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By: Evin Bachelor, Thursday, June 27th, 2019

Many landowners across the state have been contacted by solar energy developers interested in leasing farmland for utility-scale solar energy production.  The combination of improved technology, reduced production costs, the phase-out of federal tax credits, and the willingness of landowners to enter into long-term leases have made 2019 a sunny year for entering into solar leases.

The sudden surge of solar leasing has led to new questions about what this type of lease mean for a landowner, a community, and the future.  As these leases may last for 30 years or more, it is important to understand what a utility-scale solar energy development looks like, along with the terms in a solar lease and the implications of signing.

Join OSU Extension Field Specialists Peggy Kirk Hall and Eric Romich on Monday, July 15th for a conversation on solar leasing.  Together, the presenters will address solar development trends, converting farmland to solar production, and key considerations to weigh before signing a solar lease.  Those interested may choose between one of two sessions:

  • Morning session: Madison County from 9:00am to noon at the Red Brick Tavern (1700 Cumberland Road/Route 40, London, Ohio).  Breakfast will be provided!
  • Afternoon session: Greene County from 2:00pm to 5:00pm at the Greene County Extension office (100 Fairground Road, Xenia, Ohio).

Each meeting will cover the same information.  Registration is required, but there is no cost to attend.  To register for the morning session in Madison County, email Griffith.483@osu.edu or call 740-852-0975.  To register for the afternoon session in Greene County, email Corboy.3@osu.edu or call 937-372-9971.

Click HERE to view the official flier.  In the meantime, if you want to learn more about some of the documents and major considerations that will be discussed at the meeting, click HERE.  If you want to learn more about some common solar lease terms, click HERE.

By: Ellen Essman, Wednesday, June 26th, 2019

Since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, the world of agriculture has been all abuzz about the potential for adding a new crop to the rotation—industrial hemp. (Our post on the hemp provisions in the Farm Bill is available here.) The passage of the bill caused states like Ohio, which did not previously implement hemp pilot projects in 2014, to scramble to introduce state legislation allowing hemp to be grown within their boundaries.  What is more, questions have arisen about how hemp and products derived from the plant should be regulated under the federal law. 

Ohio continues to tinker with its hemp bill

Ohio’s bill to legalize hemp is currently stalled in the Ohio House of Representatives. Speaker Larry Householder indicated that the House will not vote on the bill until September 2019.  The hemp bill was first introduced in the Ohio Senate in February, passed the Senate in March, and advanced to the House floor on June 4. The bill still contains a lot of the same language and provisions from when it was introduced in February, which you can read about in our post here.  However, since it was first introduced, numerous additions have been inserted into the language of the bill.

First, the original version of the hemp bill only required a license to cultivate hemp.  The version currently on the House floor also requires a license to process hemp into different products.  Moreover, the current version of the bill would make licenses for both cultivating and processing hemp valid for three years instead of five years.  The new language in the bill also creates a Hemp Marketing Program, which would fall under the same laws and regulations as the grain and soybean marketing programs.  Legally cultivated hemp would also be added to the list of agricultural uses permitted under the current agricultural use value (CAUV) for land, which would mean land used to grow hemp would qualify for a lower tax assessment. 

The most recent version of the bill also adds many more topics to the list for the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) to promulgate via regulation.  The new version tasks ODA with adding conditions for acquiring hemp cultivation licenses, such as experience, and procurement of equipment, facilities, a sufficient amount of land, and financial responsibility requirements.  ODA is charged with establishing a compulsory setback distance between hemp cultivation and medical marijuana cultivation, and with including regulatory language banning hemp cultivation or processing licensees from also cultivating or processing marijuana.  ODA must also establish requirements for recordkeeping and reporting for licensees.  These are just a few of the new regulations ODA is authorized to enact. 

The most recent bill, much like the first version, includes overarching prohibitions.  The current list of actions banned under the law is as follows:

  • No person shall cultivate hemp without a hemp cultivation license issued by ODA;
  • No person shall process hemp without a hemp processing license issued by ODA;
  • A person who is licensed to cultivate or process hemp shall not violate any provision of the hemp law or regulations;
  • A person subject to a corrective action plan issued by ODA shall not fail to comply with the plan;
  • No person may transport hemp in violation of the hemp law or rules; and
  • Any other requirements or procedures necessary to enforce the law. 

The most recent rendition of Ohio’s hemp bill would keep the provisions of the first version of the bill relating to negligent and reckless violations of the law, but new enforcement tools have been added.  Finally, the new and improved hemp bill includes an emergency clause, which would make the legislation immediately effective upon its passage in both houses and signature by the governor. 

