Posted August 8, 2023 at 12:00pm by email@example.com
2023 Agriculture and Food System Policy Recap
The 2023 legislative session was a busy and exciting year on many levels - the legislature returned to a full in-person session for the first time since 2019 (2020 had an abbreviated in-person session before the pandemic), the House and Senate had historic turnover in representation with 11 first time Senators and 51 first time House representatives, and a number of important food and agriculture related legislation and appropriations were passed. Farm to Plate's Policy Team checked in with one another on a weekly basis over the legislative session to track food system bills and keep on another apprised of important developments. Below is a summary of agriculture and food system related legislation and budget appropriations that the group track that passed, along with information on legislation that was introduced, did not pass, but is likely to be up for debate again in 2024.
Legislation that Passed:
H.494 (Act 78): An act relating to making appropriations for the support of government
With one-time general and education fund surpluses, in addition to an influx of federal funding for Covid relief, a lot of attention of the legislature and advocates in 2023 was focused on appropriations through the state's budget. Many strategically important agriculture and food system related appropriations were passed in the 2023 budget, including:
- $1 million in base funding, and a one-time $1 million allocation for the Working Lands Enterprise Board. An additionaly $1 million is also available to WLEB through remaining recovery funds, bringing the FY 24 total for WLEB to $3 million.
- $2.3 million appropriation for the new Agriculture Development Grant Program - grants through this program will focus on meat, maple, and produce processing and infrastructure.
- $6.9 million for organic dairy relief.
- A one-time $150k appropriation for the Small Farmer Diversification and Transition Program.
- $1.2 million for the Land Access and Opportunity Board.
- $1 million one-time appropriation to the Vermont Foodbank.
- $250k increase to Conservation Districts base funding.
H.126 (Act 59): An act relating to community resilience and biodiversity protection
Act 59 establishes state goals of conserving 30% of the land of Vermont by 2030, and 50% by 2050. It requires the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, in consultation with the Secretary of Natural Resources to develop an inventory of the existing conserved lands in Vermont and a plan on how to reach the goals. Important to note that agricultural land will be included in the inventory, as part of what the Act defines as a "Natural resource management area", but that as part of the inventory development "criteria shall be developed to determine the types of agricultural lands that will qualify as supporting and restoring biodiversity and therefore count towards the natural resource management area category".
H.165 (Act 64): An act relating to school food programs and universal school meals
This act establishes a permanent statewide universal meals program. Through the creation of the universal meals supplement, Sec. 2 and 3 of this act provide for free breakfast and lunch under the federal school food programs for all public school students and students attending approved independent schools on public tuition. The universal meals supplement is funded through an appropriation from the Education Fund, which will be $29 million for fiscal year 2024. Enacting a permanent universal school meals program is a Priority Strategy of the 2021-2030 Strategic Plan, and helps the state accomplish food system goals related to food access and equity.
H.217 (Act 76): An act relating to child care, early education, workers' compensation, and unemployment insurance
Introduces $120 million annually for childcare to support families and childcare providers. The act increases subsidy eligibility and amounts for families, and increases reimbursements to childcare providers. Increase in reimbursements will allow providers to raise wages in an effort to retain employees and improve care to families. The bill also tasks a study committee with examining the feasibility of offering full day pre-k, either publicly or by contract with private providers. Act 76 helps address Strategic Priority 23, and recommendations contained with the Child Care Brief of the 2021-2030 Strategic Plan.
H.472 (Act 73): An act relating to miscellaneous agricultural subjects
The House's miscellaneous agriculture bill, it act enacts multiple provisions related to miscellaneous agricultural subjects, including:
- Clarifies the process and formula for awards of operational grants to agricultural fairs and field days.
- Authorizes the period under which the Agency of Agriculture,Food and Markets (Agency) is required to inspect a weights and measures device by up to 24 months from the date of original application for a weights and measures license.
- Repeals the statutory requirements for the issuance of certified livestock brands.
- Requires an apiary to be inspected within 45 days of sale of the bees from the apiary.
- Repeals the permit exemption for bees transported into the State when the bees are registered in Vermont, were transported not more than 75 miles from the registered Vermont location, and are imported back into the State within 30 days of original transport.
- Requires products intended to improve a distinct type of horticultural growing, such as hydroponic growing, to register with the Agency.
- Requires persons who are in the business of selling, installing, or distributing nursery stock to obtain a nursery dealer license.
- Repeals the requirements that the Agency compensate owners of nursery stock when the stock is ordered to be destroyed due to disease or infestation.
- Extends for one year the sales tax exemption on advanced wood boilers
S.115 (Act 42): An act relating to miscellaneous agricultural subjects
The Senate's miscellaneous agriculture bill, it enacts multiple provisions related to agricultural subjects, including:
- Authorizes the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets to order a quarantine of domestic animals that are suspected of having been exposed to biological or chemical agents that may cause milk or dairy products to be adulterated or otherwise unsafe for human consumption.
