water quality improvements at municipal wastewater treatment plants and stormwater management practices to help address water quality and Chesapeake Bay TMDL requirements was also an achievement.
FY 17-19 State Budget   
  
Consistent with the state two-year budget cycle, the Governor proposed an ambitious budget in mid-December, and the General Assembly proposed and ultimately made amendments to his proposal. The introduced budget represented a sizable increase in resources for the Secretariat of Agriculture and Forestry, and all but one of the proposed initiatives was ultimately approved by the Assembly. In total, the approved budget resulted in over $6.0 million in additional funding to the Agriculture and Forestry budget items.
 
Key items include full funding of the Reforestation of Timberlands program (first time in over a decade!) and additional personnel for the Department of Forestry, resources for fire response equipment at DOF, doubling the size of the AFID (Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development) fund, additional funds for international marketing assistance both abroad and in Virginia, new funding for an organic specialist and domestic marketing programs at VDACS, and incremental increases for the weights and measures program.
 
Water quality funding continues to be a priority issue for the Council, and the Governor's leadership in allocating over $54 million in Ag BMP cost-share and over $7 million in technical assistance from the state budget surplus represented a significant influx of critical funding for these programs. The Assembly retained all of this funding in their final budget, resulting in significant growth in agricultural best management practice cost-share in the coming year. While the Council and our partners were seeking additional funds to meet the "needs assessment" to address Bay TMDL goals, we are thrilled with the infusion of funds to this important program.

Agribusiness- Miscellaneous


Throughout the year, the Council works on a variety of issues that impact specific sectors of our diverse agribusiness industry. During the General Assembly, this work continues, and 2016 was no exception. While each of these bills may represent a modest change to the current law, each are critically important to the impacted industries, and take time and attention during the Assembly. We successfully supported legislation to update the Agritourism Liability Act, a proposal by the Governor to update the AFID program to include wild fish and shellfish, and compromise amendments to the noxious weed laws (after 6+ months of meetings and deliberations).
 
In addition, we joined a coalition of interest to support a bill that would not allow a specific locality to impose additional restrictions on the use of mulch next to structures. The bills were opposed by fire officials and some localities, and were ultimately approved after several back and forth votes and amendments. We also worked to achieve positive amendments to bills to allow for the regulation and manufacture of industrial hemp. The final legislative product will allow for a regulatory and licensing process be implemented if and when Congress lifts the prohibition on industrial hemp production for non-research purposes.
 

Alcohol- Farm Wineries, Breweries, and Distilleries

Unlike many agribusiness products, alcoholic products, including those produced on farm wineries, breweries, and distilleries, are a perennial subject of debate at the General Assembly. In 2016, the legislature approved clarifying legislation for the distribution of the cider tax, increased the allowable serving size for tastings at distilleries, and created a fruit trading mechanism for farm wineries through their license requirements.
 
The General Assembly debated but ultimately did not advance two measures designed to further incentivize the growth of craft breweries and vineyards. An income tax deduction for the sale of certain crops to breweries was deemed to need a bit more work over the next year, as was a newly proposed grapevine grant fund. We anticipate discussions on these two initiatives will continue before the 2017 General Assembly.
 
Discussions continued throughout session (and continue as of the date of publication) regarding proposals from Fairfax county legislators to limit the expansion of farm wineries, farm breweries, or distilleries in a certain area and zoning classification within Fairfax. A significantly amended proposal was approved by the legislature after lengthy debate, and will continue to be the source of discussion in the coming months.


Animal Care

This was a busy session for animal welfare and animal care issues, for both companion animals and agricultural animals. First of all, the General Assembly passed a VDACS-requested bill that gives the Board of Agriculture the ability to assess a civil penalty of up to $1000 for animal disease violations; currently the only option for these violations is a criminal misdemeanor.

Another bill gives judges more options for sentencing of dogs that have been proven to be repeat killers of poultry. The current law states that the dog must either be put down or sent out of state, and the new law allows the dog to be fitted with an identifying microchip and transferred to a new owner or confined to a kennel. This arose out of an issue with backyard chickens and the Council worked with the patron to ensure livestock and poultry owners' rights to defend their own animals are protected. Two bills which the Council supported change the time period in which Animal Control Officers must be trained to ensure that they are trained in a timely manner.

