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Livestock care bill introduced
Buckeye Farm News
Legislation (HB 414) to determine the specifics by which the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board will operate has been introduced.
The bill, sponsored by Reps. Linda Bolon, D-Columbiana, and Allan Sayre, D-Dover, provides that members of the board will serve without compensation, that board members will be subject to Ohio’s ethics laws, specifics of the board’s appointment process and that the board will have the authority to establish standards for livestock care as called for in State Issue 2. However, the board would be prohibited from establishing a statewide animal identification system.
Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) Director Robert Boggs recently told lawmakers the bill “takes the right approach to the discussion of livestock care standards,” and is superior to making decisions based on ideology or philosophy.
“Ohio voters indicated their strong support for a livestock care standard process. It is now up to us to deliver to them what they asked for,” he said.
Boggs also noted that many opponents of Issue 2 claimed that the establishment of the board was “a smokescreen” and a “paper tiger” that would have no real authority and only serve to protect the interests of “big agriculture.”
“The surest way to validate these claims would be to limit the enforcement authority of the Department (of Agriculture) or to not provide the funding that is necessary for such enforcement,” he said.
ODA’s plan makes use of its existing eight livestock inspectors, four enforcement officers and four veterinarians for the program, with the need for two additional employees.
Boggs said the board does not seek or desire criminal penalties and that ODA will seek compliance with livestock care standards through civil law.
Additionally, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation Director of State Policy Beth Vanderkooi said HB 414 neither adds to nor infringes upon the duties of a county humane agent.
“The language of Issue 2 and HB 414 clearly indicate that ODA, not local humane societies, will enforce standards created by the board as a civil matter (based upon fines),” Vanderkooi said. “County humane agents (and county prosecutors) will continue to have jurisdiction over animal cruelty matters, which are generally criminal charges (punishable by a variety of means including fines, jail time, probation, etc.).”
HB 414 also provides for the constitutional right to appeal the board’s enforcement process and standards under Chapter 119 of the Ohio Revised Code, which establishes agency rulemaking, agency actions and the appeal of agency decisions.
Vanderkooi said that while OFBF encourages close scrutiny, the “right of entry” language in the bill, which would allow ODA to investigate suspected cases on non-compliance, is common throughout the Ohio Revised Code. The authority has been provided to state agencies that farmers commonly deal with, including ODA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Natural Resources, since as early as 1973. Other instances where this is common include meat, dairy, seed and egg inspections.
The current funding option for the program would increase an existing inspection fee paid by distributors of commercial livestock feed by 15 cents per ton over a three-year period. But according to Vanderkooi, it’s not the only option.
“Ohio Farm Bureau’s philosophy when approaching any state budget matter is that programs that are beneficial to all Ohioans should be funded by General Revenue Funding (GRF),” Vanderkooi said. “That said, we realize we’re in extraordinary times in respect to the state budget. If it is necessary to pursue alternate sources of funding, it needs to be fair, reasonable and transparent.”
She said the General Assembly continues to explore alternate options as it also considers the appropriate level of funding to support the goals of the board. In its budget, ODA is assuming the increase on the feed inspection fee would generate up to $500,000 when fully implemented. This would cover the administrative costs of the board as well as associated compliance costs.
“We’ve known all along that there will be day-to-day costs associated with the program. We encourage the cross-training of existing ODA staff to assist the board," Vanderkooi said.
Boggs said he plans to hold regional meetings to get public comments on livestock care standards. All standards would be subject to the public rule-making process, which is also open to public comment.
“We want this entire process to be extremely transparent and deliberative,” Boggs said. He said the first year of the board is critical to build public confidence prior to another possible livestock issue on the ballot in November. “It is my hope that we can get this legislation through both houses and conference if needed by the end of (February).”
Vanderkooi said the Ohio Senate is finalizing its draft version of the legislation. “We look forward to what they propose, as they may take a different approach,” she said.
What would the feed inspection fee cost?
An inspection fee is currently paid by first distributors of commercial livestock feed at a rate of 25 cents per ton. HB 414 would increase that fee by 15 cents per ton over three years to fund the livestock care standards program.
Assuming that entire fee increase was passed on, a farmer who buys 200,000 pounds of feed could see a total cost increase of $15. The cost of a 50-pound bag of feed might increase by about 1/3 of a penny.