House Consumer Affairs Committee Hearing on Digesters

The House Consumer Affairs Committee scheduled a September 2 hearing in Harrisburg on House
Bill 1349 (Zimmerman-R-Lancaster), a bill concerning net metering and use of anaerobic
digesters. This is a reaction to the Public Utility Commission’s attempt to limit the amount of
electricity generated via anaerobic digesters. Its’ companion in the Senate is Senate Bill 844
(Vogel-R-Beaver), now in the Senate Consumer Protection & Professional Licensure Committee.

Hearing Held on Rural Telephone Access

On August 24, the House Consumer Affairs Committee convened a hearing on House Bill 1417 (Major-R-Susquehanna and Hanna-D-Clinton), continuing PA funding for the Universal Service Fund (USF) until December 31, 2021 and requiring provision of basic landline service as a condition for telecommunications companies to receive any USF monies. According to Rep. Major, in 2011, the Federal Communications Commission dramatically altered the USF system away from basic rural telephone service to expansion of broadband. With the Federal shift, the PA Universal Service Fund is the only remaining support mechanism to ensure that rates for basic services in rural areas closely mirror those in non-rural areas.

WC Budget Bill Signed

Despite being at budgetary loggerheads with the General Assembly, Governor Wolf did sign nine specific budget bills, one of which directly affects Workers’ Compensation insurance. Senate Bill 813 (Hughes-D- Phila.) or Act 9A of 2015 makes appropriations from the Workers’ Compensation Administration Fund ($71.966 million) to fund continued administration of the Workers’ Compensation Act by the Department of Labor & Industry. Three million dollars went to the Uninsured Employers Guaranty Fund. SB 813 also allocates $194,000 to fund the Office of Small Business Advocate housed within the Department of Community & Economic Development.

Another bill, Senate Bill 655, would have re-authorized work of the State Workers Insurance Fund (SWIF), the Workers Compensation insurer of last resort. That was vetoed by the Governor because it contained other funding areas that the Governor opposed.

Legislative Updates

  • Adopted by the Senate unanimously July 14 was Senate Resolution 169 (Vogel-R-Beaver) recognizing 2015 as “International Year of Soils” in Pennsylvania. SR 169 stresses the importance of soil to the Commonwealth both economically and in terms of food supply and recognizes the work of professional soil scientists.
  • Senate Resolution 55 (Hutchinson-R-Venango) creating a Forestry Task Force was reported out by the Senate Environmental Resources & Energy Committee July 14.
  • Rep. Martin Causer (R-McKean) introduced legislation to establish a Small Stream Maintenance Permit to be issued by county conservation districts at no cost in order to facilitate removing obstructions and flood-related hazards from streams. House Bill 1433 was referred to the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee July 6.

Committees Move Ag Easement Bills

Riparian BufferOn May 6, two agricultural easement bills moved through committee:

  • The House Local Government Committee reported out House Bill 859 (Staats-R-Bucks) excluding from tax a transfer of a perpetual agricultural conservation easement as defined by the Agricultural Area Security Law.
  • The Senate Finance Committee reported Senate Bill 556 (McIlhinney-R-Bucks) which excludes from the Real Estate Transfer Tax a conservation easement in perpetuity having as its purpose preservation of open or agricultural land to the S., Commonwealth of PA, or to a 501( c)(3) organization which has as its purpose land preservation.

Other Senate Committee Agriculture Bill Updates

  • Senate Bill 720 sponsored by Aument (R-Lancaster) has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.  It would provide protection from civil liability for owners and operators of agritainment activities. Agritainment is defined as “tourism-related, recreational or educational activities located on farms in Pennsylvania such as corn mazes, pick-your-own crop harvests, hay rides and farm vacations.”  Because many activities involved in the agritainment business are frequently not covered by customary farm liability policies, farmers face a number of challenges in securing adequate coverage and face liability risks when opening up their land to the public.
  • Inheritance Tax exemption for family farm estate plans resulting in the transfer of a farm to family members is the substance of Senate Bill 580 (Gordner-R-Columbia) as a “clarification of Act 85” according to the sponsorship memo.  SB 580 was reported out by the Senate Finance Committee and re-referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
  • Without passage of Senate Bill 756 (Schwank-D-Berks) or similar legislation, First Industries which provides loan guarantees for farm credit institutions will sunset July 15, 2015.  SB 756 is in the Senate Community & Economic Development Committee.

