We’re used to April showers in Ohio, but this year producers can also prepare for a showering of USDA pandemic assistance. Secretary Vilsack just announced the new “USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers Initiative,” which will devote $12 billion to deliver financial assistance and programs for agricultural producers affected by COVID-19 market disruptions. The USDA aims to spread those programs to a wider set of producers than previous COVID-19 programs.
While many program details and rules are still under development and expected later this spring, several types of CFAP assistance are in motion now. First, the USDA announced the reopening of round two of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP2) on April 5. Producers who haven’t yet signed up for CFAP2 may do so for at least the next 60 days at https://www.farmers.gov/cfap/apply. USDA will be distributing $2.5 million in grants to further reach out to socially disadvantaged farmers who have not enrolled in CFAP2.
Several automatically issued payments are also in the works for eligible producers already enrolled in CFAP1 and 2. Producers need not submit new applications for these payments, and we’ve heard some producers have already received them. The payments include:
- Increased CFAP1 payment rates for cattle. Cattle producers eligible under CFAP1 will automatically receive payments based on inventory of cattle between April 16, 2020 and May 14, 2020. Rates per head will be $7 for feeder cattle less than 600 pounds, $25.50 for feeder cattle at 600 pounds or more, $63 for slaughter/fed cattle, $14.75 for slaughter/mature cattle and $17.25 for all other cattle.
- CFAP2 crop payments. Additional payments of $20 per acre for producers of eligible flat-rate or price-trigger crops under CFAP2, which includes Ohio crops of alfalfa, corn, hemp, sorghum, soybeans, sugar beets, wheat and other grains, listed at https://www.farmers.gov/pandemic-assistance/cfap.
- CFAP additional assistance payments. Formula adjustments and payments for applications filed under the CFAP AA program will include pullets and turfgrass sod, corrections for row-crop producers with non-Actual Production History insurance to use 100% of 2019 ARC-county option benchmark yield in the payment calculation, revisions to sales commodity applications to include insurance indemnities, noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program payments, and Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus payments.
The additional payments for swine producers and contract growers included in the CFAP Additional Assistance are not yet are their way. These payments are on hold as they will require regulatory revisions, but FSA is accepting applications at https://www.farmers.gov/pandemic-assistance/cfap.
Also in the still-under-development category is an additional $6 billion for new and modified programs from the Consolidated Appropriations Act as well as other unspent COVID-19 funds. The USDA projects that rules for these programs will also begin this Spring and will include funding for:
- Dairy Donation Program purchases and other assistance for dairy farmers
- Euthanized livestock and poultry
- Specialty crops, beginning farmers and local, urban, and organic farms
- Organic certification costs or to continue or add conservation activities
- Other possible expansion and corrections to the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program such as to support dairy or other livestock producers.
- Timber harvesting and hauling.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other protective measures for food and farm workers and specialty crops and seafood processors and distributors.
- Improving the resilience of the food supply chain.
- Developing infrastructure to support donation and distribution of perishable commodities, including food donation and distribution through farm-to-school, restaurants, or other community organizations.
- Reducing food waste.
And that’s not all. Details for allocating an additional $500 million in new funding are also in development. That funding will be distributed as follows:
- $100M for Specialty Crop Block Program
- $100M for Local Agricultural Marketing Program
- $80M for Domestic Textile Mills Program
- $75M for Farmers Opportunities Training and Outreach Program.
- $75M for Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program
- $28M for National Institute of Food and Agriculture
- $20M for Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)
- $20M for Agricultural Research Service (ARS)
The USDA has stated that it will continue to develop program details and regulations through the spring. We’ll do our best to forecast what's to come, so stay tuned for more information on the Pandemic Assistance for Producers Initiative.
Just in time for Christmas, Congress delivered quite a package this morning by passing new COVID-19 relief legislation. President Trump is expected to sign the bill soon. Buried in the 5,593 pages of the legislation is an allocation of nearly $11.2 billion dollars to the USDA. A large portion of the USDA funds will provide additional payments for agricultural producers under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). Benefits for food processors, energy producers and timber harvesters are also in the bill, as well as funding for several other USDA programs and studies. We’ve categorized, compiled and summarized where the USDA funds are to go below.
- Supplemental CFAP payments of $20 per eligible acre for the 2020 crop year, for eligible “price trigger crops,” which includes barley, corn, sorghum, soybeans, sunflowers, upland cotton and wheat, and eligible “flat rate crops,” which includes alfalfa, amaranth grain, buckwheat, canola, cotton, crambe, einkorn, emmer, flax, guar, hemp, indigo, industrial rice, kenaf, khorasan, millet, mustard, oats, peanuts, quinoa, rapeseed, rice, rice, sweet, rice, wild, rye, safflower, sesame, speltz, sugar beets, sugarcane, teff, and triticale but excludes hay, except alfalfa, and crops intended for grazing, green manure, or left standing.
- $100 million in additional funding for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.
Livestock, poultry and dairy
- Supplemental CFAP payments to livestock or poultry producers (excluding packers and live poultry dealers) for losses from depopulation that occurred due to insufficient processing access, based on 80% of the fair market value of depopulated livestock and poultry and including depopulation costs not already compensated under EQIP or state programs.
- Supplemental CFAP payments to cattle producers for cattle in inventory from April 16 to May 14, 2020 according to different payment formulas for slaughter cattle, feeder cattle and all other cattle.
- Supplemental Dairy Margin Coverage payments for eligible operations with a production history of less than 5 million pounds whenever the average actual dairy production margin for a month is less than the selected coverage level threshold, according to a specified formula.
- $1 billion for payments to contract growers of livestock and poultry to cover not more than 80% of revenue losses from January 1 to December 22, 2020.
- $20 million for the USDA to improve animal disease prevention and response capacity.
- Establishment of a statutory trust via the Packers and Stockyards Act that requires a dealer with average annual purchases above $100,000 to hold cash purchases of livestock by the dealer in trust until full payment has been received by the cash seller of the livestock.
