03-21-17 RMFU: Good Food & Ag Bills Heading to N.M. Governor’s Desk

RMFU: Good Food & Ag Bills Heading to N.M. Governor’s Desk

By Pam Roy
RMFU Government Relations for New Mexico

As New Mexico’s lawmakers roared through a massive stack of legislative and budget options in its last few days, a few substantive bills that would support New Mexico farmers, ranchers, food processors, and consumers made it to the finish line and are awaiting Governor Susana Martinez’s approval. Here are a few highlights:

HB387 Repeal of the Organic Certification Program Fees
This change in the state statute gives the N.M. Department of Agriculture the flexibility to adjust fees to meet the needs of the producers and processors while balancing the program budget. Thanks to the Department’s Siete del Norte and to the N.M. Food and Agriculture Policy Council for great teamwork in the last stretch to keep this moving forward.

HB305 Compliance Inspections for Food Safety Laws
This is an important bill relating to the federal Food Safety Modernization Act that will impact many of the state’s fruit and vegetables farmers and processors. The legislation will give the New Mexico Department of Agriculture authority to lead the program in compliance with the Food and Drug Administration. It passed the House the Senate and is waiting for Governor’s signature.

HB289 Agriculture in Economic Development Act
The act utilizes the combined expertise and resources of the Economic Development Department (EDD) and the New Mexico Finance Authority (NMFA) in helping fund certain economic development projects and it adds agriculture enterprises and value-added agriculture products to the list of projects eligible for support.

SM87 Demise of Rural Grocery Stores Study
This Memorial calls for developing a task force including representatives from New Mexico State University, New Mexico Department of Agriculture, and the University of New Meixco’s Robert Wood Johnson Policy Center, along with food policy councils. The task force will accept the challenge to develop a report of recommendations to present to 2016 interim committees.

HB 530 (Reincarnated Hemp Bill)
This moved quickly through the House and Senate with the hope it will arrive on the governor’s desk by the end of the legislative session. This bill has a few minor changes that Governor Martinez said she will consider when deciding whether to sign it into law.

New Mexico Food and Farms Day
House Memorial 57, Senate Memorial 59, and Senate Memorial 52, sponsored by Senator Pete Campos and House Memorial 54 NM School Nutrition Day drew more than 150 supporters and enthusiasts including the Second Annual Farm to School and Market to Market Awards.

Worthy Bills for Consideration That Didn’t Make It

HB208 N.M. Grown Fresh Fruits and Vegetables for School Meals

This program that provides state funding for schools to purchase New Mexico grown fresh fruits and vegetables for school meals was not included in the state budget. The governor has stated she will veto the budgets that the New Mexico Legislature sent to her. A special session will likely be the next step for another run at developing a budget that will meet the governor’s approval. It is unclear if this program can be included, since there is even more pressure to pass an acceptable budget. Despite lack of funding, the enthusiasm and commitment to continue the growth of the program is healthy. Schools, school food service staff, organizations, agencies and policymakers will meet to discuss next steps on how to continue to build the program.

SB385 Senior Citizen Facility Vegetable Gardens
This bill would have reinforced federal rules and give direction to allow senior center gardens to produce ingredients for meal programs, and to allow participants to take home what they grow. After discussions with the Area Agency on Aging, the staff from the Department on Aging, and interested organizations, the bill was amended to make it more user friendly. The agencies and groups intent to develop a coordinated plan to keep this concept viable.

HB434 Agritourism Limited Liability
This passed the Agriculture and Water Committee, Judiciary Committee and then died for lack of time in the Senate. House Bill 434 would have created the “Agritourism Limited Liability Act” (“ALLA”), which would have provided immunity from liability for agritourism professionals, providing exceptions from immunity, and requiring the posting of warnings about agritourism activities.

SB350 Agriculture Valuation
This proposal was brought to the table by the Western Landowners Alliance and went through numerous committees and amendments before dying in the Senate. The bill focused on adding options to the agriculture tax valuation. In addition to the current eligibility for agriculture valuation, eligibility for this special valuation called for (1) maintaining the property in compliance with all local, state and federal environmental protection rules and regulations and state and local rules including controlling noxious weeds, keeping community ditches or acequias in working condition and keeping the land free of nuisances; and (2) planting and maintaining a cover crop if the soil would otherwise be bare. If the land had been valued in the previous year pursuant to the new special valuation method as grazing land, the land would be deemed to carry the minimum livestock pursuant to rules established by the taxation and revenue department and the owner of the land would pay a tax equivalent to the value of the livestock.

Thank you to everyone who came to testify, made calls, and educated and informed their policymakers about the things you care about.  It takes all of us to make a difference.

Rocky Mountain Farmers Union is a general farm organization, whose members live in Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming.