2023 Legislative Session Recap

And just like that, one of the toughest and most tumultuous sessions in recent memory is in the rearview mirror. Last time we checked in on the session, Oregon was in the midst of the longest recorded walkout in history. This session, Oregon experienced the longest walkout in our state’s history. The Senate Republicans walked out for nearly six weeks over several pieces of hotly contested legislation, withholding a quorum in the Senate and limiting its ability to make legislative progress. Despite this delay, the House continued to push forward and pass legislation throughout the walkout — generating a longer and longer list of bills stuck in the Senate, awaiting further action. Thankfully, after the Senate Democrats and Republicans reached a compromise on June 15, the Senate was able to reconvene and get through its growing backlog before Sine Die (the name for the day when the session must end).

Out of the 2,970 measures introduced this legislative session, 653 measures passed — less than 22% of the measures that were introduced. Out of those bills, 360 came from the House and 293 came from the Senate. This number is lower than we typically see in Oregon. Over the past five long sessions, the Legislature has averaged closer to a 30% success rate. Of the 2,317 introduced measures that died this session, 1,413 died on the first chamber deadline, 22 died on the second chamber deadline, and the remaining 882 died on Sine Die. This was a harder than normal session to get things over the finish line, but Oregon’s Community Food Systems had a lot of success!

FoFF’s Main Policy Priorities

Here is what happened with all the priorities we were tracking at the end of the session:

SB 507 (Farm Direct Enhancements)- PASSED

FoFF brought together a coalition of farmers, food hub operators, and farmers market managers to pass the most comprehensive update to the Farm Direct Marketing Law’s Producer Processed Exemption in over a decade. We were able to craft a proposal that modernizes sales channels, brings new product opportunities to producers and raises the sales limit for value added products sold directly from farms. This bill had broad bipartisan support and represents Oregon’s commitment to its community food system. FoFF conceptualized and proposed this bill based on our stakeholder feedback in the 2022 Family Farmer Survey and Focus Groups. Thank you so much to all of our legislative partners, folks who testified and everyone who participated in that focus group and survey process. Check out our landing page for more info on the bill and join us for a lunch and learn webinar on the specifics on July 24th at noon.

HB 2616 (Raw Milk Licensing and Sales Expansion) – Died at first Chamber Deadline

FoFF’s efforts to modernize the raw milk laws and implement a licensing program with food safety standards was not successful this year. Although we had an overwhelming amount of community support and more than 100 people submitted testimony in favor of creating a safe and community minded path forward for raw milk farmers in Oregon, the bill was strongly opposed by the Farm Bureau, the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association, and others. Not all Grade A dairy farmers feel this way, and many see raw milk production as a crucial entry point to the industry.  We invite you all to listen to the testimony from Ross Bansen (a Grade A Organic Dairy Farmer in Monmouth) to learn more about the nuances the industry doesn’t acknowledge. We are disappointed that these groups were not willing to work with us on a solution and hope we can bring folks to the table in the interim to determine the best path forward for raw milk. There is high demand both to consume and produce this product and plenty of science based food safety standards to draw from. Let’s move this forward! 

SB 789 (Maintain the Willamette Protected District) – PASSED with compromise

This bill to maintain the Willamette Valley Protected District and limit Canola production to preserve our specialty seed growing ability is crucial to the existence of our brassica seed industry in Oregon. Although this has been settled science and extended twice before, some politically connected canola farmers were able to drum up opposition and turn this issue into a party line vote. The bill was originally written to make the protected district permanent, but as it was included in the deal to bring Republicans back to the capitol, it was amended to a one year sunset and a workgroup to explore other solutions.

The Oregon Organic Coalition, Friends of Family Farmers, and the Willamette Valley Specialty Seed Association are in favor of the continued protections for seed growers afforded by the -1 amendment (which was adopted and passed, see the text here) and are interested in further research and new policy development through the work group. We stand ready to contribute to a science based discussion about the coexistence of canola and specialty seed production in the Willamette Valley. It is crucial that this work group represent balanced perspectives from both industries and as such our coalition pledges to come to the table with lawmakers on all sides of this discussion to protect the unique agricultural landscape of the Willamette Valley. The specialty seed farmers of Oregon are grateful for your consideration and leaving protections in place while further changes are discussed. We appreciate the hard work of legislators on this issue during such a tumultuous session. 