General payment provisions
- In determining the amount of eligible sales for CFAP, USDA must include a producer’s crop insurance indemnities, non-insured crop disaster assistance payment and WHIP payments, and may allow a producer to substitute 2018 sales for 2019 sales.
- USDA shall make additional payments under CFAP 1 and CFAP 2 to ensure that payments closely align with the calculated gross payment or revenue loses, but not to exceed the calculated gross payment or 80% of the loss. For income determination, USDA shall consider income from agricultural sales, including gains, agricultural services, the sale of agricultural real estate, and prior year net operating loss carryforward.
- USDA may take into account when making direct support payments price differentiation factors based on specialized varieties, local markets and farm practices such as certified organic production.
Marketing and processing
- $100 million for grants under the Local Agriculture Market Program for COVID-19 impacts on local agriculture markets. USDA may reduce and allow in-kind contributions for grant matching requirements.USDA may provide support to processors for losses of crops due to insufficient processing access.
- $60 million for a grant program for meat and poultry slaughter and processing facilities seeking federal inspection status or eligibility for the Cooperative Interstate Shipment program to modernize facilities or equipment, comply with packaging, labeling, and safety requirements and develop food safety processes.
- USDA must deliver a report on possible improvements to the Cooperative Interstate Shipment program that allows interstate shipments of meat and poultry products and on the availability and effectiveness of federal loan and grant programs for meat and poultry processing facilities and support for increasing processing capacity.
- USDA may make recourse loans available to dairy product processors, packagers or merchandisers impacted by COVID-19.
- Until September 30, 2021, USDA may extend the term of marketing assistance loans to 12 months.
- $1.5 billion to purchase and distribute food and agricultural products to individuals in need, and for grants and loans to small and midsized food processors or distributors, seafood processing facilities, farmers’ markets, producers or other organizations for the purpose of responding to COVID, including for worker protections. USDA must conduct a preliminary review to improve COVID-19 food purchasing, including the fairness of purchases and distribution.
- $400 million for a Dairy Donation Program to reimburse dairy processors for purchasing and processing milk and partnering with non-profit organizations to develop donation and distribution plans for the processed dairy products.
Timber and energy
- $200 million for relief to timber harvesting and hauling businesses that experienced a loss of 10 percent or more in gross revenue from January 1 to December 1, 2020, as compared to the same period in 2019.
- USDA may make payments for producers of advanced biofuel, biomass-based diesel, cellulosic biofuel, conventional biofuel or renewable fuel produced in the U.S. for unexpected market losses resulting from COVID-19.
Training and outreach
- $75 million for the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach Program for grants for beginning, socially disadvantaged and veteran farmers and ranchers impacted by COVID-19. USDA may reduce and allow in-kind contributions for grant matching requirements and waive maximum grant amounts.
- $28 million for grants to State departments of agriculture to expand or support stress assistance programs for agriculture-related occupations, not to exceed $500,000 per state.
- $75 million for the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program, and USDA may reduce matching grant requirements.
We’ll keep digging through the legislation to report on other agricultural provisions. Or readers may take a look at H.R. 133 here. The USDA allocations we summarized are in Subtitle B, beginning on page 2,352.
In case you didn’t notice, we are deep into election season. Discussion of Supreme Court vacancies, presidential debates, and local races abound. Even with all the focus on the election, the rest of the world hasn’t stopped. The same is true for ag law. This edition of the Harvest includes discussion of ag-related bills moving through the Ohio General Assembly, federal lawsuits involving herbicides and checkoff programs, and some wiggle room for organic producers who have had a hard time getting certified with all the pandemic-related backups and shutdowns.
Changes to Ohio Drainage Law considered in Senate—The Ohio Senate’s Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee continues to hold hearings on HB 340, a bill that would revise drainage laws. The bill was passed in the house on June 9, 2020. The 157 page bill would amend the current drainage law by making changes to the process for proposing, approving, and implementing new drainage improvements, whether the petition is filed with the board of the Soil and Water Conservation District, the board of county commissioners, or with multiple counties to construct a joint county drainage improvement. The bill would further apply the single county maintenance procedures and procedures for calculating assessments for maintenance to multi-county ditches and soil and water conservation districts. You can find the current language of the bill, along with a helpful analysis of the bill, here.
Purple paint to warn trespassers? Elsewhere in the state Senate, SB 290 seems to be moving again after a lengthy stall, as it was recently on the agenda for a meeting of the Local Government, Public Safety & Veterans Affairs Committee. If passed, SB 290 would allow landowners to use purple paint marks to warn intruders that they are trespassing. The purple paint marks can be placed on trees or posts on the around the property. Each paint mark would have to measure at least three feet, and be located between three and five feet from the base of the tree or post. Furthermore, each paint mark must be “readily visible,” and the space between two marks cannot be more than 25 yards. You can see the text, along with other information about the bill here.
Environmental groups look to “Enlist” more judges to reevaluate decision. In July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided it would not overturn the EPA registration for the herbicide Enlist Duo, which is meant to kill weeds in corn, soybean, and cotton fields, and is made up of 2,4-D choline salt and glyphosate. Although the court upheld registration of the herbicide, it remanded the case so that EPA could consider how Enlist affects monarch butterflies. The court found that EPA failed to do this even though it was required under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). On September 15, 2020, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and other groups involved in the lawsuit filed a petition to rehear the case “en banc,” meaning that the case would be heard by a group of nine judges instead of just three. If accepted, the rehearing would involve claims that the EPA did not follow the Endangered Species Act when it made the decision to register Enlist Duo.
