Check out what’s happening with local farms and food at the Texas Legislature during the 2019 legislative session! Stay tuned on the latest developments by signing up for our action alerts, and be sure to call your legislators to tell them which bills matter to you!
Download more information on our priority bills by clicking on the “Fact Sheet” links below.
FARFA’s Priority Bills That Are Moving This Session
- Expanding cottage foods: HB 2108/ SB 572 would expand opportunities for home-based food businesses, from farmers canning their excess produce to artisan food producers. Fact sheet on SB 572. SB 572 was unanimously approved by the Senate, but has stalled in the House Public Health Committee. A narrower, but still very good, bill, HB 644, was approved by the House and is expected to be heard by the Senate Public Health Committee on May 14. As passed by the House, HB 644 would add pickles, acidified canned foods, and any non-potentially hazardous food to the list of allowed foods, and allow sales at any location so long as direct-to-consumer. Fact sheet on HB 644.
- Capping permit fees for farmers’ market vendors: SB 932 would provide that local health departments can impose on farmers & farmers’ market vendors to a total of $100 per year. Fact Sheet on Permit Cap Fees. The Senate unanimously approved SB 932, and it was then unanimously approved by the House Public Health Committee and recommended for the local & consent calendar. Now it just needs to be scheduled for a vote of the full House.
- Making sampling at farmers’ markets easier: HB 1694 would allow vendors at farmers’ markets to provide samples of their food to customers without expensive and burdensome permits. Fact sheet on sampling. HB 1694 was approved by the House by a vote of 134-5, and the Senate sponsor has requested a hearing before the Senate Health & Human Services Committee.
- Making it easier for small farmers to get agricultural valuation, and lower their property taxes: HB 97 would direct the Comptroller to create guidelines for small farmers & those with diversified operations to qualify for ag valuation. Fact sheet on fair taxes for small farmers. HB 97 was approved by the House by a vote of 140-2, and is awaiting a hearing before the Senate Property Tax Committee. The inexplicably high fiscal note (projected budget impact statement) continues to be a concern. Moreover, Rep. Springer added several amendments on the floor that do not relate to the core purpose of the bill, and it is unclear what will happen with those.
- Allowing farmers to sell ungraded eggs to restaurants and retailers, increasing consumer access to locally raised eggs: HB 1284/ SB 1805. Fact sheet on eggs. SB 1805 was unanimously approved by the Senate, and its House companion bill, HB 1284, was heard by the House Agriculture Committee. But the Committee has yet to vote on the bill, a necessary step before it can be scheduled for a full House floor vote.
- Local Health Department Better Communications Bill: HB 2107 requires local health departments to answer farmers’ & food businesses’ questions about what the law requires, and prevents farmers from being fined if their inspector comes up with a different interpretation. Fact sheet on better communications. HB 2107 was unanimously approved by the Texas House and has had a hearing before the Senate Health & Human Services Committee.
Priority Bills That Are Dead for This Session
- Allowing farmers with a Grade A permit for raw milk to sell at farmers’ markets and to deliver to consumers: HB 503/ SB 80. Fact sheet on raw milk. The bill has gained several strong joint authors, but the Big Ag lobby and Harris County Health Department have so far been successful in blocking a committee hearing. Help us by calling your legislators to support this bill!
- On-farm poultry processing: HB 3083/ SB 1341 creates a micro-producer exemption so that small farmers can process up to 1,000 birds on-farm without building an expensive facility. And for the farmers who invest in a licensed facility, it allows them to process up to 20,000 birds per year instead of the current limit of 10,000 birds/year. Fact Sheet on Poultry Processing.
- Establishing an ombudsman position to help farmers and small rural businesses navigate the maze of regulatory agencies: HB 3115/ SB 776. Fact sheet on ombudsman. The Senate and House Agriculture Committees have both held hearings on the bill, although neither has voted to approve it yet.
More Good Bills
- Eminent Domain: SB 421/ HB 991 establishes some basic transparency and fairness provisions (a public meeting, notification of certain easement terms, and penalties for lowball offers) when private entities like pipeline companies use the power of eminent domain to take individuals’ land. An amended, but still good, version of SB 421 has been approved by the Senate.
