The year is still fairly new, and 2020 has brought with it some newly-introduced legislation in the Ohio General Assembly. That being said, in 2020 the General Assembly also continues to consider legislation first introduced in 2019. From tax exemptions to CAUV changes, to watershed programs and local referendums on wind turbines, here is some notable ag-related legislation making its way through the state house.
- House Bill 400 “To authorize a nonrefundable income tax credit for the retail sale of high-ethanol blend motor fuel”
HB 400 was introduced after our last legislative update in November, so while it was first introduced in 2019, it still technically qualifies as “new” to us. Since its introduction, the bill has been discussed in two hearings in the House Ways & Means Committee. The bill would give owners and operators of gas stations a tax rebate of five cents per gallon for sales of ethanol. To apply, the fuel would have to be between 15% and 85% ethanol (E15). If passed, the tax credit would be available for four years. The bill is meant to encourage gas station owners in Ohio to sell E15, which is much more readily available in other states. The bill is available here.
- House Bill 485 “To remove a requirement that owners of farmland enrolled in the CAUV program must file a renewal application each year in order to remain in the program”
Introduced on January 29, 2020, HB 485 would make it easier for farmers to stay enrolled in the Current Agricultural Use Valuation (CAUV) program. CAUV allows agricultural land to be taxed at a much lower rate than other types of land. If HB 485 were to pass, the initial application for CAUV on land more than 10 acres would automatically renew each year but the landowner must notify the auditor if the land ceases to be devoted exclusively for agricultural use. Owners of agricultural land less than 10 acres in size, who can qualify for CAUV if gross income from the land exceeds $2,500, would have to submit documentation on the annual gross income of the land to the county auditor each year rather than filing the renewal application. The CAUV bill can be found here.
Legislation from 2019 still being considered
- House Bill 24 “Revise Humane Society law”
In November, we reported that HB 24 passed the House unanimously and was subsequently referred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture & Natural Resources. Since that time, the committee has held two hearings on the bill. The hearings included testimony from the bill’s House sponsors, who touted how the bill would improve humane societies’ public accountability. The bill would revise procedures for humane society operations, require humane society agents to successfully complete training in order to serve, and would establish procedures for seizing and impounding animals. It would also remove humane societies’ current jurisdiction over child abuse cases and make agents subject to bribery laws. Importantly, HB 24 would allow law enforcement officers to seize and impound any animal the officer has probable cause to believe is the subject of an animal cruelty offense. Currently, the ability to seize and impound only applies to companion animals such as dogs and cats. You can read HB 24 here.
- House Bill 109 “To authorize a property tax exemption for land used for commercial maple sap extraction”
HB 109 was first introduced in February of 2019, but has recently seen some action in the House Ways & Means Committee, where it was discussed in a hearing on January 28, 2020. The bill would give owners of “maple forest land” a property tax exemption if they: (1) Drill an average of 30 taps during the tax year into at least 15 maple trees per acre; (2) use sap in commercially sold maple products; and (3) manage the land under a plan that complies with the standards of reasonable care in the protection and maintenance of forest land. In addition, the land must be 10 contiguous acres. Maple forest land that does not meet that acreage threshold can still receive a tax exemption if the sap produces an average yearly gross income of $2,500 or more in the three preceding years, or if evidence shows that the gross income during the current tax year will be at least $2,500. You can find the text of the proposed bill here.
- House Bill 160 “Revise alcoholic ice cream law”
Have you ever thought, “Gee, this ice cream is great, but what could make it even better?” Well this is the bill for you! At present, those wishing to sell ice cream containing alcohol in Ohio must obtain an A-5 liquor permit and can only sell the ice cream at the site of manufacture, and that site must be in an election precinct that allows for on- and off-premises consumption of alcohol. This bill would allow the ice cream maker to sell to consumers for off-premises enjoyment and to retailers who are authorized to sell alcohol. HB 160 passed the House last year and is currently in Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee in the Senate. Since our last legislative update, the committee has had three hearings on the bill. In the hearings, proponents testified in support of the bill, arguing that it would allow their businesses to grow and compete with out of state businesses. Senators asked questions about how the ice cream would be kept away from children, how the bill would help business, and about other states with similar laws. To read the bill, click here.
