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Ohio Statehouse with daffodils in foreground
By: Ellen Essman, Tuesday, April 16th, 2024

The Ohio General Assembly is back in Columbus after the March 19th primary election, and committee schedules are already filling up. Given the increased activity in recent weeks, we thought it was a good time to examine what has happened legislatively this year up until this point.

H.B. 64—Eminent Domain. This bill was first introduced by Representatives Kick (R-Loudonville) and Creech (R-West Alexandria) in February of 2023. The bill’s purpose is to make it more difficult for governmental agencies or private entities to take private property through eminent domain. On February 6, 2024, the bill was updated with a Substitute House Bill 64 in the House Civil Justice Committee.

The previous version of the bill excluded recreational trails from the definition of “public use,” meaning that property could not be taken by a government agency for recreational trails. The current version of the bill narrows this language, allowing for a taking for the purpose of creating recreational trails, but not in cases where the property is not adjacent to a public road and where the property’s primary use will be for a recreational trail.

Another substantial change between the versions involves compensation offers from the government entity to the landowner. In the original version of the bill, a government entity would not have been allowed to reduce an offer made to purchase property before proceedings commenced if the reduction was based on hard-to-discover issues with the property. The current version would exclude this provision, restoring an agency’s authority to reduce offers.

Substitute House Bill 64 would also make changes to compensation and awards landowners could receive if the issue goes to court.

H.B. 197—Solar Development. Sponsored by Representatives Hoops (R-Napoleon) and Ray (R-Wadsworth), H.B. 197 would establish a the community solar pilot program and the solar development program. Under the language of the bill, a “community solar facility” is defined as a single facility with at least three subscribers and a nameplate capacity of 10 megawatts or less, or 20 megawatts or less if on a distressed site. Furthermore, the bill would require The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to establish a Community Solar Pilot Program of 250 megawatts on sites in the Appalachian region of the state. The bill would also amend the state competitive retail electric service policy to encourage community solar facilities in the state and allow subscribers to community solar facilities to receive monthly electric bill offsets.

H.B. 324—Motor Fuel. Introduced by Representatives McClain (R-Upper Sandusky) and Klopfenstein (R-Haviland) in November of 2023, H.B. 324 passed the House on February 7, 2024 and was referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee on February 27. 

If passed, the bill would authorize a temporary, nonrefundable income or CAT tax credit of 5 cents per gallon for retail dealers who sell high-ethanol blend motor fuel containing between 15-85% ethanol. The tax credit would be limited to five years or to a total of $10 million, whichever occurs first.

H.B. 327—Employee Verification. H.B. 327, introduced by Representatives Wiggam (R-Wayne County), and Swearingen (R-Huron), had its first committee hearing in House Commerce & Labor on February 13, 2024. The bill would require political subdivisions, private employers employing 75 individuals within the state of Ohio, and nonresidential construction contractors to verify each new employee’s work eligibility through the federal E-verify program. E-Verify is an online program that helps employers verify employees’ eligibility for employment. If the bill were to pass, the employer would be required to keep a record of the verification for the duration of the employee’s employment, or three years, whichever is longer. During testimony on the bill, Representatives Wiggam and Swearingen indicated an interest in possibly lowering the employee threshold, citing Florida’s 25 employee threshold.

H.B. 347—Farming Equipment Taxes. This bill was introduced by Representative Don Jones (R-Freeport) and referred to the House Ways and Means Committee in early December of 2023. Since then, the bill has been heard in committee twice, once in January, and once in February, both times without testimony. The bill would change the way farmers claim a tax exemption on certain purchases.

Currently, when an Ohioan engaged in farming, agriculture, horticulture, or floriculture is buying a product for “agricultural use,” they must provide the seller with an exemption certificate. This certificate comes from the Ohio Department of Taxation and relieves the seller of the obligation to collect the sales tax on behalf of the state. However, the Department of Taxation can later determine that the purchase does not qualify for exemption, and then the farmer would be expected to pay the tax.

H.B. 347 would slightly alter this current way of doing things when it comes to the purchase of certain vehicles and trailers. Under the bill, the purchaser could receive an agricultural use exemption for taxes on these vehicles if the purchaser shows the seller copies of the purchaser’s Schedule F—the federal income tax profit of loss from farming form—for three most recent preceding years. Alternatively, a farmer could obtain a certificate from the Department of Taxation verifying that they have filed a Schedule F for three years in lieu of providing the forms directly to the seller. Notably, the bill states that “no other documentation or explanation shall be required by the vendor or the tax commissioner” to prove that the purchase qualifies for the agricultural use exemption.

The following vehicles and trailers would be included under the bill:

  • Trailers, excluding watercraft trailers;
  • Utility vehicles, (vehicles with a bed, principally for the purpose of transporting material or cargo in connection with construction, agricultural, forestry, grounds maintenance, land and garden, materials handling, or similar activities);
  • All-purpose vehicles, (vehicles designed primarily for cross-country travel on land and water, or on multiple types of terrain, but excluding golf carts);
  • Compact tractors (garden tractors, small utility tractors, and riding mowers).

H.B. 364—Seed Labeling; Noxious Weeds. Sponsored by Representatives Dobos (R-Columbus), and Klopfenstein (R-Haviland), H.B. 364 had its first hearing in the House Agriculture Committee on February 6, 2024.  Specifically, the bill would allow the Ohio Prairie Association and other noncommercial entities sharing seeds to distribute milkweed seeds non-commercially to i members, with the intent of promoting habitats for pollinators like monarch butterflies.

The bill would legally define “non-commercial seed sharing” as the distribution or transfer of ownership of seeds with no compensation or remuneration. Also included in the definition are a list of situations that are not considered “non-commercial seed sharing,” including when:

  • The seeds are given as compensation of work or services rendered;
  • The seeds are collected outside of Ohio;
  • The seeds are patented, treated, or contain noxious weed species or invasive plants.

H.B. 364 also includes a definition of “seed library,” which it defines as a non-profit, governmental, or cooperative organization or association to which both of the following apply:

  • It is established for the purpose of facilitating the donation, exchange, preservation, and dissemination of seeds among the seed library’s members or the general public.
  • The use, exchange, transfer, or possession of seeds acquired by or from the non-profit governmental, or cooperative organization or association are obtained free of charge.

The bill would further exempt non-commercial seed sharers and seed libraries from labeling, advertising, handling, and sales restrictions under Ohio law.

To further the goal of promoting pollinators and habitats, H.B. 364 would make changes to the requirements for maintaining toll roads, railroads, or electric railways. Current law requires managers of such thoroughfares to destroy a number of noxious weeds along the roadway or in right of ways. The bill would no longer require the destruction of Russian thistle, Canadian thistle, common thistle, wild lettuce, wild mustard, wild parsnip, ragweed, milkweed, or ironweed. 

H.B. 447—Property Tax. Introduced on March 12, 2024 by Representative Loychik (R-Cortland), H.B. 447 was referred to the House Ways & Means Committee on April 2, 2024. The bill would modify and expand property tax homestead exemptions, gradually reduce school districts’ 20-mill floor for tax levies and modify the formula for determining farmland’s current agricultural use value (CAUV). The change to CAUV would involve the calculation of the overall capitalization rate for agricultural land.  Current law does not establish a minimum rate, but the bill would do so by stating that overall capitalization rate plus additur shall not be less than 10 percent.  Since a higher capitalization rate results in a lower CAUV value and because the current capitalization rate is around 8%, the change would likely lower CAUV values.