R-CALF USA has a “beef” with federal checkoff program. Earlier this month, the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) sued the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. R-CALF USA has filed a number of lawsuits involving the Beef Checkoff program over the years, including several that are on-going. Their argument, at its most basic, is that the Beef Checkoff violates the Constitution because ranchers and farmers have to “subsidize the private speech of private state beef councils through the national beef checkoff program.” In this new complaint, R-CALF USA alleges that when USDA entered into MOUs (memorandums of understanding) with private state checkoff programs in order to run the federal program, its actions did not follow the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). R-CALF USA argues that entering into the MOUs was rulemaking under the APA. Rulemaking requires agencies to give notice to the public and allow the public to comment on the rule or amendment to the rule. Since USDA did not follow the notice and commenting procedures when entering into the MOUs, R-CALF USA contends that the MOUs violate the APA. R-CALF USA further argues that did not consider all the facts before it decided to enter into the MOUs, and therefore, the agency’s decision was arbitrary and capricious under the APA. You can read R-CALF USA’s press release here, and the complaint here.
Flexibility for organics during COVID-19. Back in May, due to COVID uncertainty and state shutdowns, the Risk Management Service (RMS) stated that approved insurance providers “may allow organic producers to report acreage as certified organic, or transitioning to organic, for the 2020 crop year if they can show they have requested a written certification from a certifying agent by their policy’s acreage reporting date.” RMS’s original news release can be found here. In August, RMS extended that language. The extension will provide certification flexibility for insurance providers, producers, and the government in the 2021 and 2022 crop years. Other program flexibilities may apply to both organic and conventional producers. Information on those can be found here.
It took five months of negotiation, but the Ohio General Assembly has enacted a controversial bill that grants immunity from civil liability for coronavirus injuries, deaths, or losses. Governor DeWine signed House Bill 606 on September 14, stating that it strikes a balance between reopening the economy and keeping Ohioans safe. The bill will be effective in 90 days.
The bill’s statement of findings and declaration of intent illustrate why it faced disagreement within the General Assembly. After stating its findings that business owners are unsure of the tort liability they may face when reopening after COVID-19, that businesses need certainty because recommendations on how to avoid COVID-19 change frequently, that individuals who decide to go out in public places should bear responsibility for taking steps to avoid exposure to COVID-19, that nothing in existing Ohio law established duties on business and premise owners to prevent exposure to airborne germs and viruses, and that the legislature has not delegated authority to Ohio’s Executive Branch to create new legal duties for business and premises owners, the General Assembly made a clear declaration of intent in the bill: “Orders and recommendations from the Executive Branch, from counties and local municipalities, from boards of health and other agencies, and from any federal government agency do not create any new legal duties for purposes of tort liability” and “are presumed to be irrelevant to the issue of the existence of a duty or breach of a duty….and inadmissible at trial to establish proof of a duty or breach of a duty in tort actions.”
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Diane Grendell (R-Chesterland), refers to it as the “Good Samaritan Expansion Bill.” That name relates to one of the two types of immunity in the bill, a temporary qualified immunity for coronavirus-based claims against health care providers. In its original version of H.B. 606, the House of Representatives included only the health care immunity provisions. Of interest to farms and other businesses are the bill’s general immunity provisions, however, added to the final legislation by the Senate.
General immunity from coronavirus claims
The new law will prohibit a person from bringing a civil action that seeks damages for injury, death or loss to a person or property allegedly caused by exposure to or transmission of coronavirus, with one exception. The civil immunity does not apply if the exposure to or transmission of coronavirus resulted from a defendant’s “reckless conduct,” “intentional misconduct,” or “willful or wanton misconduct.” “Reckless conduct” means disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk that conduct or circumstances are likely to cause exposure to or transmission of coronavirus and having “heedless indifference” to the consequences.
Government guidelines don’t create legal duties
Consistent with the bill’s stated intent, the new law clarifies that a claimant cannot assert liability based on a failure to follow government guidelines for coronavirus. The law states that any government order, recommendation or guideline for coronavirus does not create a duty of care that can be enforced through a civil cause of action. A person may not admit such orders and guidelines as evidence of a legal right, duty of care or new legal cause of action.
No class actions
Another provision in the new law also prohibits a class action that alleges liability for coronavirus exposure or transmission if the law’s general immunity provisions do not apply.
Time period covered
The general immunity provisions apply only to a specified period of time: from March 9, 2020, when the Governor declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19, until September 30, 2021.
Workers compensation not addressed
An earlier version of the bill passed by the House of Representatives would have classified coronavirus as an “occupational disease” and would have allowed food workers, first responders and corrections officers to receive workers’ compensation benefits for the disease. However, the Senate removed the workers’ compensation provisions from the final bill based on its belief that the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation is already covering 85% of such claims.
What does H.B. 606 mean for agricultural businesses?
The new law provides certainty that agricultural businesses won’t be assailed by lawsuits seeking damages for COVID-19. A person claiming harm from exposure to COVID-19 at an agricultural business will only be successful upon a showing that the business acted recklessly and with intentional disregard or indifference to the possibility of COVID-19. That’s a high evidentiary standard and burden of proof for a claimant.
As is often the case when an immunity bill is enacted, however, there are several reasons why businesses should not let down their guards because of the new law. Note that while the law rejects government guidelines and orders about COVID-19 as a basis for placing legal duties upon businesses, following such guidelines and recommendations can counter an allegation of reckless or indifferent behavior about COVID-19 exposure or transmission. And there can be consequences from COVID-19 other than litigation, such as impacts on customer and employee health and safety, workers’ compensation claims, and negative publicity from an alleged COVID-19 outbreak. Continuing to take reasonable actions to manage COVID-19 and documenting actions taken can enhance the certainty offered by Ohio’s new COVID-19 immunity law.
Read H.B. 606 here.
Written by Ellen Essman and Peggy Hall
This edition of the Ag Law Harvest has a little bit of everything—Ohio and federal legislation responding to COVID issues, new USDA guidance on bioengineered foods, and a judicial review of Bayer’s Roundup settlement. Read on to learn about the legal issues currently affecting agriculture.