FDA holds a hearing on the safety of CBD products

On May 31, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held public hearing to gather information and scientific data about cannabis products, so that such information can be used for future regulatory oversight by the agency.  Industrial hemp is a type of cannabis plant, so the hearing included discussion of hemp and hemp-derived compounds, such as cannabidoil (CBD).  In particular, FDA was interested in whether different amounts of cannabis in a product would affect people differently, or cause safety concerns, whether there is any data to show that cannabis is safe in food and dietary supplements, whether there are, or if there need to be, industry standards in the manufacturing of cannabis products to ensure safety and quality, and how marketing and labeling should be used to address potential risks connected to using cannabis products.   The hearing did not result in any FDA decisions on cannabis products and their regulation, although it is an indicator that regulations will probably be coming soon.  This means that sales of CBD oil and other products made from hemp will have to follow FDA regulations in order to be manufactured and sold.  Information on the hearing is available here.  As we reported in one of our Ag Law Harvest posts, those people still interested in submitting their comments about cannabis and cannabis compounds to the FDA can do so until July 2. 

USDA releases its interpretation on transportation of hemp

In another federal development, on May 28, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a memo addressing the transportation of hemp.  The 2018 Farm Bill specified that states can ban hemp production and sales within their boundaries, but states cannot bar legally grown hemp from being transported through their state.  Since hemp regulations under the 2018 Farm Bill have not yet been promulgated, technically, there is no hemp that has been legally produced under the new law yet.  As a result, law enforcement in several states has continued to arrest people transporting hemp.  Furthermore, in at least one decision in Idaho, a court determined that it was illegal to transport hemp.  USDA released the memo to explain its disagreement with such interpretations.

In its memo, USDA says that the language decriminalizing hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill was “self-executing,” so it is no longer illegal to possess hemp or THC from hemp. USDA further asserts that hemp grown under pilot programs allowed under the 2014 Farm Bill can be legally transported across state lines because the 2018 Farm Bill did not immediately repeal the pilot programs.  USDA argues that this means that the hemp grown under 2014 pilot programs is legally produced, can be legally possessed, and therefore can be legally transported across state lines under the new Farm Bill.  

It is important to note that USDA’s memo is meant as guidance to the states, and is legally persuasive, but not legally binding.  This means a person could theoretically still be arrested for transporting hemp through a state, and the courts may or may not uphold the state’s decision.  After the federal regulations under the 2018 Farm Bill are in place, however, there will be less wiggle room for states to carry out their own interpretations, which will likely but an end to this controversy. 

What does it all mean?

While the regulation of hemp products, the transportation of hemp, and the legality of hemp in certain states may still be in question, all of this activity means that the state and federal governments are attempting to work all the kinks out.  Over time, the rules regarding how to produce, process, sell, and transport hemp, will likely become more defined and clear.  In the meantime, those interested in legally growing and processing hemp will have to play a waiting game. 

Posted In: Crop Issues
Tags: hemp, industrial hemp, farm bill
Comments: 0
By: Evin Bachelor, Thursday, June 20th, 2019

The OSU Extension Farm Office team has returned from the National Farm Business Conference in Wisconsin.  We gained some fresh perspective on events beyond Ohio’s borders, but are happy to be back in slightly warmer weather.  Our colleagues from across the nation presented on a variety of farm management topics, and we had a chance to discuss some of our recent projects.  We also toured a number of dairy and agritourism farms, and of course ate lots of cheese curds.  The fresh perspective means that it is time for a fresh Ag Law Harvest.

Here’s our latest gathering of agricultural law news that you may want to know:

OSU Extension Ag Law Team featured on Agronomy and Farm Management Podcast.  Recently we had a chance to talk with OSU Extension Educators Amanda Douridas and Elizabeth Hawkins, who together moderate the bi-weekly Agronomy and Farm Management Podcast for OSU Extension.  We discussed the status of Ohio’s hemp bill and what we expect to happen in the near future with hemp regulation and production.  Then we provided an update on the Drewes Farm Partnership v. City of Toledo lawsuit, which grapples with the legality of the Lake Erie Bill of Rights.  Click HERE to listen to the podcast, and look for episode 28.