S.B. 156—Scenic Rivers. This bill, sponsored by Senators Reineke (R-Tiffin) and Hackett (R-London) passed the Ohio Senate on January 24, 2024, and was referred in the House to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee on February 6, 2024. The bill would transfer the Wild, Scenic, and Recreational Rivers Program from the Division of Parks and Watercraft to the Division of Natural Areas and Preserves (DNAP) in ODNR. The bill would narrow the scope DNAP’s authority to watercourses designated as wild, scenic, and recreational rivers. Currently, the law is written so that the regulatory agency has authority over areas. “Areas” encompass not just the water, but also the land surrounding rivers. On the other hand, “watercourses” are defined as “substantially natural channel[s] that [are] at least five miles in length with recognized banks and a bottom in which the flow or water occurs.” Thus, agency oversight would be diminished from the river and its surrounding area to just confines of the river itself.

The bill also clarifies that a watercourse designation does not affect private property rights adjacent to a designated river.

Finally, the bill would require DNAP to adopt rules for the use, visitation, and protection of scenic river lands and provide for the establishment of facilities and improvements that are necessary for their visitation, use, restoration, and protection, but do not impair their natural character.

S.B. 226—Agricultural Land. S.B. 226 was introduced by Senator Terry Johnson (R-McDermott) in late February and referred to the Veterans & Public Safety Committee on February 27, 2024. The bill would create the Ohio Property Protection Act, which would include protection of:

  • Agricultural land, defined as “land suitable for use in agriculture,” including the water on the land, airspace above the land, and natural products and products from the land;
  • Any land located within a twenty-five-mile radius of any installation under the jurisdiction of the United States Armed Forces;
  • Any land located within a twenty-five radius of a critical infrastructure facility.

To protect property in the above categories, the bill would make it illegal for the following people and entities to acquire or purchase such property:

  • Those persons and foreign adversaries listed on a registry compiled by the Ohio Secretary of State;
  • A government of a foreign adversary;
  • An individual who is a citizen of a foreign adversary;
  • A business that is headquartered in a foreign adversary;
  • A business that is directly or indirectly owned or controlled by one or more of the above persons and entities; and
  • An agent, fiduciary, or trustee of the above persons and entities.
Ohio capitol lit with red and green lights and a lampost wrapped in garland
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Thursday, December 21st, 2023

Written by Ellen Essman, J.D., OSU CFAES Government Relations

Just like there won’t be snow flurries on Christmas this year, there was not a flurry of activity at the Statehouse over the last few months. That being said, we will be carefully following several ag-related bills that progressed in committees but have not yet been passed by the full body, as the calendar turns to 2024. Here’s a summary of the bills we’re watching. 

H.B. 162—Agriculture Designations. H.B. 162 was introduced by Representatives Roy Klopfenstein (R-Haviland) and Darrell Kick (R-Loudonville) on May 5, 2023, and was passed by the House in October, and had its first hearing in the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on December 5. The bill would designate the following days and weeks to honor Ohio Agriculture:

  • March 21 of each year as “Agriculture day;”
  • The week beginning on the Saturday before the last Saturday of each February through the last Saturday in February as “FFA Week;”
  • October 12 of each year as “Farmer’s Day;” and
  • The week ending with the second Saturday of March as “4-H Week.”

H.B. 347—Farming Equipment Taxes. This bill was introduced by Representative Don Jones (R-Freeport) and referred to the House Ways and Means Committee in early December.  The bill would change the way farmers claim a tax exemption on certain purchases. 

Currently, when an Ohioan engaged in farming, agriculture, horticulture, or floriculture is buying a product for “agricultural use,” they must provide the seller with an exemption certificate. This certificate comes from the Ohio Department of Taxation and relieves the seller of the obligation to collect the sales tax on behalf of the state.  However, the Department of Taxation can later determine that the purchase does not qualify for exemption, and then the farmer would be expected to pay the tax. 

H.B. 347 would slightly alter this current way of doing things when it comes to the purchase of certain vehicles and trailers.  Under the bill, the purchaser could receive an agricultural use exemption for taxes on these vehicles if the purchaser shows the seller copies of the purchaser’s Schedule F—the federal income tax profit of loss from farming form—for three most recent preceding years. Alternatively, a farmer could obtain a certificate from the Department of Taxation verifying that they have filed a Schedule F for three years in lieu of providing the forms directly to the seller.  Notably, the bill states that “no other documentation or explanation shall be required by the vendor or the tax commissioner” to prove that the purchase qualifies for the agricultural use exemption.

The following vehicles and trailers would be included under the bill:

  • Trailers, excluding watercraft trailers;
  • Utility vehicles, (vehicles with a bed, principally for the purpose of transporting material or cargo in connection with construction, agricultural, forestry, grounds maintenance, land and garden, materials handling, or similar activities);
  • All-purpose vehicles, (vehicles designed primarily for cross-country travel on land and water, or on multiple types of terrain, but excluding golf carts);
  • Compact tractors (garden tractors, small utility tractors, and riding mowers).

H.B. 364—Agriculture (seed sharing). House Bill 364 was introduced in the House by representatives Dave Dobos (R-Columbus) and Roy Klopfenstein (R-Haviland) on December 14.  The bill would allow the Ohio Prairie Association to distribute milkweed seeds non-commercially to its members, with the intent of promoting habitats for pollinators like monarch butterflies.

The bill would legally define “non-commercial seed sharing” as the distribution or transfer of ownership of seeds with no compensation or remuneration.  Also included in the definition are a list of situations that are not considered “non-commercial seed sharing,” including when:

  • The seeds are given as compensation of work or services rendered;
  • The seeds are collected outside of Ohio;
  • The seeds are patented, treated, or contain noxious weed species or invasive plants.

H.B. 364 also includes a definition of “seed library,” which it defines as a non-profit, governmental, or cooperative organization or association to which both of the following apply:

  • It is established for the purpose of facilitating the donation, exchange, preservation, and dissemination of seeds among the seed library’s members or the general public.
  • The use, exchange, transfer, or possession of seeds acquired by or from the non-profit governmental, or cooperative organization or association are obtained free of charge.

The bill would further exempt non-commercial seed sharing for the purposes of pollinator conservation, creating and conserving native habitats, and operation of a seed library from labeling, advertising, handling, and sales restrictions under Ohio law.

To further the goal of promoting pollinators and habitats, H.B. 364 would make changes to the requirements for maintaining toll roads, railroads, or electric railways. Current law requires managers of such thoroughfares to destroy a number of noxious weeds along the roadway or in right of ways. The bill would no longer require the destruction of Russian thistle, Canadian thistle, common thistle, wild lettuce, wild mustard, wild parsnip, ragweed, milkweed, or ironweed. 

A chicken looking directly at the camera.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, May 26th, 2023

We’re back! We are excited to bring back our regular Ag Law Harvest posts, where we bring you interesting, timely, and important agricultural and environmental legal issues from across Ohio and the country. This month’s post provides you with a look into Ohio’s ongoing legal battle of some provisions in the recently enacted “Chicken Bill”, a brief dive into the U.S. Department of Labor’s new H-2A wage rules, a warning about conservation easement fraud, and an explanation of a court’s recent decision to release an insurance company from its duty to defend its insured in a lawsuit. 