Ohio COVID-19 immunity bill stalls. While the Ohio House and Senate agree with the concept of immunity for COVID-19 transmissions, the two chambers don’t yet see eye-to-eye on the parameters for COVID-19 liability protection. H.B. 606, which we reported on here, has passed both the House and Senate, but the Senate added several amendments to the legislation. The House won’t be addressing those amendments soon because it’s in recess, and doesn’t plan to return for business until at least September 15. The primary point of disagreement between the two bills concerns whether there should be a rebuttable presumption for Bureau of Workers’ Compensation coverage that certain employees who contract COVID-19 contracted it while in the workplace. The Senate amendment change by the Senate concerns exemption from immunity for "intentional conduct," changed to "intentional misconduct.” Currently, there is not a plan for the House to consider the Senate’s amendments before September 15.
Lawmakers propose bill to avoid more backlogs at processing plants.
Most people are aware that the COVID-19 pandemic created a huge backlog and supply chain problem in U.S. meatpacking plants. A group of bipartisan representatives in the House recently proposed the
Requiring Assistance to Meat Processors for Upgrading Plants Act, or RAMP-UP Act. The bill would provide grants up to $100,000 to meat and poultry processing plants so the plants could make improvements in order to avoid the kind of problems caused by the pandemic in the future. The plants would have to provide their own matching funds for the improvements. You can find the bill here.
Revisiting the Paycheck Protection Program, again. In a refreshing display of non-partisanship, Congress passed legislation in late June to extend the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Employers who haven’t taken advantage of PPP now have until August 8, 2020 to apply for PPP funds to cover payroll and certain other expenses. Several senators also introduced the Paycheck Protection Program Small Business Forgiveness Act, a proposal to streamline an automatic approval process for forgiveness of PPP loans under $150,000, but there’s been little action on the bill to date. Meanwhile, the American Farm Bureau Federation is in discussion with the Senate on its proposal for other changes to PPP that would expand access to PPP for agriculture.
More clarification for bioengineered food disclosure. You may recall that the National Bioengineered Food Law was passed by Congress in 2016. The legislation tasked USDA with creating a national mandatory standard for disclosing bioengineered foods. The standard was implemented at the beginning of 2020, but USDA still needed to publish guidance on validating a refining process and selecting an acceptable testing method. On July 8, 2020, that guidance was published. The guidance provides steps for industry to take when validating a food refining process under the rule. A lot of food refining processes remove traces of modified genetic material. So, if a refining process is validated, there is no further need to test for bioengineered material to disclose. The guidance also contains instructions on testing methods. Basically, “any regulated entity that is using a food on the AMS List of Bioengineered Foods and does not want to include a bioengineered food disclosure because the food or ingredient is highly refined and does not include detectable modified genetic material” should follow these testing instructions. Therefore, any entity with highly refined foods that do “not include detectable modified genetic material” should follow the recently published guidance.
Bayer settlement proposal under scrutiny. Last month, Bayer, the owner of Roundup, announced that it would settle around 9,500 lawsuits related to alleged injuries caused by using the product. Not only was the proposal supposed to settle previous lawsuits, but it was also meant to address any future lawsuits stemming from purported injuries caused by Roundup. A judge from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California recently pumped the breaks on this plan, stating that any settlement that would resolve “all future claims” against Roundup must first be approved by the court. A hearing will be held on July 24, where the court will decide whether or not to “grant preliminary approval of the settlement.”
Written by Barry Ward, Director, OSU Income Tax Schools
Significant tax related changes as a result of the new legislation passed in response to COVID-19 have created some questions and perhaps consternation over the past few months. Taxpayers and tax professionals alike are wrestling with how these changes may affect tax returns this year and beyond. OSU Income Tax Schools is offering a Summer Update to address these issues and other important information for tax professionals and taxpayers.
The OSU Income Tax Schools Summer Update: Federal Income Tax & Financial Update Webinar is scheduled for August 13, 2020 and will be presented as a webinar using the Zoom platform.
- New tax provisions implemented by the CARES Act and Families First Coronavirus Response Act and how to account for them such as the new net operating loss rules, the payroll tax credit, etc.
- Paycheck Protection Program Loan Issues: loan applications, forgiveness issues and the IRS ruling on loan expenditures that are forgiven under PPP are not tax deductible and how to account for them in preparing a return, etc.
- Dealing with the IRS in these difficult times. Also, what it means to the practitioner as to “dos” and don’ts” regarding the announcement that beginning this summer the IRS will allow the electronic filing of amended returns.
- The “Hot IRS Audit Issues – Pitfalls for S Corporations and Partnerships." Basis of entities as to the rules and related rulings, how to track basis in these entities, creation of basis where none had been computed in prior tax years, losses in excess of basis and when they are not allowed, definition of an excess distribution, taxation of excess distributions, distribution of appreciated property, conversion of C corporations to S corporations - do and don'ts, computation of the Built-In Gains Tax, inference and imputation of a reasonable wage for purposes of the computation of the qualified business income deduction, etc.
- Other rulings, developments, and cases.
- John Lawrence, CPA, John M. Lawrence & Associates: Instructor
- Barry Ward, Director, OSU Income Tax Schools: Co-Host & Question Wrangler
- Julie Strawser, Program Assistant, OSU Income Tax Schools: Co-Host and Webinar Manager
- August 13th, 2020: 10 am – 3:30 pm (lunch break: noon – 12:50 pm)
- Cost: $150
- Registration information and link to the registration page is at https://farmoffice.osu.edu/osu-income-tax-schools
- This workshop is designed to be interactive with questions from the audience encouraged.