- Updates the State’s laws regarding the sale of eggs.
- Increases the maximum amount of an administrative penalty that the Agency can assess for a violation of the laws the Agency administers.
- Clarifies that municipalities cannot assess stormwater fees on property subject to the Required Agricultural Practices.
Act 65 makes changes to the adult-use cannabis program and Medical Cannabis Registry, including:
- Repealing the Cannabis Control Board Advisory Committee and repealing the sunset of the Cannabis Control Board (CCB) in 2024.
- Establishing a new propagation cultivator license that allows cultivation of immature cannabis plants and clones.
- Permitting the CCB to issue or renew a State-issued cannabis establishment license even if the applicant has not received a permit required by the municipality if the CCB finds that the municipality has exceeded its authority under statute with respect to the requirements it has placed on the applicant.
- Clarifying that the prohibition against a municipality banning cannabis establishments from operating within its borders includes regulation by the municipality that has the effect of banning such establishments.
- Extending the benefits that have been available to small cultivators to all outdoor cultivators, allowing such cultivators to enroll in the Use Value Appraisal Program regardless of whether the land was previously enrolled prior to the cultivation of cannabis, and entitling such cultivators to a rebuttable presumption that cultivation does not constitute a nuisance under law in the same manner as “agricultural activities.”
- Increasing the maximum THC content of a packaged cannabis product from 50 to 100 milligrams but not affecting the total amount of cannabis that may be
purchased or possessed by a person over 21 years of age.
- Establishing procedures for public access to information regarding complaints and investigations by the CCB.
- Increasing the maximum amount of cannabis that may be cultivated by a registered patient or caregiver to six mature plants and 12 immature plants.
- Clarifying that cannabis and cannabis products are not included in the definitions of tobacco substitute or other tobacco product and are not subject to
regulation by the Department of Liquor and Lottery.
- Transferring $500,000.00 from the Cannabis Regulation Fund to support loans and grants to social equity applicants and requiring a report on the administration and funding of the Cannabis Business Development Fund.
- Directing the Racial Disparities in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice System Advisory Panel to collaborate with local and national stakeholders to study the
administration and funding of the Cannabis Business Development Fund and gather qualitative and quantitative data informing the establishment and funding of community reinvestment for individuals and communities disproportionately impacted by the criminalization of cannabis. The Panel is required to provide recommendations on how to administer and fund the Cannabis Business Development Fund and fund and administer reinvestment in individuals and communities disproportionately harmed by cannabis criminalization to the Senate Committees on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs and on Finance on or before January 15, 2024.
Legislation That Did Not Pass but Will Likely Come Up Again in the 2024 Session
H.128: An act relating to removing regulatory barriers for working lands businesses
In an effort to improve the viability of Vermont farms and support enterprise diversification, H.128 would introduce amendments to Vermont's accessory on-farm businesses (AOFB) regulations. More info on AOFBs can be found on VAAFM's webiste, and a report to the legislature on Act 250 and AOFBs can be accessed here.
H.81: An act relating to fair repair of agricultural equipment
H.81 passed the House but did not have time to pass out of the Senate in 2023. The bill would require original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to make parts, tools, and software available to owners and independent repair providers. The intent is to address service delays that farmers have experienced to schedule and fix equipment with equipment dealers, and improve affordability for repairs.
PFAS related legislation:
H.50: An act relating to prohibiting the labeling of consumer products that contain PFAS as compostable
This bill proposes to prohibit the sale, offer for sale, or distribution of a consumer product in the State that has a total organic fluorine concentration of greater than 100 parts per million.
S.82: An act relating to the development of a committee to study the impacts of PFAS in leachate from landfills in the State
This bill proposes to create a study committee to evaluate the impacts of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances leachate on natural resources from landfills in the State.
Biosolids and Eco-Sanitation related legislation:
H.130: An act relating to the management of biosolids
This bill would require the Secretary of Natural Resources to manage all biosolids and domestic septage generated or imported into the State as Class B biosolids. The Secretary of Natural Resources would be prohibited from managing biosolids and domestic septage as exceptional quality biosolids or Class A biosolids.
H.163: An act relating to eco-sanitation systems
This bill proposes to create the Ecologically Sustainable Sanitation Working Group (Working Group) to study alternative ecologically sustainable sanitation systems (eco-sanitation) and develop best management practices for low-flow greywater and eco-sanitation11
systems. The bill would require the Secretary of Natural Resources to adopt the best management practices developed by the Working Group, including through amendment to the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Wastewater System and Potable Water Supply Rules
Right to Farm
Exists in draft form which can be reviewed here. Testimony and additional materials can be found here. There was considerable debate about amending Vermont's Right to Farm law, centered around nuisance issues and mediation requirements, but currently a lack of clear consensus around extent of changes that are needed and if some of the proposes changes would go too far in protecting farms from nuisance complaints.