Battle of “Chicken Bill.”
Ohio House Bill 507 (“HB 507”), sometimes referred to as “the Chicken Bill” went into effect last month and was widely known for reducing the number of poultry chicks that can be sold in lots (from six to three). However, HB 507 contained other non-poultry related provisions that have caused quite a stir. Environmental groups have sued the State, seeking a temporary restraining order, a preliminary and permanent injunction to prevent HB 507 from going into effect, and a declaratory judgement that HB 507 violates Ohio’s Constitution. Two provisions within HB 507 have specifically caught the attention of the Plaintiffs in this case: (1) a revision to Ohio Revised Code § 155.33 that requires state agencies to lease public lands for oil and gas development (the “Mandatory Leasing Provision”); and (2) a revision to Ohio Revised Code § 4928.01 that defines “green energy” to include energy generated by using natural gas, so long as the energy generated meets certain emissions and sustainability requirements (the “Green Energy Provision”). 

Plaintiffs argue that the Mandatory Leasing Provision will cause irreparable harm to their members’ “environmental, aesthetic, social, and recreational interests” in Ohio’s public lands. Additionally, Plaintiffs assert that the Mandatory Leasing Provision and Green Energy Provision violate Ohio’s Constitution by not following the “One-Subject Rule” and the “Three-Consideration Rule” both of which require transparency when creating and passing legislation in Ohio. The Franklin County Court of Common Pleas recently denied Plaintiffs’ request for a temporary restraining order, reasoning that no new leases would likely be granted until the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission adopts its rules (as required by Ohio law) and that there is “no likelihood of any immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage to the plaintiffs.” Since the hearing on Plaintiffs’ request for a temporary restraining order, the State of Ohio has filed its answer denying Plaintiffs’ claims and currently all parties are in the process of briefing the court on the merits of Plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction. 

New H-2A Wage Rules: Harvesting Prosperity or Sowing Seeds of Despair? 
On February 28, 2023, the U.S. Department of Labor (the “DOL”) published a final rule establishing a new methodology for determining hourly Adverse Effect Wage Rates (“AEWR”) for non-range farm occupations (i.e. all farm occupations other than herding and production of livestock on the range) for H-2A workers. The new methodology has been in effect since March 30th. Late last month Rep. Ralph Norman and the Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, introduced a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act, seeking to invalidate the DOL’s final rule. Similarly, the National Council of Agricultural Employers (“NCAE”) released a statement declaring that it has filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction against the DOL’s new methodology. 

Opponents of the new rule argue that the increased wages that farmers and ranchers will be required to pay will put family operations out of business. On the other hand, the DOL believes “this methodology strikes a reasonable balance between the [law’s] competing goals of providing employers with adequate supply of legal agricultural labor and protecting the wages and working conditions of workers in the United States similarly employed.” Producers can visit the DOL’s frequently asked questions publication to learn more about the new H-2A wage rule. As it stands, the new H-2A regulations remain in effect and producers should be taking all possible steps to follow the new rules. Make sure to speak with your attorney if you have any questions about compliance with H-2A regulations. 

Conservation Easement Fraud – Protecting Land or Preying on Profits? 
For a while now, conservation easements have been utilized by farmers and landowners to preserve their land while also obtaining a substantial tax benefit. But not all actors in the conservation easement sphere are good ones. Earlier this month, a land appraiser in North Carolina pled guilty to conspiring to defraud the United States as part of a syndicated conservation easement tax shelter scheme. According to a press release by the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”), Walter “Terry” Douglas Roberts II of Shelby, North Carolina conspired with others to defraud the United States by inflating the value of conservation easements which led to $1.3 billion in fraudulent tax deductions. Roberts is guilty of inflating the value at least 18 conservation easements by failing to follow normal appraisal methods, making false statements, and manipulating or relying on knowingly manipulated data to achieve a desired tax deduction amount. Roberts faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and could be forced to pay back a specified amount to the U.S. Government. 

Conservation easement fraud is not new, however. The Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) has been monitoring the abuse of the conservation easement tax deductions for some time. The IRS has included these fraudulent transactions on its annual “Dirty Dozen” list of tax avoidance scams. The IRS has seen taxpayers, often encouraged by promoters armed with questionable appraisals, take inappropriately large deductions for these types of easements. These promoters twist the law to develop abusive tax shelters that do nothing more than “game the tax system with grossly inflated tax deductions and generate high fees for promoters.” The IRS urges taxpayers to avoid becoming entangled by these dishonest promoters and that “[i]f something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.” If you have questions about the tax benefits of a conservation easement, make sure to speak with your attorney and/or tax professional.  

Alleged Intentional Acts Not Covered by Insurance. 
An animal feed manufacturer is in hot water, literally. A city in Mississippi has accused Gold Coast Commodities, Inc. (“Gold Coast”), an animal feed manufacturer, of intentionally dumping hot, greasy wastewater into the City’s sewer system. Prior to the City’s investigation into Gold Coast’s alleged toxic dumping, Gold Coast purchased a pollution liability insurance policy from Crum & Forster Specialty Insurance Company (“Crum & Forster”). After an investigation conducted by the City and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, the City filed a lawsuit against the feed manufacturer alleging that it intentionally dumped toxic waste into the City’s sewer system. Gold Coast then notified its insurance company of the potential claim. However, Crum & Forster denied coverage for Gold Coast’s alleged toxic dumping. According to the insurance policy, coverage exists for an “occurrence” defined as “an accident, including continuous or repeated exposure to substantially the same general harmful conditions.” Crum & Forster refused to provide a defense or coverage for Gold Coast in the City’s toxic dumping lawsuit because the City alleges multiple times that Gold Coast acted intentionally, and therefore, Gold Coast’s actions were not an accident and not covered by the policy. 

In response, Gold Coast filed a lawsuit against Crum & Forster asking a federal district court in Mississippi to declare that Crum & Forster is required to defend and provide coverage for Gold Coast under the terms of the insurance policy. On a motion to dismiss, the federal district court in Mississippi dismissed Gold Coast’s lawsuit against the insurance company. The district court reasoned that in the underlying toxic dumping lawsuit, the City is not alleging an accident, rather the City asserts that Gold Coast intentionally dumped the toxic waste. Thus, Crum & Forster is not obligated to provide a defense or coverage for Gold Coast, under the terms of the policy. Gold Coast appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (which has jurisdiction over federal cases arising in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi). 

The Fifth Circuit affirmed the decision of the federal district court, rejecting Gold Coast’s claim that Crum & Forster is obligated to provide a defense and coverage for Gold Coast in the City’s toxic dumping lawsuit. Gold Coast argued that the City seeks to recover under the legal theory of negligence in the toxic dumping case, therefore Gold Coast’s actions are accidental in nature. The Fifth Circuit was unconvinced. The Fifth Circuit explained that when reading a complaint, the court must look at the factual allegations, not the legal conclusions. The Fifth Circuit found that the factual allegations in the City’s lawsuit all referred to Gold Coast’s intentional or knowing misconduct and any recovery sought under the theory of negligence is not a factual allegation, instead it is a legal conclusion. The Fifth Circuit concluded that using terms like “negligence” do not “transform the character of the factual allegations of intentional conduct against [Gold Coast] into allegations of accidental conduct constituting an ‘occurrence.’” Thus, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the federal district court’s decision to dismiss Gold Coast’s lawsuit against its insurer. Unless the Supreme Court of the United States decides to take up the case, it looks like Gold Coast is all on its own in its fight against the City. The lesson here is that although insurance is important to have, its equally as important to speak with your insurance agent to understand what types of incidents are covered under your insurance policy. 