There were also a few bills which the Council strongly opposed. One, sponsored by Senator Bill Stanley (R-Moneta), would have required farmers to certify that new-born calves had received a certain amount of colostrum after birth. This bill was handily defeated in the Senate Agriculture Committee. Another bill, sponsored by Del. Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke), had to do with the use of bull hooks for animals. The bill originally dealt only with elephants, but it was amended to cover all animals. We had concerns that this could affect farmers and youth who show livestock, and this bill was also handily defeated in subcommittee. 

Commodities

Bills that extended and made changes to certain commodity boards were passed this session. An omnibus bill that made technical changes, such as board terms and membership and collection methods, to many different commodity boards was developed via stakeholder meetings led by the Council and Virginia Farm Bureau. The bill was sponsored by Del. Michael Webert (R-Fauquier) and passed both chambers unanimously. Other bills that we supported extended the sunset date on the peanut excise tax.

And finally, a bill sponsored by Del. Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach) to clarify that commodity funds are specifically for the uses of commodity research and promotion and not to be taken for the state general fund also passed the General Assembly unanimously.  

Economic Development and Trade

As Virginia continues to work to diversify its economy, and Governor McAuliffe pursues his campaign promise to create a New Virginia Economy, economic development and trade were once again at the center of some of the major action at the legislature.
 
A large, bi-partisan coalition of business, education, and local government leaders brought forward the "Go Virginia" initiative this year, designed to support private-sector growth and job creation in each region throughout the state. Two legislative proposals were approved to create incentives to increase collaboration between businesses, education, and community leaders and regions including the Growth and Opportunity Grant program and the Collaborative Jobs Development Act.
 
The Virginia Economic Development Partnership, tasked with working with state agencies, localities, and businesses on growth and expansion of new and existing businesses in the Commonwealth, will be reviewed by the legislature's audit commission who will report back to the Assembly in two years.
 
Throughout session, we worked on a proposal that would create a new International Trade Corporation, moving the international trade functions of the VEDP into a new entity designed to enhance focus on international trade expansion. The bill was amended during the process to include a study in 2017 of the international trade programs at VDACS for potential inclusion in these new efforts. The Council successfully worked with the patron, other interested legislators, and the Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry to ensure that adequate time was provided for the new agricultural trade offices to be fully implemented prior to any further study of this portion of Virginia's trade portfolio.
 

Energy

There were many bills this year that dealt with energy, and especially renewable energy. These included various bills that provided different incentives for renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, and some that dealt with net metering as well. The General Assembly decided to hold all of these bills until next year and to convene a group to study all of these issues throughout 2016.

Two bills to require the General Assembly to approve the state's Clean Power Plan, which it is required by the EPA to develop, were passed on party line votes in the legislature, but they were both vetoed by Governor McAuliffe. It is unlikely there will be enough votes to override these vetoes.

Environment- Water Supply, Fisheries Management, Miscellaneous

On the environmental front, we monitored and took positions on many bills this session. There were a handful of bills that would have imposed burdensome regulations on the land application of biosolids and industrial residuals, including one to require disclosure on property records of applications on the property. The Council opposed all these measures which were defeated in subcommittee.

However, the Council supported a study resolution directing the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC), an arm of the General Assembly, to conduct a study about land application of these products and to once again review the scientific literature about their safety, and this study will be conducted over the next two years.

Fisheries management was also a topic of discussion this year, and while the Council did not get directly involved, we closely managed all of these bills, many of which were related to moving oversight of the menhaden fishery from the General Assembly to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. These bills all failed after long and contentious debate in committee. There was also a bill, which the Council opposed, to raise the price of oyster leasing grounds up to $5,000 per acre. The patron withdrew this bill, but we expect this topic to continue to be discussed and to potentially come up again in future sessions. Other bills that did not advance would have created a new voluntary system for groundwater management, allowed localities to prohibit the use of plastic shopping bags, and increased penalties for certain environmental violations. 

