Iowa State Capital spring photo

DES MOINES — Iowa legislators have passed the first deadline to get things done this spring, and a laundry list of agricultural items are still alive.

March 8 marked the first funnel of the 2019 legislative session. Although there are exceptions for budget and tax items, the funnel date means that to remain alive, a bill must have passed through a committee in either the House or the Senate.

“It’s a very crucial week of any session,” says Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny.

Whitver says Republicans have released their budget proposal for the fiscal year starting on July 1 and ending on June 30, 2020, and it is, for the most part, a “status quo” budget.

But there are a number of bills still alive this session which could have an effect on farmers and farm organizations.

Among the issues of importance to farmers are:

‘Ag gag’

The agricultural facilities trespass bill, also known to some as the “ag gag” legislation, not only made it out of committee but was approved by both the House and the Senate and was signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds March 14.

“A key component of managing risks is controlling what and who comes on to farms,” Reynolds said as she signed the bill March 14 in front of legislators and representatives of farm commodity groups. “Untrained, unapproved and unwanted people entering farms put farmers and the economy of the state at risk.”

A version of this was passed in 2012 but was recently declared unconstitutional. The new proposal is more limited but would establish penalties for a person using deception to obtain access to a facility that is not open to the public with the intent to cause physical or economic harm.

It would be a serious misdemeanor for the first offense. The legislation was supported by most agricultural livestock organizations.

Beginning farmers

The beginning farmer tax credit program would see changes under another proposed bill. The program was expanded in 2013 and the cap was raised from $6 million to $12 million. But that expansion was allowed to expire in 2017.

Proposed legislation this year would bring the cap back up to $12 million, allowing more farmers to participate.

“The bill has bipartisan support. That’s important that we get that done,” says Rep. Dave Sieck, R-Glenwood.

Harvest weights

A proposal to make harvest truck weight limit waivers permanent for farmers is still alive. For years the governor has been able to issue a proclamation in the fall raising weight limits for farm trucks during harvest. The proposed bill would make the harvest limits a year-round item.

Industrial hemp

Industrial hemp may be legalized in Iowa. The passage of the federal farm bill late last year paved the way for states to approve hemp production, and Iowa is considering that legalization.

Solar fees

Legislation regarding fees for solar installation passed in the Senate. Democrats proposed an amendment excluding farmers from the new fees, but that was defeated with most Republicans voting against it.

The bill is being pushed by electrical utility companies and would increase monthly fees for people installing new arrays.

Opposition from biofuel producers led to a change carving out an exception for that type of operation, but there are still concerns, according to Kerri Johannsen, of the Iowa Environmental Council, who says the legislation is “unfair to the little guy” and would punish farmers who want to install solar panels.

Land donations

There was a broad proposal regarding donations of land to the state which failed to get out of committee in the House, but a narrower proposal regarding the tax credit for land donations is still alive in the Senate.

“That (the House version) was a really expansive bill,” Sieck says. But he says the discussion about public land is of interest to legislators.

Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.