Farm lobby sees 2013 Legislature as mixed bag
By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- Oregon's farm lobby is looking at the 2013 Legislature that resumes Feb. 4 as a mixed bag.
"We're looking at this as a mixture of opportunities for agriculture, but at the same time there are some disconcerting bills, and it is hard to know which ones are going to have legs and move," said Katie Fast, director of government affairs for the Oregon Farm Bureau.
Among bills generating concern, House Bill 2532 requires labeling of products with genetically modified ingredients.
Sponsored by Reps. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, and Alissa Keny-Guyer, D-Portland, the bill has been assigned to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
Also generating concern is a bill that allows the Oregon Department of Agriculture to prohibit growing genetically engineered crops if the department determines they pose risks to nearby agriculture.
Sponsored by Buckley, House Bill 2319 is assigned to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
A bill instituting a $100 annual management fee on each water right also has caught the farm lobby's attention.
"I don't think any of my clients support that," said Roger Beyer, who represents grass seed growers, dairy farmers and small woodland owners.
"We will be opposing that fee," Fast said. "We have a lot of concerns around a water fee that the state would start charging for the use of a resource that private individuals have put forward the groundwork and expense to develop."
Senate Bill 217 caps the fee for "any single water right holder" at $1,000 a year. It is assigned to the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
Several bills are on the table addressing concerns about canola production, including one that places a statewide ban on its production and one that bans it in the Willamette Valley.
Sen. Chris Edwards, D-Eugene, who is a sponsor of the statewide-ban bill, Senate Bill 433, said he is proposing an amendment to scale back the ban to strictly the Willamette Valley.
SB433 is in the Senate Rural Communities and Economic Development Committee.
House Bill 2427, which bans canola in the Willamette Valley, is in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
Fast said the Farm Bureau "has concerns" about the bills.
"The board doesn't believe it is appropriate to deal with the canola issue at the Legislature, because it becomes political and not science-based," Fast said.
On the plus side, Fast said the Farm Bureau views the upcoming session as an opportunity to pursue water development for irrigated agriculture.
Gov. John Kitzhaber provided $22 million in funding for water development projects in his recommended budget.
The Farm Bureau is also supporting a bill that changes the way the state authorizes wetland enhancement projects on farm land from an outright permitted use to a conditional use, requiring public hearings.
The Farm Bureau is concerned about a loss of farmland in recent years to wetland enhancement and other wildlife enhancement projects that are taking farmland out of production, Fast said.
House Bill 2173 is in the House Land Use Committee.
The Oregon Association of Nurseries said it is working behind the scenes to get a bill introduced that "allows the undocumented workforce to get a driver's license and be fully insured," OAN Executive Director Jeff Stone said.
"It is a take-home for the nursery and greenhouse industry to try to fix this issue," Stone said.
Since 2008, driver's license applicants in Oregon have been required to show legal presence when renewing licenses or applying for a new one.
"We want folks on the road who know how to drive and are insured," Stone said.
The Farm Bureau also supports a proposed extension of a landowner preference program that allows landowners to obtain tags for hunting deer, elk and antelope on their land outside of hunting season.
The program, due to sunset in 2014, would be extended to 2024 under House Bill 2250.