3.2.2018 – Crossover and Town Meeting Week
This week in Montpelier has been hectic as we approach the crossover deadline. Committees have been hard at work getting their policy legislation voted out in order to have it considered by the Senate this year. Given that this is the second year of the biennium, it becomes even more important because any bill that does not make it across the finish line by final adjournment will die. Complicating this sense of urgency was the appearance of legislation regarding gun violence that required many hours on the Floor of the House.
House Agriculture and Forestry voted out four bills this week including Regenerative Agriculture and Pollinator Protection. The Regenerative Agriculture Bill basically codifies a pilot program that exists in the Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets (AAFM), which focuses on practices that improve soil health. The Pollinator Protection Bill provides for continued study to determine what is causing the decline in pollinators, both native and honeybees, which are considered domesticated.
The Regenerative Agriculture Bill is important for several reasons. At the beginning of the 2018 legislative session, Speaker Mitzi Johnson charged each committee with passing legislation that would reduce our carbon footprint or our reliance on fossil fuel. We are also aware of our need to clean up the waters of the state. This bill helps to achieve both. By employing soil health principles such as minimizing tillage and chemical, physical, and biological stresses; keeping living roots in the ground as long as possible; using a diversity of plants to increase diversity in soil microorganisms; and encouraging a diversity of fauna on the land, one can increase organic matter in the soil that helps decrease nutrient run-off and draws down carbon.
The statistics are impressive. It’s estimated that if we achieve the goal of 75,000 cover-cropped acres and 42,000 acres of filter strips/buffers in the state, we could draw down 80,750 metric tons of carbon dioxide. This is equivalent to removing 21,400 cars from the road. Given that Vermont’s carbon footprint is mostly attributed to home/structure heating and vehicles, this is a great contribution to carbon reduction.
Our Pollinator Protection Bill does three things. First it requires a person who sells treated seed in the State to offer untreated seed as well. We have heard that some farmers would like to plant untreated seed because their soil conditions are such that they don’t need the neonicotinoid treatment that is put on the vast majority of corn seed. Seed dealers can make untreated seed available but it will have to be ordered in October, well in advance of the growing season.
We also ask the AAFM to assess the effect of neonicotinoid-treated seed on pollinator losses in the State. I recently wrote about the different experiences of two major beekeepers in Vermont. Charles Mraz of Middlebury feels that neonics are having a great effect on his business, Champlain Valley Apiary, and may be the cause of significant colony loss. Continued study will hopefully reveal some of the causes for that situation.
In recent years, we passed legislation that gives the AAFM authority to regulate treated articles, which include things like telephone poles and treated seed. We are the only state in the nation that has that authority. If it’s determined that treated seed is causing environmental problems, we would be able to address the situation.
The bill also requires the AAFM to develop and implement an educational program to inform users of pesticides about the effects of those products on pollinators. One of the great challenges is that neonics are available to home users and it is questionable if they fully understand the damage that is done by indiscriminate use. It is anticipated that the AAFM will develop Public Service Announcements (PSA) to spread the word about the danger to our web of life if these products are used indiscriminately. The PSAs will run on television and there is funding to get them on during primetime.
I am looking forward to Town Meeting week during which we are back for greatly anticipated time at home. While sometimes referred to as Town Meeting “break”, it is really a time when we attend Town Meetings and take advantage of other opportunities to visit with our constituents. By the time this is published I will have already attended the Westminster Town Meeting on Saturday morning and a State budget informational meeting at the Public Library in Bellows Falls that afternoon.
Monday evening I will attend the Rockingham Town Meeting. It will be strange and sad not to have Mike Harty moderating the meeting. Rep. Matt Trieber and I have a resolution for his family in honor of his many years of service to his community.
On Tuesday, we will make the rounds starting in Brookline at 9 AM. They are starting an hour early this year, which actually makes life a little easier for us as we try to get to several Town Meetings in a short period of time. We are so thankful for the towns’ willingness to interrupt the orders of the day to let us speak, and the opportunity to visit with people one-on-one.
After Brookline we will head to Athens where they meet at the former one-room school. The people of Athens have done an amazing job rehabbing their Town Office with a lot of volunteer labor. The other big project folks have worked on is the lovely brick meetinghouse. At one point, people were not allowed in certain parts of the building because it was so compromised. Slowly, but surely, progress has been made and the building is once again usable, but more work is necessary. Both of these projects is testament to what can happen when people come together and work towards a common goal.
Our next stop is Grafton where we hope to arrive before they adjourn. Grafton is so efficient that for several years they were done before we got there. Their secret is a pre-meeting meeting where a lot of details are hashed out in advance. Last year we made it in time and were able to give brief presentations before we moved on to Windham.
Windham, of course, is my hometown and we are always glad if we get there in time for lunch. I, typically, get up very early on Town Meeting morning and bake lasagna for the wonderful Windham pot luck lunch, which I drop off at the Meeting House on my way to meet Matt.
I believe that the Vermont Town Meeting is the purest form of democracy and an institution we should treasure.