It’s going to be a busy week for local foods at the Texas Legislature! Two of our priority bills–Fair Taxes for Small Farmers and Sampling at Farmers’ Markets–will have committee hearings on Wednesday.
Details on these bills and how to take action are below. Please take the time to call, email, or come to the hearings! Your voice truly does have an impact and can make the difference between these bills moving forward or dying.
Fair Taxes for Small Farmers
HB 97 would address unfair barriers that face small, sustainable farmers in getting the same property tax treatment as large conventional producers. When the principal use of a piece of land is agricultural, it is supposed to be taxed based on its agricultural value. Since agricultural use can vary widely across the state, the counties are supposed to set guidelines for what constitutes the “degree of intensity” required to be considered agricultural land in their area.
But no county has adopted guidelines on what is needed for a small farm to qualify, nor for “market farmers” (those growing diversified fruits and vegetables to sell directly to consumers), nor those who raise multiple types of food (such as integrated livestock and vegetable operations)! In fact, at a hearing in 2013, the representative for the tax assessors’ association said that market farming “isn’t agriculture.”
HB 97 simply directs the Comptroller to establish stakeholder groups to set guidelines for market farms and diversified farms. This would ensure fair, statewide application of agricultural valuation provisions.
Sampling at Farmers’ Markets
Before 2013, in order to provide samples of their food at farmers’ markets, farmers had to get a Temporary Food Establishment permit. This requires a 3-basin sink, warm running water for hand-washing, and a floor covering–and the permit had to be renewed every two weeks. The result was that sampling was extremely difficult and expensive for farmers’ market vendors.
In 2013, the Texas Legislature adopted a law that established reasonable standards for farmers’ market vendors to provide samples of the food they have for sale, based on sanitation measures that are practical in a temporary outdoor setting. The intention of that bill was that the local health departments would enforce those standards, but that no separate permit or fee would be required.
Unfortunately, due to some ambiguity in a separate provision dealing with sampling during cooking demonstrations, some health departments have continued to require high-cost permits and impose the old, unworkable requirements for sampling at farmers’ markets. HB 1694 simply restores the original intent of the 2013 law, requiring vendors to meet the specific sanitation requirements, but preventing health departments from requiring permits and fees.
ACTION #1: Call Your State Representative
Please call your State Representative and urge him or her to co-author both of these bills.
If you don’t know who represents you, go to https://wrm.capitol.texas.gov/
home or call the Capitol Switchboard at 512-463-4630.
Sample message for calls or emails:
My name is ___, and I live in [town]. I am calling to urge Representative ____ to support local farmers by co-authoring HB 97 and HB 1694. HB 97 would allow small, sustainable farmers growing vegetables for market to get the same property tax treatment as conventional cattle or grain farmers. HB 1694 implements the intention of a 2013 law that was designed to allow farmers’ market vendors to provide samples of their food to potential customers without unnecessarily expensive and burdensome permit requirements.
[Add a few sentences about why one or both of these bills matter to you, whether as a farmer or a consumer.]
I urge Representative ____ to support local farmers and co-author both bills.
Check out the list of Committee members for both committees below. If your Rep sits on either committee, then add: “I urge Representative ____ to vote “yes” on HB __ in Committee and help it move forward quickly.”
An effective follow-up to this call or email would be to send the Representative our Fact Sheets on each of these bills. Download them here and email them to your Representative at FirstName.LastName@house.
ACTION #2: Attend the Committee Hearings & Register in Support
For the Fair Taxes Bill
COMMITTEE: House Ways & Means Committee
WHERE: John H. Reagan Building, Room 140.
WHEN: Wednesday, March 13, at 8 a.m. Bill registration should open around 7 a.m., and will stay open until at least 8 a.m.; you may be able to register for the bill after 8 a.m., depending on when the bill is actually heard.
WHAT: Register “FOR HB 97, not testifying.”
For the Farmers Market Sampling Bill
COMMITTEE: House Public Health Committee
WHERE: Capitol Extension, Room E2.026
WHEN: Wednesday, March 13, 10:30 a.m. or upon adjournment of the House. Bill registration should open around 9:30 a.m. and will most likely remain open until noon or 1.
