An Update on Legislative Priorities
By Secretary Joe Bartenfelder
February tends to be a slow month on the farm, but it is always a busy one for us here in Annapolis. Over the past several weeks, I have been meeting one-on-one with legislators and briefing different committees and delegations on the state of Maryland agriculture. While this has been helpful, I cannot stress how important it is for our lawmakers to here directly from our farmers. If there is a bill that could affect your farm or your community, I urge you to come testify and make sure that your voices are being heard.
With that said, I’d like to give a quick update on our department’s legislative priorities.
- HB 50 – Maryland Produce Safety Program: This legislation would establish the Maryland Produce Safety Program in the Department of Agriculture and give the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to conduct inspection, compliance and enforcement activities for the Produce Safety Rule instead of FDA. As MDA is familiar with Maryland farmers, agricultural practices, agricultural water sources, nutrient management and other relevant state regulations, we are better equipped to assist farmers with compliance while taking into account other state regulations. The legislation does not contain any provisions that would place an additional burden on Maryland farmers.
- SB 25 – Conservation Easements, Covenants, Restrictions and Conditions – Recording Notice: This would allow Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (MALPF) and other state agencies to periodically update land records to evidence the state’s interest in properties encumbered by the state with a conservation or preservation easement. Public notices of older easements are sometimes not included in title searches. This bill would give MALPF and similar programs the ability to maintain those records, ensuring that prospective purchasers are able to make an informed decision.
- SB 56 – Regulation of Poultry to Protect Animal Health and Control Avian Influenza: In an effort to maximize our efforts against avian influenza, this bill would give our department the authority to regulate new and emerging poultry markets. This includes swap meets, flea markets and internet sales. This is a necessary step in making sure that we continue to safeguard our poultry industry from infectious disease.
- SB 57 – County Agricultural Land Preservation Programs: This is essentially a clean-up bill that will make changes to the current MALPF statute to be consistent with the provisions of HB 620, which passed into law in the 2018 session.
- SB 58 – Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation – Elimination of District Agreements: Another clean-up bill that will delete obsolete references to “agricultural districts” associated with an agricultural land preservation process that was phased out in 2007.
The department has also offered support to House Bill 808 – Weed Control – Noxious Weeds. This bill would amend the current law to give MDA authority to determine which weeds should be included on the noxious weed list. This is a result of the department’s 2018 Palmer Amaranth Summer Study. Within the last decade, palmer amaranth has become a prolific weed pest that has proven difficult to control. This bill would give MDA more flexibility to address this and other invasive weeds in the future.
The department will post any written testimony and updates on bills throughout the remainder of the legislative session on our website: mda.maryland.gov/about_mda/Pages/2019-Legislation.aspx