Don’t Miss the March 3 PSCFO Meeting!

Cornucopia 2012 200x167The March 3 Council program will feature both Republican and Democratic Chairs of the House and Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committees to discuss what agricultural issues are likely to come up before the General Assembly.

In addition, PA Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding will present some of the Wolf Administration’s thinking on how PA Agriculture jobs and workforce development are central to Pennsylvania’s total economic well-being.

March 3 is also the day when Governor Wolf presents his State Budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2015 to the General Assembly so expect plenty of buzz about the Department of Agriculture budget.   The PSCFO Board truly hopes you will attend this informative and useful session.

Click here for more information.

Legislative Developments

  • PA Capitol BuildingOn February 10, the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee reported House Bill 188 (Sonney-R-Erie) adding wind power generation to the list of permissible right of ways for preserved farmland owners under the Agricultural Area Security Law. Sponsors include six Republicans and seven Democrats.  Another easement bill (HB 458 (Ross-R-Chester) allowing for a trail easement was referred to the committee February 12.
  • Senate Bill 50 (Schwank-D-Berks) permits cultivation and processing of industrial hemp in PA.  Six of the eight sponsors are Democrats. The hemp legislation was referred to the Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee.
  • Taken up by the Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee are two bills:
  • Senate Bill 352 (Vogel-R-Beaver) consolidates the State Racing & Harness Racing Commissions into one regulatory entity, a new commission comprised of five members appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. Of the bill’s 10 sponsors, six are Republican and four are Democrats.
  • Senate Bill 201 (Schwank-D-Berks) is a re-introduction of legislation to more closely align standards for PA’s Farmland Preservation and the PA Farmland and Forest Land Assessment Act (Clean and Green.) Legislation would amend Clean-and-Green to allow a landowner to lease an area to a third-party for a rural enterprise as currently defined for Farmland Preservation purposes. Of the bill’s sponsors, five are Republican and six are Democrats. Sponsors include both Majority and Minority Chairs of the Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee.

US House Passes Bills of Iinterest to Agriculture

Kubota_L3200 300x250On February 13, the US House of Representatives passed HR 636 by a vote of 272-142, a bill that makes permanent after 2014 the $500,000 allowance for the expensing of depreciable business property (section 179 property and the $2 million threshold after which the amount of such allowance is reduced. Both allowance and threshold amount are indexed for inflation for taxable years beginning after 2015. The taxpayer is allowed to revoke an election to expense section 179 property without first obtaining consent from the Department of the Treasury. There is one PA sponsor of the bill, Republican Rep. Ryan Costello from southeastern PA.

On Feb. 12, by a vote of 279-137, the US House passed HR 644 which includes the text of HR 641 sponsored by northwest PA Republican Rep. Mike Kelly providing a permanent tax incentive for farmers and ranchers to preserve non-developed land for future conservation.  National affiliates of PSCFO members (AFBF and NACD) support the legislation.

Session Days Announced for 2015

The Pennsylvania General Assembly posted its schedule for the first half of 2015.

Month             Senate Session Days                          ______House Session Days

January            6, 20, 21, 26, 27, 28                                        same

February          2, 3, 4, 23, 24, 25                                            same plus 9, 10, 11

March              2, 3, 4                                                              same plus 9, 10, 30, 31

April                13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22                                      same plus April 1

May                 4, 5, 6,11,12,13                                               same

June                 1,2,3,8,9,10,15,16,17,18,22,23,24,25,26,29,30  same

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