Continuing education offered
- Accountancy Board of Ohio (5 hours)
- IRS Office of Professional Responsibility (5 hours)
- Continuing Legal Education, Ohio Supreme Court (4.5 hours)
There’s been a lot of action in the Ohio General Assembly over the last few weeks ahead of the body’s summer break. Specifically, the House of Representatives has considered bills involving a student debt forgiveness program for veterinarians, animal abuse, road safety in Amish country, immunity for apiary owners for bee stings, and a bill meant to support county fairs during the COVID pandemic. Finally, both the Ohio House and Senate have passed bills that would limit liability involving the transfer of COVID-19.
Animal-drawn vehicle lighting. House Bill 501, concerning slow-moving, animal drawn vehicles, was introduced in February of 2020 and was first heard in the House Transportation & Public Safety committee on June 2. The purpose of HB 501 is to “clarify the law governing slow-moving vehicles and to revise the lighting and reflective material requirements applicable to animal-drawn vehicles.” The bill would require animal-drawn vehicles, like the buggies typically driven by the Amish, to have the following: (1) at least one white lamp in the front visible from 1,000 feet or more; (2) two red lamps in the rear visible from 1000 or more; (3) one yellow flashing lamp mounted on the top most portion of the rear of the vehicle; (4) a slow moving vehicle (SMV) emblem; and (5) micro-prism reflective tape that is visible from at least 500 feet to the rear when illuminated by low beams on a vehicle. In the committee hearing, HB 501 had mostly positive feedback, and was touted as a solution to crashes involving animal-drawn vehicles in poor visibility.
When the bee stings. HB 496, which would grant apiary owners immunity for bee stings, passed the Ohio House on June 9, 2020. The bill would protect the owner of a registered apiary from liability in the case of a personal injury or property damage from a sting if they do the following: (1) implement and comply with the beekeeping industry best management practices (BMPs) as established by the department of agriculture; (2) keep correct and complete records of their implementation and compliance with BMPs and make the records available in a legal proceeding; (3) comply with local zoning ordinances pertaining to apiaries; (4) operate the apiary in compliance with the Ohio Revised Code. Notably, the bill would not protect apiarists from harming a person intentionally or through gross negligence. The bill now moves on to the Ohio Senate for consideration.
Debt forgiveness for veterinarians. The House also passed HB 67 on June 10, 2020. This bill would create the “veterinarian student debt assistance program,” which would determine which veterinarians would receive student debt assistance, and how much each person would receive. The amount awarded must be between $5,000 and $10,000. Essentially, if the new veterinarian agrees to live in Ohio for a certain amount of time, and to participate in “charitable veterinarian services” like spaying and neutering for a nonprofit organization, humane society, law enforcement agency, or state, local, or federal government, student debt could be forgiven. The details, including how many hours a veterinarian would need to work for charity, the types of charities that qualify, the amount of time a person must live in Ohio, and others would be determined by State Veterinary Medical Licenses Board.
Animal abuse. HB 33 passed the lower chamber on June 11, 2020. This bill would require veterinarians, social service professionals (people who work at the county Job and Family Services, Children’s Services), counselors, social workers, and other similar professions to report violations against “companion animals” (dogs, cats, other animals kept in a residential dwelling), to law enforcement and/or the county humane agent or animal control officer. People in these professions would have to report when they have “knowledge or reasonable cause to suspect” that violations to companion animals are happening, and they know or suspect that a child or older adult (60 years and older) lives in the residence, and they know or suspect that the violation is having an impact on the child or older adult. Violations include animal abandonment, injury, poisoning, cruelty, fighting, dog fighting, or sexual conduct with an animal.
Assistance for county fairs. If you’ve heard about any Ohio legislation recently, it was likely this bill. HB 665 was passed by the House after much debate on June 11, 2020. The 61 page bill makes a lot of changes to the statutory language. Importantly, the bill would make it a misdemeanor for patrons not to follow written warnings and directions on amusement rides. The bill also makes a number of changes to how county agricultural societies operate. First of all, members of a county agricultural society would have to be residents of the county. Members would have to pay a fee to retain membership, and the societies would have to issue a printed membership certificate to members. In counties with an ag society, the county treasurer must transfer $1600 to the society each year as long as the society holds its annual exhibition, reports to the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA), and the director of ODA presents the society with a certificate showing it has followed applicable laws and regulations. The bill also addresses independent agricultural societies, to which similar rules apply. The county board of commissioners would also be required to appropriate at least $100 to the ag society’s junior club. The bill would require ag societies to create a report of its proceedings during the year, file a financial report and send it to the ODA director, and publish an announcement in the county newspaper or the society’s website a statement about the filing of the financial report, and contact information for people who want to obtain a copy of the report. The bill also outlines the circumstances under which an ag society can sell fairgrounds or parts of fairgrounds. Finally, an amendment to the bill was adopted that would allow rescheduling of horse races.
So what was so controversial about this bill? A suggested amendment to the bill led to a heated argument in the House. The amendment would have banned sales and displays of confederate flags and other memorabilia at county fairs. This ban is already in place at the Ohio State Fair, but not county fairs. Ultimately, the bill passed in the house, but this amendment did not. The vote to table the amendment was largely along party lines, with every Republican except one voting against the amendment, and all Democrats voting for.
COVID-19 liability. The House passed HB 606 back in May, and we discussed it in a blog post here. As a refresher, the bill is meant to protect businesses, schools, corporations, people, etc. from liability. It would accomplish this with the declaration: “orders and recommendations from the Executive Branch, from counties and local municipalities, from boards of health and other agencies, and from any federal government agency, do not create any new legal duties for purposes of tort liability.” In other words, as long as the person, school, or business did not expose or transfer the virus recklessly, intentionally, or with willful and wanton conduct, someone could not bring a civil action for injury, death, or loss to person or property if they contract COVID from the entity. Furthermore, the bill also provides temporary civil immunity for health care providers, grants immunity to the State for care of persons in its custody or if an officer or employee becomes infected with COVID-19 in the performance or nonperformance of governmental functions and public duties, and expands the definition of “governmental functions” for purposes of political subdivision immunity to include actions taken during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ohio Senate passed a similar bill, SB 308. Unlike the House bill, SB 308 provides immunity only in the health care context. The bill would provide immunity from civil liability for doctors, nurses, and others working in the health care arena during “disasters” like the current pandemic. It would also provide a qualified immunity from liability to services providers for “manufacturing” and any other service “that is part of or outside of a service provider's normal course of business conducted during the period of a disaster or emergency declared due to COVID-19 and ending on April 1, 2021.”