- Senate Bill 2 “Create watershed planning structure”
In 2019, SB 2 passed the Senate and moved on to the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee. If passed, this bill would do four main things. First, it would create the Statewide Watershed Planning and Management Program, which would be tasked with improving and protecting the watersheds in the state, and would be administered by the ODA director. Under this program, the director of ODA would have to categorize watersheds in Ohio and appoint watershed planning and management coordinators in each watershed region. The coordinators would work with soil and water conservation districts to identify water quality impairment, and to gather information on conservation practices. Second, the bill states the General Assembly’s intent to work with agricultural, conservation, and environmental organizations and universities to create a certification program for farmers, where the farmers would use practices meant to minimize negative water quality impacts. Third, SB 2 charges ODA, with help from the Lake Erie Commission and the Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission, to start a watershed pilot program that would help farmers, agricultural retailers, and soil and water conservation districts in reducing phosphorus. Finally, the bill would allow regional water and sewer districts to make loans and grants and to enter into cooperative agreements with any person or corporation, and would allow districts to offer discounted rentals or charges to people with low or moderate incomes, as well as to people who qualify for the homestead exemption.
Since SB 2 moved on to the lower chamber, the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee has held multiple hearings on the bill, and has consented to two amendments. The first amendment would keep information about individual nutrient management plans out of the public record. Similarly, the second amendment would keep information about farmers’ agricultural operations and conservation practices out of the public record. The text of SB 2 is available here.
- Senate Bill 234 “Regards regulation of wind farms and wind turbine setbacks”
SB 234 was introduced on November 6, 2019. Since that time, the bill was assigned to the Senate Energy & Public Utilities Committee, and three hearings have been held. The bill would give voters in the unincorporated areas of townships the power to have a referendum vote on certificates or amendments to economically significant and large wind farms issued by the Ohio Power and Siting Board. The voters could approve or reject the certificate for a new wind farm or an amendment to an existing certificate by majority vote. The bill would also change how minimum setback distances for wind farms might be measured. The committee hearings have included testimony from numerous proponents of the bill. SB 234 is available here. A companion bill was also introduced in the House. HB 401 can be found here.
Here's our gathering of recent agricultural law news you may want to know:
Case highlights value of Ohio’s Grain Indemnity Fund. The recent prosecution and guilty plea of a grain handler who withheld $3.22 million in proceeds from grain he sold on behalf of 35 farmers in northern Ohio illustrates the value of Ohio’s Grain Indemnity Fund. The farmers had received approximately $2.5 million in reimbursement from the fund, which protects farmers from grain handlers who become insolvent. Though the fund, a farmer is reimbursed 100% for open storage grain in the elevator and 100% of the first $10,000 of a loss for future contracts, delayed price and basis transactions, with 80% reimbursement beyond the first $10,000 of loss. The grain handler, Richard Schwan, must now reimburse the fund and pay additional amounts to the farmers and the state. For more about the Grain Indemnity Fund, read our previous post.
More on North Carolina nuisance lawsuits against hog farms. A jury decision on June 29, 2018 awarded $25.13 million to a couple living next door to a 4,700 head hog farm in North Carolina owned by a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods. The award included $25 million in punitive damages. The apparent reason for the jury’s significant punitive damage award is Smithfield’s failure to finance and utilize new technologies that could reduce the impacts of current anaerobic lagoon and spraying application technologies. This is the second successful verdict in the second of many nuisance lawsuits filed by over 500 neighbors of hog farms owned by Smithfield.
North Carolina legislature reacts to nuisance wins. In response to the first two jury awards against Smithfield, the North Carolina legislature adopted new restrictions on nuisance lawsuits against farm and forestry operations. The legislation requires that a nuisance suit be filed within a year of the establishment of an agricultural or forestry operation or within a year of a “fundamental change” to the operation, which does not include changes in ownership, technology, product or size of the operation. The bill also limits the awarding of punitive damages to operators with criminal convictions or those who’ve received regulatory notices of violation. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper vetoed the bill, but the legislature successfully overrode the veto.