- Hemp: Now that the federal ban is gone, we still need state legislation to actually allow farmers to grow this versatile, valuable crop in Texas. HB 1325 was unanimously approved by the House and has had a hearing in the Senate Agriculture Committee.
- Preventing local governments from regulating children’s lemonade stands: HB 234 was almost unanimously approved by the House and has had a hearing before the Intergovernmental Relations Committee in the Senate.
- Allowing individuals to process and sell up to 500 rabbits/year without regulation: HB 410 was unanimously approved by the House and is awaiting a hearing before the Senate Health & Human Services Committee.
- Preventing local governments from banning backyard chickens, up to 6 hens: SB 86 was amended to protect against both local governments and homeowners’ associations. It was unanimously approved by the Senate and by the House Agriculture Committee. It is awaiting scheduling for a floor vote by the full House.
- Abolishing the requirement for a permit to transport bees within the state: HB 1723 was heard by the House Agriculture Committee, but never voted on.
- Country of Origin Labeling: Also known as COOL, HB 2761 would require that any beef or pork product sold in Texas would need a label on its package or on the container in which it is displayed, designating its country of origin. The bill was heard by the House Business & Industries Committee on April 23, but is unlikely to move forward this session.
- Establishing a task force to promote pollinator health: HB 136/ SB 2170 were each heard in the respective Agriculture Committees, but have not been voted out and are dead for this session.
No longer bad
- SB 1884: FARFA originally opposed this bill because it created severe criminal penalties for a wide range of activities that did not merit long jail times and high fines. Moreover, as filed, the bill also made it a state jail felony to tamper with or even exert “unauthorized control” over agricultural facilities’ paperwork. And it required the defendant to pay twice what the animal is worth, or what the owner alleges to be the losses due to the paperwork (what would that be?), on top of the criminal fines and jail time. As filed, the bill could have been used to severely punish legitimate whistleblowers who compile evidence of factory farms violating laws on animal welfare, pollution control, and more. But in good news: After FARFA testified against the bill in the Senate Agriculture Committee, the bill sponsor worked with us to make very significant changes: taking out most of the provisions relating to documents,tightening the definitions, reducing the criminal penalties, and more. The amended version has been approved by the Senate and FARFA is analyzing whether to be neutral or support it in the House. The bills provisions for increased penalties (as compared to the current criminal mischief provisions) for someone who intentionally releases or otherwise causes the loss of a livestock animal or crop are good.
- SB 677 and HB 2670: These bills would abolish the intrastate permit for beekeepers, which we support. But they would also convert the current free apiary registration to a fee-based beekeeper registration, with TAIS able to set the fee amounts. The bill also converts the existing import permit to an “interstate movement” permit, allowing beekeepers to enter Texas with bees that have been taken all over the country without a current inspection. You can read our testimony on why we oppose these bills here. The bills appear to be dead for this session
- SB 1993 and HB 3557: These terrible bills build on last session’s ridiculous expansion of the term “critical infrastructure.” Last session, the factory farm and oil & gas industries managed to get every single feedlot, oil well, and oil pipeline designated as “critical infrastructure” and thus protect them from public scrutiny by drones (even for academic research). Now, SB 1993/ HB 3557 would to make it a felony to interfere or impede with critical infrastructure in any way, including during its constructions. Peaceful protest against a pipeline where you somehow “interfere” with its construction? Or do something to “interfere” with a feedlot’s operation? Go to jail. And if there’s an organization involved — including a nonprofit group – the organization could face a $1 million fine.
- There are multiple bad groundwater bills … stay tuned for more details.
More good bills that appear to be dead for this session
- Selling cut flowers: HB 3280 creates a micro-producer exemption to the requirements for nursery licenses, for people selling less than $25,000 annually in cut flowers and plants. Fact Sheet on flower/plant sales
- Farm to Cafeteria: Allowing schools to pay a little bit more (up to 7%) for food produced within the state: HB 1696/ SB 788
- Implementation of the federal Food Safety Modernization Act: SB 1409 would limit the Texas Department of Agriculture to implementing the federal Produce Safety Rule under FSMA without any additional requirements or differing standards. We are very grateful to Senator Hall for filing the bill, and it has already accomplished the core need: TDA is withdrawing its proposed rule, which went beyond the federal rule, to re-evaluate. The Senate Agriculture Committee heard the bill in March and has left it pending.
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