Farm bills fall through as Legislature recesses

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(Host) A key compromise in the Vermont Legislature to get action on several farm-related bills fell through on Friday. As lawmakers headed home for a week off for Town Meeting, some were disappointed that they had failed to advance legislation on the top farm issues of the year.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) One of the bills would regulate large farms; another provides greater legal protection for farmers who are sued; and the third requires labeling and registration of genetically modified seeds.

The large farm bill and the farmer liability legislation are top priorities for the Douglas administration and the House Republican leadership. But Democrats hold a majority on the House Agriculture Committee, so the leadership made a deal to package those two bills with the genetic engineering bill.

Representative Bobby Starr, a Democrat from North Troy, is the committee’s vice chairman and a veteran of many Statehouse battles. He was disappointed the committee failed to act.

(Starr) “I don’t get hung up on whether a bill is 100 percent perfect when it leaves here. What I get hung up on is not doing anything. And that’s where we’re at. If we really want to do something and get this back on track, there’s only one way that I know of where we’re going to accomplish that. And that’s to make one bill.”

(Mitzi Johnson) “No way.”

(Dillon) Democratic Representative Mitzi Johnson from South Hero disagreed. She told the committee it doesn’t make sense to approve the large farm bill without hearing more testimony.

(Johnson) “Passing a, quote, “deal” that involved a large farm bill from whom we have heard from nobody except the Agency of Agriculture is completely irresponsible. We have not one cohesive bill in front of us. There were three different bills in front of us, all from different people. And we needed testimony. We needed to hear from farmers, and water boards and VNRC. We needed more testimony on the large farm bill.”

(Dillon) With lawmakers going home for a week, that means that if the panel hears more testimony, it could be the middle of March before a vote.

Representative Floyd Nease, a Democrat from Johnson, is a prime sponsor of the labeling requirement for gene altered seeds. He says that despite the setback, he hopes all three bills will pass.

(Nease) “I think once we all settle down and the administration weighs in, that it’s still possible. I certainly hope so.”

(Dillon) The Senate last year approved the labeling legislation. The chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee says her panel will take up the other bills as soon as the House passes them.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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