The good, the bad, and the unknown

With one week left in the Texas legislative session, there is a lot of both good and bad news–and many things still up in the air. We have a pretty long update for you, followed by several important action items. If you’re short on time, please skip down right now to the action items–we need your help in these final days!

Starting with the good news:

  • The bill to cap permit fees for farmers & farmers’ market vendors has passed both the House and the Senate! SB 932 would limit the fees that local health departments can charge farmers and others selling at farmers’ markets to $100 per year total, per jurisdiction. It now goes to the Governor. If signed, it will go into effect on September 1.
  • The bill to require local health departments to respond to inquiries by farmers and food businesses about what they need to do to operate legally has also passed the House and the Senate! HB 2107 also provides that, if the producer complies with what he or she is told by the health department, then an inspector can’t fine them later just because the inspector has a different interpretation. This bill now heads to the Governor’s desk.

And more good news on the horizon:

  • The cottage foods bill is heading for the House floor. SB 572 is our omnibus cottage food bill that covers all non-potentially hazardous foods, allows sales anywhere in the state directly to consumers, and includes pickled and frozen fruits and vegetables, acidified canned foods, and fermented vegetables. The bill is scheduled for a floor vote on Monday. It is listed near the end of the calendar, so it’s likely that the actual vote will be on Tuesday. If the House votes in favor, it will go back to the Senate to concur with amendments, and then on to the Governor.
  • The sampling bill was unanimously approved by the Senate Health & Human Services Committee and recommended for the local and uncontested calendar. HB 1694 would allow farmers’ market vendors to provide samples of the food they are selling without expensive and burdensome permit requirements. We don’t know yet what day it will get a vote, but it’s looking very positive.
  • The on-farm poultry processing bill has new life! Although our original bill didn’t get a hearing, we’ve been working to get the provision allowing small farmers to process up to 1,000 birds annually added to another bill. Stay tuned.

The bad news:

The Fair Property Taxes for Small Farmers and the ungraded eggs bills have both died, joining the raw milk bill, the ombudsman bill, and the micro-florist bill in the 86th Legislative Session’s graveyard. Both bills had made great progress, and we had reason to hope that they could make it all the way through–but the process is designed to kill bills more than to pass them. In most sessions, about two-thirds of the bills that are filed, die. We’ll do a full report on the “whos” and “whys” after the session, along with our plans for how to keep fighting for these changes.

And some “we don’t knows”:

  • Eminent domain: The leading bill to reform the use of eminent domain by private companies like pipeline operators, SB 421, has been approved by the House Land & Resource Management Committee. As we anticipated, it has been significantly weakened, but it still makes important and valuable reforms. Unfortunately, it also now contains a very troubling 10-year moratorium on any additional changes to eminent domain law! At this time, we’re staying neutral on the bill and waiting to see what happens with the moratorium provision during the negotiations in conference committee.
  • Over-criminalization of protests: Your calls in response to our alert two weeks ago made a difference, and the bill that criminalizes “interference” with so-called “critical infrastructure”–including every factory farm and oil pipeline in the state–was made a little less draconian when it passed the House. (See our previous alert here.) But it’s still pretty bad, making it a third-degree felony if any trespass at these facilities interferes with their operations. The bill would transform many acts of nonviolent civil disobedience into felonies, with lifelong consequences (see this 91-page list of all the restrictions placed after a felony conviction). This includes protests by landowners on their own property when faced with eminent domain.  Many landowners across Texas have been mistreated by oil and gas companies that have seized private land through eminent domain, and some landowners have resorted to acts of protest–under HB 3557, they could be charged with felonies and put in jail.
  • Groundwater: Most of the bad groundwater bills appear to be dead or dying this session, but one bill did get through. HB 1066 directs groundwater conservation districts to renew export permits–to transfer groundwater out of the district–without a public hearing. We have joined other groups in urging Governor Abbott to veto the bill, but time is running short for that to happen.

TAKE ACTION

Step 1: Can you donate to support our efforts?

We have made immense progress for small farmers and local food producers in this legislative session, and we need your financial support to sustain us, both in this final crunch and beyond.

 

Please become a member or, if you are already a member, make an additional donation to support this vital work!

Step 2: Pick up the phone one (or maybe three) last times

The staffers are swamped right now, so keep your calls short, clear, and simple.  Just a minute or two truly makes a difference!

You can find your State Legislators by going to our Elected Official Lookup or calling the Capitol Switchboard at 512-463-4630.

If you call after-hours, just leave a message on their machine.

 

Call #1 goes to your State Representative to support the cottage foods bill, SB 572.  Just provide your name and your town (so they know you’re a constituent), and then say, “I am asking my Representative to vote YES on SB 572.”

 

Call #2 goes to your State Senator to seek amendments to HB 3557.

Again, give your name and where you live. Then say “I am asking my Senator to support an amendment to HB 3557 to provide a defense for landowners who take action on their own property.  No one should be charged with a felony for peacefully defending their own land.”

 

Call #3 is to the Governor to ask him to veto HB 1066.
Call 512-463-2000 and say that you want to leave a comment about a bill that is on the Governor’s desk. When you speak to the staffer, give your name and your town, and simply say, “I urge Governor Abbott to veto HB 1066 because it does not allow for public involvement in the important decision of whether or not to extend a groundwater export permit.”

 

Thank you for your support and activism throughout the last five months. Working together, we have made important changes that will help small farmers and local food producers across the state–and there is more still to come. Changing the laws requires long-term commitment and perseverance, and we don’t give up!