What’s next? The Ohio Senate is scheduled to meet next week on an “as needed” basis. During these tentatively scheduled sessions, the senate could consider the bills that have cleared the House—HBs 496, 67, 33, and 665. If passed by the Senate, the bills would then move on to Governor DeWine for approval. We will keep you updated on what the Senate and Governor decide. In the case of the COVID immunity bills, each bill moved to the opposite house, where they are currently being considered in committees. We’ll have to wait and see if one or both are sent on to DeWine, or if the two houses choose to somehow combine the bills into one document.
“Will I be liable for that?” is a common question we hear in the legal world. COVID-19 has made that question even more commonplace, especially as more businesses reopen or expand services and more people reengage in public activities. About a dozen states have acted on the liability concern and passed COVID-19 liability protections, and Congress is also deliberating whether federal legislation is necessary. Here in Ohio, the House and the Senate have been reviewing separate immunity proposals. Yesterday, Ohio’s House passed its bill, which aims to limit liability in certain situations where a person claims harm from the transmission of COVID-19.
The language of House Bill 606 effectively explains the House’s intent in putting forth its proposal, stating that:
- The Ohio General Assembly is aware that lawsuits related to the COVID-19 health emergency numbering in the thousands are being filed across the country.
- Ohio business owners, small and large, as they begin to re-open their businesses are unsure about what tort liability they may face, and recommendations regarding how best to avoid infection with COVID-19 change frequently.
- Businesses and premises owners have not historically been required to keep members of the public from being exposed to airborne viruses, bacteria, and germs.
- Those individuals who decide to go out into public places are responsible to take those steps they feel are necessary to avoid exposure to COVID-19, such as social distancing and wearing masks.
The House bill declares that for the above reasons, any COVID-19 “orders and recommendations from the Executive Branch, from counties and local municipalities, from boards of health and other agencies, and from any federal government agency, do not create any new legal duties for purposes of tort liability.”
The bill’s reference to not establishing a legal duty in regards to COVID-19 is important, as it forms the basis of immunity from liability for COVID-19 infections. Under Ohio law, a person who can prove that harm resulted because another failed to meet a required duty of care can make a successful claim of negligence and receive damages for harm caused. Negating a legal duty of care for handling of COVID-19 removes the possibility of civil liability.
The House bill clearly lays out its general liability protection in Section 4 and extends the immunity from March 9 to December 31, 2020 to “any person,” which includes an individual, corporation, business trust, estate, trust, partnership, association, school, for-profit, nonprofit, governmental, or religious entity, and state institution of higher education. But it also makes an exception from immunity where a person has acted recklessly, intentionally, or with wanton misconduct:
- No civil action for damages for injury, death, or loss to person or property shall be brought against any person if the cause of action on which the civil action is based, in whole or in part, is that the injury, death, or loss to person or property is caused by the exposure to, or the transmission or contraction of [COVID-19] or any mutation thereof, unless it is established that the exposure to, or the transmission or contraction of, any of those viruses or mutations was by reckless or intentional conduct or with willful or wanton misconduct on the part of the person against whom the action is brought.
Opponents to the bill claim that it would encourage persons not to take any COVID-19 precautions, but proponents argue that the bill does so by discouraging reckless behavior. Under the legislation, to behave recklessly means that “with heedless indifference to the consequences, the person disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the person's conduct is likely to cause an exposure to, or a transmission or contraction of [COVID-19] or any mutation thereof, or is likely to be of a nature that results in an exposure to, or a transmission or contraction of, any of those viruses or mutations.”
In addition to the general immunity protection explained above, the House bill also provides temporary civil immunity for health care providers, grants immunity to the State for care of persons in its custody or if an officer or employee becomes infected with COVID-19 in the performance or nonperformance of governmental functions and public duties, and expands the definition of “governmental functions” for purposes of political subdivision immunity to include actions taken during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ohio Senate is working on its own version of a COVID-19 immunity bill. A fourth hearing on Senate Bill 308 took place on May 27 before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Several substitute bills have replaced the original bill, and it's yet uncertain what the final version will contain.
There’s much disagreement over what we know about COVID-19, but one thing we can agree upon is that it has left an impact on the food supply chain. For some food producers, that impact is creating opportunity. Many growers see the potential of filling the gaps created by closed processing facilities, thin grocery shelves, and unwillingness to shop inside stores. If you’re one of those growers who sees an opportunity to sell food, we have a few thoughts on legal issues to consider before moving into the direct food sales arena. Doing so will reduce your risks and the potential of legal liability.
1. Follow COVID-19-related guidelines
Perhaps this goes without saying, but businesses should take COVID-19 guidelines seriously. Doing so will hopefully reduce the potential of a COVID-19 transmission in the operation while also minimizing the risk of an enforcement action and potential legal liability for failing to protect employees and customers. Follow the Ohio Department of Health Responsible RestartOhio Guidelines that are now in effect. Engaging directly with customers places a grower in the “Consumer, Retail and Services” sector guidelines, which are here. Mandatory requirements include protecting the health and safety of employees, customers and guests by establishing six-foot distances or barriers, wearing face masks, handwashing and sanitizing, checking for symptoms daily, posting signs, deep cleaning, and dealing with suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19. The FDA has also issued “Best Practices for Retail Food Stores, Restaurants and Food Pick-Up and Delivery Services” here, and OSU’s direct marketing team has many helpful resources for implementing the practices here. Develop protocols based upon the guidelines, carefully train employees on protocols, and document your compliance.
