Muckboots in the Capitol – February 2014 Legislative Session Wrap-Up

The Oregon Legislature convened its 2014 legislative session on February 3 and finished work on March 7, two days ahead of the constitutionally required adjournment date. A number of bills were introduced that were important to Oregon farmers and food consumers:

HB 4078 – As introduced, this bill would have affirmed Washington County’s controversial plans to designated significant farmland for urban development, a move opposed by FoFF and many farm, food and land use groups.

  • Because it was so controversial as originally written, this bill was amended substantially and became the topic of a ‘land use grand bargain’ that would end further lawsuits over Washington County’s controversial rural/urban boundary changes, while providing longterm protection for substantial high quality farmland in the Helvetia area (and others) in Washington County by largely designating these lands as rural reserve. Read more about the ‘land use grand bargain’ here.
  • On February 27, the amended HB 4078 passed out of the House Rules committee with a broad consensus of support from land use planning advocates and farm groups. It passed the House in a unanimous vote on February 28, followed by a unanimous vote of the Oregon Senate shortly after. Governor Kitzhaber is expected to sign the bill into law.
  • Though compromise was reached on HB 4078 and the issue of setting rural and urban reserves in Washington County, some legislators are using the bill’s passage to call for potentially significant changes to the land use system that could put farmland at risk in the 2015 legislative session.

SB 1541 – Extends until 2020 the crop donation tax credit for farmers that donate crops to food banks and food pantries.

  • FoFF and a wide array of farm, food and food security groups submitted testimony in support of this bill and it passed the Senate 30-0 on February 14. It ultimately also passed the Oregon House unanimously in the final few days of the legislative session. Read testimony on the bill here.
  • Because the bill has passed, beginning in 2014, farmers donating their crops to food banks and food pantries will be able to received a tax credit for up to 15% of the wholesale value of the food donated, and be able to use the credit on their taxes for up to three years. The new crop donation tax credit expires in 2020.

SB 1563 – Expands Oregon’s entrepreneurial development fund (a loan program) for use in rural areas, increasing the cap on loans from $70,000 to $100,000, and extending payback periods from 5 to 10 years. This expanded program could be used for lending to agriculture and small farm businesses in rural areas.

  • This bill has passed both the Senate and House with little opposition and is on its way to the Governor’s desk. Read the bill here.

HB 4139 – Would have declared certain neonicotinoid pesticides as ‘restricted use’ and stepped up education about pollinators for pesticide applicators.

  • This bill was substantially amended in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and no longer contains a restriction on pesticides. The amended bill instead establishes new pollinator education requirements for licensed pesticide applicators and sets up a Governor-appointed task force to identify new pollinator protection measures that could be enacted by the Legislature or Oregon Department of Agriculture in the future.
  • The amended bill has passed both the House and Senate and is now headed to the Governor. Read an article here.

HB 4153 – Authorized cities and counties to adopt ordinances for expediting industrial development in rural areas with high unemployment, which could negatively impact farmland.

  • This bill died in committee.

HB 4100 – Would have referred a measure to the November 2014 ballot that would require labeling of genetically engineered (GMO) foods sold in Oregon.

  • A public hearing was held on this bill on February 12 in the House Rules Committee. Friends of Family Farmers testified in support along with a wide range of food, farm and consumer organizations and businesses including Whole Foods, Organically Grown Company, Oregon Tilth, Oregon Farmers’ Markets Association, Oregon Rural Action, Consumers Union, Slow Food Portland, Rogue Farm Corps, and more. See all submitted testimony here.
  • Because this bill was in the House Rules Committee, it could have moved to a vote at any time up until the end of the session.
  • The Legislature ultimately failed to take any further action on this legislation, marking three sessions in a row of not holding a vote on the issue of GMO food labeling, instead leaving the issue up to the citizen initiative process or the Governor’s GMO Task Force (see below) for now.

Governor Kitzhaber’s GMO Task Force:

  • The Governor’s GMO Task Force was initially announced in early October to help establish statewide policies relating to the regulation of genetically engineered crops and foods as a result of the inclusion of SB 863 in a short special session of the Legislature in the fall of 2013. SB 863 pre-empted local communities from establishing or enforcing local seed and food related ordinances and was a top-priority of out-of-state companies that patent and market genetically engineered seeds and pesticides. In lieu of local policies, many legislators and the Governor called for a statewide approach to such issues. The task force will be tasked with developing policies to address conflicts between GMO crops and non-GMO crops, food labeling, and other related issues, and to inform legislation the Governor plans to bring forward in 2015.
  • During the February session, the Legislature approved $125,000 in funding for the task force.
  • The Governor’s office has announced that the facilitator of the task force will be Oregon Consensus, and the co-chairs will be Dan Arp, Dean of the College of Agriculture at Oregon State University, and Jennifer Allen, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Solutions at Portland State University. Other members of the task force are being identified now and the group is planning to begin meeting in April.