Minnesota focuses new commercial nitrogen fertilizer regulations on drinking water quality.  In an effort to protect public drinking water sources, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture has chosen to regulate the commercial application of fertilizer.  The state has long regulated the application of manure, but not commercial nitrogen.  The regulations focus on two types of geographic areas: regions with vulnerable soil (coarse soils, karst geology, or shallow bedrock) and farms located in Drinking Water Supply Management Areas.  These management areas are designated based upon nitrate levels found in the drinking water.  Starting in 2020, the state will ban the application of commercial nitrogen in these areas during the fall months and on frozen ground.  Farms in any of the 30 Drinking Water Supply Management Areas would have to follow best management practices to start, but if nitrate levels continue to exceed state limits, then the state may impose additional restrictions in an area to reduce nitrogen pollution.  For more information on Minnesota’s Groundwater Protection Rule, click HERE.

Federal court puts a hold on Bud Light’s “100 percent less corn syrup” ads.  If they missed seeing it live during the Super Bowl, most people in the agricultural industry have at least seen the recent Bud Light advertising campaign that claims the beer uses no corn syrup while its competitors do.  Shortly after the initial release of the ad, MillerCoors sued Anheuser-Busch, which makes Bud Light.  MillerCoors wants a permanent injunction that would stop Bud Light from continuing its corn syrup advertising campaign, arguing that the advertisements are false and misleading to consumers.  The first step to a permanent injunction is often a preliminary injunction, which makes a party act or not act in a certain way only while the case is pending.  The judge presiding over the lawsuit granted MillerCoors’ motion for a preliminary injunction in part.  The judge ordered Anheuser-Busch to temporarily stop using ads mentioning corn syrup if those ads do not contain language explaining that Bud Light does not use corn syrup in the brewing process.  The judge’s act does not ban the ad that premiered during the Super Bowl.  Rather it only blocks ads released later that claim Bud Light uses 100 percent less corn syrup than competitors like MillerCoors.  Click HERE to view the complaint, and HERE to view the judge’s order.

It’s (mostly) official: USDA’s ERS and NIFA are headed to Kansas City.  U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the USDA’s selection of the Kansas City, Missouri region as the new headquarters for the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture.  The location changed caused a great deal of controversy as some viewed it as a political move.  However, the USDA has maintained that relocation will save millions of dollars over the next few years and put the agencies closer to a number of other USDA offices in Kansas City, such as the Farm Service Agency’s Commodity Operations Office.  The Secretary reduced some of the controversy by scrapping plans to place the agencies under the USDA’s Chief Economist, who is a political appointee.  Before we call the move a done deal, we must note that Congress could stop the plans.  The U.S. House of Representatives might block the move via a Department of Agriculture-FDA spending bill currently under consideration.  Click HERE to read Secretary Perdue’s press release.

Bayer announces multi-billion dollar hunt for glyphosate replacement.  Somewhat buried in a press release titled “Bayer raises the bar in transparency, sustainability and engagement,” Bayer recently announced a substantial investment in its weed management research.  Over the next ten years, the company plans to spend 5 billion euros, or roughly 5.6 billion U.S. dollars, to develop weed control products as alternatives to glyphosate.  The announcement comes at a time with thousands of plaintiffs across the United States have claimed that the widely-used glyphosate caused their cancer.  As we have previously discussed in the Ag Law Blog, the first three juries have in total awarded plaintiffs billions of dollars in damages.  Bayer continues to fight the allegations and defend its product, but the press release marks the first time that Bayer has publically announced a search for an alternative to glyphosate.  It remains to be seen whether the press release could have an impact in the lawsuits, but Bayer will likely try to keep the press release out of the trials by using court rules of evidence.

Ohio House passes amusement ride safety bill.  County fair season has officially kicked off in Ohio, and some state lawmakers want to make sure that amusement rides at those fairs are safe.  House Bill 189 seeks to heighten Ohio’s amusement ride safety inspection standards and impose additional duties on amusement ride owners.  The bill would require the Ohio Department of Agriculture to adopt ride classification rules that identify types of rides needing more comprehensive inspection, along with the minimum number of inspectors and number of inspections for each ride.  Further, the bill would require amusement ride owners to keep a manual for each amusement ride, and make it available upon request of an inspector.  Amusement ride owners would also have to keep records, including documents and photographs, of all major repairs along with all locations where the owner stored or operated each ride.  The bill includes an emergency clause, which would allow it to take effect as soon as the Governor signs it.  Lawmakers named the bill “Tyler’s Law” after the young man who died following an equipment breakdown at the Ohio State Fair in 2017.  Click HERE for more information about the bill.

By: Evin Bachelor, Wednesday, June 19th, 2019

Have you ever sent an email or text message that seemed perfectly clear to you, but the recipient read it differently than you had intended?  It happens all the time in everyday life.  We know what we mean in our head, but the message we send contains ambiguities.  While we can hopefully fix ambiguities in an email or text message quickly, wills can present a different story. 

