May 17, 2023
NDFB lobbyists share positive legislative outcomes for ag
The 2023 Legislative Session has wrapped up, and the legislators have gone home. Straight Talk with NDFB host Emmery Mehlhoff visited with NDFB lobbying duo Pete Hanebutt and Meghan Estenson, to give a legislative wrap up to talk about all the successes and changes made this session for agriculture in North Dakota. What follows is an excerpt, which has been edited for clarity.
Host Emmery Mehlhoff: Welcome to Straight talk with NDFB. Pete, Meghan, how are you guys faring post-session?
Pete Hanebutt: I believe I'm starting to catch my breath. We'll put it that way.
Meghan Estenson: Yeah, it's been a long four months. Proud of all our accomplishments!
Emmery: What are the biggest changes in law that will affect farmers and ranchers?
Pete: More opportunities. We've taken a huge step forward to increase the opportunity for animal agriculture in this state.
We have passed several bills related to animal agriculture. The big one that everyone's talking about is HB 1371, which is the corporate farming bill or the” freedom of farming bill” as some have called it. For years, we've had an anti-corporate farming law in this state, and it has stifled the opportunity to farm in a corporate structure with someone you're unrelated to. The passage of HB 1371 paved the way for some corporate involvement in farms and we think that it will open up the floodgates and allow a lot of opportunities for animal agriculture in this state and by doing so, increase markets for the grains in our state.
NDFB’s zoning bill, HB 1423, will help us with the problems we've had with local zoning authorities. Some local zoning has gone beyond what state law says for what animal feeding operations should have for setbacks and other things. Producers have had to fight these townships that have gone beyond their authority in court and we're going to fix some of that with 1423.
Another bill passed that will help counties and townships get their zoning ordinances up to snuff. SB 2371 is another bill designating Ag friendly counties. There's also a few bills that are allowing for tax credits for some of the equipment involved in animal agriculture. And finally, the Ag Commissioner's budget itself has some money in it to be an incentive program for animal agriculture.
I feel like we're going to take a great leap forward in animal agriculture with this session. I think it helps all of agriculture. I'm very proud of the activity we've had at this legislative session in the 68th Assembly.
Meghan: We’ve had great successes for other realms of agriculture as well. There were several water policy bills that passed this session that streamline some processes for water drainage, ditching, and permitting. This is important for our crop producers out there, particularly on the east side of the state that do a significant amount of water drainage.
We also had a lot of discussion about foreign ownership of agricultural land. NDFB didn’t have a policy on this issue, so our legislative task force met to discuss the issue and legislation surrounding foreign ownership. The Legislative Task Force decided it was probably something we wanted to be involved in and chose to support SB 2371. SB 2371 prevents our foreign adversaries from purchasing property in the state. The bill also contains a study to look at the long term effects of foreign ownership in ND.
We also passed ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) legislation to protect our state investments from anti-agriculture and anti-energy agendas.
Emmery: What are some of the things that have been disappointments?
Pete: A few of the property rights issues have been very disappointing. We had a bill that dealt with pore space that did not receive a whole lot of support. It was handled poorly and with some of the folks who were associated with the bill, it never really got off the ground. Sen. Jeff Magrum did a great job to do what he could to keep the idea going, but it just didn't go anywhere. That was a disappointment.
We were also disappointed with the death of a bill related to deer baiting. It came to the Senate floor with a 6-0 Do Pass recommendation. Unfortunately, some folks that had nothing to do with the bill shot it down for their own personal reasons and it was very disappointing. It made for a riff on the Senate floor for several days as Senators felt like they were being stabbed in the back by their colleagues and that was disappointing.
We've had a few bills that have had struggles. Personalities involved sometimes get things shot down. It happens every session where some good idea doesn't go anywhere, not because of the merits of the issue, but because of the personalities involved.
Emmery: Are there any non-ag related issues that may be of interest to NDFB members?
Pete: One of our proudest issues this session would be our health care coverage package. This is not healthcare insurance, but is healthcare coverage for members of any farm organization. Senate Bill 2349 allows farm organizations to offer a health care benefit to their members. This bill will allow us to join other state Farm Bureaus in providing healthcare coverage. There are 6 million people in the Farm Bureau network across all the states and Tennessee Farm Bureau has been offering healthcare coverage for 70 years and other states have joined their confederation. We are joining with Michigan, Indiana, Kansas, and South Dakota, our closest neighbor. Texas is also involved.
Our colleagues in other states say it has been a great benefit to their members and so we hope to provide that to our members before too long. We'll have a few regulatory hoops to jump through and have some contracts to fulfill and we will figure out how to make this happen. It’s going to be a great benefit to the members of North Dakota Farm Bureau.
Emmery: That’s significant too, because with the price of health care now, a lot of farms and ranches have to supplement their income.
Pete: Yeah, this might not fit everyone because a number of people have their own plans already, and they're happy with their plans. But for that farm and ranch family where one spouse or the other would have to leave to find an off-farm job just to get the health care coverage that they need, this really fits a niche for those folks.
Meghan: I’m really excited about this piece of legislation that will have a big impact for a lot of rural families in North Dakota. I grew up on a farm and ranch, and my parents had five kids and my mom was in the position of trying to balance raising a family, working on the farm and ranch, and also having to have a job in town strictly for the reason of providing health insurance. I have great friends right now who are married to farmers and are going through that in this part of their life as well.
South Dakota passed similar legislation last year and members were seeing a savings of $6,000 to $18,000 a year and for families, that is significant savings that's really going to affect their day to day life.I think that's something we can be really proud of this session.
Emmery: Thank you, Pete and Meghan, for sitting down with me today. On behalf of North Dakota Farm Bureau and all of the ag producers out there, thank you for the hard work that you've done.
Pete: Thank you, Emmery.
Meghan: Thank you.
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