Illinois State Capital

The Illinois Farm Bureau Governmental Affairs Leadership Council met in Springfield to discuss proposed state laws that could affect the ag industry.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois Farm Bureau is urging state lawmakers to defeat a bill that would allow local governments to impose stricter regulations on livestock construction.

Senate Bill 1481 would make changes to existing law that is now enforced by the Illinois Department of Agriculture. The bill is among political priorities voiced by IFB during its annual Governmental Affairs Leadership Council here.

“We oppose changes to the Livestock Management Facilities Act that would provide county government control over siting decisions or other changes that would disrupt the balance between protecting environment and allowing farmers to raise livestock,” said Kevin Semlow, director of state legislation.

Semlow said changes to LMFA are unnecessary, and that if the bill were successful it would disrupt the livestock construction industry.

“We think the act is working well, and it should stay that way,” he said. “We have data that shows that since the Livestock Management Facilities Act has been put in place, the number of complaints about livestock farms has dropped dramatically.

“The Illinois Department of Agriculture has engineers on staff who deal with livestock construction. Otherwise, you’ll get different standards across the state. One (county) might require 6 inches of concrete, and one may require 7.”

The organization also opposes a bill (HB 2839) that would provide wide latitude on the filing of lawsuits that could affect agriculture.

“It would allow anyone to sue any state agency for any reason,” Semlow said. “You could have a citizen in the city of Chicago deciding they don’t like livestock farming, and they could sue you for that. That would be allowable under this legislation.”

Another policy goal is a simplification of the Illinois Endangered Species Act that would streamline permitting for dealing with a native species. Current law requires permission from both federal and state agencies.

“If you get a permit to deal with a native species from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, currently you have to go back to Illinois and the Department of Natural Resources and get another permit to do the same thing,” Semlow said.

“We’re saying we want just one permit. It’s a simple efficiency thing.”

The organization is also taking a proactive stance on tax policies. IFB supports the Farmland Assessment law and a flat state income tax, and opposes agricultural sales tax incentives.

“There’s a lot of pressure on the General Assembly to start tinkering with the property tax system,” Semlow said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and a number of Democratic members of the General Assembly have floated the idea of implementing a graduated income tax, in which rates increase along with income.

John Sullivan, the new director of agriculture, urged farmers to reach out to legislators and educate them on the value of agriculture in the state and the importance of promoting the industry.

For the first time in decades, there is a Democratic governor and super majorities in both the House and Senate. Most have little or no background in agriculture. Sullivan, who was elected to the state Senate in 2002 and served 14 years there, was the only one of 59 members with a farming background.

“That’s the environment we’re in today, with 49 new members of the House and Senate,” Sullivan said. “There are new members who most of you do not have a relationship with. They have to know we’re genuine and sincere.”

The conference ended with an evening get-together between farmers and legislators.

Mark Gebhards, IFB’s executive director of governmental affairs, echoed Sullivan’s message.

“The dynamics and landscape of the General Assembly are very, very different than what they used to be,” he said. “There are members who do not understand what you do, why you do it and, more importantly, that you do it the right way.

“If we try to be single-focused on an issue and fall on our sword on that issue, we will not win. The dynamics are different. We have a different governor, we have a different General Assembly, we have different teams that make up those leadership in Senate and House. We have to focus our message.”

Nat Williams is Southern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.