Once a person has passed away, fixing an ambiguity in a will is not easy because the best person to ask about intent cannot be called to testify.  Unfortunately, many families learn about the problems posed by ambiguities the hard way.

Take a recent example from Mahoning County.  In April, an Ohio appellate court upheld a probate court’s decision on how to distribute the assets of a Salem area farmer (“the farmer”).  This happened five years after the farmer passed away, and after two appeals of his estate.  He had a will, but it contained an ambiguity that resulted in years of litigation and delayed closure. 

His will made one specific bequest, and the rest of his property would go into a general pot for his named beneficiaries to divide among themselves as they or the executor saw fit.  The specific bequest read, “I give, devise, and bequeath to my brother […], the real estate at […] together with all contents of said real estate, if owned by me at the time of my death.”  The court had no problem with the real estate because the will provided an address; however, what did the will mean by “all contents of said real estate”?

At the time of the farmer’s death, the real estate contained a residence, family heirlooms, valuables, household goods, farm equipment, and vehicles.  The brother argued that the specific bequest included farm equipment and vehicles because of their physical presence on the real estate.  The general beneficiaries disagreed, believing that the bequest applied to pieces of personal property like heirlooms within the house.  Looking only at the will, the probate court agreed with the general beneficiaries.  The brother appealed the decision.

The appellate court viewed “all contents of said real estate” as ambiguous, and sent the case back to the probate court to re-examine the will.  The law generally disfavors testimony about what a decedent intended because the law assumes that the will provides the best evidence of what the decedent wanted.  When a court finds an ambiguity in a will, it may consider evidence beyond the will, such as testimony or other documents; however, the law considers this evidence less authoritative because it is not directly from the decedent.

After the first appeal, the brother and attorney who drafted the farmer’s will testified in probate court about conversations with the farmer before he passed away.  The brother claimed that conversations with his brother about ideas to grow the farm meant that the farm equipment should go to him; however, the attorney claimed that the farmer intended only for the brother to receive family heirlooms within the house.  The court believed the farmer’s attorney, and again decided that the specific bequest did not include the equipment.

For a second time, the brother appealed the probate court’s decision.  This time the appellate court was satisfied with the probate court’s actions and upheld the probate court’s interpretation of the will.  Click HERE to read the court’s opinion, which is cited as Bogar v. Baker, 2019-Ohio-1762 (7th Dist.).

It took the family in the Bogar case five years to have a legal determination of what their loved one meant in his will.  One clause resulted in lots of costly litigation, not to mention the stresses on the family.

No family wants a contentious probate.  Losing a loved one is hard enough without having to go to court to fully litigate the contents of a will.  Fortunately, this is a problem that can be avoided, or at least minimized, with an effective plan. 

Here are some tips to minimize ambiguities in your will:

  • Identify who you want to have specific pieces of your real and personal property.  For personal items such as family heirlooms, antiques, and art, you may leave a directive that names specifically which person receives what items.
  • Read through your will.  Does it make sense to you?  Does it sound like what you want to happen?
  • Consider showing your will to your executor and ask what he or she thinks your will says.  How would the executor carry out your will if you were gone today?  If he or she says something that you did not intend, you can still fix your will to more clearly align it with your wishes.
  • If you are concerned about beneficiaries challenging your will, you can include a no-contest clause that gives the executor final authority to interpret how to distribute your estate and penalize beneficiaries who challenge that distribution.  When included in a will, these clauses often prevent a beneficiary who challenges a will from receiving any property from the estate.

These tips do not guarantee a challenge-free probate process, but can help make your will as clear as possible.  If a question about your intent would still arise, having a couple of witnesses who can attest to your wishes will help the court get as close to your wishes as possible.  However, this requires you to tell each of these people the same thing and in a clear manner.  If you make any changes, you need to communicate that to your confidants.

Stay tuned in the next couple of months for new resources from our team about estate and business transition planning.  Until then, take a moment to review your estate plan!

Posted In: Estate Planning
Tags: Estate Planning, wills, Ohio case law
Comments: 0
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Tuesday, June 18th, 2019

The decision on whether to take prevented planting is a tough one, but don’t let concerns about increased property taxes on idle land enter into the equation.  Ohio’s Current Agricultural Use Valuation program allows landowners to retain the benefit of CAUV tax assessment on agricultural land even if the land lies idle or fallow for a period of time.

Ohio’s CAUV program provides differential property tax assessment to parcels of land “devoted exclusively to agricultural use” that are ten acres or more or, if less than ten acres, generated an average gross income for the previous three years of $2,500 or more from commercial agricultural production.  Timber lands adjacent to CAUV land, land enrolled in federal conservation programs, and land devoted to agritourism or bio-mass and similar types of energy production on a farm also qualify for CAUV.   

