Over the next 12 years, Iowa will commit an additional $282 million to water quality, the result of legislation passed early in 2018 after years of unsuccessful legislative initiatives in past sessions. Even with SF 512 now law, Rep. John Wills says, it still is only “the beginning of the conversation [on water quality], not the end” in Iowa.
The measure was passed along a party-line vote, with opponents expressing concern that the bill does not do enough to hold accountable those who receive dollars from the state — either through benchmark goals or the ongoing testing of waterways.
Sen. Kevin Kinney, too, originally opposed the bill and had sought changes by backing several amendments. But in the end, he voted in favor of SF 512 because “Iowans want resources to continue and expand water quality initiatives, and this is a first step that we can build on.”
No new tax dollars will be raised under SF 512. Instead, a mix of existing revenue sources will be used — for example, money from a tax on metered drinking water will gradually be diverted from the general fund, and, starting in 2021, some state gambling revenue will be used.
Last year, 2.3 million people attended Iowa’s 105 volunteer-driven, youth-oriented county and regional fairs. That means a lot of people in close contact with farm animals — and, as a result, the chance for outbreaks of zoonotic disease. “I see fair officials doing due diligence to reduce the risk of visitors getting sick,” notes Iowa Sen. Dan Zumbach, who, like many farmers, has been a 4-H leader and is active on his county board.
But even if the proper precautions are taken (for example, proper handling of animal waste, posting signs and promoting hand washing among participants), outbreaks can and do happen, as evidenced by occurrences in the Midwest. According to the International Association of Fairs and Expos, county fairs in Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio and Wisconsin have had known cases of E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks since 2000.
One concern of Zumbach’s has been the legal liability of county fairs when these incidences occur. His response: Last year’s introduction of SF 362, which received near-unanimous approval in the Legislature.
Now a new state law, the measure explicitly states that no fair authority in Iowa (state, local or regional) is liable for injuries or deaths “caused by a domesticated animal pathogen transmitted at a domesticated animal premises located on its fairgrounds.”
Six states in the Midwest are part of a new legal effort to end laws in Massachusetts and California that regulate the housing of hens, calves and pigs in agricultural operations. Two separate lawsuits were filed directly with the U.S. Supreme Court in December. Indiana is leading the multi-state complaint against the Massachusetts law, which bans the sale of egg, pork and veal from farms (inside or outside the state) that don’t meet certain animal-confinement standards. These rules were established by Massachusetts voters in 2016 via a ballot referendum.
In the rural southern Indiana school district that Rep. Terry Goodin not only represents in the state Capitol but also leads as its superintendent, there is no pharmacy or hospital. The district, too, has no full-time school nurse.
“We have a lot of students without access to a local doctor or health care,” he adds, “and sick children can’t learn.”
But because of last year’s passage of HB 1263, a new model of delivering care to young people has been opened — school-based clinics that connect students with a health provider via telecommunication technologies. Along with establishing new standards for telemedicine, that 2016 state law allows prescriptions to be dispensed remotely and for physician-patient relationships to be established without an in-office visit.
With its 1,800 dairy farms across the state, Michigan produces a lot of milk (fifth among U.S. states), but even with all of this economic activity, Michigan Sen. Mike Green sees the potential for more. How much additional sales and revenue could be generated, for example, by adding greater value to Michigan’s homegrown milk — by diversifying or expanding the state’s dairy sector so that more buttermilk powder is being made or condensed milk is being produced for ice cream and baked goods?
The state’s new budget reflects this vision of adding more value to Michigan’s agriculture products. It includes a $4.7 million grant program for mid-sized food and agriculture processing facilities.
In the northwest part of Ohio that he represents, state Sen. Cliff Hite says, “wind is our shale,” an energy resource that has the potential to boost revenue on agricultural land and improve the region’s entire economy.
And the comparisons don’t stop there.
Just as the hydraulic fracturing boom has raised questions about siting and government regulations, so too has wind power. Three years ago, responding to concerns about the impact of wind-turbine installations on adjacent landowners, the Ohio Legislature tripled the state’s setback requirements for turbines, a move that Hite and others say halted the development of wind energy.
Under the 2014 law, for any operation with generating capacity of 5 MW or more, Ohio now requires a 1,125-foot minimum setback from the base of the wind turbine (plus the length of its blade) to the edge of the property line. That marked a big change from the state’s previous standards — first, a requirement that the setback from the property line be 1.1 times the height of the turbine, which amounts to about 550 feet; second, that there be a 1,125-foot setback from the turbine to the nearest home (the 2014 law changed the requirement from home to property line).
As a result of this statutory change, wind-energy proponents say, Ohio now has the most stringent siting rules in the country. In states such as Illinois and South Dakota, for example, a turbine must be set back at a distance from the property line that is 1.1 times its height. Under the Ohio law, it is approximately 2.3 times the height of the average turbine.
Intensive animal production is an $86 billion industry, but growing conflicts between confinement livestock farms and some neighbors has spilled over into legislatures across the Midwest. Indiana Sen. Susan Glick, chair of an interim committee studying whether there is a need for special regulations for concentrated animal-feeding operations, is among those seeking ways to “bridge a divide between modern livestock farmers and some rural communities” over farm siting.
The clustering of cattle, hogs or poultry makes selection of locations for larger farms critical. Geology, ground and surface water, roads, neighbors and wind direction all factor into siting decisions.
Citing the need for more legal and insurance stability for the state’s livestock industry, Iowa lawmakers have passed legislation designed to limit liability damages in cases filed by unhappy neighbors against producers.
The majority of Midwestern states determine farm property taxes through a system that assesses the land based on “use value” — how much income it can generate from agricultural production. One of the few exceptions is Nebraska, where a percentage of the land’s actual market value (currently set at 75 percent in statute) is used to determine what a farmer or rancher will pay in taxes.
With the value of agricultural land rising rapidly in recent years (see table), Nebraska’s agricultural producers have faced big increases in their tax bills, and over the past two years alone, the state’s legislators have intervened by putting more than $400 million into a Property Tax Credit Relief Fund, which for 2016 will provide $89.57 per $100,000 of property valuation. Beginning in tax year 2017, LB 958 provides $20 million in additional funding for property tax relief.
This legislative year, Sen. Lydia Brasch hopes she and other Nebraska legislators are able to find a more permanent solution.