2017 Arkansas Legislative Session in review
January saw the start of Arkansas’ 91 General Assembly and there were several bills that have an effect on agriculture across Arkansas. We were actively involved in the legislative process and we had good success in working for good legislation and defeating legislation which would have been harmful to agriculture.
State Tax exemptions
SB 115 (Hendren & Pitsch), now Act 78, lowered the state’s income tax and created a legislative task force to review the state tax code. SB 115 was one of two bills in Gov. Hutchinson’s tax cut package. The task force has been appointed. The task force includes 16 members of the legislature and will file its initial report before Dec. 1, 2017. Farm Credit plans to actively engage in the work of this task force because they will be reviewing all of the state’s tax exemptions which includes all agriculture tax exemptions. You are encouraged to let your State Senator and State Representative know how important these exemptions are to the agriculture industry.
Task Force Makeup in SB 115 (Act 78 of 2017):
(A) The President Pro Tempore of the Senate, or his designee who is a member of the Senate;
(B) Five (5) members of the Senate appointed by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate;
(C) The Senate Majority Leader, or his designee who is a member of the Senate;
(D) The Senate Minority Leader, or his designee who is a member of the Senate;
(E) The Speaker of the House of Representatives, or his designee who is a member of the House of Representatives;
(F) Five (5) members of the House of Representatives appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives;
(G) The House Majority Leader, or his designee who is a member of the House of Representatives; and
(H) The House Minority Leader, or his designee who is a member of the House of Representatives.
Seed Standardization Law
HB 1206, now Act 156, (Hillman & Caldwell) restricts the regulation of seed to state agencies. This mirrors the state’s law on fertilizer and chemicals. The law states a political subdivision shall not regulate the registration, packaging, labeling, sale, storage, distribution, cultivation, any other use, or application of seeds; or adopt or continue in effect local legislation relating to the registration, packaging, labeling, sale, storage, distribution, cultivation, any other use, or application of seeds. Local legislation in violation of this section is void and unenforceable.
Agriculture Products Transportation Bill
Rep. Michael John Gray’s HB 2211, now Act 1085, and would create a special permit for hauling agronomic or horticultural crops at a heavier weight than currently. The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department in cooperation with the Arkansas Agriculture Department will promulgate the rules for implementation. Trucks would have to have a minimum of five axles and the bill doesn’t let them exceed 100,000 lbs. The permit could end up at 90,000 or another amount and permit fees are not defined. The highway department could also create more axle, inspection or equipment requirements for the permit.
State Plant Board Penalty Matrix
SB 501, now Act 778, was amended to allow the State Plant Board to apply the higher fines to dicamba and any new herbicides. The law authorizes the State Plant Board to assess expanded fines of between $1,000 and $25,000, only for violations in which significant off-target crop damage occurred as a result of dicamba, other auxin-containing herbicide or new herbicides. The first $1,000 of any fine will be used for the State Plant Board scholarship fund, the portion of a fine more than $1,000 will be divided 60 percent to the scholarship fund and 40 percent to the Cooperative Extension Service.
Protection of Business, Farming and Ranching Practices
HB 1665, now Act 606, (Vaught & Stubblefield) creates a civil cause of action against a person who has gained access to a nonpublic area of another person’s property and engaged in an act that exceeds the trespasser’s authority within the nonpublic area. Act 606 prohibits employees from removing the employer's data, paper, records, or any other documents. It also prohibits recording images or sound occurring within an employer's commercial property and using the recording in a manner that damages the employer.
This gives our farmers and ranchers an extra level of protection from people who may want to harm to their business.
Strengthen Private Property Protection
HB 1554, now Act 877, (Drown & Irvin, et al) enhances the penalty for criminal trespass if the trespasser was in possession of a killing device, a harvesting device, a device used to locate and unearth buried artifacts or a tool designed to gain entry into a structure by breaking a lock or bolt.
Criminal Trespass is a Class D felony if the trespasser has two or more misdemeanor convictions of trespassing. It is Class A misdemeanor if at the time of the trespass you are in possession of: a killing device when not used in lawful taking of game, a harvesting device, a device primarily used to unearth artifacts, a tool designed to gain entry into a structure, the person is on the premises of a commercial fishing or fish breeding operation and at that time is in possession of a fishing pole or net or the person has a prior conviction of trespassing.
These are the legal defenses:
• Guests or invitees
• Required to enter for business or health/safety reason
• Authorized by law to enter
• Privately owned premises are made open to the public
• Person owns or is employed by a person or entity that owns property adjoining the premises and is traveling over the premises with good faith for a legitimate reason
• If the person who enters the premises of another person is:
(A) Temporarily on the premises of the other person for the sole purpose of recovering livestock, a dog, or any other domesticated animal; and is
(B) Either: (i) The owner of the livestock, dog, or other domesticated animal; or
(ii) An employee or agent of the owner of the livestock, dog, or other domesticated animal.
Permit Efficiency Bill
HB 1511, now Act 501, (Wardlaw) compels ADEQ to make a final permitting decision on animal waste permits within 180 days of application.
Addition Funding for the University Of Arkansas Division Of Agriculture
House Budget Chairman Rep. Lane Jean confirmed that the University Of Arkansas Division Of Agriculture was “taken care of” in the budget. The money will be approximately $3 million of one time funds coming from a settlement negotiated by the Attorney General’s office.
Tail Water Recovery Credits
Sen. Cheatham’s SB 729, now Act 1125, which extends the carryover period for unused income tax credits allowed for water impoundments, from 9 to 15 years following the year in which the credit originated. The extension should further incentivize tail water recovery construction.
Waste Tire Bill
HB 1267, now Act 317, by Rep. Lanny Fite will increase funding to the state’s waste tire districts while improving record keeping for used tires in the state. Each county will set up a drop off point for tires and farmers will be able to recycle up to four large implement tires daily. Funds will also be used for grants for clean-up efforts where there are large volumes of tires.
Crawford’s New Cuba Trade Bill Aims Offers Compromise
Arkansas First District Congressman Rick Crawford, a longstanding champion for agricultural trade with Cuba, recently announced plans to introduce a new compromise bill aimed at opening up agricultural trade with Cuba. The draft bill, which has not been formally introduced yet, seeks to remove existing barriers for credit financed trade deals between the U.S. and Cuba as have previous measures he’s supported in past years, but it also aims to appease some U.S. interests who were harmed during the Cuban revolution. The bill proposes to create a new fund financed through a new tax on new exports to Cuba which would serve as a reparation fund to help pay the claims of those who lost property when Fidel Castro came to power in 1959.