There must have been some farmers in the legislature when the CAUV law was enacted, because the legislature anticipated the possibility that qualifying CAUV lands would not always be actively engaged in agricultural production.   The law allows CAUV land to sit "idle or fallow" for up to one year and remain eligible for CAUV, but only if there's not an activity or use taking place on the land that's inconsistent with returning the land to agricultural production or that converts the land from agricultural production.  After one year of lying idle or fallow, a landowner may retain the CAUV status for up to three years by showing good cause to the board of revision for why the land is not actively engaged in agricultural production.   

The law would play out as follows.  When the auditor sends the next CAUV reenrollment form for a parcel that qualifies for CAUV but was not planted this year due to the weather, a landowner must certify that the land is still devoted to agricultural production and return the CAUV form to the auditor.  The auditor must allow the land to retain its CAUV status the first year of lying idle or fallow, as long as the land is not being used or converted to a non-agricultural use.  If the land continues to be idle or fallow for the following year or two years, the auditor could ask the landowner to show cause as to why the land is not being used for agricultural production.  The landowner would then have an opportunity to prove that the weather has prevented plans to plant field crops, as intended by the landowner.  After three years, the landowner would have to change the land to a different type of commercial agricultural production to retain its CAUV status if the weather still prevents the ability to plant field crops on the parcel.  Other agricultural uses could include commercial animal or poultry husbandry, aquaculture, algaculture, apiculture, the production for a commercial purpose of timber, tobacco, fruits, vegetables, nursery stock, ornamental trees, sod, or flowers, or the growth of timber for a noncommercial purpose, if the land on which the timber is grown is contiguous to or part of a parcel of land under common ownership that is otherwise devoted exclusively to agricultural use.  

Being forced out of the fields due to rain is a frustrating reality for many Ohio farmers today.   One positive assurance we can offer in the face of prevented planting is that farmers won't lose agricultural property tax status on those fields this year.  Read Ohio’s CAUV law in the Ohio Revised Code at sections 5713.30 and 5713.31.

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Wednesday, June 12th, 2019

Sparse dry weather conditions haven't dampened concerns about the extent of agricultural water quality problems we may see when summer weather finally arrives.   Despite the weather, harmful algal bloom (HAB) predictions for the summer are already out and are one important  measure of water quality impacts that are attributed to agriculture.   As HABs arise, so too do the questions about what is being done  to reduce HABs and other water quality impacts resulting from agricultural production activities.  We set out to answer these questions by examining key players in the water quality arena:  the states. 

In our new national report, State Legal Approaches to Reducing Water Quality Impacts from the Use of Agricultural Nutrients on Farmland, we share the results of research that examines how states are legally responding to the impact of agricultural nutrients on water quality.  After examining state laws, regulations and policies across the country, we can make several observations about state responses to the agricultural water quality issue.  First, more activity occurs in states that are near significant water resources such as the Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes, Mississippi River and coastal regions.  States in those areas have more legal solutions in place to address nutrient impacts.  Next, nearly all states rely heavily on nutrient management planning as a tool for reducing agricultural nutrient impacts on water quality.  We also note that there is an absence of monitoring, bench marking, and data collection requirements in the laws that address agricultural nutrient management and water quality.  Finally, many states have piecemeal, reactionary approaches rather than an organized statewide strategy accompanied by a locally-driven governance structure.

As we conducted our research, two types of approaches quickly emerged:  mandatory and voluntary.  Mandatory approaches are  those that require specific actions or inactions by persons who use nutrients on agricultural lands, while voluntary approaches allow a user of agricultural nutrients to decide whether to engage in programs and practices that relate to water quality, with or without incentives for doing so.  Because we could identify mandatory approaches through statutory and administrative codes, we were able to compile the laws into a database.  Our compilation of Mandatory Legal Approaches to Agricultural Nutrient Management is available on the National Agricultural Law Center's website. 

We classified the state mandatory approaches into three categories:

1.  Nutrient management planning is the most common mandatory tool used by the states.  All but two states mandate nutrient management planning, but the laws vary in terms of who must have or prepare a nutrient management plan (NMP).  In the report, we provide examples of states that require NMPs for animal feeding operations, those that require NMPs only in targeted areas, those that require all operators to have an NMP, and those that require preparers of NMPs to be certified.

