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We are full steam ahead in 2019, and so far we have held to our new year’s resolutions. However, we want to take a quick look in the rearview mirror. Ohio legislators passed a number of bills in 2018 that affect Ohio agriculture. They range from multi-parcel auction laws to broadband grants, and oil & gas tax exemptions to hunting licenses. Here are some highlights of bills that the Ohio General Assembly passed and former Governor Kasich signed in 2018.
- House Bill 500, titled “Change township law.” As mentioned in a previous blog post, the Ohio General Assembly made a number of generally minor changes to Ohio’s township laws with House Bill 500. The changes included, among other things, requiring a board of township trustees to select a chairperson annually, modifying how vacating township roads and name changes are carried out, allowing fees for appealing a zoning board decision, clarifying how a board can suspend a member of a zoning commission or board of appeals, and removing the requirement for limited home rule townships to submit a zoning amendment or resolution to a planning commission. To learn about more of the changes that were made, visit the Ohio General Assembly’s H.B. 500 webpage here.
- House Bill 480, titled “Establish requirements for multi-parcel auctions.” The Ohio Department of Agriculture regulates auctions, and H.B. 480 gave ODA authority to regulate a new classification of auctions: the multi-parcel auction. Revised Code § 4707.01(Q) will define these as “any auction of real or personal property in which multiple parcels or lots are offered for sale in various amalgamations, including as individual parcels or lots, combinations of parcels or lots, and all parcels or lots as a whole.” For more information, visit the Ohio General Assembly’s H.B. 480 webpage here.
- House Bill 522, titled “Allow outdoor refreshment area to include F permit holders.” A municipality or township may create a “designated outdoor refreshment area” where people may walk around the area with their opened beer or liquor. Previously, only holders of certain D-class permits (bars, restaurants, and clubs) and A-class permits (alcohol manufacturers) could allow their patrons to partake in a designated open area. H.B. 522 will allow holders of an F-class liquor permit to also allow their patrons to roam in the designated area with an open container. F-class liquor permits are for festival-type events of a short duration. However, holders of either permits D-6 (allowing Sunday sales) or D-8 (allowing sales of growlers of beer or of tasting samples) will no longer be eligible for the open container exception. For more information, visit the Ohio General Assembly’s H.B. 522 webpage, here.
- Senate Bill 51, titled “Facilitate Lake Erie shoreline improvement.” As mentioned in a previous blog post, the primary purpose of Senate Bill 51 was to add projects for Lake Erie shoreline improvement to the list of public improvements that may be financed by a special improvement district. S.B. 51 also instructed the Ohio Department of Agriculture (“ODA”) to establish programs to assist in phosphorous reduction in the Western Lake Erie Basin. This adds to the previous instructions given to ODA in S.B. 299 regarding the Soil and Water Phosphorous Program. S.B. 51 further provided funding for a number of projects, ranging from flood mitigation to MLS stadium construction. For more information, visit the Ohio General Assembly’s S.B. 51 webpage here.
- Senate Bill 299, titled “Finance projects for protection of Lake Erie and its basin.” Largely an appropriations bill to fund projects, S.B. 299 primarily targeted water quality projects and research. ODA received an additional $3.5 million to support county soil and water conservation districts in the Western Lake Erie Basin, plus $20 million to establish water quality programs under a Soil and Water Phosphorous Program. Further, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (“ODNR”) received an additional $10 million to support projects that divert dredging materials from Lake Erie. Stone Laboratory, a sea grant research program, received an additional $2.65 million. The bill also created a mentorship program called OhioCorps, and set aside money for grants to promote broadband internet access. For more information, visit the Ohio General Assembly’s S.B. 299 webpage here.
- Senate Bill 257, titled “Changes to hunting and fishing laws.” ODNR may now offer multi-year and lifetime hunting and fishing licenses to Ohio residents under S.B. 257. Further, the bill creates a resident apprentice senior hunting license and an apprentice senior fur taker permit, and removes the statutory limits on the number of these permits a person may purchase. The bill also creates a permit for a Lake Erie Sport Fishing District, which may be issued to nonresidents to fish in the portions of Lake Erie and connected waters under Ohio’s control. For more information, visit the Ohio General Assembly’s S.B. 257 webpage here.
