Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s proposal to let power cooperatives get into the broadband business looks like an improvement for Tennessee consumers. But, in my view, the proposal is mostly a bait and switch. The plan, which the governor announced at a press conference last month, maintains strict limitations on the ability of public entities to improve their citizens’ broadband options. And it provides a $45 million subsidy that will go mostly to the same for-profit telephone and cable companies that are already doing a poor job of reaching all Tennesseans with affordable, quality broadband. In 2010, the state Legislature put significant restrictions on both municipalities’ and co-ops’ ability to provide broadband. Jurisdictions that manage their own public utilities can provide broadband only within their service areas, and that’s only if they survive a series of legal and reporting hoops. Despite these roadblocks, several municipal utilities have successfully started providing broadband service in Tennessee. Chattanooga is the best known network, but six others are also in operation. Several legislators, including State Senator Janice Bowling (R- Tullahoma) and State Representative Kevin Brooks (R-Cleveland), have tried to repeal the law. Eight repeal bills were introduced in one legislative session alone. In 2016, legislators and constituents put up such a cry that it repeal seemed imminent. However, legislators influenced by large incumbent communications corporations played one last card, which was to hire a consulting firm to study the issue, thus giving incumbents another year to stall.
A recently introduced bill would make Massachusetts the first state in the nation to commit entirely to renewable energy sources for electricity, heating and transportation.Called the 100 Percent Renewable Energy Act, the measure has already garnered the support of 53 House and Senate members — more than a quarter of the legislators on Beacon Hill, said Ben Hellerstein, state director with Environment Massachusetts.
Raw milk is back on the legislative menu this session, with a majority of the House signing onto a farm bill that Westport Rep. Paul Schmid said would benefit legislative districts from the urban cores to the rolling pastures and forests far from Boston. The Senate passed a similar bill 36-1 last year, and with more than 60 percent of the House already endorsing Schmid's bill, the horizon appears bright for an omnibus agriculture bill this session. The bill (HD 3144) would open up state parkland for use by farmer's markets and community gardens, help veterans deploy to the state's farm fields, and make it easier for dairy farmers to sell their milks sans pasteurization. "Everybody's district has a farmer's market these days, and everybody's concerned about locally raised food. They know it's healthier and it's probably raised with less of a cost on the environment," Schmid told the News Service. He said, "It's been, I'm told, more than 20 years since we did anything on a large basis for agriculture." Schmid's bill has the backing of 96 members of the House — a majority of the 160-seat body — and 10 senators. Spencer Democrat Sen. Anne Gobi filed similar legislation in the Senate, and co-sponsored Schmid's bill. Considered a delicacy in some quarters, raw milk has been viewed unfavorably by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which warned it might contain microorganisms causing vomiting, diarrhea, or flulike symptoms, which can be life-threatening for some.
A South Dakota State University lab has been working to find solutions to livestock diseases for nearly 50 years, including a bird flu outbreak in 2015. But the building that houses the lab is making this a difficult task. This is where a new bill comes into play. The Senate Appropriations Committee introduced the “State Animal Health Lab bill”, or SB 172, which would fund renovating the existing 63,000 sq. ft. facility and constructing an additional 80,000 sq. ft. building. That will include a Biosafety level 3 facility, which Hennings says is necessary to continue handling dangerous pathogens more safely.
From “cow committee” to the New Hampshire Senate floor, dairy farmers inch ever closer to receiving funds to help make up for last summer’s drought. In a 19-3 floor vote Thursday, state senators moved forward a bill that would provide $2 million to the Milk Producers Emergency Relief Fund board to then be distributed to the state’s dairy farmers. The board recommended that the Legislature appropriate a $3.6 million one-time payment for dairy farmers back in October. This was in response to the 2016 drought and associated feed losses, which were compounded by two years of low milk prices set by the federal government. Over the course of 2016, the number of licensed cow dairy operations in New Hampshire dropped from 123 to 115, according to state data.
If it hadn’t been for state cost-share money, Ronnie Nuckols said, he wouldn’t have been able to install 14 fences to keep his cattle out of streams. Nuckols, who farms in Goochland County, is one of countless Virginia farmers who are doing their part to protect the Chesapeake Bay and other waterways by using environment-friendly farming practices. Those systems can be costly, and Virginia farmers stand to lose the financial help they’ve been getting from the state coffers. Nuckols’ fences keep his animals out of the water and protect stream banks, and they allow him to manage the herd with rotational grazing, which replenishes farmland. Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s 2018 budget appropriates only $7.6 million for the best management practices cost-share program that helps farmers pay for voluntary conservation practices. One amendment, sponsored by Dels. R. Steven Landes, R-Verona, and John M. O’Bannon III, R-Richmond, and Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr., R-Mt. Solon, asks that $8.27 million be taken from the Water Quality Improvement Fund, which was created to provide help when surplus funds aren’t sufficient to meet needs. If approved, almost $1 million would be used for technical assistance, and the rest would go to cost-share funding. The second amendment, sponsored by Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge, and Sen. Frank M. Ruff Jr., R-Clarksville, requests $10 million from the general fund garnered from the recordation tax. Of that, $1.2 million would be for technical assistance and $8.8 million for cost-share funding. The third amendment, sponsored by Del. Michael J. Webert, R-Marshall, and Sen. Lynwood W. Lewis Jr., D-Accomac, requests $43.43 million from unappropriated balances in the general fund.
Vermont agriculture officials are meeting to discuss concerns about how the Trump administration's immigration policy could affect the state's immigrant farm workers who are key to the success of the state's dairy farms. The University of Vermont Extension Service told the state's agriculture secretary that the state has about 1,000 Latino farm workers, many of whom are living in the country illegally. Extension employees say a total of 177 out of the state's 818 dairy farms use Latino workers. Republican Gov. Phil Scott has said the state won't work with federal authorities to carry out border security and immigration enforcement orders as suggested by recent executive orders signed by GOP President Donald Trump.
North Dakota dairy producers are taking aim at attracting a specialty dairy products plant in hopes of saving the declining industry. North Dakota has seen a reduction of 350 dairy farms in 2002 to 86 dairy farms today, losing five since the last legislative session. The number of cows is down to 16,000 compared to 40,000 in 2002. Aimed at helping struggling dairy enterprises, a joint study between the North Dakota Dairy Coalition and the South Dakota Department of Agriculture identified the industry’s best options for getting a new processing plant in the area. Jerry Messer, of the North Dakota and Midwest Dairy Coalition, said industry recognizes there are certain things it cannot do. For instance, there’s not enough production to compete in the commodity cheese market. “We just don't have the volume or the expertise to pull that off,” he said.In order to be relevant, North Dakota and South Dakota have to go into niche production, like specialty cheese, whey or a different kind of fluid milk, according to Messer. Any such facility would be of medium to smaller size, ranging in cost of $100 million to $140 million and taking in 500,000 to 1 million pounds of milk per day. As an example, he pointed to a successful Babybel miniature cheese plant in Iowa.
On the heels of the introduction of a bill in South Dakota that would require retail beef products sold in the state to bear a country-of-origin label, a committee in the Wyoming House has approved a similar bill. A majority of House Agriculture Committee members voted in favor of sending House Bill 198 to the full House of Representatives.
A Utah lawmaker wants to send people to jail for harassing farm animals with drones, all-terrain vehicles and even dogs through a proposal that's unique in the U.S. and has gained an unlikely opponent. Republican Rep. Scott Chew, who's also a rancher, said Tuesday that he introduced the bill because farmers incur significant costs and hardships when livestock are injured.