We will be monitoring the work group closely, arranging farm tours for legislators to visit specialty seed growers and keeping up our efforts to educate new members on this niche issue during the interim.  We are looking forward to finding a solution that preserves this special industry and respects the needs of small farms.

SB 85 – PASSED with compromise

This bill represents years of work for FoFF, the Stand Up to Factory Farms Coalition and other groups/individuals around the state that are concerned about the industrialization of our agricultural system. FoFF has been asking for a pause on the proliferation of factory farms for many years. The risks to the community food systems, processing infrastructure, contamination of our working lands, improper water use in times of growing scarcity, and community concerns made it clear that we needed to speak up for the future of farming in Oregon. We were part of previous efforts to pause the permitting of new Large Tier 2 dairy CAFOs in previous sessions. This was in large part because of the continued nitrate poisoning that has been present in Morrow County for decades and escalated to an emergency this year. We had focused on dairy because the 2008 Dairy Air Task Force recommendations were never put into practice. When Foster Farms started to target the Willamette Valley as a home for gigantic chicken barns (many with sites only feet from residences, schools, churches, and other community gathering places, as well as important habitat and water supplies) we joined in with the local groups to call for common sense community protections from these facilities. So we expanded the campaign to include all species of livestock this year! Although this bill is not everything we wanted it to be, none of our previous bills have ever made it out of committee so any progress is a victory!  We know this is only the beginning, but this bill is worth celebrating.

This bill (with its counterpart in the House HB2667 which did not end up moving forward) was introduced as a moratorium on new Large Tier 2 CAFO permits in the state. There were many amendments over the course of this bill’s life, see them all here. This began as a proposed 8 year pause on issuing new permits to the largest confinement based livestock facilities in the state (see the text in the -1 amendment).  We were quickly told by industry opposition that there was no chance for a moratorium. We needed to come up with concrete changes that we wanted to see made to the system. Although this process was intended to be conducted during the moratorium to allow for thoughtful debate and research, we dove in to propose changes to protect Oregon Farms. This was the -5 amendment. Opposition to our proposed changes was strong. In order to bring some key dairy industry groups to neutral on the proposal (they would never support more regulation on any of their farms), our legislative champions found compromises to get this bill over the finish line.

What SB 85 does:

  • Implements a 5 year restriction on the stockwater exemption (12,000 gal/day) for new CAFO facilities (new meaning there has never been a CAFO there before).
  • Requires a land use compatibility statement from the county authorities for new applications, which could include setbacks from residences, schools, and community gathering places. This is up to county discretion.
  • Requires some farms receiving and applying manure from CAFOs to file a Nutrient Application Permit with ODA and provide the permit number to CAFO permit holders. This only applies to farms applying CAFO manure within an active groundwater management area.
  • Makes permanent some of the newest requirements for new CAFO permits from ODA including two-step inspection before animals can be present, water supply plans, and more. These were new initiatives in 2023 from ODA in response to the groundwater emergency in Morrow County.

This is only the beginning. This proposal is a significant step forward And we are grateful for the hundreds of farmers and rural residents who showed legislators that industrial ag does not speak for rural Oregon on this topic. You made the difference and you are the reason we have made progress. But we are poised to make more meaningful change. We need a permanent solution to the abuse of the stock water exemption by factory farms. We need to address air quality concerns. We need actual groundwater testing requirements and permit remission when harm is caused to prevent another situation like what the Oregonians in Morrow County are facing. This was a step forward, but it is also the beginning of a road to a truly responsible future for Oregon Agriculture.

