Updated May 20, 2013 at 11:45 am:
Good news on our local foods bills in the Texas Legislature! Two of the bills — the Texas Cottage Foods Bill (HB 970) and the DSHS Better Communications Act (HB 1392) — have been scheduled for a vote of the Senate on Tuesday. And the Farmers’ Market Bill (HB 1382), was approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee this morning.
But time is running short. Any bill that does not pass the Senate by this Wednesday, May 22, dies.
Even if you have called before, please take a few minutes to take action again!
Please call or email your State Senator and urge him or her to vote YES on HB 970, the Cottage Foods bill; HB 1392, the DSHS Better Communications bill; and HB 1382, the Farmers Market bill.
Please also call or email Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst. The Lieutenant Governor is the one who decides the order in which bills are considered by the Senate, so he plays an important role in whether bills live or die.
All the details are below.
These common-sense bills help farmers and local food producers raise and bring their products to market, which means better access to high-quality local foods for consumers. The bills also promote small businesses, helping our local economies. The Texas Legislature needs to take action!
Call or email your State Senator to urge him or her vote YES on HB 970 (cottage foods), HB 1392 (DSHS better communications), and HB 1382 (farmers’ market sampling).
If you’re taking action during normal business hours, call the Capitol Switchboard at 512-463-4630. Give them your zip code and ask to be connected to your State Senator’s office. It takes just a minute to share your message with the staffer who answers the phone.
Want to take action in the evening or over the weekend? Look up who your State Senator is at www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us and use this formula to send them an email: Firstname.Lastname@ senate.state.tx.us (take out the space between @ senate). We also have a list of all of the Senators’ direct office lines and email address, below.
SUBJECT LINE: Vote YES on HB 970, HB 1382, and HB 1392
Basic message (add a couple of sentences to personalize it): “My name is ___, and I am a constituent. I urge Senator ______ to vote YES on all three of the local foods bills: HB 970, HB 1382, and HB 1392.
These bills make it easier for local farmers and producers to produce and sell food directly to consumers. This benefits the farmers and small businesses, the consumers who are seeking out local foods, and ultimately the entire local economy.”
Action Item #2: Call the Lieutenant Governor
Call Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst to urge him to bring HB 1382, the farmers’ market bill, to a vote as soon as possible. (The other two bills, HB 970 and HB 1392, are on the “local and uncontested” calendar, which means they don’t need to have the Lieutenant Governor bring them to the floor — so we’re focusing these calls on HB 1382)
To connect to the Lieutenant Governor’s office directly, call 512-463-0001. If it’s after normal business hours, just leave a message, or contact him online at http://www.ltgov.state.tx.us/contact.php
Basic message (add a couple of sentences to personalize it): “My name is ___. I urge Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst to bring HB 1382, the farmers’ market bill, to a vote as soon as possible. This bill helps small farmers promote their products and encourages consumers to try new foods at farmers’ markets. This is a win for everyone, including our public health.”
Robert.Deuell@Senate.state.tx.us, 512-463-0102 (note: Senator Deuell is sponsoring both HB 970 and HB 1382, so say thank you!)
Jane.Nelson@Senate.state.tx.us, 512-463-0112 (Senator Nelson is sponsoring HB 1392, so say thank you!)
HB 970 – Encouraging home-based food production, aka “cottage foods”: Until last year, anyone making and selling any food at all (other than uncut fruits and vegetables) had to do so in a commercial, licensed facility that was subject to regulations designed for large-scale industrial food production. Last session, the Texas Legislature provided that “cottage food producers” could make specific low-risk foods in their homes and sell directly to consumers, up to $50,000 per year, without being regulated by the state and local health departments.
The bill has led to the establishment and growth of numerous small businesses in this state, with no reports of resulting foodborne illness. HB 970 would expand the law to include other foods designated as non-potentially hazardous by the FDA. The bill would also remove the restriction that the sale has to occur at the person’s home, allowing the seller and buyer to connect at farmers markets, farm stands, and nonprofit community events.
HB 1382 – Making it easier to provide samples at farmers markets and farm stands: Letting potential customers sample food is a great way to increase sales and encourage people to try unusual fruits and vegetables. But current regulations that govern food samplings are based on the conditions in brick-and-mortar facilities and pose unnecessary challenges for farmers and food producers at local farmers’ markets.
The Health & Safety Code provides standards for sampling produce at municipally owned farmers markets, and there have been no reports of problems resulting from such an approach. This bill simplifies the current provision in the Health & Safety Code and expands it to all farmers’ markets and farm stands. The bill also clarifies the standards for cooking demonstrations at farmers’ markets, and exempts educational cooking demonstrations from permit fees.
HB 1392 – Directing the DSHS to respond to inquiries about the law and its application to specific factual situations: Farmers and small-scale food producers have faced serious problems because of the inability to determine what is actually required under the regulations. When asked, the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) provides little guidance, leaving the producers to decide whether to invest anywhere from several hundred to tens of thousands of dollars and potentially still face fines depending on the department’s discretion. HB 1392 directs DSHS to respond to inquiries about how the law applies to a farmer’s or food producer’s specific facts within 30 days, so that they can comply with the law in good faith.