On Aug. 20, the House of Representatives and the Senate, constituting the 2013 Regular Session of the General Assembly, adjourned sine die. Unless the yovernor calls for a special session, the General Assembly will not meet again until next year with the start of the 2015 Regular Session.
In light of this, I wanted to take some time to review the General Assembly’s accomplishments over the past two years in more detail than usual. This week’s newsletter will kick off a four-part series that will focus on the major policy areas that were debated.
We have taken great strides towards creating a business friendly environment, reforming education, reining in wasteful spending, lowering the tax burden on everyday North Carolinians and assisting the $77 billion agriculture industry, the number one industry in the state and the foundation of rural North Carolina’s economy.
I am proud of the work we have done these last two years, and this week will focus on the reforms we made to help the agriculture industry pass the $100 billion mark in annual earnings. This goal is well within our reach if we continue to support our farmers with good policies and good infrastructure.
Biennium in Review Part I: Agriculture
Short Session (2014):
Over the interim, we brought back a study committee that has not been used in many years: the Agriculture and Forestry Awareness Study Commission. This study commission is now active during the interim periods and can study issues that are important to the agriculture industry.
We increased AgWRAP funding to help farmers conserve water through adoption of industry-wide best practices.
We appropriated additional funding to the Farmland Preservation Trust Fund to help save farmland from becoming developed.
We provided funding for the Department of Commerce to spend on placing natural gas pipelines in rural North Carolina, where farmers will have greater access to them.
During the 2014 short session, we passed House Bill 366: NC Farm Act of 2014 to continue the momentum we created last year with the 2013 Farm Act. This year’s Farm Act:
Allows DENR to look at citizen complaints confidentially before having to post the information publically. Unfortunately, there is a pattern of frivolous complaints made against farmers with the sole intent of disrupting operations and it isn’t right for a farmer to be hurt financially or his farm’s reputation questioned because of a bad faith complaint filed with erroneous information.
Creates a guarantee for fertilizer labeling, usage and application by keeping local governments from regulating fertilizer for these purposes.
Supports our multi-billion dollar green industry by allowing them to create a voluntary licensing board (which the industry has been working on for almost a decade). It also allows them to bid on projects without a general contractors license.
Improves the security of our food supply by amending the statute for first degree trespass to include agricultural facilities.
Protects landowners from unwanted ATV riders by requiring that a person get written consent to ride on private land; AND reduces landowners liability in the case that an ATV rider gets hurt on their property.
Long Session (2013):
We passed Senate Bill 638: NC Farm Act of 2013. It had been more than 10 years since the North Carolina legislature passed a bill with direct benefits to the agricultural industry and this bill encompassed 17 different aspects of farming.
We added a new member to the Board of Agriculture to ensure the economically vital pork industry is always represented.
We amended closure requirements for containment basins to allow small cattle operations an alternative clean-up process.
We loosened the weight restrictions for trucks carrying feed. It is estimated this measure will save integrators as many as 45 trips per week, which will help keep feed costs low.
We protected farmers’ water, by passing language that states nothing in the statute governing water shortage emergencies could limit a landowner from withdrawing water for use in agricultural activities if that water is on his property or below it.
We revised the laws to protect farmers against nuisance lawsuits. Now, farmers who prevail in frivolous or malicious nuisance lawsuits can be awarded attorney fees.
We gave the Commissioner of Agriculture greater authority to suspend routine weighing of trucks during a declared emergency.
We created a pilot program to that incentivizes the construction of natural gas delivery infrastructure to farmers and rural communities.
We appropriated $5 million to the Department of Agriculture to modernize equipment used at farm research stations.
We were able to fund the Department of Agriculture’s tremendous marketing initiatives to the tune of $3 million. This funding will help North Carolina farmers by putting their products in new markets, at home and abroad.
We brought migrant housing requirements in line with the current state and federal health and housing regulations by exempting them from required installation of automatic sprinkler system.
We exempted ponds that are constructed and used for agriculture from riparian buffer rules.
We amended the definition of seasonal worker from 90 days to nine months, which more realistically reflects the duration of the planting, growing, harvesting and delivery processes.
I hope this summary has been informative. Please be on the lookout for our next three newsletters, which will review our accomplishments in other policy areas over the biennium.