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

2014 Election Results Special

ballot boxHARRISBURG – Democrat York businessman Tom Wolf easily defeated incumbent Tom Corbett 54.8% to 45.2% (1,892,193 to 1,559,954 votes) while Republicans strengthened their control over both Senate and House in Tuesday’s mid-term election.  Senate Republicans will have a ratio of 30 Republicans to 20 Democrats while the House GOP will have at least a 33-vote cushion.

Key to Republican Election Strength

One key to Republicans’ new Senate strength were victories in southeastern Pennsylvania despite it being a region where voter sentiment has leaned more Democratic and liberal in recent years.  Vote margins for southeast Republican incumbents were: Stewart Greenleaf (Montgomery) 63.6% ; John Rafferty (Montgomery) 61.4%; Robert Mensch (Montgomery) 59.9%; Chuck McIlhinney (Bucks) 58.7%, Tommy Tomlinson (Bucks) 61.8%.

Open Seats

Open Republican seats also went to the GOP.  One Democratic seat in Allegheny County was moved to Monroe County via redistricting (Senator Jim Ferlo-D-Allegheny retired) and was picked by the GOP.  The closest race in the southeast was the open Chester County seat vacated by Senator Edwin Erickson (R-Chester) who retired. He is succeeded by Republican Tom McGarrigle who won with a 52% to 48% margin.

Election Turnovers

Two turnovers occurred in traditionally Democratic southwestern PA which has been tending more conservatively Republican in recent years. An open seat formerly held by Democrat Richard Kasunic in Fayette County was taken by Republican Patrick Stefano 57.3% to 42.7% (36,197 to 26,935 votes) over current Rep. Deberah Kula who had sought the higher office. GOP Senate turnover win number two came with the loss of Washington County incumbent Democrat Tim Solobay to Republican Camera Bartolotta 53.6% to 46.7% (35,820 to 31,436 votes).

GOP Adds to Majority

The House GOP added to its majority by adding at least seven new seats to Republican ranks. The new ratio will be either 119 Republicans to 84 Democrats or 118 Republicans to 85 Democrats depending on final tallies.

Legislative Vacancies to Note (and Appreciate)

Legislative VacanciesHARRISBURG – The election created a number of legislative vacancies in key agricultural posts. Among these is Fayette County’s Rep. Deberah Kula who did not prevail in her drive to succeed retired Senator Richard Kasunic (D-Fayette).  Kula served on both the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee and House Appropriations Committee and championed funding for agricultural research and restoration of the state premium subsidy program for Crop Insurance.

Also not returning is agriculture stalwart Senator Mike Brubaker (R-Lancaster), former chair of the Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee who did not seek re-election.  Add Senator Bob Robbins, member of the Ag Committee as one who served but is retiring.  On the Democratic side, Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee member Tim Solobay (D-Washington) was defeated.

Vacancies on the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee include Republican (running as a Democrat after losing his primary) Mike Fleck (Huntingdon), Gordon Denlinger (R-Lancaster) who lost in a primary contest to succeed Senator Brubaker, Kula, mentioned above, and Michelle Brooks (R-Mercer) who won the open seat being vacated by retiring Senator Bob Robbins.

When the new session begins, there will be considerable committee shuffling on the House side because of the number of House committee chairs that are open due to retirements:  Transportation, Environmental Resources & Energy, Education, Labor & Industry, and Tourism & Recreational Development.

Movement from House to Senate

Several representatives will take office as newly elected Senators.  As mentioned above, Michelle Brooks (R-Mercer) fills Bob Robbins’ seat in northwest PA.  Rep. Mario Scavello (R-Monroe) assumes office in Monroe County’s new Senate district.  Rep. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster) fills the vacancy created with Senator Brubaker’s decision to retire.

Backgrounds of New Legislators

PA Capitol Building - New legislatorsSenate: All New Legislators but Haywood are Republicans

Michelle Brooks (Bob Robbin’s northwest PA seat) served on the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee.

Arthur Haywood III (Leanna Washington’s Phila. seat) is an attorney and township commissioner

Tom McGarrigle (Edwin Erickson’s seat in Chester/Delaware Counties) is a small businessman and a member of Delaware County Council

Scott Wagner (York County) won for a full term after defeating Ron Miller is a hotly contested special election early this year. He owns a waste management firm.

Patrick Stefano (Richard Kasunic’s Fayette County seat) is a commercial printer.

Ryan Aument (Mike Brubaker’s Lancaster County seat) was chief of staff for Rep. Bryan Cutler.

Camera Bartolotta (who defeated Washington County incumbent Tim Solobay) owns a small business.

House: 

With 26 new House members for the 2015-16 session, their collective backgrounds are too space-consuming to publish in this issue of AG ONE.  Having said that, four legislators are Democrats, 22 are Republicans.  Occupationally: two have law enforcement experience (assistant DA, corrections officer); two are educators; one is a school board member; nine have governmental experience as township supervisor or local/county officeholder or staff; two are small business owners; two worked for large corporations; one is a real estate agent; one is a community organizer; one is a social worker; two come from the banking community; one is a marketing rep for a casino; two are practicing attorneys; and one is a farmer.

Republicans Maintain Pa. Congressional Majority

Congressional Delegation Stays RepublicanHARRISBURG – Although successful in retaining control of the 13th congressional district open seat that is being vacated by Allyson Schwartz who lost in the Democratic primary for governor, Democrats were unable to win the open seat vacated by retiring Republican Jim Gerlach.

Traditionally vulnerable first-term congresspeople were successful in winning a second term with comfortable vote margins. Republican Mike Kelly in northwest PA won with 60.5%, Republican Keith Rothfus from western PA won with 59.3% of the vote, Republican Scott Perry from south central PA won with 74.5%, and first-term Democrat Matt Cartwright from north central PA won with 56.8%. The ratio of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation remains thirteen Republicans and five Democrats.

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