Community Food System Drought Resilience Funding

FoFF has been part of the Oregon Community Food System Network (OCFSN) since its inception and we have always seen this group as a way to use our particular set of skills (namely in the advocacy sphere) to help our community as a whole.  This came to bear in the 2023 legislative session through a set of items in the BiDRAWS Drought Package (formerly HB 3124) and ultimately came to fruition in a large investment in our community food system in the Christmas Tree Bill (the end of session budget bill where funding for many programs ends up). Here is how the process went:

    • Before the session: The team at OCFSN and FoFF staff who helped with the administration of the 2021 Disaster Relief Fund discussed lessons learned, and developed a report of the impact of the program. Alice from FoFF and Megan Kemple from ORCAN delivered an initial proposal to legislative partners based on a resilience model building from the disaster relief work.
    • Developing the Proposals: Representative Helm’s office came back to OCFSN and FoFF for a secondary proposal (including both producer funding and food hub resilience funding)for the Drought package and asked Alice to bring in the Oregon Farmers Market Association (OFMA) to extend this opportunity to Farmers Markets across the state as well.  These groups delivered proposals for how much state investment would be meaningful to help bring small farms and community food systems up to par in a more arid Oregon.
    • Advocating for the Funding: The BiDRAWs drought package was introduce and 3 separate funding items were included, one for OCFSN to distribute producer grants, one for the OCFSN Food Hub group to distribute grants, and one to allow OFMA to help farmers markets cope with drought and become more accessible. FoFF advocates continued to push legislators to include these items in the final package through meeting with legislators on budget committees, advocating through the Oregon Conservation Network Budget letter process, and providing testimony templates for mass action during the hearing process for folks like you across the state to get involved. FoFF also coordinated with leaders from OCFSN and OFMA to show up and speak loud and clear at the hearing for the drought package to show strong support.  This hearing and the amount of testimony we generated were credited with the success of these funds by the legislators making the calls.

The results cannot be disputed!  We showed up for Oregon’s small farms and Community Food Systems this session:

  • $2,650,000 for grants to small farms and ranches through OCFSN
  • $1,500,000 to food hub and regional food system infrastructure through OCFSN
  • $2,000,000 for Farmers Market resilience and accessibility through OFMA
  • $500,000 for SNAP technical assistance and equipment for farmers markets through OFMA

Although FoFF is not the direct recipient of this funding, we view this as an essential function of our group within our community.  We will continue to help secure resources that can be distributed to the people we serve through thoughtful and inclusive stakeholder involvement.  Look for more info on this program soon!

Coalition efforts

These are all the policies that FoFF had a major hand in this session, but we supported and participated in many other coalition efforts.  Here are the results in brief of many of those efforts:

  • Double Up Food Bucks: This program to match SNAP purchases at Farmers Markets was funded at $4.2M
  • Farm to School Program: The farm to School Program was fully funded at over $10M and the Farm to School Equipment and Infrastructure Grant Fund was increased to $500K in the ODA budget.
  • Meat Processing Infrastructure Grant Fund: This fund which FoFF helped to establish in 2021 was funded at $9M from the state to increase Meat Processing capacity across Oregon.
  • Food for All Oregonians – SB 610 to expand SNAP eligibility to non-citizens did not move forward this session. We look forward to continuing our work in coalition with Oregon Food Bank for future solutions.
  • Right to Refuse Dangerous Work– This bill was spearheaded by PCUN and passed!  It takes effect Jan 1, 2024 to clarify and strengthen worker protections when refusing dangerous work.
  • Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program: Unfortunately OAHP was not funded this Biennium.  We look forward to working with partners to come back in the short session to find a solution.
  • Healthy Soils Initiative: HB 2998 did not pass this session, but we are hopeful that we can find some creative ways to do some of the soil health and climate resilience work contained therein with other programs. We will also look for ways to fill gaps and get more done in this area in the short session.
  • Natural Climate Solutions Bill – Originally SB 530, this program was rolled into and funded through HB 3409. This is where some of the Soil Health Work from HB 2998 may be able to happen.

Thank you to everyone who testified, sent letters to lawmakers and participated in the session. The victories are because of you!