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Legislative Recap for 2017 State Legislative Year
Finishing the Job on Roads and Bridges
After years of dedication by the General Assembly, a plan was overwhelmingly approved this year to fix our state’s crumbling roads and bridges. The end product, much different than when it started, includes a moderate increase in the motor fuel user fee, tax relief and DOT reform. H. 3516 ultimately overcame the Governor’s veto to provide long term funding to address our infrastructure needs. Once fully funded, the plan will provide more than $600 million annually to fix the state's deteriorating roads and bridges.
Protecting Agricultural Water Use
- Dams and Reservoirs
On the farm, dams and reservoirs are essential tools and this session two farmers, Charles Wingard and Jason Rodgers, stressed the importance of just that during a hearing on H. 3218. The bill originates from two natural disasters (2015 flood and Hurricane Matthew in 2016), and at this point, the bill requires dam owners to annually self-inspect structures for signs of problems and submit findings to DHEC. It requires owners of high-hazard and significant-hazard dams to provide an annual emergency action plan. Smaller ponds can be brought into DHEC oversight under the circumstances that, if failed, it may cause serious damage to homes or infrastructure; however, DHEC shall not require any changes to the dam due to reclassification of a dam unless failure would likely cause loss of life. H.3218 passed out of the House of Representatives a much improved version from its original. The bill now awaits further consideration in the Senate Agriculture Committee.
SCFB policy supports reasonable standards concerning the construction, inspection, maintenance, and repairs of all high risk pond dams, dikes, levees and other water impoundment facilities.
- Surface Water
Legislation was again introduced by Senator Chip Campsen (R-Charleston) and Representative James Smith (D-Richland) that would change the 2010 Surface Water Withdrawal Act, specifically focusing on agriculture surface water users. Both bills would require agricultural surface water users to obtain a permit. Bill hearings are expected next year when the legislature returns and Farm Bureau stands ready to fight against placing new regulatory burdens on farmers.
Helping SC Poultry Farmers
H. 3929, Agricultural Animal Facilities introduced by Chairman Davey Hiott (Pickens) and others, would help poultry farmers by streamlining the requirements for the review and appeal process by DHEC. Farm Bureau Executive Committeeman Tim Donald testified in support of the bill. H.3929 passed the House 77-12, thus moving the bill to the Senate for further consideration next year. Farm Bureau would like to recognize Chairman Hiott for his hard work and dedication on this important piece of legislation.
H. 4003, Produce Safety Act is a housekeeping bill that assigns authority to the Department of Agriculture to enter into agreements with the federal government for the SCDA to inspect and enforce provisions of the federal Food Safety Modernization Act.
SCDA worked with Farm Bureau, Clemson University, Carolina Farm Stewardship and other stakeholders to protect SC farmers and allow SCDA, not FDA, to be the regulatory authority. Nearly 4,000 produce farms are affected by this federal rule, so it is critical that SCDA be the face of FSMA on our farms. SCDA will educate before and during the regulatory process to ensure farmers are successful in becoming compliant with this rule.
H. 3559, Industrial Hemp Cultivation creates the SC Industrial Hemp Program, allowing farmers to legally grow industrial hemp as a research-based program authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. The finalized version of the bill allows 20 permits in the first year of the program. In the second year, the permits and acreage will double to 40 permits and 40 acres and the third year, and every year after, the Department of Agriculture, along with the institutions of higher learning, will evaluate the program to determine the number of permits to be issued. State SCFB Legislative Committeeman Tom Garrison and Marion County Farm Bureau Board Member Neal Baxley spoke in favor of the bill and new opportunities for SC farmers.
Agribusiness Tax Credits
This bill would allow an agribusiness operation or an agricultural packaging operation that increases its purchases of agricultural products, which have been certified as South Carolina grown, to become eligible to claim an income tax credit or a credit against employee withholding in an amount determined by the SC Coordinating Council for Economic Development. S.404 has passed the Senate and now awaits approval in the House Ways and Means Committee.
The SC Department of Agriculture, Clemson PSA, DNR and the Forestry Commission play key roles in the continued success of the SC Agribusiness sector, and without adequate funding these agencies will suffer. All of these state agencies fared well this year and the important services to our state's farmers provided by the state agencies will remain in place for the coming year.