Hopefully, Ohio’s planting season will soon be as busy as its legislative season. There’s a lot of activity down at the capitol these days, with many bills on the move. Here’s a summary of bills that could impact agriculture and rural communities. Note that the summary doesn’t include the budget bill, which we’ll address in a separate article.
Water quality bonds. A joint resolution recently offered in the Senate supports amending Ohio’s Constitution to create permanent funds for clean water improvements. S.J.R. 2, a bipartisan proposal from Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green) and Kenny Yuko (D-Richmond Hts.) would place a ballot issue before voters in November. The issue proposes amending the Constitution to allow for the issuance of general obligation bonds to fund clean water improvements. Up to $1 billion over 10 years would be permissible, with no more than $100 million allocated in any fiscal year. Bond funds would create a permanent source of funding for the H2Ohio program, which is now dependent upon the state budget process.
Animal-drawn vehicles. A bill to increase the visibility of animal-drawn vehicles has passed the House this session after failing to make it through the legislature in the last session. H.B. 30, sponsored by Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster) and Darrell Kick (R-Loudonville), would require animal-drawn vehicles at all times to display a flashing yellow light on top that is visible from all sides of the vehicle, along with an SMV emblem and/or reflective micro-prism tape on the rear of the vehicle. The bill now awaits introduction in the Senate.
Regulations. Senate Republicans reintroduced a proposal from the last session to reduce administrative regulations and the Senate has already passed the measure. S.B. 9, sponsored by Kristina Roegner (R-Hudson) and R. McColley (R-Napoleon), mandates that each state agency must reduce its regulatory restrictions 10% by 2023, 20% by 2024, and 30% by June of 2025. The bill establishes criteria for reviewing rules and restrictions for elimination and would place a statewide cap on regulatory restrictions in 2024, to be determined by the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review. Each agency must also prepare an inventory and annual report of its progress. The bill has not been introduced in the House.
Fair funds. A bill directing $300 million to help businesses recover from COVID-19 includes funds for Ohio’s fairs. S.B. 109, sponsored by Nathan Manning (R-N. Ridgeville) and Michael Rulli (R-Salem) includes an allocation of $4.7 million from the General Revenue Fund to the Ohio Department of Agriculture to provide financial support to the county and independent fairs. The funds would be in addition to the $50,000 allocated per junior fair for the 2020 fair season from the federal CARES Act. The bill has passed the Senate and been introduced in the House, where it has received a hearing before the Economic and Workforce Development committee.
Broadband services. There is definite interest in expanding broadband access in Ohio, but the House and Senate have different proposals for doing so. Two different bills would create a grant program in the Development Services Agency to fund eligible broadband expansion projects and enable access to electric cooperative poles for distribution purposes. S.B. 8, proposed by Rob McColley (R-Napoleon), allocates $20 million for the program in 2022, while H.B. 2, sponsored by Rick Carfagna (R-Genoa Twp.) and Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) proposes $170 million of funding for fiscal years 2021 to 2023. Both bills have passed their respective chambers and are under consideration in the Senate Financial Institutions and Technology committee and the House Finance committee. Amendments under consideration in those committees include expanding the grant program to government providers and electric distribution utilities and further defining adequate broadband speeds.
Eminent domain. A House bill proposed by Al Cutrona (R-Canfield) and Reggie Stoltzfus (R-Paris Township) would amend Ohio’s eminent domain law in relation to recreational trails. H.B. 63 would allow a municipality or township to veto the use of the eminent domain for a recreational trail in its jurisdiction upon request by a property owner subjected to the eminent domain action. In two hearings before the Civil Justice Committee, over a dozen landowners affected by a bike path in Mahoning County testified in support of the bill. The bill has stalled, however, with no further hearings on the proposal currently scheduled.
Beginner farmer credits. A bipartisan bill to help beginning farmers has passed out of committee and awaits a vote in the House. H.B. 95, sponsored by Susan Manchester (R-Waynesfield) and Mary Lightbody (D-Plain Township) establishes a tax credit for businesses that sell or rent land, animals, facilities, or equipment to a beginning farmer. Individuals with a net worth of less than $800K who are seeking entry into farming or have been farming less than ten years, will provide daily labor and rely upon farming income, demonstrate profit potential, and have sufficient knowledge and financial training can be certified by the Ohio Department of Agriculture as a beginning farmer. Income tax credits for businesses that sell or rent assets to beginning farmers would be 5% of the sale price of an agricultural asset, 10% of the annual gross rental income on a cash lease, or 15% of the gross rental income on a share lease. Additionally, beginning farmers who attend an approved financial management program can receive a tax credit for the cost of the program.
Wind farms and solar facilities. Sponsors are reconsidering controversial twin proposals that would allow citizens to use the referendum process to reject proposed wind and solar energy developments in their communities. Senators Bill Reineke (R-Tiffin) and Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) and Representatives Craig Reidel (R-Defiance) and Dick Stein (R-Norwalk) announced they will redraft their proposal after completing three hearings a piece on S.B. 52 and H.B. 118. In the hearings, opponents argued the bill would dampen the growing renewable energy industry in Ohio, be costly to project developers, and cost jobs. Supporters claimed the bill protects property rights and gives property owners and local communities a necessary voice in the siting of large-scale wind and solar developments. An alternative proposal under consideration by the sponsors would create a process for communities that want wind and solar developments to signal their interest early while still allowing those that don’t want the development to use a referendum process. A substitute bill is expected soon.
OSU Farm Financial Management Institute. Companion bills S.B. 128 sponsored by Bob Peterson (R-Washington Court House) and H.B. 239 sponsored by Rodney Creech (R-West Alexandria) would revise an existing law that establishes a Farm Financial Management Institute at OSU. The Institute’s purpose would be to “train interested and qualified persons to assist farmers in addressing the integration of farm production practices, agricultural marketing, farm policy, and financial management challenges.” The bill proposes funding of $250K per year for fiscal years 2022 and 2023, renaming the Institute to the “OSU Farm Production, Policy, and Financial Management Institute,” and adding farm owners and managers as priority participants. The Senate bill is up for a possible vote by the Workforce and Higher Education Committee on April 21 and H.B. 239 will receive its first hearing with the Agriculture and Conservation Committee on April 20.
Two bills that have already passed this session include:
State and federal tax conformity. S.B. 18 conforms the state tax code with recent changes to the Internal Revenue Code made in the federal Consolidated Appropriations Act. It also exempts forgiven Paycheck Protection Program second draw loan proceeds and Bureau of Workers Compensation dividend rebates from the Commercial Activity Tax. The bill was effective upon a passage so that its provisions would apply to the 2020 tax season.
Contract limitations. S.B. 13 will become effective June 16, 2021. After that date, the period of time for filing legal action on a written contract will reduce from 8 to 6 years, and the verbal contract limitations period will also reduce by two years, from 6 to 4 years.