Picutre of Ohio Statehouse building against a blue sky in Columbus, Ohio
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022

February is bringing renewed activity down at Ohio’s Statehouse as both the House and Senate return to their regular committee schedules.  The General Assembly began tending to several pieces of agricultural and resource legislation.  Here’s the latest summary of our state’s legislative developments.

Newly introduced Ohio legislation

H.C.R. 41 – Repeal individual income tax.  Rep. Tom Brinkman (R-Mt. Lookout) introduced a resolution on January 25, 2022 expressing an intent for the General Assembly to repeal the state personal income tax within ten years.  The resolution matches S.C.R. 13, introduced in the Senate last December, and both resolutions cite negative impacts on Ohio’s business climate as justification for the repeal.  The House Ways and Means Committee already held a first hearing on the resolution on February 15, 2022.

Legislation on the move

H.B. 30 –  Slow-moving vehicles.  One of the slowest moving bills on the move, a proposal to increase visibility of animal-drawn vehicles by changing marking and lighting requirements finally received a third hearing before the Senate Transportation Committee on February 16, 2022.  No opponents testified against the bill.  Readers may recall that the proposal passed the House on June 23, 2021.

H.B. 321– Auctioneers.  The bill that passed the House on December 9, 2021 had its second hearing before the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on February 15, 2022, with the Ohio Auctioneers Association testifying in support of the bill. It replaces the auctioneer apprenticeship requirement and replaces it with a course of study in auctioneering at an approved institution.  The bill also eliminates the special auctioneer license, changes the auction firm license, removes the oral exam requirement, increases the number of written exams offered, allows auction firms to provide online or live auction services, and gives ODA authority over internet auctions. 

H.B. 365 – Safe Drinking Water Act.  Although introduced back in July, H.B. 365 just received its first hearing before House Agriculture & Conservation Committee House on February 15, 2022.  The proposal requires Ohio EPA to adopt rules to establish water quality standards and maximum allowable contaminant levels in drinking water for PFAS (the “forever chemicals”), chromium-6, and 1-4 dioxane, and to annually review the standards.  Sponsors Rep. Mary Lightbody and Rep. Allison Russo provided testimony at the hearing.  The many questions and concerns about costs and impacts of setting standards for the chemicals raise doubts about whether it will receive another hearing.

H.B. 397 – Agricultural leases.  The second hearing for H.B. 397 before the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee took place on February 15, 2022.  The proposal passed the House on December 8, 2021, and would require a landlord who wants to terminate a crop lease that doesn’t address termination to provide a written notice of termination by September 1.  The Ohio State Bar Association Agricultural Law Committee and Ohio Farm Bureau Federation testified in support of the bill.

H.B. 484 – Fish designation.  Readers who like walleye will be happy to hear that H.B. 484’s proposal to name the Lake Erie Walleye as the state fish received its first hearing before the House Agriculture and Conservation Committee House on February 15, 2022.  Sponsors Rep. Michael Sheehy and Rep. Lisa Sobecki testified that Ohio is one of only three states without a designated state fish despite sport fishing’s annual $1 billion economy, and that the walleye beat out yellow perch and smallmouth bass for the nomination in an online poll on NBC4 news.

H.B. 507 – Poultry chicks.  This bill to reduce the minimum number for poultry chicks sold in lots from six to three received a first hearing before the House Agriculture and Conservation Committee on February 15.  Committee chair and bill sponsor Rep. Kyle Koehler testified that the bill would reduce costs and challenges for 4-H members who must buy six turkey chicks to show one turkey and later struggle to find processors for the birds.

H.B. 515 – Income tax.  Reps. James Hoops (R-Napoleon) and Craig Riedel (R-Defiance) are sponsors of this companion to S.B. 247, which appears stalled before the Senate Ways and Means Committee.  Both proposals would allow a sale of an ownership interest in a business to be considered business income for Ohio income tax purposes if federal income tax law treats the sale as a sale of assets or the seller materially participates in the business activities during the taxable year in which interest was sold or any of preceding five taxable years.  If passed, the legislation would apply to any audits, refund applications, petition for reassessments, and appeals pending on or after the bill’s 90-day effective date.  H.B. 515 received a second hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee on February 15, 2022.

S.B. 210 – Postnuptial agreements.  The proposal to allows spouses to modify pre-nuptial agreements and separation agreements had its first hearing before the House Civil Justice Committee on February 8, 2022.  Sponsor Sen. Theresa Gavarone testified that the bill would bring Ohio into line with other states by allowing married couples to address life changes with options other than divorce or separation.  The bill passed the Senate back in November of 2021.

S.B. 241 – Agricultural Linked Deposit Program.  The Senate version of revisions to Ohio’s Agricultural Linked Deposit Program passed the Senate on January 26, 2022 with emergency provisions that would make the bill effective immediately.  The proposal was referred to the House Financial Institutions Committee on February 15.  Meanwhile, it’s counterpart in the House, H.B. 440, which passed the House on December 9, 2021, awaits a hearing before the Senate Financial Institutions & Technology Committee. The proposals expand the availability of Agricultural Linked Deposit Program loans to agricultural cooperatives and replaces the current $150,000 loan limit to amounts as determined by the Treasurer.

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Ohio Statehouse Christmas ornament
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Monday, December 20th, 2021

The weeks since Thanksgiving have been busy ones at Ohio's Statehouse, but not a creature is stirring now as the legislature enjoys its Christmas recess.  While agriculture didn’t receive any final Christmas gifts from the General Assembly, a few bills advanced and may pass early next year.  Here’s a rundown of agricultural legislation in Ohio.

Newly introduced Ohio legislation

S.C.R. 13 – Repeal Individual Income Tax.  Sen. George Lang (R-West Chester) introduced a concurrent resolution on December 9, 2021 expressing an intention for the legislature to repeal the state personal income tax within ten years. The resolution cites disincentives to reside in Ohio, repeals by other states, and business climate impacts as justification for the intent to repeal the income tax.  The Senate referred the measure to its Ways and Means Committee on December 15.

H.B. 484 -- Walleye as Official State Fish.  Representatives Michael Sheehy (D-Oregon)  and Lisa Sobecki (D-Toledo) introduced a bill that would designate the walleye as Ohio’s official state fish.  The bill was referred to the House Agricultural & Conservation Committee on November 16, 2021.

H.B. 507 -- Poultry Chicks.  This bill to reduce the minimum number for poultry chicks sold in lots from six to three was introduced by Rep. Koehler (R-Springfield) on December 8, 2021.

Ohio legislation on the move

H.B. 440/S.B. 241– Agricultural Linked Deposit Program.  Part of the “Ohio Gains Initiative,” these companion bills would make revisions to Ohio’s Agricultural Linked Deposit Program, which provides interest rate reductions of up to 3% on operating loans and lines of credit for farm operators and agribusinesses.  The legislation would extend the program to agricultural cooperatives and replace the $150,000 loan maximum to amounts as determined by the State Treasurer.  The House passed the bill on December 9, 2021. The Senate Financial Institutions and Technology Committee reported out its bill on December 15, 2021, so the bill should head to the Senate floor soon.

