Welcome to Hotline number five. This week was filled with testimony on bills about program open space, value added agriculture assessment, agritourism, and deer crop damage. Staff continues to work on key legislation in subcommittee and committee voting sessions. As we move into the last full week of February, committees will start to ramp up bill hearings as the bill submission deadlines have passed. In addition, the Senate moved back into in-person bill hearings this week, but the house remains in the virtual world. Signing up to testify on bills is still the same, but there are different timelines on when you can do that. Both the House and Senate sign-ups are done online.
The Hotline will be posted on the MDFB websiteeach week. Maryland Farm Bureau members are urged to contact their legislators and members of the relevant committees in support of Maryland Farm Bureau's positions on the bills. To contact legislators and follow important bills, visit Maryland Farm Bureau's action center and select "key legislation." The action center can serve as a valuable tool for legislative information. The site offers the proceedings and agendas of the House and Senate, hearing schedules, bill information and status, and other data updated nightly.
HB 540: Agriculture - University of Maryland Extension - Urban Farmer Assistance Delegate Henson, APP at 1:00 PM
This bill requires the University of Maryland Extension to hire an extension agent dedicated to urban farm production methods and crop management and an extension agent dedicated to urban farm and agribusiness management. It requires the agents to perform applied research and provide education to urban farmers. Finally, the bill requires the Governor to annually include $300,000 in the annual budget bill for the extension agents hired under the act.
Maryland Farm Bureau Policy: We believe that the University of Maryland should establish a line item in their budget for funding the University of Maryland Extension and the Agricultural Experiment Stations. We urge increased funding for agricultural research and extension to bring more equitable funding support and correct the disparity between these departments and the rest of the University. We support ongoing skills development training in urban agriculture for all ages.We support the expansion of urban farming and the creation of a clear pathway to land ownership for urban farmers.
HB 698: Labor and Employment - State Minimum Wage Rate - Increase Delegate Turner, ECM at 1:00 PM
This bill accelerates the state minimum wage rates in effect and repealing the authority of the Board of Public Works to temporarily suspend an increase to the state minimum wage rate. Current law has the $15 minimum wage rate to be in full effect for large employers by 2025 and small employers by 2026. This bill moves the $15 rate up to July 1, 2022, for large employers and up to July 1, 2023, for small employers. There are no exemptions for Ag employees other than the existing federal ag worker exemption.
Maryland Farm Bureau Policy: We support the passage of legislation to exempt agriculture workers and point of sale workers in agriculture from minimum wage increase requirements.
SB 594: Winery and Vineyard Economic Development Grant Program Senator Guzzone, B&T at 1:00 PM
This bill establishes the Winery and Vineyard Economic Development Grant Program within the Department of Commerce and authorizes new and existing wineries and vineyards to receive a grant equal to 25% of the qualified capital expenses incurred in connection with establishing new wineries or vineyards or completing capital improvements at existing wineries and vineyards. It requires the Governor each year to include in the annual budget bill an appropriation of at least $1,000,000 to be used for grants under the program.
HB 562: Consumer Protection - Right to Repair - Farm Equipment Delegate Hornberger, ECM at 1:00 PM
This bill requires a farm equipment manufacturer to make available documentation, updates, or information (including the software needed to flash/pair the computer system in the farm equipment) to an independent repair provider or owner of farm equipment to allow for the diagnosis, maintenance, or repair of the farm equipment. It prohibits a farm equipment manufacturer from knowingly misrepresenting or withholding farm equipment part numbers from a customer.
Maryland Farm Bureau Policy: We support legislation requiring agricultural equipment manufacturers to make available the necessary documents, software, and information to allow independent shops and individuals to repair equipment.
HB 596: Constitutional Amendment - Environmental Rights Delegate W. Fisher, E&T at 1:00 PM
This bill proposes an amendment to the Maryland Constitution, contingent on a referendum, to establish that every person has the right to a certain clean and healthy environment. The bill elaborates that a clean environment is all of the following: clean air, pure water, ecosystems that sustain Maryland's natural resources, which include that waters of the state, air, flora, fauna, climate, and public lands, the preservation of the natural, healthful, scenic, and historic values of the environment, and states that Maryland's natural resources are the common property of every person. This would give citizens in Maryland standing to intervene on any state application process if they believe it interferes with any of those clean environment definitions mentioned above. Some examples would include, CAFO's, irrigation, hemp, new buildings, composting, commercial fishing, and aquaculture permits.
Maryland Farm Bureau Policy: We strongly support responsible and workable actions designed to permit and protect the privilege and rights of farmers, commercial fisherman, and aquaculturalists, to produce without undue or unreasonable restrictions, regulations, or legislation. We support actions to ensure that farmers are protected from liability and nuisance suits when carrying out normal production practices.
