News

 August 15, 2019

Farming Legislation Under Consideration

 

There are at least 120 bills in the current state legislative session that address farm and fishing issues raised in the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan. The Collaborative has been working with our Agricultural network seeking stakeholder groups’ perspectives on these bills and engaging them in advocacy on bills supported by the Plan. We have submitted, and have worked with other organizations to submit, written testimony on a number of bills and will continue to reach out to the network and provide testimony, as appropriate, as bills move through the legislative process. You can see our full testimony at the bottom of this page.

We encourage stakeholder organizations to contact us with questions, thoughts, and opinions on ag related legislation and to submit testimony on bills you feel are critical to your communities and your membership. Please reach out to Jeff Cole at jeff@mafoodsystem.org.

Here is a brief summary on some of the agriculture-related bills we’ve addressed to date.

Four bills, H2390/S1793 and H2631/S1613, are under consideration that would change Chapter 61A acreage requirements to support small parcel farming. We have submitted testimony on these, including recommendations that the 5-acre minimum requirement be dropped altogether. Two other bills, H2451/S1760, would create later filing deadlines for Chapters 60 and 61A&B filing deadlines. We submitted testimony supporting the change for farmers.

H2472 and S1625 would allow for a local assessment, on top of current water & sewer fees, to be used for state infrastructure improvement. The Collaborative supports including an exemption for agricultural land.

H2551 and S1691 would provide a local option for property tax exemptions on small farming parcels for cities. The Collaborative supports removing the population limits in the bill in order to better reflect the farming landscape and to create more equitable policies throughout the state.

S1786 and S1792 would create exemptions from taxation for structures and buildings essential to the operation of agricultural and horticultural lands. The Collaborative supported both with preference for S1792’s allowance for tax relief for 10 years, as recommended by the Plan.

S438 and H873 would provide incentives to farmers whose management practices contribute to healthy soils and agricultural innovation and result in net long-term on-farm greenhouse gas benefits. The Collaborative supports these bills.

S1268 and H1856 would require that municipal boards of health give local agricultural commissions an opportunity to weigh in on new or changing regulations related to agriculture. These bills are a priority for the Collaborative, and are the result of the Working Group on Farming and Public Health’s recommendations from 2017.

S1645 would create local fees to fund projects to remedy and offset impacts on the natural environment, and may assess farmers for many normal agricultural activities. The Collaborative recommended exemptions from all fees set forth in this or similar legislation for agriculture and forest land, provided management plans approved by NRCS and/or other federal and state agencies are in place and active.

H2601 would exempt farmers’ markets, as defined by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, from property taxes. The Collaborative submitted testimony in support.

H309 would create a commission to consider updating the plumbing code to accommodate agricultural uses. The Plan supports this effort.

S482 would develop a statewide Farmland Action Plan to compile data on land use trends, and use that data to guide state investments and policies related to farmland access, protection, and use. The Collaborative supports this bill, as it directly addresses a recommendation in the Plan calling for such a project.

The GreenWorks Bill, H3997, has passed the House and is now before the Senate Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets. It would provide funding of nearly $1 billion to cities and towns for infrastructure and other actions to deal with the effects of climate change and some renewable energy projects. The Collaborative believes the Commonwealth’s agricultural system (including fishing) can play a significantly beneficial role in meeting the legislation’s goals. We proposed additions to the bill to facilitate that participation.

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