- House Bill 225, titled “Regards plugging idle or orphaned wells.” H.B. 225 creates a reporting system where a landowner may notify ODNR’s Division of Oil and Gas Resources about idle and orphaned oil or gas wells. Upon notification, the Division must inspect the well within 30 days. After the inspection, the Division must determine the priority for plugging the well, and may contract with a third party to plug the well. To fund this, the bill increases appropriations to the Oil and Gas Well Fund, and increases the portion of the fund that must go to plugging oil and gas wells. For more information, visit the Ohio General Assembly’s H.B. 225 webpage here.
- House Bill 430, titled “Expand sales tax exemption for oil and gas production property.” Certain goods and services directly used for oil and gas production have been exempted from sales and use taxes, and H.B. 430 clarifies what does and does not qualify for the exemption. Additionally, property used to control water pollution may qualify for the property, sales, and use tax exemptions if approved by ODNR as a qualifying property. H.B. 430 also extends the moratorium on licenses and transfers of licenses for fireworks manufacturers and wholesalers. For more information, visit the Ohio General Assembly’s H.B. 430 webpage here.
- Senate Bill 229, titled “Modify Board of Pharmacy and controlled substances laws.” The Farm Bill’s opening the door for industrial hemp at the federal level has led to a lot of conversations about controlled substances, which we addressed in a previous blog post. Once its changes take effect, Ohio’s S.B. 229 will remove the controlled substances schedules from the Ohio Revised Code, which involve the well-known numbering system of schedules I, II, III, IV, and V. Instead, the Ohio Board of Pharmacy will have rulemaking authority to create schedules and classify drugs and compounds. Prior to the removal of the schedules from the Revised Code, the Board of Pharmacy must create the new schedules by rule. S.B. 229 also mentions cannabidiols, and lists them as schedule V under the current system if the specific cannabidiol drug has approval from the Food and Drug Administration. For more information, visit the Ohio General Assembly’s S.B. 229 webpage here.
The end of 2018 effectively marked the end of the 132nd Ohio General Assembly, and 2019 marks the start of the 133rd Ohio General Assembly. Any pending bills from the 132nd General Assembly that were not passed will have to be reintroduced if legislators wish to proceed with those bills. Stay tuned to the Ag Law Blog for legal updates affecting agriculture from the Ohio General Assembly.
Less than a week into the administration of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, a new approach to watersheds in distress has emerged. Director Dorothy Pelanda assumed the helm of the Ohio Department of Agriculture (“ODA”) earlier this week. (Read more about the new director below). By Tuesday, ODA had changed the status of the proposed watersheds in distress rules in the Register of Ohio to “To Be Refiled.”
Watersheds in Distress Proposed Rules “To Be Refiled”
The change in status of the proposed rules signals that ODA plans to change its earlier proposal. The Register of Ohio, which is where state agencies post rules and proposed rules, defines a proposed rule with a “To Be Refiled” status as one “that has been temporarily removed from JCARR consideration by the rule-filing agency.” Until a sponsoring agency acts, the proposed rule remains in the “To Be Refiled” status and off of the agenda of the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (“JCARR”). As we mentioned in a previous blog post, JCARR was set to consider the controversial proposal at its January 22, 2019 meeting. However, the change in status of the proposed rules means that JCARR will not consider them until ODA takes further action. ODA may revise the proposal, refile as-is, take no action, or withdraw the proposal.
Readers may recall from a previous blog post that the Kasich administration sought to expand the number of watersheds designated as “in distress,” which would impose additional regulations and restrictions on farmers who apply manure and nutrients to the land. Further, the proposal would have required impacted farmers to submit a nutrient management plan to ODA, and ODA would have to audit at least 5 percent of those plans. ODA’s Soil and Water Conversation Division held a hearing on November 21st, and a number of stakeholders attended to provide comments. A summary report of the hearing is available here. Currently, the Grand Lake St. Marys Watershed is the only watershed in Ohio subject to the additional requirements.
