AFR Hired Hand Bray Haven Says State Lawmakers Scurrying to Wrap Up 2019 Legislative SessionThu, 09 May 2019 12:29:25 CDT
The 2019 Oklahoma Legislative Session is likely to wrap up soon for the year as state leaders continue the process of finalizing a budget this week. Overall, this session has been a relatively productive one for the Oklahoma agricultural industry, according to Bray Haven, contract lobbyist for American Farmers & Ranchers. Although, a productive year, Haven says it has not been without its “hick-ups.” He expounded on that thought with Radio Oklahoma Ag Network Associate Farm Director Carson Horn, offering this week’s legislative update for ROAN listeners. You can hear his complete conversation with Horn by clicking or tapping the LISTEN BAR below at the bottom of the page.
The “hick-ups” Haven mentioned, is in reference to the Oklahoma Industrial Hemp bill that passed through the state legislature and was signed by the Governor, which allowed the state to align with the US Department of Agriculture as it transitioned from its pilot hemp program to a formal hemp program. However, after this point, questions were raised by the Farm Service Agency about how this bill as it was then written might effect farmers’ FSA payments for certain programs. This prompted policymakers to send the bill back to committee for further review.
“So, we’re really just waiting for the federal government to come out with those rules,” Haven said. “But, here in the state there is a cleanup bill still in conference committee that is going to clear up some of that stuff we hope on the FSA side that will allow our farmers to go ahead and grow (hemp) this year.”
As did the original bill, this legislation also comes with an emergency clause. Thus, it will go into effect as soon as the Governor signs it into law. This is necessary to allow farmers who wish to grow hemp this year the opportunity to do so as that crop’s planting window rapidly comes to a close. As of now, farmers only have about 10 to 15 days to get a crop for this year in the ground. Haven is optimistic this bill will make it across the finish line in time to allow farmers time to meet that deadline.
Aside from that, though, Haven cautiously remarked - knowing that anything is possible between now and the end of session - that most everything else has been “smooth sailing.” He acknowledged that AFR and Oklahoma’s other ag associations had a positive year, able to get several pieces of legislation passed through that addressed some priority areas shared among the state’s rural community. Haven highlighted several of those key victories including the bill that now caps non-economic damages in nuisance suits, appropriations of approximately $30 million into the County Road & Bridge Budget for infrastructure improvement and S.B. 746 which provides a tax credit to doctors who serve rural communities and promotes better access to rural healthcare. This bill has yet to be signed, but as an integral piece of the puzzle to improving rural healthcare and knowing that to be a priority of the Governor’s as well, Haven is hopeful this bill will be made law before the session ends.
This week, though, the main order of business at the State Capitol is all about the budget. According to Have, lawmakers have hinted that they will appropriate $70 million into education - either in the form of mandatory teacher pay raises, or simply as a deposit into the state education fund that would then be subject to the normal formula for distribution. Once that and other budgeting decisions have been made, Haven expects the session will likely wrap up before the month’s end.
“There’s always rumors of an early Sine Die, but it does look like maybe the 24th… but we’ll see,” he said. “There’s always rumors but who knows what will end up happening. It will all just depend on budget negotiations.”
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