Meanwhile, Court upholds Iowa Right-to-Farm law. The Iowa Supreme Court declined a request to declare the Iowa Right-to-Farm law facially unconstitutional for exceeding the state's police power. The court concluded that the Right-to-Farm law, which protects animal feeding operations that are in compliance with applicable laws and utilizing generally acceptable agricultural practices from nuisance lawsuits, falls within the legislature’s police power but could be unconstitutional as applied to a particular situation. However, such a determination requires application of a three part test and extensive fact finding by the court. Read more on Honomichl v. Valley View Swine, LLC here from Iowa State’s Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation.
IRS reveals the new Form 1040. It's not quite post card size, but the IRS claims that its draft of the revised Form 1040 is about half the size of the current form. The agency unveiled the draft form, which it intends to be shorter, simpler and supplemented with applicable schedules, and is seeking comments from the tax community. The new form, when complete, will replace the 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ.
Ohio legislation on the move. A flurry of activity at the Statehouse followed the lengthy re-election of a new House speaker that had stalled legislation this spring. Several bills have now been signed by Governor Kasich and a few bills have passed through one or both houses, as follows:
- Plugging idle and orphan oil and gas wells. A bill we reported on back in January, H.B. 225, was signed into law on June 29, 2018. The new law provides an increase, from 14% to 30%, in funding for plugging unused oil and gas wells. Landowners can report an idle or orphaned well to the Chief of the Division of Oil and Gas Resources, who must then inspect the well within 30 days and prioritize how soon the well should be plugged and the land surface be restored. The Chief’s duty to find prior owners and legal interests in the well is limited to records less than 40 years old. The law also includes procedural changes for entering into contracts for restoration or plugging of wells.
- Tax appeals. One provision in H.B. 292 allows a party to appeal a decision of the Board of Tax Appeals directly to the Supreme Court if it concerns a final determination of the Tax Commissioner or a municipal corporation's income tax review board. This reverses a recent change that removed the Supreme Court option for such appeals. The act also removes a provision that allowed a party to file a petition requesting that the Supreme Court take jurisdiction over an appeal from the Court of Appeals, which the Supreme Court was authorized to do if the appeal involved a substantial constitutional question or a question of great general or public interest. Governor Kasich signed the legislation on June 14, 2018.
- Hunting and fishing licenses. S.B. 257 creates multi-year and lifetime hunting and fishing licenses for residents of Ohio and allows the Division of Wildlife to offer licensure “packages” for any combination of licenses, permits, or stamps. The law also establishes the “Lake Erie sport fishing district,” consisting of the Ohio waters of Lake Erie and its tributaries. Nonresidents must obtain a $10 special permit to fish in the Lake Erie sport fishing district from January 1 to April 30, with the fees earmarked specifically to benefit Lake Erie. The legislation received the Governor’s signature on June 29, 2018.
- High volume dog breeders. New standards addressing sustenance, housing, veterinarian care, exercise and human interaction for dogs bred for sale in high volumes are in H.B. 506, signed by the Governor on June 29, 2018.
- Dogs on patios. H.B. 263, which we wrote about previously, has passed both the House and Senate. The bill allows retail food establishments and food service operations to permit customers to bring a dog into an outdoor dining area if the dog is vaccinated. The establishment must adopt a policy requiring customers to control their dogs and keep their dogs out of indoor areas. The bill just needs a signature from Governor Kasich to become effective.
- Alfalfa products. H.R. 298 was adopted by the House on June 7, 2018. The resolution recognizes the existence of two alfalfa products, direct dehydrated alfalfa and sun-cured alfalfa, as defined by the Association of American Feed Control Officials. The resolution further calls on alfalfa processors and suppliers use the defined terms in their labeling. A companion resolution in the Senate remains in committee.
- Township laws. A number of changes affecting township authority are in H.B. 500, which unanimously passed the House on June 27 and was introduced in the Senate on July 5. Of most consequence to agriculture are proposals to broaden township zoning authority over agricultural activities in platted subdivisions and authority for townships to impose fees for zoning appeals.