Dorothy Pelanda Assumes Directorship of Ohio Department of Agriculture
Director Pelanda steps into Governor Mike DeWine’s cabinet as the 39th Director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture. She served in the Ohio House of Representatives from 2011 until the end of the previous General Assembly, and held leadership positions within the Republican caucus. Prior to her appointment to the Ohio House, Director Pelanda practiced law in Union County. She is a graduate of the University of Akron School of Law, Miami University, and Marysville High School. Director Pelanda is the first woman to serve as the Director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture. For more information about Director Pelanda, visit ODA’s website here.
Written by: Evin Bachelor, Law Fellow
Welcome to 2019 from all of us at the OSU Extension Agricultural and Resource Law Program! With a new Congress, a new Ohio General Assembly, and a new slate of leaders atop Ohio’s executive offices, we are expecting a flurry of activity in the new year. Our resolution this year is to keep you in the know about agricultural law news, and maybe find some time to exercise.
Here’s our latest gathering of agricultural law news that you may want to know:
U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear state livestock standard lawsuits. In a previous blog post, we noted that California and Massachusetts had adopted laws that would require sellers of certain meats and eggs to follow heightened animal care standards in order to sell those products within California or Massachusetts. Thirteen states, led by Indiana, quickly sued Massachusetts to stop its law from taking effect. Missouri led another group of thirteen states in suing California.
Indiana and Missouri had attempted to have their cases brought directly before the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the U.S. Supreme Court has “original jurisdiction” over claims between states. After the states filed their arguments with the Supreme Court, the justices asked the U.S. Solicitor General whether he believed these cases were appropriate for the Court’s original jurisdiction. The Solicitor General filed briefs in the Indiana v. Massachusetts and Missouri v. California maters, and suggested that the Supreme Court should not exercise original jurisdiction because, among other things, the states lack the proper standing to sue. Here, this argument essentially means that the resulting harm from enforcement of the statutes would not harm the states as states, but only some of their citizens, and that those citizens may still sue California or Massachusetts for their individualized harm.
The Supreme Court took the position of the Solicitor General and denied the requests of Indiana and Missouri to have the cases brought before the Court. Any further action will have to be taken through the lower courts. For more information about the Missouri v. California matter as argued to the Supreme Court, click here. For more information about the Indiana v. Massachusetts matter as argued to the Supreme Court, click here.
USDA not required to adopt Obama-era “Farmer Fair Practice Rules,” according to federal appeals court. In December 2016, the USDA published the Farmer Fair Practices Rules as an interim final rule, and published two amendments to its rules that deal with the Packers and Stockyards Act. The amendments addressed the ease of bringing a lawsuit for unfair and uncompetitive business practices under the Packers and Stockyards Act. The rule was set to take effect at the end of February 2017, although the amendments were only proposals that had not fully gone through the required notice and comment process. In early February 2017, citing the President’s regulatory freeze, and arguing that the rule would cause more litigation and confusion, the USDA postponed, and ultimately withdrew, the rule. The USDA also did not take action on the two proposed amendments. The Organization for Competitive Markets sued to stop the USDA from withdrawing the interim final rule, and to compel the USDA to promulgate the two amendments, arguing that the 2008 Farm Bill requires action by the USDA.
On December 21, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit denied the Organization for Competitive Markets’ request for review. The court explained that the USDA did not fail to fulfill its mandate, describing Congress’s language as ambiguous. Further, the court said that the USDA’s withdrawal of the interim final rule followed the proper notice and comment procedures. Ultimately the court believed that Congress has been monitoring this issue and if Congress wishes for a more specific action, then Congress should act. The court’s opinion in Organization for Competitive Markets v. USDA, No. 17-3723 (8th Cir. 2018) is available here.
Funding for National Weather Service and National Algal Bloom Program receives President’s signature. On Monday, January 7th, President Trump signed Senate Bill 2200, which passed during the previous Congress. The bill increases funding for the National Weather Service’s agriculture related weather monitoring and forecasting from $26.5 million in 2019 to $28.5 million by 2023. The Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, the research arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), will see an increase in funding from $136.5 million in 2019 to $154 million by 2023. The bill also instructs NOAA to “plan the procurement of future data sources and satellite architectures,” essentially instructing NOAA to think about cost-effective ways to upgrade weather monitoring systems both on the ground and in space. The National Integrated Drought Information System will also see an increase in funding from $13.5 million this year to $14.5 million by 2023. The program is to use some of the funding to “develop a strategy for a national coordinated soil moisture monitoring network” within the next year. Finally, the bill also reauthorizes $20.5 million each year through 2023 for relief from hypoxia or harmful algal blooms “of national significance,” which the bill defines as “a hypoxia or harmful algal bloom event that has had or will likely have a significant detrimental environmental, economic, subsistence use, or public health impact on an affected state.” For the text of the act, visit Congress’s webpage here.