2.  Nutrient application restrictions are becoming increasingly common across the states, but also vary by type of restrictions.  In the report, we categorize four types of nutrient application restrictions and present the combination of restrictions in place in five states across the country:

---Weather condition restrictions

---Setback and buffer requirements

---Restrictions on method of application

---Targeted area restrictions

3.  Certification of nutrient applicators is an approach used by 18 states, but state laws differ in terms of who must obtain certification.  Some states require only animal feeding operations and commercial "for hire" applicators to be certified, while others extend certification to private landowners, users of chemigation equipment, or those in targeted sensitive areas.  We provide examples of each type of certification approach.

The number and types of voluntary approaches to reducing agricultural nutrient impacts on water quality is extensive and more than we could identify and gather into a state compilation.  In our report, however, we present examples of four types of voluntary approaches states are taking:

1.  Technical assistance in the form of technical expertise and informational tools.

2.  Economic incentives such as cost share programs, tax credits and water quality trading programs.

3.  Legal protections for those who engage in nutrient reduction efforts.

4.  Research and education programs that aim to increase understanding of the problem and expand the knowledge base of those who use and work with nutrients.

Please read our report, available here, to learn more about legal approaches states are taking in response to concerns about the impact of agricultural nutrients on water quality.  We produced the report with funding from the USDA National Agricultural Library in partnership with the National Agricultural Law Center.

Posted In: Environmental
Tags: agricultural nutrients, water quality
Comments: 0
By: Evin Bachelor, Monday, June 10th, 2019

The biennial budget remains the center of attention for members of the Ohio General Assembly, but some other bills have made progress since our last legislative update.  We will post a separate blog post about the biennial budget soon, but for now here is a review of other legislative activity at the statehouse. 

New legislation since our last legislative update

  • Senate Bill 159, titled “Grant tax credits to assist beginning farmers.”  This bill is essentially the same as House Bill 183, which seeks to provide tax incentives to beginning farmers along with those willing to help them build a farm operation.  Introducing the bill in the Senate while the House considers another bill allows the process to potentially go more quickly.  Instead of waiting on the House to complete all of its committee hearings and approve the bill, the Senate can start its own process.
  • House Bill 223, titled “Alter setback-wind farms of 5 or more megawatts.”  In 2014, the Ohio General Assembly modified the distance that wind turbines must be setback from an adjacent property line.  House Bill 223 would modify the setback law to base the setback on the distance from the nearest habitable residential structure on a neighboring property instead of the property line.  The setback requirement would affect future project certificates, as well as any amendments made to an existing certificate.  Click HERE for more information about the bill from the Ohio General Assembly’s website.

Legislation that we continue to follow

Here’s a status update on bills we covered HERE in March and HERE in April.  Access each bill’s webpage on the Ohio General Assembly website by clicking on the bill number in the following tables. 

 

Legislation passed by the Senate and currently under consideration in the House

Category

Bill No.

Bill Title

Status

Hemp

SB 57

Decriminalize hemp and license hemp cultivator

- Passed Senate

- Passed House Ag & Natural Resources committee

- Awaits vote of the full House of Representatives

Regulations

SB 1

Reduce number of regulatory restrictions

- Passed Senate

- Referred to House State & Local Government Committee

Business Law

SB 21

Allow corporation to become benefit corporation

- Passed Senate

- Referred to House Civil Justice Committee

 

Legislation going through the committee process, but not yet passed in either chamber

Category

Bill No.

Bill Title

Status

Watershed Planning

SB 2

Create state watershed planning structure

- Completed third hearing in Senate Ag & Natural Resources Committee

Tax

HB 183

Allow tax credits to assist beginning farmers

- Completed second hearing in House Ag & Rural Development Committee

Estate Planning

HB 209

Abolish estate by dower

- Completed third hearing in House Civil Justice Committee

Animals

HB 24

Revise humane society law

- Passed House Ag & Rural Development Committee

- Awaits vote of the full House of Representatives

Oil and Gas

HB 55

Require oil and gas royalty statements

- Completed first hearing in House Energy & Natural Resources Committee

Mineral Rights

HB 100

Revise requirements governing abandoned mineral rights

- Completed first hearing in House Energy & Natural Resources Committee

Energy

SB 119

Exempt Ohio from daylight savings time

- Completed first hearing in Senate General Government and Agency Review Committee

Local Gov’t

SB 114

Expand township authority-regulate noise in unincorporated areas

- Completed second hearing in Senate Local Government, Public Safety, & Veterans Affairs Committee

Property

HB 103

Change law relating to land installment contracts

- Completed second hearing in House Civil Justice Committee

Regulation of Alcohol

HB 160

Revise alcoholic ice cream law

- Completed third hearing in House State & Local Government Committee

Regulation of Alcohol

HB 179

Exempt small wineries from retail food establishment licensing

- Completed first hearing in House Health Committee

 

Legislation not on the move

These bills have not made much progress.  The biggest action taken on each so far has been referring the bill to a committee, but no committee has yet to hold a hearing on any of the bills.  Remember that we are in the middle of budget season, and only in the first six months of this legislative cycle, so the bills could still see activity later.