Food Safety

On the food safety front, we worked on two different bills that would have changed Virginia's food safety regulations for both dairy products and food produced on a farm or in a private home. Legislation that was patroned by
Del. Rick Morris (R-Sussex), would have exempted milk producers who have three or fewer milking cows from state requirements, and would have allowed for the sale of unpasteurized dairy products. We opposed this bill and it was defeated in subcommittee. 
 
Another "food freedom" bill, introduced by Del. Rob Bell (R-Albemarle), originally exempted any food or dairy products from state requirements, and this would have included raw milk. However, the patron significantly amended this bill to only include certain baked goods (those that require time and temperature control, such as cheesecake). We did not have a position on this amended version, which failed to advance in subcommittee after the Department of Agriculture raised food safety concerns. 

Forestry

The forestry industry was the focus of several positive measures during the 2016 legislature. We supported a Department of Forestry initiative that created a Century Forest Program to mirror the current Century Farm Program.

Other bills dealt with penalties for those people who tamper with forest firefighting equipment and damages for landowners whose timber is unlawfully removed. 


Hunting

This year was not as contentious as last year for hunting issues, as last year saw the debate and passage of the new Sunday Hunting law. However, there were a few bills this year. One proposal which passed both Houses unanimously, will allow state and federal government agencies to attempt a pilot program in Virginia Beach to shoot feral hogs out of aircraft. This bill only applies to False Cape State Park and Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Another bill that passed allows for the hunting of certain animals with a slingshot. And we supported both a bill and a budget amendment that would allow Virginia to cooperate with federal and local agencies for the control of black vulture populations, similar to how these agreements already exist for coyotes. 

Pollinators & Pesticides

One of the Council's legislative initiatives in 2016 was the result of discussions with our industry partners since early fall regarding the development of a state pollinator protection plan, and the importance of having VDACS as the lead state agency on these efforts with a mandatory stakeholder process outlined. As a result of this interest, the Council asked Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) to patron the Virginia Pollinator Protection Strategy. This legislation that was unanimously approved by the legislature. Additional legislation was approved that will direct revenues from the Protect Pollinators license plate to the Pollinator Habitat Program at VDOT.
 
VDACS worked with the Council and our members this fall on some clarifications to the appeals process for Pesticide Control Act violations, which passed the legislature easily this year. Fortunately, we were successful in quickly addressing a negative proposal that would have required a mile buffer around public or private schools for aerial pesticide applications. After bringing industry experts to meet with the patron, Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington), he decided to not pursue the legislation this year and asked for his bill to be stricken.


Property Rights/Eminent Domain

Following the overwhelming approval of the Property Rights constitutional amendment by Virginia voters in 2012, this year the Council successfully supported legislation that would provide compensation for landowners when their property is "damaged" in an eminent domain proceeding. This change aligns the state law with the constitutional amendment approved in 2012 and will ensure that when property owners land is damaged but not taken (known as inverse condemnation) for a public use, they will still receive compensation for their costs.
 
The legislature also approved a measure designed to ensure more realistic and fair initial offers to landowners whose property is taken or damaged by providing that costs and fees may be awarded in condemnation actions where the amount the owner is awarded at trial as compensation for the taking of or damage to his property is 25 percent or more greater than the amount of the condemnor's initial written offer. However, the General Assembly did not advance proposals to repeal the existing right of entry for natural gas companies to enter properties to conduct surveys for gas line placement.


Taxes, Fees & Tax Credits

On the tax front, there were a few different bills that we worked on this year. Notably, we supported successful bills, sponsored by Del. Ben Cline (R-Lexington) and Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath), to establish a tax credit for farmers who donate crops to food banks. The bills cap this credit at $5,000 per entity with a total allowance of $250,000. We also supported a bill which extends many port-related tax credits for the next four years.

We opposed a returning bill from Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Moneta) that would have imposed a tax on all pet food distributed in the Commonwealth to fund a surgical sterilization program for companion animals. This bill was carried over until the 2017 Session at the request of the patron, and he has mentioned a desire to discuss the topic in the interim.
                
Other bills that did not advance include a study on local tax rates and a bill to cap BPOL, merchants' capital, and machinery and tools taxes.