H.B. 397– Agricultural Leases.  For agricultural crop leases that don’t address how and when to terminate the lease,  H.B. 397 would require a landlord who wants to terminate the lease to provide a written notice of termination to the tenant by September 1.  The termination would be effective December 31 of the year notice is provided or on the date harvest is complete, whichever comes first. The House passed the bill on December 8, 2021 and the Senate referred it to the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee on December 15, 2021.

H.B. 321– Auctioneers.  The proposal makes several revisions to auctioneers licensing, including  eliminating the apprentice requirement and replacing it with a course of study in auctioneering at an approved institution; removing the oral exam requirement ; increasing the number of written exams offered; removing the special auctioneer license; allowing auction firms to provide online or live auction services; and granting the Ohio Department of Agriculture authority over internet auctions, which are currently exempt from ODA oversight. The bill passed the House on December 9, 2021 and was referred to the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee December 15, 2021.

H.B. 95 -- Beginning Farmers.  This legislation passed the House back on June 28, 2021 and finally received its second hearing before the Senate Ways and Means Committee on December 7, 2021.  It proposes to allow individuals to be certified as beginning farmers and would establish income tax credits for certified beginning farmers who attend approved financial management programs and for owners who sell land and agricultural assets to certified beginning farmers.

S.B. 210 – Postnuptial Agreements.  Spouses could agree to terminate or modify pre-nuptial agreements after marriage under this proposal, which would bring Ohio in line with many other states.  The bill passed the Senate on  November 16, 2021 and was assigned to the House Civil Justice Committee on December 7, 2021. 

S.B. 246 – Income Tax.  The goal of this bill is to avoid the federal State and Local Tax (SALT ) $10,000 deduction cap for federal income tax by allowing an electable individual income tax on a pass-through entity’s income apportioned to Ohio and a refundable income tax credit for tax paid.  It received its third hearing with the Senate Ways and Means Committee on December 14, 2021.

S.B. 247 – Income Tax.  The sale of an ownership interest in a business would be considered business income for Ohio income tax purposes if federal income tax law treats the sale as a sale of assets or the seller materially participates in the business activities during the taxable year in which interest was sold or any of preceding five taxable years.  If passed, the legislation would apply to any audits, refund applications, petition for reassessments, and appeals pending on or after the bill’s 90-day effective date. The proposal had a third hearing with the Senate Ways and Means Committee on December 14, 2021.

Ohio legislation at a standstill

H.B. 175 – Water Pollution.  This controversial legislation would exclude “ephemeral features”—those that result from surface water flowing or pooling in direct response to precipitation--from water pollution control programs.  The bill passed the House in late September and received a second hearing in the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee on November 30 but has not received attention since that date.

S.B. 47– Overtime Pay.  The proposal would exempt an employer from paying overtime for employer travel to and from a worksite, preliminary and postliminary activities, and minor tasks performed beyond scheduled work hours without authorization, such as checking email or phone messages.  It passed the Senate in September and received a first hearing before the House Commerce and Labor Committee but no further action has occurred since October 26, 2021.

S.B. 257– Income Tax Credit for Donations to Townships.  Qualifying donations of cash, property or services accepted by a township would receive a refundable state income tax credit of up to $5,000 under this proposal.  The bill has not received a hearing since its referral to the Senate Ways and Means Committee on November 10, 2021.

S.J.R. 3 – Constitutional right to hunt and fish.  If passed, the joint resolution would place a constitutional amendment before Ohio voters that would guarantee the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife, subject only to laws and rules that promote wildlife conservation and management or preserve the future of hunting and fishing.  No action has been taken on the resolution since it received a second hearing before the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on November 16, 2021.

 

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Ohio Statehouse Veteran's Day Parade 2021
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Thursday, November 18th, 2021

Cannons were firing down at the Statehouse recently in honor of Veteran’s Day and so were a few pieces of legislation.   It’s time to check in with the Ohio legislature for a look at proposals that impact agriculture.  Here’s our summary.

New proposals

S.B. 257– Income tax credit.  Sen. Frank Hoagland (R-Adena) introduced this bill on October 27, 2021.   It proposes a refundable income tax credit of up to $5,000 for qualifying donations of cash, services, real property, and personal property to a township, which must approve the donation.   The bill was referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee on November 10.

SJR 3 – Constitutional right to hunt and fishSenator Sandra O-Brien (R-Ashtabula) is the primary sponsor of this proposal to amend Ohio’s Constitution introduced in late September.  It proposes a constitutional right for the people of Ohio to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife and to do so using traditional methods, subject only to laws that promote wildlife conservation and management and preserve the future of hunting and fishing.  The proposal also states that hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife n Ohio and that the amendment would not limit trespass or property rights laws.  SJR 3 received its second hearing before the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on November 16, 2021.  If it passes both the Senate and House, the measure would be placed on the general ballot in November 2022 for a vote by Ohio residents as is the required process for amending the Constitution.

Bills on the move

H.B. 440/S.B. 241– Agricultural Linked Deposit Program.  Part of Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague’s “Ohio Gains Initiative” is to make revisions to the Agricultural Linked Deposit Program (Ag-LINK) that provides loans to farm operators and agribusinesses at reduced interest rates.  The bills would allow agricultural cooperatives to apply for the loans and would remove the $150,000 loan cap and allow the Treasurer to determine loan limits according to current conditions.  The companion bills received a second hearing in the Senate Financial Institutions and Technology Committee on November 16 and in the House Financial Institutions Committee on November 17.

H.B. 397– Agricultural lease law.  We expected this bill to be reported out of the House Agriculture and Conservation Committee in its fourth hearing on November 17, 2021, but the committee held off on a vote.  The bill would establish a statutory notice of termination date for verbal and written crop leases that don’t address termination.  It would require a landlord who wants to terminate the lease to provide written notice of termination of the next lease period by September 1 of the current lease period.

H.B. 321– Revisions to auction law.  The Ohio Auctioneers Association and Ohio Department of Agriculture collaborated on this bill, which updates Ohio’s laws regarding auctioneer licensing and auction regulation.  The bill removes barriers to entry for new auctioneers by eliminating the apprenticeship requirement replacing it education at approved institution prior to sitting for the auction exam.  It also allows the Ohio Department of Agriculture to have regulatory authority over internet auctions, currently exempt from regulatory oversight and makes changes to auctioneer licensing, testing, and continuing education requirements.  The House Agriculture and Conservation Committee approved the bill on November 17.

H.B. 175 – Deregulate certain ephemeral water featuresThis highly controversial bill that passed the House largely along party lines on September 29, 2021, received its first hearing before the  Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on October 26, 2021.  The proposal would exclude “ephemeral features” from water pollution control programs and define an “ephemeral feature” as a surface water flowing or pooling only in direct response to precipitation, not including wetlands.  Environmental interests are urging the Senate to drop the bill.

H.B. 95:  Income tax credits for beginning farmers.  In the “bill I’ve reported on the most this year” category, HB 95 is inching steadily forward.  It would allow individuals to be certified as beginning farmers and create two income tax credits, one for owners who sell land and agricultural assets to certified beginning farmers and one for beginning farmers who attend approved financial management programs.  The bill passed the House back in June,  and finally received its first hearing before the Senate Ways and Means Committee on October 26, 2021.

