Help Rein in the Texas Dept. of Ag.

Senator Hall has filed a bill to rein in the Texas Department of Agriculture’s (TDA’s) overreach, and we need your help to move it forward!

1)  The agency’s proposed rule requires every produce farm to register with the agency. In December, TDA published a proposed rule to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)–and it undermines the exemption for small farmers that we fought so hard for in Congress, threatening the future of small produce farms in our state.

2)  Small produce farms would have to submit documentation–what sort hasn’t been specified–to the TDA for the agency to determine whether or not the farm is exempt. (Yet when asked to explain the exemptions, agency personnel can’t even provide a clear explanation of who is and is not exempt!)

3)  If a farm fails to submit this paperwork, TDA will presume “that the farm is subject to all requirements of the Produce Safety Rule.” In other words, a small farm that is exempt from FSMA, but that failed to file paperwork with the TDA for whatever reason, would face an inspection and enforcement action in which the burden of proof would lie with the farm rather than the agency. Note that the FDA estimates that complying with the requirements would cost a small farm almost $25,000 per year.

4)  TDA is claiming authority to enter any farm at any time of the day or night, and to stop sales from that farm for an unspecified period of time, if there are “egregious conditions.” This term is not found in FSMA or in the federal regulations, and has a very broad, vague definition.

TDA is supposed to simply implement the federal rule, not add to it–but all of these provisions go beyond the federal rule and will create additional burdens and confusion for produce farmers.

 

SB 1409 would explicitly limit TDA to implementing the federal rule, without any additions or changes. This bill is vital to protecting small produce farms in our state, and we need your help to pass it into law!


Take Action

Call your State Senator and Representative. You can find out who your legislators are online or by calling the Texas Capitol Switchboard at 512-463-4630.

Your message can be very short.

To your Senator: “Hi, my name is ___, and I live in [town]. I am calling to urge Senator ___ to co-author SB 1409, to prevent TDA from adding more burdensome requirements on small produce farmers.”

To your Representative: “My name is ___, and I live in [town]. I am calling to urge Representative ___ to file a companion bill to SB 1409, to prevent TDA from adding more burdensome requirements on small produce farmers.”

Add a sentence or two about why this is important to you —  whether you’re a produce farmer, you’re a consumer who buys your food from local produce farmers, etc.

You can read FARFA’s comments on the proposed rule for more details on the problems with TDA’s proposed rule.


MORE NEWS FROM THE LEGISLATURE

Two bills–one good bill on eminent domain and one bad bill on groundwater–will have committee hearings this week. Check out the information below and weigh in if these issues matter to you.

Eminent Domain

SB 421 by Senator Kolkhorst helps protect landowners to ensure they have a fair and equitable process when private entities come to take their private property for public use. It accomplishes this by:

  • Requiring private entities to host public meetings, so affected property owners have an opportunity to learn about the project and the eminent domain process, and they can ask questions to get real-time responses from company representatives.
  • Requiring standard property protections in all easements, so that property owners don’t have to negotiate for the most basic of terms (such as replacing their fences or paying for damage caused by construction).
  • Creating a disincentive for private companies to give lowball offers of compensation to property owners.

Show your support!

WHEN: Monday, March 4, at 9 a.m. Witness registration should begin by 8:30 a.m. and will probably end around 10 a.m., so come to the Capitol during that time frame.

WHERE: Senate Committee on State Affairs, in the Senate Chamber.

WHAT: Come to the Senate Chamber on the 2nd floor of the Capitol and ask the clerk for a witness registration form. If you have a specific story to share about your experience with eminent domain, register to testify, and plan to keep your testimony to 2 minutes. Otherwise, just register “FOR” SB 421, “Not testifying.”

Once you register, you’ll be listed on the witness list even if you leave right after that. The witness list is important because when the bill goes to the full Senate after the hearing, the legislators will look to see how many people were witnesses for or against the bill. Just 15 minutes can have an impact!

If you can’t come to the hearing (we know it’s short notice!), and you want to support the bill, simply add “And I also urge my Senator to support SB 421” when you call your Senator to support SB 1409 on FSMA.

Groundwater

Moving groundwater from one region to another requires a “transfer permit.” Transfer permits are long-term–30 years. But that’s not long enough for some of the large exporters, and they want automatic extensions so they can keep shipping water all over the state without the risk of being accountable in a public process.

In particular, the Vista Ridge project, which plans to pump huge amounts of water from Milam & Burleson Counties to San Antonio, wants to extend its transfer permit immediately. They haven’t even begun pumping–which means we don’t know the actual impact on the aquifer–but they want to be authorized to pump for even longer!

HB 1066 basically would extend transport permits automatically, with no opportunity for public comment or involvement. A second bill, HB 726, includes the same provision amid a much larger set of changes. Both bills are scheduled for a hearing on Tuesday.

For more information about HB 1066, go to http://farmandranchfreedom.org/farfa-opposes-hb1066/.

If you’re close enough to come to the Capitol, please come and register AGAINST both bills.

WHEN: Tuesday, March 5, at 10:30 a.m. or upon adjournment. In practical terms, this means that the committee hearing is likely to start around noon, so witness registration will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. or so (depending on the exact start time).

WHERE: Room E2.010, Capitol Extension, 1100 Congress Avenue, Austin

The House uses electronic witness affirmation forms which are available at registration kiosks located throughout the Capitol Extension. Take the elevator down to Floor E2, and walk down the main hallway about halfway. Turn right, down one of the side hallways, then turn again so that you are going parallel to the main hallway. You’ll see alcoves in which the kiosks are located (where pay phones once were located, if you’re a long-time visitor).

Be sure to take this information with you:

  • The bill number: HB 1066
  • The committee: House Natural Resources Committee
  • The time and location of the hearing: 10:30 a.m., Room E2.010
  • Position: Against
  • Not Testifying (unless you have a specific story or concern that you want to speak about)

Repeat the procedure to register against HB 726.

If you can’t come to the Capitol for the hearing, please call your Representative and urge him or her to vote “no” on HB 1066.

PARKING: Parking is sometimes available at the Capitol Visitors Center, located between Trinity and San Jacinto Streets at 12th and 13th. (You can find a map and other options also listed here.) If the parking lot is full, you will have to find parking on the street.

MAPS: https://tspb.texas.gov/plan/maps/maps.html