2019 Legislative Year-in-Review: Highlights for agriculture and rural Oklahoma
Contact: Hannah Davis
As the first gavel dropped in the Oklahoma House of Representatives to kick off the first session of the 57th Oklahoma Legislature, the chamber was abuzz with a sort of energy that filled the air: optimism. With a new governor, more than 50 new legislators, a budget surplus and a new hope for state government, the 2019 session began with excitement that carried through much of the legislative process.
Throughout the session, Oklahoma Farm Bureau continued to work for and defend the priority issues set forth at convention last year including legislation dealing with agriculture, taxes, water and rural health care.
The prospect of a new crop is always an exciting thing for farmers and ranchers. Oklahoma has seen a tremendous amount of interest in the production of industrial hemp along with marketing options for the crop. Two bills were signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt this session that seek to help legally transition the production of hemp in Oklahoma from the pilot program that was established last year to a more permanent program under the regulatory authority of ODAFF. The federal government is expected to provide a full legal framework later this year when the U.S. Department of Agriculture adopts nationwide guidelines as provided by the 2018 farm bill. Both of this year’s bills help iron out the legal issues in Oklahoma to prepare producers in the state to produce hemp once USDA rules are finalized.
To avoid misleading or confusing consumers, Farm Bureau members last year adopted policy that supports prohibiting labeling of plant-based or lab-grown food products as meat. A win for agricultural producers, the governor signed legislation this year that prevents food manufacturers from using the term “meat” on food products that are not derived from livestock or poultry.
Across the country, agricultural producers have been threatened by multi-million dollar verdicts in nuisance lawsuits. The dangerous trend in other states led OKFB members to adopt policy supporting laws that protect farmers and production practices from nuisance suits. This year, legislation established a limit on the maximum amount that may be awarded in noneconomic or punitive damages in an agricultural nuisance lawsuit. A priority issue for Farm Bureau members, the legislation was the first agriculture-related legislation authorized by the governor and was signed into law on April 4, 2019.
Seeking to improve the livestock industry’s ability to prevent and respond to a disease outbreak was a common theme in several bills this year. In fact, animal identification methods and carcass disposal techniques alone were the subject of five bills. Other proposals that were signed into law by the governor included a prohibition on feeding garbage to swine and clarified procedures for the movement of livestock during in an emergency situation.
Ad valorem taxes continued to be a priority for many state legislators this year. Both the House and Senate proposed legislation to allow cities to create public safety districts funded by ad valorem taxes. OKFB successfully worked with House leadership to prevent a vote on the legislation by the full chamber. Yet both the House and Senate versions passed out of committees and remain eligible to be heard next year.
The agriculture sales tax exemption became a priority for some legislators again this year. A bill proposed this year would require a yearly renewal of the agriculture sales tax exemption card, compared to the current three-year renewal. It also would require individuals and farming corporations to provide Schedule F income on income tax returns to obtain a sales tax exemption card. OKFB and other agriculture organizations opposed this legislation and worked with the bill’s author to address abuse of the exemption. The bill was not heard on the floor, but is still eligible to be heard next year.
Oklahoma is a diverse state in many ways, maybe none more so than when it comes to water. Priorities, problems and potential all vary greatly from region to region. This diversity was reflected in water-related legislation in 2019. Southeast Oklahoma groups pushed two bills that would have required creation of complex new regulatory entities to measure stream flow and set limits on the amount water that may be used for agricultural, industrial, municipal and recreational purposes. These instream flow proposals failed to gain approval, but are expected to be the subject of interim studies by the state Legislature.
Legislation was advanced to enable the creation of groundwater irrigation districts in far northwest Oklahoma to pursue federal conservation grant funding. Two Farm Bureau-supported measures were signed into law that would allow Oklahoma to become a member of a tri-state commission on the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System. The commission will seek to enhance the use of this northeast Oklahoma transportation route that is vital for the movement of many agricultural commodities, fertilizer and chemicals. South central Oklahoma will be affected by a new law that grants a moratorium on new mining operations in the Arbuckle-Simpson aquifer.
Rural health care
As Farm Bureau members know all too well, Oklahoma is facing a health care crisis, especially in rural areas. Numerous pieces of legislation were introduced this year aimed at addressing this issue. Unfortunately none were sent to the governor’s desk for a signature, but are all still eligible to be heard next year.
A priority issue for OKFB, legislation this year sought to reduce the supervision requirements for nurse practitioners across the state. After much consideration, the nurse practitioners decided to lay the bill over and continue working on the language over the next year.
Similarly, legislation was introduced to ease the supervision requirements for certified registered nurse anesthetists. CRNAs collaborate with surgeons across Oklahoma every day to bring anesthesia services to Oklahomans. In many parts of rural Oklahoma, they are the only provider of anesthesia services. The legislation faced strong opposition from the Oklahoma State Medical Association, but both sides agreed to meet before next year’s session to develop agreeable language for the best interests of the state.
Two bills aimed to incentivize new and existing doctors to establish practices in more rural parts of the state by providing an income tax credit up to $25,000. OKFB is optimistic the legislation will make its way through the legislative process next year.
Multiple groups are dedicated to combatting the rural health care crisis and increasing access in all areas of the state. OKFB will continue to work with these groups to ensure Farm Bureau members have a voice in the conversation.
The state budget
The final budget approved by the House, Senate and Gov. Stitt saw the highest spending in state history, exceeding $8 billion. The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry saw an increase of $4 million to its annual budget, including an additional $1 million for Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service and $900,000 for wildfire mitigation activities and rural fire departments.
Other highlights for Farm Bureau members include:
- $30 million to the County Improvements for Roads and Bridges program, which restores funding raided by the legislature last year to help balance the state budget deficit
- $500,000 for conservation cost-share projects related to water quality in northeast Oklahoma
- $1.59 million for flood control structure projects through the Oklahoma Conservation Commission
- $378,000 for Oklahoma Conservation District programs
- $90,000 for an additional ODAFF state veterinarian
- $500,000 for ODAFF wildlife control
- $200 million placed in the state savings account, also known as the Rainy Day Fund
For questions or more information, please contact the OKFB Public Policy Department at (405) 523-2300.