2. Determine what food safety regulations apply to you
For food safety purposes, the Ohio Department of Agriculture and local county health department require licensing or inspection of certain types of food sale activities. The regulations are a bit messy, and it’s challenging to know when an operator is affected by these regulatory requirements. We’ve explained licensing laws pertaining to sales directly at the farm in this law bulletin, “Selling Foods at the Farm: When Do You Need a License?” There are more stringent requirements for those who sell meat, process food, or sell higher risk foods or several different types of foods. We’ve provided a few simple guidelines in the chart at the end of this post, but please refer to the above law bulletin for further details. Additionally, produce growers need to comply with Good Agricultural Practice (GAPs) and Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) rules. Learn more about those on our Fruit and Vegetable Safety Program website here.
3. Check your zoning
If you’re within a municipality, you may have zoning regulations that apply to your production and sales activities. Check your local zoning regulation to ensure that those activities are “permitted uses” within your designated zoning district. If not, you may need to seek a “conditional use” permit. Also be aware that some municipal zoning regulations regulate “home businesses,” and a home bakery or cottage food operation that has customers coming to the home to purchase the goods might fall into that category.
If you’re outside a municipality, Ohio’s agricultural exemption from county and township zoning applies to your production and sales activities. Local zoning can’t prohibit your activities regardless of your zoning district, with limited exceptions if you’re in a “platted subdivision” situation (on a lot under 5 acres in a platted area of at least 15 other contiguous lots). Note, however, that county and township zoning can regulate a “farm market” that receives more than 50% of its gross income from goods that weren’t raised on the owner’s farm. You might need to comply with a few zoning regulations that pertain to the size and setback lines for your structure, the parking area, and ingress and egress points for customers.
4. You may have to collect sales taxes on some items
Most takeaway food items to be consumed off-site, such as meat and produce, aren’t subject to Ohio’s sales tax. But if you sell items that are not exempt from sales tax, you’ll need to collect sales taxes on the items. If you’re planning to sell ready-to-eat items on site, beverages, flowers, or container plants, you must charge and collect sales taxes and obtain a vendor’s license in order to submit the taxes to the state. Find more details in our law bulletin on vendor’s licenses and sales taxes here.
5. Review contracting situations
You’ll likely be presented with a contract or agreement in many situations, such as a farmers’ market contract or an agreement for selling on an online sales platform. Or you may need to generate your own contract for selling whole animals or establishing a “community supported agriculture” operation. In either instance, read your contracts carefully. Be sure to include and review important terms such as price, quality delivery dates, payment processes, late fees, data use, and other provisions related to your type of sale. Don’t hesitate to involve an agricultural attorney to be sure that you’ve minimized your legal risk.
6. Talk to your insurance provider
Direct food sales might not be adequately covered by your insurance policy. You’ll need to know whether you have sufficient premises liability coverage if a customer is harmed on your farm, coverage for transporting foods or for selling at a farmers’ market (typically required by the market) and product liability coverage in case someone claims illness or other injury from consuming your food. You may need to increase coverage or purchase additional riders to the policy, depending on your risk level. Reviewing your policy with your provider and aligning coverage with your food sales activities is imperative to reducing your liability risk.
7. Do you need a separate business entity?
Consider whether your food sales activities put other assets at risk, and whether your insurance is sufficient to address that risk. If not, you should consider forming a separate business entity for your direct marketing business. Forming a Limited Liability Company for your direct food sales activities can help shield your other assets from the liability of the food sales. Talk with an agricultural attorney to assess your needs and determine what type of entity is best for your situation.
8. Keep great records
This one applies to everything above. Maintain records of what you do in regards to COVID-19 precautions, employee training, food safety compliance, and financial records of your expenditures and sales. If a liability incident arises, document it carefully. Keep the records for the required amount of time, which is typically three years for receipts for purchases and sales, ten years for insurance and employee records, and permanently for other records.
9. Don’t stop here
This list is a starting point for legal considerations for direct food sales, but it shouldn’t be the end. There may be other legal issues that affect your particularly situation. To learn more and fully consider all risks of direct marketing, talk with others who’ve directly sold food, visit with your accountant, lawyer and insurance provider, and learn the best practices for growing and marketing your food products.
Do you need a license for your direct-to-customer food sales?
Peggy Kirk Hall, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program
Emily Marrison, OSU Extension Coshocton County
We offer this chart as guidance and not as legal advice. Please confirm your specific situation and needs with the Ohio Department of Agriculture and your local county health department.
Selling meat for custom operator processing. You don’t need a license to sell an animal to a customer who will have it processed by a custom operator. But you can’t bring custom operator processed meat back to the farm and sell it to customers in individual portions; that type of sale requires processing by a federally approved processor.
Selling meat in individual portions. You may sell cuts of beef, pork and other livestock if the meat is processed and labeled by a processor that meets federal regulations and is deemed “fully inspected” by ODA (see a list of such facilities here).
Selling chickens processed at the farm. Growers may be surprised to learn that no license is required to process and sell up to 1,000 birds per year at the farm where the birds are raised. But if a grower sells the birds along with other food items such as produce, then the grower must register as a Farm Market and be inspected by ODA. The Farm Market registration form is here.
Selling eggs. A grower does not need a license to sell eggs produced at the farm where sold, as long as the grower has 500 or fewer birds. But if a grower wants to sell eggs through a farmer’s market or sells other low risk foods along with eggs, either a Farm Market registration and inspection from ODA (here) or a Retail Food Establishment license from the county health department is necessary.
Selling produce. Selling only fresh, unprocessed produce does not require any licensing. However, if selling other low risk foods along with produce, a grower must either register as a farm market through ODA or obtain a Retail Food Establishment license from the county health department.