WHAT: Register “FOR HB 1694, not testifying.”
Go to the Reagan Building or the main Capitol building. In the Capitol, take the elevator down to Floor E2, in the Extension. Go down the main hallway, and then turn either direction to go down the side hallways. You’re looking for where the pay phones used to be–in their place, are small kiosks. After tapping “begin,” you’ll select the committee hearing (Ways & Means for the Fair Taxes bill, Public Health for the Sampling bill). Then select the bill number. Then register “FOR, not testifying.” Next you’ll enter your contact information. At the last screen, you can choose “add another agenda item” (the button in the bottom right hand corner) to add the other bill.
Once you register, you’ll be added to the witness list even if you choose to leave right after registering. The witness list is important because when the bill goes to the full House 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!
For either bill, if you wish to testify, please contact Judith@FarmAndRanchFreedom.org
Public Health Committee Members
Below are the Representatives on the House Public Health Committee, which will hear the Sampling bill. If you live in one of their districts, your call is extra important! Please call, and then pass this alert on to your friends and family in the district.
Note: where a legislator represents only part of a county, we have indicated which portion or some of the cities within the district.
Chair Senfronia Thompson–County: Harris (part). North-northeast portion of the county, including Humble.
Vice-Chair John Wray–Counties: Ellis, Henderson (part). Cities: Waxahachie, Ennis, Midlothian.
Steve Allison–County: Bexar (part). Olmos Park, Alamo Heights, Terrell Hills, and north of there.
Garnet Coleman–County: Harris (part). Southeast portion of the county.
James Frank–Counties: Archer, Baylor, Clay, Foard, Knox, Wichita. City: Wichita Falls.
Bobby Guerra–County: Hidalgo (part). Parts of cities of Mission, McAllen, Edinburg, Pharr.
Eddie Lucio–County: Cameron (part). Parts of cities of Brownsville, San Benito, Harlingen.
Lina Ortega–County: El Paso (part).
Four Price–Counties: Sherman, Moore, Potter, Carson, Hutchinson. Cities of Amarillo, Dumas, Borger, Steinett.
J.D. Sheffield–Counties: Erath, Comanche, McCulloch, Mills, Hamilton, Coryell, San Saba, Somervell. Cities of Brady, San Saba, Goldthwaite, Gatesville, Hamilton, Comanche, Stephenville.
Bill Zedler–County: Tarrant (part). Cities of Crowley, Kennedale, Mansfield.
Ways & Means Committee Members
Below are the Representatives on the House Ways & Means Committee, which will hear the Fair Taxes bill. If you live in one of their districts, your call is extra important! Please call, and then pass this alert on to your friends and family in the district!
Chair Dustin Burrows–Counties: Borden, Gaines, Lubbock (part), Lynn, Mitchell, Scurry, Terry.
Vice Chair Ryan Guillen–Counties: Atascosa, Brooks, Duval, Jim Hogg, Kenedy, La Salle, Live Oak, McMullen, Starr, Willacy.
Dwayne Bohac–County: Harris (part). West-northwest portion of the county.
Sheryl Cole–County: Travis (part). Cities: Manor, east Austin, Pflugerville (part).
Trey Martinez Fischer–County: Bexar (part). Northwest portion of the county, Balcones Heights, along I-10 to 1604.
Jim Murphy–County: Harris (part). West portion of the county including Spring Valley Village, Hillshire Village, Hedwig Village, Hunters Creek Village, Piney Point Village, Bunker Hill Village.
Candy Noble–County: Collin (part). Cities: Plano (part), Wylie, Fairview (part), Nevada, Lowry Crossing.
Eddie Rodriguez (the sponsor of HB 97 & joint author of HB 1694 … tell him “thank you!”)–County: Travis (part). Eastern portion of the county, including east Austin, Mustang Ridge, Creedmoor.
Scott Sanford–County: Collin (part), including McKinney, Prosper (part), Melissa, Princeton, Anna.
Matt Shaheen–County: Collin (part), including north Dallas, Plano (part).
John Wray–Counties: Ellis, Henderson (part). Cities: Seven Points, Tool, Trinidad, Star Harbor, Malakoff.