Despite the arrival of summer and continuing disagreements over the state budget, Ohio legislators have been working on several pieces of legislation relevant to Ohio agriculture. All of the proposals are at the committee level but may see action before the Senate and House after the budget bill process ends. Here’s a summary of the ag related proposals currently under consideration.
Senate Bill 111 – Urban Agriculture
Senator Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo) targets barriers for farmers in urban settings in SB 111, which has had three hearings before the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. OSU Extension, the Ohio Municipal League, and several farmers have testified in support of the proposal, which contains three components:
- Establishes an Urban Farmer Youth Initiative Pilot Program to provide youth between the ages of six and eighteen living in urban areas with programming and support for farming and agriculture. The bill would appropriate $250,000 over 2024 and 2025 for the pilot, to be administered by OSU Extension and Central State Extension.
- Exempts temporary greenhouses, such as hoop houses, from the Ohio Building Code, consistent with Ohio law’s treatment of other agricultural buildings and structures.
- Codifies the Department of Taxation’s current treatment of separate smaller parcels of agricultural land under the same farming operation, which allows the acreages to be combined to meet the 10 acre eligibility requirement for Current Agricultural Use Valuation.
House Bill 64 – Eminent Domain
A proposal to make Ohio’s eminent domain laws more favorable to landowners remains on hold in the House Civil Justice Committee. HB 64 is receiving more opposition than support, with dozens of parties testifying against it in its fourth hearing on May 23. Read more about the proposal in our previous blog post.
House Bill 162 – Agriculture Appreciation Act
Rep. Roy Klopfenstein (R-Haviland) and Rep. Darrell Kick (R-Loudonville) introduced HB 162 on May 1 and the bill received quick and unanimous approval from the House Agriculture Committee on May 16. The proposal would make several designations under Ohio law already recognized by federal law:
- March 21 as “Agriculture Day.”
- October 12 as “Farmer’s Day.”
- The week beginning on the Saturday before the last Saturday of February as “FFA Week.”
- The week ending with the second Saturday of March as “4-H Week.”
House Bill 166 – Temporary Agricultural Workers
A bill addressing municipal income taxes for H2-A agricultural workers has met opposition in the House Ways and Means Committee. HB 166, sponsored by Rep. Dick Stein (R-Norwalk) would subject foreign agricultural workers’ income to municipal income taxes. The current municipal tax base in Ohio is based on federal tax laws that exclude foreign agricultural worker pay from Social Security and Medicare taxes since the workers cannot use those programs, and HB 166 would remove that exclusion and add H2-A income to the municipal tax base. The bill would also require employers to withhold the taxes for the municipality of the workers’ residences. While municipal interests support the bill, Ohio Farm Bureau and other agricultural interests testified against it in its third hearing on June 13. Opponents argue that H2-A workers are not residents because they are “temporary,” that the proposal would have many potential adverse effects on how Ohio handles the H2-A program, and would hamper the ability of agricultural employers to use the H2-A program to hire employees.
House Bill 193 – Biosolid and biodigestion facilities
Biosolid lagoons and biodigestion facilities would have new legal requirements and be subject to local regulation under a proposal sponsored by Rep. Kevin Miller (R-Newark) and Rep. Brian Lampton (R-Beavercreek). HB 193 would grant county and township zoning authority over the lagoons and facilities, require a public meeting and county approval prior to seeking a facility permit from the Ohio EPA, require the Ohio EPA to develop rules requiring covers on new biosolid lagoons, and modify feedstock requirements for biodigestion facilities to qualify for Current Agricultural Use Valuation property tax assessment. HB 193 had its first hearing before the House Agriculture Committee on June 13.
House Bill 197 – Community Solar Development
A “community solar” proposal that did not make it through the last legislative session is back in a revised form. HB 197 proposes to define and encourage the development of “community solar facilities,” smaller scale solar facilities that are directly connected to an electric distribution utility’s distribution system and that create electricity only for at least three “subscribers.” The bill would establish incentives for placing such facilities on distressed sites and Appalachian region sites through a “Community Solar Pilot Program” and a “Solar Development Program.” Rep. James Hoops (R-Napoleon) and Sharon Ray (R-Wadsworth) introduced the bill on June 6, and it received its first hearing before the House Public Utilities Committee on June 21. “The goal of this legislation is to create a small-scale solar program that seeks to be a part of the solution to Ohio’s energy generation and aging infrastructure need,” stated sponsor Hoops.
House Bill 212 – Foreign ownership of property
Ohio joins a movement of states attempting to limit foreign ownership of property with the introduction of HB 212, the Ohio Property Protection Act. Sponsored by Representatives Angela King (R-Celina) and Roy Klopfenstein (R-Haviland), the proposal would prohibit foreign adversaries and certain businesses from owning real property in Ohio. The bill was introduced in the House on June 13 and has not yet been referred to a committee for review.