Category

Bill No.

Bill Title

Status

Animals

HB 124

Allow small livestock on residential property

- Referred to House Ag & Rural Development Committee

Animals

HB 33

Establish animal abuse reporting requirements

- Referred to House Criminal Justice Committee

Energy

HB 20

Prohibit homeowner associations placing limits on solar panels

- Referred to House State & Local Government Committee

Local Gov’t

HB 48

Create local government road improvement fund

- Referred to House Finance Committee

Local Gov’t

HB 54

Increase tax revenue allocated to the local government fund

- Referred to House Ways & Means Committee

Oil and Gas

HB 94

Ban taking oil or natural gas from bed of Lake Erie

- Referred to House Energy & Natural Resources Committee

Oil and Gas

HB 95

Revise oil and gas law about brine and well conversions

- Referred to House Energy & Natural Resources Committee

Regulation of Alcohol

HB 181

Promote use of Ohio agricultural goods in alcoholic beverages

- Referred to House Ag & Rural Development Committee

Tax

HB 109

Grant tax exemption for land used for commercial maple syruping

- Referred to House Ways & Means Committee

 

By: Ellen Essman, Thursday, June 06th, 2019

The controversy over the 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule never really leaves the news. Case in point: last week, on May 28, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas decided to keep a preliminary injunction that prevents the enforcement of the 2015 version of the rule in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, meaning that the 2015 rule does not currently apply in those states.  Meanwhile, at the end of March, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio was not persuaded by Ohio and Tennessee to issue a preliminary injunction which would have halted the execution of the 2015 rule in those states.  All of this judicial activity is taking place while the Trump administration is working on a replacement for the Obama administration’s 2015 rule. 

WOTUS background

If you’re a regular follower of the Ag Law Blog, you know we’ve written numerous updates on the WOTUS saga.  For a refresher, the WOTUS rule defines which waters are considered “waters of the United States,” and are consequently protected under the Clean Water Act. In 2015, the Obama administration promulgated its final WOTUS rule, which many agricultural groups and states felt regulated too many waters.  Needless to say, many lawsuits over the rule ensued. The Trump administration, hoping to replace the Obama-era rule, released its new proposed rule on February 14, 2019.  The comment period for the proposed rule ended on April 15, 2019.  The new rule is forthcoming, but in the meantime, due to all of the litigation, whether or not the 2015 WOTUS rule is applicable varies by state.  For an explanation of the 2015 rule and the new proposed rule, see our previous blog post here

Judge continues to block 2015 WOTUS in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi…

At the end of May, Judge George C. Hanks Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas handed down a decision remanding the 2015 WOTUS rule to the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers and ordering that a previously issued preliminary injunction stay in place, meaning that the government should not implement the 2015 rule in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.  While Judge Hanks declined to take up the questions raised by the plaintiffs about the constitutionality of the 2015 rule, he did determine that the agencies violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) at the rule’s conception.  The APA is a federal law that controls how federal agencies must go about making regulations.  Importantly, the APA dictates that agencies should give the American public notice of a proposed rule, as well as a chance to comment on a proposed rule.  In the case of Obama’s 2015 WOTUS rule, the definition of “adjacent waters” was changed from being based upon a “hydrologic connection” in the proposed rule to being based on how many feet separated the waters in the final rule. Interested parties did not have any chance to comment on the change before it was included in the final rule.  What is more, interested parties did not have the chance to comment on the final report that served as the “technical basis” for the rule.  For these reasons, Judge Hanks found that the final rule violated the APA.  As a result, he remanded the rule to the agencies to fix and left in place the preliminary injunction blocking the implementation of the rule in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. 

…but 2015 WOTUS still applies in Ohio and Tennessee

A decision in the District Court for the Southern District of Ohio came to the opposite conclusion of the Texas case.  In March of this year, Judge Sargus denied the states’ motion for a preliminary injunction against carrying out the 2015 WOTUS rule.  Sargus did not agree that Ohio and Tennessee were being irreparably harmed by having to follow the 2015 rule, and therefore did not go through with what he called the “extraordinary measure” of providing the states preliminary injunctive relief.  Basically, Ohio and Tennessee were not persuasive enough in their argument, and “failed to draw the Court’s attention” to any specific harm the states faced from the 2015 rule.  Therefore, as of this writing, the 2015 WOTUS rule still applies in Ohio and Tennessee. 