Selling multiple food items. Regulation increases when a grower offers multiple types of food items for sale. If those items are “low risk,” the grower must register as a Farm Market with ODA, which involves a site inspection. If higher risk foods are involved, such as meat, eggs from offsite or from more than 500 birds, dressed poultry from offsite or from more than 1,000 birds, the grower must obtain a Retail Food Establishment license from the county health department.
Selling cottage foods and home bakery goods. Many home-prepared foods such as cookies, breads, jams, granola, snack mixes and more fall under Ohio’s cottage food law and require no licensing, but there are labeling requirements. See our law bulletin on Ohio’s Cottage Food Law here.
Written by Ellen Essman and Peggy Kirk Hall
Many people are still working from home, but that hasn’t stopped legal activity in Washington, D.C. Bills have been proposed, federal rules are being finalized, and new lawsuits are in process. Here’s our gathering of the latest ag law news.
SBA posts Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan forgiveness application. We’ve been waiting to hear more about how and to what extent the SBA will forgive loans made under the CARES Act’s PPP that many farm businesses have utilized. The SBA recently posted the forgiveness application and instructions for applicants here. But there are still unanswered questions for agricultural applicants as well as talk in Congress about changing some of the forgiveness provisions, suggesting that loan recipients should sit tight rather than apply now. Watch for our future blog post and a discussion on the forgiveness provisions in our next Farm Office Live webinar.
House passes another COVID-19 relief bill. All predictions are that the bill will go nowhere in the Senate, but that didn’t stop the House from passing a $3 trillion COVID-19 relief package on May 15. The “HEROES Act” includes a number of provisions for agriculture, including an additional $16.5 billion in direct payments to producers of commodities, specialty crops and livestock, as well as funds for local agriculture markets, livestock depopulation losses, meat processing plants, expanded CRP, dairy production, other supply chain disruptions, and biofuel producers (discussed below). Read the bill here.
Proposed bipartisan bill designed to open cash market for cattle. Last week, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley and Democratic Senator Jon Tester introduced a bill that “would require large-scale meatpackers to increase the proportion of negotiable transactions that are cash, or ‘spot,’ to 50 percent of their total cattle purchases.” The senators hope this change would bring up formula prices and allow livestock producers to better negotiate prices and increase their profits. In addition, the sponsors claim ithe bill would provide more certainty to a sector hard hit by coronavirus. Livestock groups aren’t all in agreement about the proposal. You can read the bill here, Senator Grassley’s press release here and Senator Tester’s news release here.
New Senate and House bills want to reform the U.S. food system. Representative Ro Khanna from California has introduced the House companion bill to the Senate's Farm System Reform Act first introduced by Senator Cory Booker in January. The proposal intends to address underlying problems in the food system. The bill places an immediate moratorium on the creation or expansion of large concentrated animal feeding operations and requires such operations to cease by January 1, 2040. The proposal also claims to strengthen the Packers and Stockyards Act and requires country of origin labeling on beef, pork, and dairy products. The bill would also create new protections for livestock growers contracted by large meat companies, provide money for farmers to transition away from operating animal feeding facilities, strengthen the term “Product of the United States” to mean “derived from 1 or more animals exclusively born, raised, and slaughtered” in the U.S., and, similar to the Grassley/Tester bill above, require an increased percentage of meatpacker purchases to be “spot” transactions.
Lawmakers ask Trump to reimburse livestock producers through FEMA. In another move that seeks to help livestock producers affected by the pandemic, a bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives sent a letter to Donald Trump imploring him to issue national guidance to allow expenses of livestock depopulation and disposal to be reimbursed under FEMA's Public Assistance Program Category B. The lawmakers reason that FEMA has "been a valued Federal partner in responding to animal losses due to natural disasters," and that the COVID-19 epidemic should be treated "no differently." You can read the letter here.
More battling over biofuels. Attorneys General from Wyoming, Utah, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and West Virginia have sent a request to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to waive the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) because of COVID-19 impacts on the fuel economy. The letter states that reducing the national quantity of renewable fuel required would alleviate the regulatory cost of purchasing tradable credits for refiners, who use the credits to comply with biofuel-blending targets. Meanwhile, 70 mayors from across the U.S. wrote a letter urging the opposite, and criticizing any decisions not to uphold the RFS due to the impact that decision would have on local economies, farmers, workers, and families who depend on the biofuels industry. The House is also weighing in on the issue. In its recently passed HEROES Act, the House proposes a 45 cents per gallon direct payment to biofuel producers for fuels produced between Jan 1 and May 1, 2020 and a similar payment for those forced out of production during that time.
New USDA rule for genetically engineered crops. A final rule concerning genetically engineered organisms is set to be published this week. In the rule, USDA amends biotechnology regulations under the Plant Protection Act. Importantly, the new rule would exempt plants from regulation by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) if the plants are genetically engineered but the same outcome could have occurred using conventional breeding. For instance, gene deletions and simple genetic transfers from one compatible plant relative to another would be exempted. If new varieties of plants use a plant-trait mechanism of action combination that has been analyzed by APHIS, such plants would be exempt. You can read a draft of the final rule here.
Trump’s new WOTUS rule attacked from both sides of the spectrum. A few weeks ago, we wrote about the Trump Administration’s new “waters of the United States” or WOTUS rule. Well, it didn’t take too long for those who oppose the rule to make their voices heard. The New Mexico Cattle Growers Association (NMCGA) sued the administration, claiming that the new rule is still too strict and leaves cattle ranchers questioning whether waters on their land will be regulated. In their complaint, NMCGA argues that the new definition violates the Constitution, the Clean Water Act, and Supreme Court precedent. On the other side, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), along with other conservation groups, sued the administration, but argued that the new rule does not do enough to protect water and defines “WOTUS” too narrowly. Here we go again—will WOTUS ever truly be settled?
The Farm Office is Open! Join us for analysis of these and other legal and economic issues facing farmers in the Farm Office Team’s next session of “Farm Office Live” on Thursday, May 28 at 9:00 a.m. Go to this link to register in advance or to watch past recordings.