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
- 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 cottage foods. SB 572 was unanimously approved by the Senate Health & Human Services Committee on April 10, and will go to the Senate floor next. A narrower, but still good, bill, HB 644, was heard by the House Public Health Committee on April 10th; the committee substitute version would add pickles, acidified canned foods, and any nonpotentially hazardous food to the list of allowed foods, and allow sales at any location so long as direct-to-consumer. Lots of action happening on the cottage foods front!
- 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!
- Capping permit fees for farmers’ market vendors: HB 2009/ 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 Health & Human Services Committee unanimously approved SB 932 on April 10th, and recommended it for the local & uncontested calendar.
- Making sampling at farmers’ markets easier: HB 1694/ SB 789 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 has been approved by the Public Health Committee and recommended for the local & consent calendar! Stay tuned for action items on the Senate side.
- Making it easier for small farmers to get agricultural valuation, and lower their property taxes: HB 97/ SB 1963 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 unanimously approved by the House Ways & Means Committee, but an inexplicably high fiscal note (projected budget impact statement) could be a problem. We are working with the bill sponsor to attempt to get that estimate adjusted.
- 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 heard by the Senate Health & Human Services Committee on April 10. HB 1284 has a hearing before the House Agriculture Committee on April 15. While no one registered opposition to the bill in the Senate hearing, we know there is push back from the big industry players.
- 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.
- 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! Next step, the Senate.
- 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 That Are Moving Forward
- 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.
- 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 approved by the House Agriculture Committee and now goes to Calendars.
- Establishing a task force to promote pollinator health: HB 136 was heard by the House Ag Committee on April 1. Although it hasn’t been voted on (a bad sign), it’s companion bill, SB 2170, has been scheduled for a Senate Ag Committee hearing on April 15.
- Preventing local governments from regulating children’s lemonade stands: HB 234 was almost unanimously approved by the House and has been sent to 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 now headed to the Senate.
- 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 approved by the Senate IGR committee and is awaiting a vote by the full Senate. The companion bill, HB 2596, continues to be limited to just local government regulation; it was approved by the House Ag Committee and is also awaiting a vote.
- Abolishing the requirement for a permit to transport bees within the state: HB 1723 has been scheduled for a House Ag Committee hearing on April 15th
- 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.
- SB 1884: This bill starts off well, creating a criminal offense for someone who intentionally releases or otherwise causes the loss of a livestock animal or crop. While there are existing laws, such as criminal mischief provisions, that cover these actions, they don’t take into account how much damage can be caused when someone hurts or lets a large animal loose. But the bill also makes it a state jail felony to tamper with or even exert “unauthorized control” over agricultural facilities’ paperwork. And it requires 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. This bill that could be used to severely punish legitimate whistleblowers who compile evidence of factory farms violating laws on animal welfare, pollution control, and more.
- 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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