S.B. 47– Overtime pay exceptions.  This proposal passed the Senate September 22, 2021 and had its first hearing before the House Commerce and Labor Committee on October 26, 2021.  It proposes two exceptions from employer overtime pay requirements:  traveling to and from a worksite and preliminary and postliminary tasks performed outside of work hours that are not at the direction of the employer.

S.B. 210– Postnuptial Agreements.  This proposal to allow spouses to voluntarily enter into a “postnuptial” agreement and to amend or terminate a prenuptial agreement passed the Senate on November 16, 2021.  Ohio is one of only four states that does not recognize postnuptial agreements that change a couple’s legal relations, such as inheritance rights, property division, and spousal support.   This bill would change that, and would also allow spouses to voluntarily agree to modify a prenuptial agreement.

Passed legislation

H.B. 215– Business Fairness Act.  A response to COVID-19 closures, the Business Fairness Act would allow a business subject to Department of Health orders to limit or cease operations during a pandemic, epidemic, or bioterrorism event to remain open.  To do so, the business must comply with all safety precautions required for “essential” businesses that are not ordered to close and must not be under an order to limit or cease operations that are based upon circumstances uniquely present at that business.   The measure passed the House on May 6 by a wide margin and passed Senate on November 16, 2021 with a unanimous vote.  It now goes on to Governor DeWine.

 

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Farm Office team of David Marrison, Dianne Shoemaker, Peggy Kirk Hall and Barry Ward at OSU's Farm Science Review 2021.
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Friday, September 24th, 2021

As it often goes with farming, the weather interfered a bit with Farm Science Review this year.  We missed seeing farmers and students from across the state gather for the show on Wednesday.  But even wind and rain didn’t stop our Farm Office team, above, from presenting Farm Office Live from the Review on Thursday.   I gave an update on Ohio legislation, as Ohio’s legislature is back from its summer break.   Here’s a summary of the legislation I discussed at our Farm Science Review program.

Bills passed and soon effective

S.B. 52 – Solar and wind facilities.  S.B. 52 passed several months ago and will be effective on October 11, 2021.  The new law will allow counties to designate “restricted areas” in a county where wind and solar projects may not locate and creates a county referendum process for a public vote on restricted area designation.  The law will also require developers to hold a public meeting in the county where a facility is proposed at least 90 days before applying for project approval with the Ohio Power Siting Board.  After the meeting, the county commissioner may choose to prohibit or limit the proposed project.  Another provision of the new law appoints 2 local officials from the proposed location to serve on the OPSB board that reviews a project.  And importantly for landowners, the new law requires a developer to submit a decommissioning plan to OPSB for approval with the application and to post and regularly update a performance bond for the amount of decommissioning costs.  Watch for our new law bulletins on S.B. 52, which we’ll publish soon.

Bills on the move

H.B. 30 – Slow-moving vehicles.  The bill passed the House on June 23, 2021, and just received its second hearing before the Senate Transportation on September 22, 2021.  It proposes revisions to marking and lighting requirements for animal-drawn vehicles to make the vehicles more visible and reduce roadway accidents.

H.B. 95 – Beginning farmers.   We’ve been hoping this bill aiding beginning farmers would continue to receive attention.  It would allow individuals to be certified as beginning farmers and create income tax credits for owners who sell land and agricultural assets to certified beginning farmers and for beginning farmers who attend approved financial management programs.  The bill passed the House on June 28, 2021 and was referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee on September 8, 2021.

S.B. 47 – Overtime payThe Senate passed S.B. 47 on September 22, soon after returning from break.  It would exempt an employer from paying overtime wages for certain activities, including traveling to the workplace, actions before or after beginning principal work activities, or “de minimus” acts requiring insignificant time.  The bill sponsors state that it will bring necessary clarity to overtime pay in the era of more employees working unsupervised from home.

Bills newly introduced

H.B. 397 – Termination of Agricultural LeaseA bill that aims to bring certainty to farmland leases was introduced in the House on August 24, 2021 and referred to the Agriculture and Conservation Committee.  The proposal states that where a farm lease agreement does not provide for a termination date or a method for giving notice of termination, a landlord who wants to terminate that agreement must do so in writing by September 1.   Unless otherwise agreed in writing, the termination date would be either the date harvest or removal of the crops is complete or December 31, whichever is earlier.

H.B. 385 – Municipal waste discharges to Lake Erie western basin  Municipalities would be prohibited from discharging waste from treatment plants into Lake Erie under a new bill proposed by Rep. Jon Cross (R-Kenton).  The bill would require the Ohio EPA to revoke all existing NPDES permits for municipal treatment works or sewerage systems to in the western basin and prohibit any additional permits for that purpose.  It would also fine municipalities up to $250,000 per day for knowingly discharging waste into Lake Erie on the first offense and $1,000 per day for subsequent offenses, or to fine $100 million if the discharge amount exceeds 100 million gallons in a 12-month period. Introduced on August 6, 2021, the bill has been referred to the House Agriculture and Conservation Committee.

Catch a replay Farm Office Live from Farm Science Review at https://farmoffice.osu.edu/farmofficelive.  Register at that site to join us for the next Farm Office Live on October 13 at 7 p.m. or a repeat on October 15 at 10 a.m., whern the Farm Office team will digest the latest news and information on agricultural law and farm management issues that affect Ohio’s farm offices.

Ohio capitol building
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Wednesday, July 14th, 2021

Following a flurry of activity before its break, the Ohio General Assembly can now enjoy a few lazy days of summer.  While the legislature spent much of its energy passing the state budget, it also moved several bills affecting agriculture.  Here’s the latest update on legislation that's moving down at the capitol.

Enacted bills

Solar and wind facilities.  We wrote earlier about S.B. 52, the wind and solar facility siting bill the legislature passed in late June.  Despite pressure to veto the bill, Governor DeWine signed the legislation on July 12; its effective date is October 9, 2021.  The new law requires developers to hold a public meeting in a community at least 90 days prior to applying for project approval, allows counties to designate restricted areas where wind and solar projects may not locate, sets up a referendum process for county residents to have a voice in restricted area designations, adds two community officials to the project review process at the Power Siting Board, and establishes rules for decommissioning of projects, including performance bonds.

Natural gas services.  While communities will have a say in siting wind and solar facilities after S.B. 52’s passage, the opposite will be true for natural gas services.  H.B. 201 guarantees that persons have a right to obtain natural gas and propane services, subject to municipal home rule authority and regulatory oversight.  The bill prohibits political subdivisions from limiting or preventing gas and propane services within its boundaries.  Governor DeWine signed the bill on July 1 and it becomes effective on September 28, 2021.