HB 727: Natural Resources - Maryland Park Service and State Parks - Alterations Delegate Luedtke, E&T at 1:00 PM
This comprehensive bill addresses infrastructure, capacity, and accessibility needs within the Maryland Park Service and State parks, including establishing systems and processes for surveying infrastructure and critical maintenance needs, increasing the number of Maryland Park Service full-time employees, requiring the Department of Budget and Management to conduct certain staff reviews, and requiring the Department of Natural Resources to develop a capital improvement plan and a comprehensive long-range strategic plan. Included in this bill is more funding for the Maryland Ag Land Preservation Foundation. Also, in this bill is the possible use of the Program Open space payback funding. Maryland Farm Bureau supports the repayment of these funds and seeks to see some of these funds to cover the cost for the Urban Ag Water and Power Infrastructure Fund that is being established in HB 855. Also, we would like to see funding go to the Department of Natural Resource - Wildlife Services Division to assist with proper wildlife habitat maintenance on the states parks, forests, and wildlife management areas.
Maryland Farm Bureau supports this bill with two amendments:
If this bill is to use the Program Open Space payback funds, we would like the Urban Agriculture Water and Power Infrastructure Grant Fund and program to be included at $500,000/year for 4 years starting in FY24.
We would like to see dedicated funds appropriated to maintain the wildlife more properly in the state parks, forests, and wildlife management areas at $500,000/year for 4 years starting in FY24.
Maryland Farm Bureau Policy: We support grant programs to provide infrastructure for urban farms. We urge Program Open Space revenues that were diverted to the General Fund to be repaid. We support using a portion of these repaid funds to be used to increase wildlife management in the state. This could include state cost share for vegetative fencing/sacrificial crops and wildlife fencing. We recommend that the larger share of open space funds be used for maintenance of present state-owned land rather than the acquisition of new land. We urge diverting a portion of the open space funds to be used for managing wildlife on state owned land.
HB 798: Community Healthy Air Act Delegate Jay, E&T at 1:00 PM
This bill establishes the Committee on Air Quality to create, on or before January 1, 2023, an air quality sampling and monitoring protocol for the collection of air quality and public health data associated with certain large animal-feeding operations.
The Committee consists of eight of the following members: one expert in regulatory compliance, selected by the Office of the Attorney General and then members selected by the Dean of the University of Maryland School of Public Health and the Dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:
One expert in air pollution sampling and monitoring;
One expert in spatial statistics and monitoring;
One expert in exposure science;
One expert in environmental epidemiology;
One expert in toxicology;
One expert in human health risk assessment;
One preventive medicine physician.
Maryland Farm Bureau Policy: We oppose requiring CAFO's to install air quality monitoring devices.
HB 586: Queen Anne's County - Public Safety - Buildings Used for Agritourism Delegate Arentz, E&T at 1:00 AM
This is legislation that adds Queen Anne's County to a list of other counties that exempt existing ag structures that are going to be used for agritourism from being required to retrofit the structure with bathrooms, sprinklers and other high occupancy requirements. This exemption allows up to 200 people in the structure. The structure must still adhere to the structural integrity standards as well as entrance and exit requirements.
Maryland Farm Bureau Policy: Agritourism should be defined as activities conducted on a farm and offered to the public or to invited groups for the purpose of education, recreation, or active involvement in the farm operation.
HB 855: Agriculture - Urban Agriculture Water and Power Infrastructure Grant Program and Fund - Establishment Delegate Boyce, E&T at 1:00 AM
This bill establishes the Urban Agriculture Water and Power Infrastructure Grant Program in the Department of Agriculture to increase the viability of urban farming and community gardens and improve access to urban-grown foods. The Urban Agriculture Water and Power Infrastructure Grant Fund as a special, nonlapsing fund that is funded through the Program Open Space payback money. The program is to be funded for four years starting in FY24 at $500,000 per year.
Maryland Farm Bureau Policy: We support and encourage urban farming/agriculture. We support grant programs to provide infrastructure for urban farms.
Summer 2022 Russell Brinsfield Agro-Ecology Internship Program The Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology, Inc. (Hughes Center) and the Agriculture Law Education Initiative (ALEI) are seeking law and undergraduate student applicants interested in careers in agriculture, environmental conservation, forestry, and/or policy for the 2022 Russell Brinsfield Agro-Ecology Summer Internship program. Multiple students will be selected for this eight-week internship, which includes a competitive salary and the opportunity to interact with leaders from the agricultural and environmental communities as well as state agencies. More here.
Secretary Recognizes 'Unsung Heroes of Maryland Agriculture' The Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) today announced a new monthly award that will honor the contributions of Marylanders working in various roles in the farming and food production industries. Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder will present the "Unsung Heroes of Maryland Agriculture" award monthly to Marylanders who embody the dedication and commitment of the state's agriculture community. More here.
Scholarships Available for Maryland Farm Bureau Families Maryland Farm Bureau is giving back to its members and students of the community by offering five $2,000 scholarships for the 2022-2023 academic year. Applicants must be high-school seniors starting college in the fall of 2022 or full-time college students at any accredited community college or four-year institution. Applicants, or their parents/guardians, must be members of Maryland Farm Bureau. More here.
Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities USDA is committed to supporting a diverse set of farmers, ranchers, and forest owners through climate solutions that increase resilience, expand market opportunities, and strengthen rural America. The new Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities opportunity provides up to $1 billion for pilot projects that create market opportunities for commodities produced using climate-smart practices. USDA is now accepting project applications for fiscal year 2022. More here.