What regulation applies in which states?

All of these lawsuits with different outcomes beg the question: what rule is applicable in which state?  EPA has a map depicting which states must currently follow the 2015 rule, and which states instead must follow the pre-2015 definition of WOTUS.  The map has not been updated since September of 2018.  Since the last update, Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, and Wisconsin, whose governors’ mansions flipped from red to blue in November, have pulled out of lawsuits against the 2015 rule.  These withdrawals could affect which version of WOTUS applies in these states. 

Although the outcomes in the different lawsuits throughout the country presently affect which version of the WOTUS rule applies in which state, it is not clear how the rulings will ultimately affect the 2015 WOTUS rule.  The Trump administration is currently carrying out its plan to scrap the rule and replace it with new language, which may render all of the existing legal fights over the 2015 rule irrelevant. 

What’s next?

The new WOTUS rule, which is expected in its final form later this year, will probably not mark the end of the WOTUS debate.  While implementation of the new rule will likely make the aforementioned lawsuits moot, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll be out of the woods yet.  With all the contention over this topic, it is likely lawsuits will be filed challenging the new rule, as well.  Disagreement over what makes up WOTUS might be around for as long as rivers flow. 

By: Ellen Essman, Monday, June 03rd, 2019

Are you perplexed by what “Sell By,” “Use By,” “Best If Used By,” and similar terms mean on your packaged foods?  If the date has passed, should throw the food out, or take your chances with it?  You are not alone in wondering about the meaning of dates and other terms printed on our food packages.  Under most circumstances, food manufacturers are not required to include date labels and terms on packaged foods, so when they do include such labels, there are no official guidelines to follow.   As a result, we have the current voluntary patchwork of various confusing terms.  On May 23, 2019, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) took a step toward alleviating the uncertainty surrounding date labels.  FDA released a letter addressed to the “Food Industry” at large.  In the letter, FDA said that it “strongly supports” the use of the term “Best If Used By” when the “date is simply related to optimal quality—not safety.”

Food waste

In its letter, FDA cites confusion over terms on date labels as a contributor to food waste in the United States.  People don’t know what the dates mean, or they think the date means the food is expired or not safe to eat, and so they throw the food out.  The range of different phrases on date labels only adds to the confusion.  FDA says around 20% of food waste by consumers can be attributed to unclear date labels. 

Food safety

As was mentioned above, the food industry is largely on their own in terms of choosing what kind of date language to include on their packaged food labels. (One exception is infant formula, which FDA requires to have a date label reading “Use By.”) Consequently, many of the date labels on packaged foods are not indicative of when a food is safe to eat.  Instead, FDA says that “quality dates indicate the food manufacturer’s estimate of how long a product will retain its best quality. If stored properly, a food product should be safe, wholesome, and of good quality after the quality date.” Therefore, FDA supports using “Best if Used By” as the standard to communicate to consumers when a packaged food product “will be at its best flavor and quality,” which does not necessarily mean that the food is unsafe to eat after that date. 

Not a binding law or regulation

FDA’s recommendation for the food industry to use “Best if Used By” on packaged food when including a date label is just that: a recommendation.  Food companies are not required to use the terminology on their packaged foods; with the exception of infant formula, no date label is required by federal law or regulation.  However, FDA “strongly supports industry’s voluntary…efforts” to use “Best if Used By” to communicate food quality to consumers.  Therefore, the letter to the Food Industry is not a mandate by FDA, but an endorsement and strong suggestion that the industry use “Best if Used By” to indicate food quality. 

Will “Use By” be the next recommended standard?

In its letter, FDA touches on another recommendation by grocery and food associations, but declines to endorse it.  Grocery and food groups advocate for the use of the term “Use By” on date labels on perishable foods that may be unsafe to eat after the printed date.  While FDA is not currently recommending the use of “Use By,” it is important to note that industry groups support using the term in this way.  Perhaps after further safety studies, “Use By” will be the next recommendation on the horizon for FDA. 

What does FDA hope to accomplish with this recommendation?

While FDA is not requiring the food industry to use the “Best if Used By” date label, the purpose of its recommendation is to encourage the majority of the industry to adopt the language as a standard.  The hope is, that as “Best if Used By” is more widely used and the public becomes more educated on its meaning, the amount of confusion, and accordingly, the amount of food waste, will greatly decrease.  To learn more about FDA’s decision to endorse “Best if Used By,” see their article here. For more information about food product dating, see USDA’s page here

Posted In: Food
Tags: food, FDA, Food Labeling
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