This week from the Statehouse and Congress

Here is a rundown of updates on issues Farm Bureau is involved with at the Statehouse and Congress.


Senate starts hearing proposal to raise severance tax

The Senate has started holding hearings on a bill that would raise the tax on horizontal oil and gas drilling in Ohio. House Bill 375 would raise the severance tax to 2.5 percent, lower than the 2.75 percent Gov. John Kasich sought to help pay for a state income tax cut.

The House passed the bill in May but the Senate is not likely to take action until after the November election, said Yvonne Lesicko, OFBF senior director of state and national policy.

While most of Ohio Farm Bureau’s priority issues were addressed in the bill, two issues still remain — the income tax credit for landowners and the amount of revenue to be returned to impacted counties.

OFBF has been working with Rep. Brian Hill, R-Zanesville, and other lawmakers to raise the income tax credit for landowners set at 12.5 percent in the bill so almost all existing leaseholders would be covered. Farm Bureau also seeks a higher percent of money generated by the tax to be returned to counties impacted by shale development. The bill calls for 17.5 percent.

Kasich signs OFBF-backed farm nutrient legislation

In May Gov. John Kasich signed Senate Bill 150 into law, which requires anyone who applies commercial fertilizer on more than 50 acres to be certified by the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Both the House and Senate unanimously passed the OFBF key vote bill.

OFBF was actively engaged in the multi-year process of drafting, writing and revising the law, which is the first of its kind in the nation. The law meets OFBF’s policy goals that a fertilizer certification program created by the state include an educational component, be economically feasible and be part of a comprehensive strategy to reduce all sources of nutrients.

The new law, which goes into effect in 2017, also gives farmers an affirmative defense in lawsuits related to fertilizer application.

Agritourism bill introduced in Ohio Senate

Ohio Sens. Shannon Jones, R-Springboro, and Bob Peterson, R-Sabina, have introduced an agritourism bill that will help farmers deal with burdensome regulations and minimize liability when farms are open to the public for education and entertainment. Ohio Farm Bureau helped develop model policy for the legislation.

Senate Bill 334 will help Ohio agritourism operators in the areas of civil liability, property taxation, zoning authority and amusement ride standards.

Governor signs invasive species bill

Gov. John Kasich has signed Senate Bill 192 into law, which gives the director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture “sole and exclusive authority” to regulate invasive plant species in the states. The bill was a key vote for Ohio Farm Bureau, which has policy that has long called for coordination among state and federal agencies and private landowners to combat invasive species.

Lawmakers pass bill that freezes Ohio’s renewable energy standard

Both the House and Senate have passed Senate Bill 310, which places a two-year freeze on Ohio’s renewable energy standard and eliminates the advanced energy standard.

During the two-year freeze, a bipartisan legislative panel will study and make suggestions to the standards. OFBF policy supports having 25 percent of Ohio’s energy needs met through the use of clean coal, advanced nuclear and renewable energy sources by 2025.

Farm Bureau has provided testimony and weighed in on amendments, expressing concern that this freeze and several other provisions would create insecurity in the market and hamper investment in renewable technology.

OFBF testifies on manure authority transfer bill

Ohio Farm Bureau recently testified on House Bill 490, which would give the Ohio Department of Agriculture authority over the manure management of all farms, not just large ones.

Under the bill, the statutory and rulemaking and enforcement authority of manure from nonpermitted facilities would move from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to ODA. The bill does not expand regulatory authority.

Tony Seegers, OFBF director of state policy, testified before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources committee, saying HB 490 is a good complement to Senate Bill 150, which was recently signed into law.

“HB 490 will consolidate the oversight of nutrients under one agency. This should better serve farmers by giving them a single point of contact regarding the management of nutrients and, with ODA’s enforcement powers, HB 490 should build on SB 150 to also better protect Ohio’s water quality,” Seegers said.

He said OFBF supports the provision in the legislation that provides “quicker and tougher enforcement against bad actors.”

ODNR is expected to retain jurisdiction over watersheds in distress, including Grand Lake St. Marys and any possible future watershed so designated. OFBF is still waiting to see the language for this continued jurisdiction.


Congress passes Water Resources Reform and Development Act

After months of negotiations, Congress has passed the $12 billion Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), paving the way for funding of water infrastructure projects nationwide.

WRRDA will fund improvements to the nation’s ports, channels, locks, dams and other infrastructure that support waterways transportation. Ohio is ranked 13th in the nation for exports with one of every three rows of corn and soybeans exported. Transporting freight by water is the most energy efficient option with a savings of $14 per ton to use the waterways instead of rails or roads, according to American Farm Bureau.

Last year both the House and Senate overwhelmingly passed versions of the bill. In May, both chambers passed a compromise bill that authorizes 34 new projects for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. President Obama is expected to sign the bill.

“We wrote this bill without compromising our key principles: maintaining fiscal responsibility, streamlining studies and reviews of projects, removing all earmarks and maintaining Congress’ role in determining our nation’s infrastructure projects,” said Ohio Rep. Bob Gibbs who worked tirelessly to pass this act and was a co-sponsor of one of the bills.

AFBF said it was imperative that Congress pass the legislation. A report by the American Society of Civil Engineers shows about 50 percent of the nation’s 257 locks are classified as functionally obsolete and by 2020 that percent is expected to increase to 80 percent.

AFBF urges Congress to reinstate tax provisions

American Farm Bureau is working on getting Congress to reinstate several tax provisions that expired at the end of the year and make them permanent.

The House Ways and Means Committee has passed a bill to permanently extend the Section 179 small business expensing deduction at 2013 levels. The committee also has marked up three legislative issues to make them permanent: deductions for conservation easements, deductions for charitable contributions of food and an additional 50 percent bonus depreciation for the purchase of new capital assets, which was introduced by Ohio Rep. Pat Tiberi.

Farm Bureau asks White House to focus on honeybee health

American Farm Bureau has submitted comments to the White House to address issues related to pollinator health including suggestions for activities and policies that can be undertaken with current resources.

AFBF encourages the U.S. Department of Agriculture to instruct Ag Extension Service to give a priority to the establishment of voluntary, state-based programs to enhance protection of honeybees. The comments also propose that the federal government should focus efforts on honeybee health instead of trying to address all pollinator issues more broadly.