Final day victory for Farmers’ Market Bill

Published May 28, 2021

   

The Texas legislative session will formally end on Monday, May 31. While strange things have been known to happen in the final days, we have a pretty good tally on where things stand:

  1. Our Farmers’ Market bill, SB 617, was unanimously approved by the House on Wednesday! Now it’s on to the Governor’s desk. Unless he vetoes it (which is highly unlikely), it will become law immediately on June 21. This bill defines “producer” as a person who grew, raised, processed, prepared, manufactured, or otherwise added value to (other than simply packaging) the food that they are selling. Any producer selling their food products at a farmers’ market will now be able to get a health department permit for a full year, pay no more than $100 in permit fees for all farmers’ markets within that local jurisdiction, and be able to provide samples of their food products to prospective customers without having to get an additional permit.
  2. Our Healthy Soils Bill, SB 1118, has been signed by the Governor, so it is formally law. We’ll be following up with the Texas State Soil & Water Conservation Board this summer to discuss the path forward, to provide the greatest benefits possible to people implementing healthy soils management on their land. Check out our press release about the new law and share it with your local newspaper and networks!
  3. We are likely to have the opportunity to work with the Sunset Commission to improve the Go Texan program! This TDA program has been of very little, if any, use to small farmers and local food businesses. Thanks to an amendment to the TDA Sunset bill, SB 703, the program will be reviewed in this coming biennium. This was one of two amendments added to the TDA Sunset Bill in the House, and the Senate has requested a conference committee to settle the differences. We are working to try to convince them to keep this excellent amendment in the final version of the bill. See our action alert, which is specific to people who live in the conference committee members’ districts (Rep. Canales or Senators Buckingham, Campbell, Paxton, Perry, or Powell).
  4. The “Ag-gag” bill is almost certainly dead, leaving simply a bill that addresses vandalism, trespass, and other physical damage to farms. The Senate approved the amended version of HB 1480 that took out the “Ag gag” provision completely. We’ve been told that the House sponsor plans to concur in the changes, at which point the amended version will be sent to the Governor.

Sadly, four of our priority bills also died in the process: the Home Food Security bill, the ungraded eggs bill, the meat processing bill, and the TDA-FSMA bill. But we’re far from done on any of those issues! Our lawsuit against TDA for its improper implementation of FSMA will continue. And we’re already strategizing with our bill sponsors and allies on how to come back stronger next session for the other bills.

Of the many other bills we were tracking, here’s an update on a few of those.

  • The Governor signed several good eminent domain bills, all making reforms to the process to make it less biased against the landowner (although many more reforms are still needed).
  • Other good bills that passed and await the Governor’s signature include:
    • Allowing meat from exotic animals processed in custom slaughterhouses to be donated to nonprofit food banks (which could lay the groundwork for further expansions of the uses of custom-processed meat).
    • Improving the rural veterinarian incentive program to help resolve the shortage of veterinarians in rural areas.
    • Allowing a COVID-related waiver of a previous restriction, allowing restaurants to continue to sell general grocery items.
    • Improving rural broadband by allowing electric utilities to partner with internet service providers.

Unfortunately, several good groundwater bills we supported died, despite strong bipartisan support in the House, due to opposition from the chair of the Senate Water, Ag & Rural Affairs committee.

We will offer you our usual end-of-Session “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” analysis of these and other bills – including which legislators to thank and which ones need to be held accountable – in late June, after the Governor is done with the vetoes & bill signings.