Published January 13, 2021
Texas State Representatives and Senators gathered on Tuesday for the opening day of the session. For the next 140 days, our elected officials will be debating bills on just about every topic imaginable. Each week, we will send out an update to let you know what is happening with agriculture and food bills, as well as other important related topics such as water and eminent domain.
We’ll start by sharing information about the legislative session in general, then the local foods bills. And don’t miss the action item at the end – this first call to your legislators truly can be a positive experience for both of you!
Here are some things to keep in mind as we look ahead to the next few months:
1. The system is designed to kill bills, not to pass them. During most legislative sessions, the majority of the bills that are filed die at some stage. Typically, only one quarter to one third actually pass and become law – and only a small fraction of those are bills brought by small, niche organizations like FARFA.
2. This legislative session has three major challenges:
- The budget shortfall – While not as bad as was predicted earlier, the current projection is that there is a $1 billion shortfall in the current budget. Legislators will thus have even more fights than usual about what programs have to be cut and how to fund the ones they care about.
- Redistricting – This will heat up the partisan politics even more than usual.
- COVID-based restrictions on people entering the Capitol, how hearings are held, and more – The restrictions themselves will pose challenges to public involvement. The uncertainty about how the session will function, on top of the anticipated budget and redistricting fights, has led many legislators to focus their priorities and file fewer bills than usual, making it harder to find bill sponsors.
So where do things stand with regenerative agriculture and local foods?
FARFA has approached legislators about sponsoring six bills to accomplish the following:
- Rein in Texas Department of Agriculture’s overreaching and unconstitutional inspections of small farms.
- Provide education, outreach, and financial support for farmers and ranchers to implement healthy soils management.
- Clarify the definitions of farmers’ markets and their vendors in order to fully implement the permit fee caps that we worked to pass last session.
- Allow the sale of ungraded eggs to restaurants and retailers.
- Expand options for small farmers to use small-scale meat processors.
- Protect people’s right to raise food for themselves (with gardens, chickens, and bees) against inappropriate city and homeowner association regulations.
We have confirmed sponsors for the first four bills and have a probable sponsor for the meat processing bill. At this time, unfortunately, it looks unlikely that the the “home food security” bill will be filed; issues about “restricting local control” have become very hot-button topics at the Legislature, making it even harder to get a sponsor for this bill.
What comes next?
For the next several weeks, legislators will be filing bills and finalizing their priorities for the session. We only need one sponsor for each bill, but it’s very helpful to have a sponsor in each chamber (the House and the Senate), so that we have two independent opportunities to pass the bill. And as soon as the bills are filed, we want to encourage more legislators to sign on as co-sponsors.
Then, in late February, the committee hearings will begin. We get only five days’ notice of which bills are on the agenda for each committee hearing, so this is when you’ll start seeing time-sensitive alerts from us, asking you to try to attend the committee hearing, call, or otherwise make your voice heard in support of our bills. Or at times, we might send alerts asking your help to kill bad bills.
Please take action! Your calls truly do make a difference. We have seen just a handful of calls change a legislator’s mind about a bill. Form letters and auto-emails don’t have an impact, but your individual, personal story DOES!
You can find out who represents you and get their contact info at our Elected Officials Lookup page.
Start by making your first call this week!
Introduce yourself as a constituent and ask which staffer will be handling agricultural and food issues during the session (it may be two different people). Ask to speak to them.
If one of the bills is particularly important to you, use that as the focus of your conversation – ask for their boss’s support of the bill through sponsoring it. Or simply talk with them about why supporting regenerative ag and local food is so important to you and ask for their general support of bills that help small farmers this session.
Keep it short – plan just 5-10 minutes – and treat it as the first conversation in an ongoing discussion. Approach them as a potential ally, with warmth and respect.
Not only will you help our efforts to find more bill sponsors, but you are laying vital groundwork for the entire session! That’s because when you call to ask them to vote a certain way – whether it is to support or kill a bill – they’ll now know who you are, and your next calls will have even greater impact.
Thank you for helping us protect small farmers and build a better, more resilient food system!