State budget.  It took a good while, but the governor signed the state budget bill, H.B. 110, on June 30 and it took effect on July 1.  Highlights of agricultural provisions in the bill include:

  • H2Ohio.  Requires state agencies that prepare the already mandated annual report on the H2Ohio fund to present the report to the Senate and House finance committees each year.  ORC 126.60(D).
  • Ohio Proud.  Allows the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) to sell merchandise that promotes the Ohio Proud program, and to use proceeds for the Ohio proud, international, and domestic market development fund.  ORC 901.171(B) and (C).
  • Liming inspections.  Allows the ODA director to enter into agreements with private parties for the inspection, sampling, and analysis of liming material and allows those parties to enter onto private and public land for inspections.  ORC 905.59.
  • OSU Extension.  Establishes a farm production, policy, and financial management institute in OSU Extension to address the integration of farm production practices, agricultural marketing, farm policy, and financial management challenges for farm owners and managers, lending agencies, ag teachers, and OSU professionals and provides the institute $250,000 each year for two years. ORC 3335.38.
  • Farmers market inspections.  Removes the option for a farmers market to register and be inspected as a farm market with ODA.  ORC 3717.221(A) and (B).
  • Wine taxes.  Makes the 2 cents per gallon wine tax revenue credited to the Ohio Grape Industries Fund permanent.  R.C. 4301.43.
  • Southern Ohio Agricultural and Community Development Foundation.  At the end of 2021, abolishes the foundation and its board, which was established in 1998 through the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement with tobacco manufacturers.  Any remaining funds will transfer to the Ohio Proud Marketing Fund. 
  • H2Ohio.  Appropriates $49.3 million each year to the H2Ohio program for 2022 and 2023.
  • Farmland preservation.  Allocates $500,000 for the purchase of agricultural easements in 2022 and 2023.
  • Soil and water phosphorus program.  Allocates $10.7 million in 2022 and 2023 for programs to assist in reducing phosphorus in the Western Lake Erie Basin.
  • SWCDs in Western Lake Erie Basin.  Allocates $3.85 million to support Soil and Water Districts in the Western Lake Erie Basin in complying with former S.B. 1 and assisting with soil testing, nutrient management plan development, manure management technologies, filter strips and water management.

Bills on the move

Beginning farmers.  H.B. 95 finally passed the House on June 28, 2021—it was introduced in February and lagged in the last legislative session.  The proposal allows individuals to be certified as beginning farmers either through USDA or a certification program by ODA, Ohio State or Central State.  Certification criteria includes: farming in Ohio less than 10 years, having a net worth of less than $800,000, providing a majority of labor and management for the farm, demonstrating adequate knowledge of farming, submitting projected earning and profits, demonstrating that farming will be a significant source of income, and participation in an approved financial management program.  The bill would establish two income tax credits, one for owners who sell land and agricultural assets to certified beginning farmers and another for beginning farmers that attend a financial management program.  The bill now requires Senate approval.

Slow-moving vehiclesH.B. 30 had its first hearing before the Senate Transportation committee on June 23.  The proposal passed the House in April.  The bill aims to increase visibility of animal-drawn vehicles by changing marking and lighting requirements.  The vehicles would have to display either an SMV emblem or reflective micro prism tape rather than reflective tape on the rear, a flashing yellow lamp at the top and rear, in addition to current lighting requirements.

Earning statements.  A bill passed by the House on June 16 has been referred to the Senate Small Business and Economic Opportunity Committee.  H.B. 187 would require all employers to provide employee with a written or electronic statement of the employee’s earnings and deductions for each pay period, to include total hours worked and hourly rate, total gross wages, amounts and purposes of addition or deductions from wages, and total net wages.  The bill also establishes a request and violation reporting system for employers who fail to provide the statements. 

New bills

Moratorium on animal feeding facilities.  A bill introduced by two representatives from northwestern Ohio would affect new and expanding animal feeding facilities in the Maumee watershed.  H.B. 349 would not allow the Ohio Department of Agriculture to approve a permit for a new construction or expansion of a “regulated animal feeding facility” if it is in the Maumee watershed and the director of ODA has determined that the spring load of total phosphorus for the Maumee River exceeded 860 metric tons and total dissolved reactive phosphorus exceeded 186 metric tons in the preceding calendar year. Regulated animal feeding facilities are those housing over 250 dairy cattle; 300 beef cattle; 3,000 piglets; 750 hogs; 25,000 egg layers; 37,500 meat chickens; 9,000 egg layers and meat chickens if on liquid manure handling system; 16,500 turkeys; 3,000 sheep and 150 horses.  H.B. 349 was referred to the House Agriculture and Conservation committee on June 16, 2021.

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Friday, April 16th, 2021

Ohio’s planting season will hopefully soon be as busy as its legislative season.  There’s a lot of activity down at the capitol these days and many legislative proposals are on the move.  Here’s a summary of bills that could impact agriculture and rural communities.  Note that the summary doesn't include the budget bill, which we'll address in a separate article.

Water quality bonds.  A joint resolution recently offered in the Senate supports amending Ohio’s Constitution to create permanent funds for clean water improvements.  S.J.R. 2, a bipartisan proposal from Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green) and Kenny Yuko (D-Richmond Hts.) would place a ballot issue before voters in November.  The issue proposes amending the Constitution to allow for the issuance of general obligation bonds to fund clean water improvements.  Up to $1 billion over 10 years would be permissible, with no more than $100 million allocated in any fiscal year.  Bond funds would create a permanent source of funding for the H2Ohio program, which is now dependent upon the state budget process.

Animal-drawn vehicles.  A bill to increase the visibility of animal-drawn vehicles has passed the House this session after failing to make it through the legislature in the last session.  H.B. 30, sponsored by Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster) and Darrell Kick (R-Loudonville), would require animal-drawn vehicles at all times to display a flashing yellow light on top that is visible from all sides of the vehicle, along with an SMV emblem and/or reflective micro-prism tape on the rear of the vehicle.  The bill now awaits introduction in the Senate.

Regulations.  Senate Republicans reintroduced a proposal from last session to reduce administrative regulations and the Senate has already passed the measure.   S.B. 9, sponsored by Kristina Roegner (R-Hudson) and R. McColley (R-Napoleon), mandates that each state agency must reduce its regulatory restrictions 10% by 2023, 20% by 2024 and 30% by June of 2025.  The bill establishes criteria for reviewing rules and restrictions for elimination and would place a statewide cap on regulatory restrictions in 2024, to be determined by the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review.   Each agency must also prepare an inventory and annual reports of its progress.  The bill has not been introduced in the House.

Fair funds.  A bill directing $300 million to help businesses recover from COVID-19 includes funds for Ohio’s fairs.  S.B. 109, sponsored by Nathan Manning (R-N. Ridgeville) and Michael Rulli (R-Salem) includes an allocation of $4.7 million from the General Revenue Fund to the Ohio Department of Agriculture to provide financial support to county and independent fairs.  The funds would be in addition to the $50,000 allocated per junior fair for the 2020 fair season from the federal CARES Act.  The bill has passed the Senate and been introduced in the House, where it has received a hearing before the Economic and Workforce Development committee.

Broadband services.  There is definite interest in expanding broadband access in Ohio, but the House and Senate have different proposals for doing so.  Two different bills would create a grant program in the Development Services Agency to fund eligible broadband expansion projects and enable access to electric cooperative poles for distribution purposes.  S.B. 8, proposed by Rob McColley (R-Napoleon), allocates $20 million for the program in 2022, while H.B. 2, sponsored by Rick Carfagna (R-Genoa Twp.) and Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) proposes $170 million of funding for fiscal years 2021 to 2023.  Both bills have passed their respective chambers and are under consideration in the Senate Financial Institutions and Technology committee and the House Finance committee.  Amendments under consideration in those committees include expanding the grant program to government providers and electric distribution utilities and further defining adequate broadband speeds.

