Pa. House, Senate Republicans tout looming completion of package of pro-farmer bills

    House and Senate Republicans, with milkshakes in hand, gather in the Pa. Capitol rotunda to toast the looming passage of a suite of farm bills (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

    With Farm Show milkshakes in hand (of course), Republican leaders in the state House and Senate gathered in the Capitol rotunda on Wednesday to tout a package of bills that they say reiterates the Legislature’s commitment to Pennsylvania farmers.

    “I laid out a challenge to my colleagues and to the governor to really step up and help agriculture,” Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said of the 13-bill package that will be finished by week’s end. “Everyone has stepped up.”

    The bills run the gamut, from a measure allowing wider agricultural vehicles on the state’s roads to giving tax credits to farmers who lease or sell some of their land to new farmers. The Senate gave its approval in early May to a wide-ranging suite of proposals, PennLive reported.

    Some of the bills were sparked by a wide-ranging package of priorities set out by Gov. Tom Wolf in February. The proposal, dubbed the “PA Farm Bill,” included supports for dairy farmers who have buffeted by an unstable market, workforce development efforts to encourage farm employment, and encouraging farmers to adopt best-management practices on conservation.

    “There is no smarter long-term investment than Pennsylvania’s farmers,” said House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, who worked part-time at a dairy farm while he was in high school.

    A summary of the legislation, prepared by House Republicans, indicates the bills would:

    • “amend the Agricultural Area Security Law to allow farmers more discretion regarding the construction and subdivision of residences on preserved farmland.
    • exempt milk haulers from travel bans put in place during inclement weather and other emergency declarations.
    • ┬árename the current Healthy Farms Healthy Schools program as the Farm-to-School Program and make improvements to the program.
    • create the Agriculture Rapid Response Disaster Readiness program to respond to diseases, pests, invasive species, declared disasters and other threats to the agriculture industry.
    • create the Very Small Meat Processor Federal Inspection Reimbursement Grant Program to help these businesses comply with federal inspection standards.
    • revise the Agriculture Linked Investment Program for the implementation of agricultural and conservation best management practices.
    • establish the existing Dairy Investment Program in state law to support research and development, transition to organic, marketing projects and value-added process projects in the dairy industry.”

    Corman and Cutler were joined by the chairs of the House and Senate Agriculture committees, Rep. Martin Causer, R-McKean, and Sen. Elder Vogel, R-Beaver.

    In brief remarks, Causer, who helped shepherd the bills through the House, called the legislation “an investment .. in future generation of farmers.” Vogel, a fourth-generation dairy farmer, called the bills “an unprecedented success,” that was result of a “bicameral effort to put farmers first.”

    In a statement released in February alongside his agriculture plan, Wolf said that his proposal was “about providing more opportunities to our farmers by creating more jobs, more income and more hope.”

    An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.

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