Tobacco

As always, there were also a few bills dealing with the tobacco industry. The Council opposed a bill from Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington) that would have prohibited children under the age of 18 from working on tobacco farms. We also opposed a bill to increase the state tax rate on tobacco products-to $1.50 per pack on cigarettes and to 50% of price on roll your own tobacco. This bill failed to advance in subcommittee.
 
A bill which would have expanded the use of Tobacco Commission funds for the use of proton therapy and telemedicine research did not advance from the House Agriculture Committee. And there were a handful of bills this year that would have allowed certain localities to impose their own taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products. All of these failed to advance in subcommittee.
 
One bill that did pass makes it illegal to smoke in a car with the presence of a child under 8 years of age. The bill provides for a $100 civil penalty for violations.

Transportation

On the transportation front, there were a few bills we followed this session. A bill to increase allowable widths for transporting watercraft was approved unanimously. Another unanimous bill amended the definition of "truck" within the code not to include pickup trucks not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
 
A bill to disallow commercial motor vehicles from traveling in the left lane on Interstate 64 across Afton Mountain was defeated in subcommittee. And another bill increasing certain allowable truck weights also did not advance. 

Water Quality- Soil & Water, Nutrients, Sediment, Stormwater

A critical update to the conflict of interest act was successfully approved after Soil and Water Conservation Districts worked through legislation this year to exempt locally-elected Directors from the conflict of interest act. This change will ensure that Directors who may also be farmers or beneficiaries of Ag BMP cost-share programs can continue to serve on local soil and water boards, while also excusing themselves from voting on actions directly related to their business operations.
 
Amendments were made to the nutrient credit program to allow for new and expanding facilities to acquire credits under their contractual control or on their own lands, after concerns were raised by a major new agribusiness about the current nutrient credit program. Likewise several updates to the nutrient credit program were made, including allowances for sediment reduction credits for MS4 permittees, and new streamlined timelines for certain nutrient credit approval.
 
A significant consolidation of erosion and stormwater management programs within certain localities was approved after a stakeholder group that included the Council, negotiated a compromise over the past year through monthly stakeholder meetings.
 
Finally, a proposal that the Council opposed to update Virginia's phosphorus standards for nutrient management plans did not advance this year after the patron agreed to not pursue a legislative mandate. The issue of a review of the phosphorus standards for Virginia, especially in light of new phosphorus standards in Maryland, is one that may not be completely "put to rest". We will be closely following these discussions within the Bay watershed in order to protect our industry's use of valuable nutrients on agricultural lands.


Workforce & Labor

Proposals to increase the minimum wage were plentiful again (at least seven bills or resolutions were filed) at the legislature this year, and the Council joined a large coalition of business interests to defeat these harmful proposals. Many of them were swiftly defeated in both a House subcommittee and in the Senate, but the proponents of this issue will surely return next year with additional proposals to increase Virginia's minimum wage beyond the federally mandated level. Immigration did not evolve as a major issue this year, unlike years past, but one proposal that would have mandated e-verify for the Va. Employment Commission's use in unemployment compensation was defeated.
 
The Republican-controlled Assembly did approve constitutional amendments to place Virginia's Right to Work status on the ballot for voter approval this November. The amendment would constitutionally prohibit any agreement or combination between an employer and a labor union or labor organization whereby (i) nonmembers of the union or organization are denied the right to work for the employer, (ii) membership to the union or organization is made a condition of employment or continuation of employment by such employer, or (iii) the union or organization acquires an employment monopoly in any such enterprise.

2016 General Assembly Links & Info

Looking for additional information about the 2016 General Assembly? Here's some helpful links and resources for you to utilize.

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Questions, Responses, Opinions? 
 
We look forward to hearing from you in regard to this e-newsletter, its content, and any of the issues we addressed or didn't address. Let us know your thoughts.  Thanks for reading.  
 
Va. Agribusiness Council
1025 Boulders Parkway, Suite 111
North Chesterfield, Virginia 23225
 
P- 804/643-3555; F- 804/643-3556
E- vac@va-agribusiness.org
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