Eminent domain.  A House bill proposed by Al Cutrona (R-Canfield) and Reggie Stoltzfus (R-Paris Township) would amend Ohio’s eminent domain law in relation to recreational trails.  H.B. 63 would allow a municipality or township to veto the use of eminent domain for a recreational trail in its jurisdiction upon request by a property owner subjected to the eminent domain action.  In two hearings before the Civil Justice committee, over a dozen landowners affected by a bike path in Mahoning County testified in support of the bill.  The bill has stalled however, with no further hearings on the proposal currently scheduled.

Beginner farmer credits.  A bipartisan bill to help beginning farmers has passed out of committee and awaits a vote in the House.  H.B. 95, sponsored by Susan Manchester (R-Waynesfield) and Mary Lightbody (D-Plain Township) establishes a tax credit for businesses that sell or rent land, animals, facilities, or equipment to a beginning farmer.  Individuals with a net worth of less than $800K who are seeking entry into farming or have been farming less than ten years, will provide daily labor and rely upon farming income, demonstrate profit potential, and have sufficient knowledge and financial training can be certified by the Ohio Department of Agriculture as a beginning farmer.  Income tax credits for businesses that sell or rent assets to beginning farmers would be 5% of the sale price of an agricultural asset, 10% of the annual gross rental income on a cash lease, or 15% of  the gross rental income on a share lease.  Additionally, beginning farmers who attend an approved financial management program can receive a tax credit for the cost of the program. 

Wind farms and solar facilities.  Sponsors are reconsidering controversial twin proposals that would allow citizens to use the referendum process to reject proposed wind and solar energy developments in their communities.  Senators Bill Reineke (R-Tiffin) and Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) and Representatives Craig Reidel (R-Defiance) and Dick Stein (R-Norwalk) announced they will redraft their proposal after completing three hearings a piece on S.B. 52 and H.B. 118.  In the hearings, opponents argued the bill would dampen the growing renewable energy industry in Ohio, be costly to project developers, and cost jobs.  Supporters claimed the bill protects property rights and gives property owners and local communities a necessary voice in the siting of large-scale wind and solar developments.  An alternative proposal under consideration by the sponsors would create a process for communities that want wind and solar developments to signal their interest early while still allowing those that don’t want the development to use a referendum process.  A substitute bill is expected soon.

OSU Farm Financial Management Institute. Companion bills S.B. 128 sponsored by Bob Peterson (R-Washington Court House) and H.B. 239 sponsored by Rodney Creech (R-West Alexandria) would revise an existing law that establishes a Farm Financial Management Institute at OSU.  The Institute purpose would be to “train interested and qualified persons to assist farmers in addressing integration of farm production practices, agricultural marketing, farm policy, and financial management challenges.” The bill proposes funding of $250K per year for fiscal years 2022 and 2023, renaming the Institute to the “OSU Farm Production, Policy, and Financial Management Institute,” and adding farm owners and managers as priority participants.   The Senate bill is up for a possible vote by the Workforce and Higher Education Committee on April 21 and H.B. 239 will receive its first hearing with the Agriculture and Conservation Committee on April 20.

Two bills that have already passed this session include:

State and federal tax conformityS.B. 18 conforms the state tax code with recent changes to the Internal Revenue Code made in the federal Consolidated Appropriations Act.  It also exempts forgiven Paycheck Protection Program second draw loan proceeds and Bureau of Workers Compensation dividend rebates from the Commercial Activity Tax.  The bill was effective upon passage so that its provisions would apply to the 2020 tax season.

Contract limitations.  S.B. 13 will become effective June 16, 2021.  After that date, the period of time for filing a legal action on a written contract will reduce from 8 to 6 years and the verbal contract limitations period will also reduce by two years, from 6 to 4 years. 

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By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Monday, February 15th, 2021

The Ohio General Assembly is off and running in its new session.  Many bills that affect agriculture in Ohio are already on the move.   Here’s a summary of those that are gaining the most momentum or attention.

Tax Conformity Bill S.B. 18 and H.B. 48.  The Senate has already passed its version of this bill, which conforms our state tax code with recent changes to the Internal Revenue Code made in the latest COVID-19 stimulus provisions of the Consolidated Appropriations Act.  Both the Senate and the House will also exempt forgiven Paycheck Protection Program second-draw loan proceeds from the Commercial Activity Tax.  The Senate version additionally exempts Bureau of Workers Compensation dividend rebates from the Commercial Activity Tax beginning in 2020, but the House bill does not.  Both bills include “emergency” language that would make the provisions effective in time for 2020 tax returns.

Beginning farmers tax credits H.B. 95.  A slightly different version of this bill is returning after not passing in the last legislative session.  The bi-partisan bill aims to assist beginning farmers through several temporary income tax credits:

  • Businesses that sell or rent agricultural assets such as land, animals, facilities or equipment to certified beginning farmers can receive a 5% income tax credit for sales, a 10% of gross rental income credit for cash rents, and 15% of gross rental income for share rents.
  • Certified beginning farmers can receive an income tax credit equal to the cost of participating in a certified financial management program.

Beginning farmers, among other requirements, are those in or seeking entry into farming in Ohio within the last ten years who are not a partner, member or shareholder with the owner of the agricultural assets and who have a net worth of less than $800,000 in 2021, which adjusts for inflation in subsequent years.  Beginning farmers must be certified by the Ohio Department of Agriculture or a land grant institution.  The House Agriculture and Conservation Committee will discuss the bill at its meeting on February 16.

Wind and solar facilities S.B. 52.  In addition to revising setback and safety specifications for wind turbines, this proposal would amend Ohio township zoning law to establish a referendum process for large wind and solar facility certificates.  The bill would require a person applying for a certificate for a large wind or solar facility to notify the township trustees and share details of the proposed facility.  That notification sets up opportunities for the township trustees or residents of the township to object to the application and submit the proposed application to a vote of township residents.  A certificate would not take effect unless approved by a majority of the voters.  A first hearing on S.B. 52 will be held on Tuesday, February 16 before the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee.

Grants for broadband services H.B. 2 and S.B. 8.  The Senate passed its version of this bill last week, which sets up a $20 million competitive grant program for broadband providers to extend broadband services throughout the state.  The proposal would also allow broadband providers to use electric cooperative easements and poles, subject to procedures and restrictions.  The bill had its second hearing before the House Finance Committee last week.

Eminent domain – H.B. 63.   Based on a similar bill that didn’t pass last session, this bill changes eminent domain law in regard to property taken for the use of recreational trails, which include public trails used for hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, ski touring, canoeing and other non-motorized recreational travel.  H.B. 63 would allow a landowner to submit a written request asking a municipality or township to veto the use of eminent domain for a recreational trail within its borders.   The bill would also allow a landowner to object to a use of eminent domain for any purpose at any time prior to a court order for the taking, rather than limiting that time period to ten days as in current law.   The bill had its first hearing before the House Civil Justice Committee last week.

Minimum wage increases.  S. B. 51 and H.B. 69.  Bills on each side of the General Assembly propose gradually increasing the state minimum wage to $15, but have different paths for reaching that amount.  S.B. 51 proposes increasing the wage to $12/hour in 2022, followed by $1/hour increases each year and reaching $15 by 2025, which is when a federal bill proposes to establish the $15 minimum wage.  H.B. 69 begins at $10/hour in 2022 with $1/hour increases annually, reaching $15 in 2027.  S.B. 51 was referred last week to the Workforce and Higher Education Committee and H.B. 69 was referred to the Commerce and Labor Committee.

USDA NAL and National Agricultural Law Center

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