Ohio Case Law Update
- Ohio Power Citing Board cannot extend construction certificate for wind farm by simple motion, but must follow amendment process, according to the Ohio Supreme Court. Black Fork Wind Energy filed an application with the Ohio Power Citing Board (“the board”) to construct a wind farm in Crawford and Richland Counties in 2011, and the board approved the application in January 2012. Black Fork had five years, until January 2017, to begin construction on the project. The project was delayed due to a lawsuit challenging the project, and Black Fork sought an additional two years to begin construction. The board granted Black Fork’s motion without a full application to amend and investigation. The board argued that it regularly grants such extensions and that extensions do not amount to an “amendment” that would require an application because an extension is not “a proposed change to the facility.” The majority of the Ohio Supreme Court disagreed, and held that the board acted improperly. Because the commencement of construction was a term in the certificate, granting an extension amounts to an amendment in the certificate. As such, the board should not have acted on the request without requiring an application for amendment and investigation. The Court reversed the order and remanded the issue back for further proceedings. Justices Fischer and O’Donnell dissented, arguing that the Court should defer to the board in how it reads “amendment” under Ohio Revised Code § 4906.07(B). For the Ohio Supreme Court’s opinion from In re application of Black Ford Wind Energy, Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-5206, click here.
- Creditors must first seek payment of unpaid bills from estate of deceased spouse before attempting to collect from a surviving spouse, according to the Ohio Supreme Court. In Embassy Healthcare v. Bell, Mr. Robert Bell received care at a nursing home operated by Embassy Healthcare. Embassy sent a letter for collection to his wife, Mrs. Bell, six months and three days after he had passed away, but no estate for Mr. Bell had been opened. In Ohio, creditors have six months to request an estate administrator be appointed in order to collect a debt from an estate, but Embassy did not make such a request. Since it missed the six month statute of limitations, Embassy tried to seek collection from Mrs. Bell under Ohio’s “necessaries” law, as provided in Ohio Revised Code § 3103.03. This law requires spouses to support their spouse with money, property, or labor if their spouse cannot do so on their own; however, the Ohio Supreme Court has said that a person is responsible for their own debts first, and that under this statute their spouse will only be liable if that person cannot pay for their debts. In this case, the Ohio Supreme Court said that Embassy had to seek payment from Mr. Bell’s estate before it could require payment from his spouse. Since the statute of limitations had run to bring a claim against Mr. Bell’s estate, Embassy would be unable to demonstrate that Mr. Bell’s estate could not cover his personal debts. Therefore, Embassy would not be able to prove an essential requirement of Ohio’s necessaries law, and cannot recover from his spouse. For the Ohio Supreme Court’s opinion in Embassy Healthcare v. Bell, Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-4912, click here.
- Trial court may determine width of easement as a question of fact, and will not be reversed by appellate court unless the evidence shows it clearly lost its way, according to Ohio Court of Appeals for the 7th District. A property owner signed an express easement to a neighbor so that the neighbor could cross the property owner’s land to access the public road. The written easement did not specify the width of the easement, but the neighbor cleared a path approximately 10 feet wide. The property owner eventually sold the property, and the new owner laid gravel on the path from the public road to their garage, and the neighbor extended the gravel all the way to his own property. Disputes later arose regarding the easement, and the neighbor sued the new property owners for breach of easement, and sought a declaration that the easement was thirty feet wide. Ohio case law allows trial courts to establish the dimensions of an easement if the writing does not specify any dimensions if the trial court examines: 1) the language of the granting document, 2) the context of the transaction, and 3) the purpose of the easement. The trial court found the easement to be ten feet wide. The neighbor appealed, but the Seventh District found the trial court’s decision to be reasonable given the evidence and Ohio law. Since the width of an easement is a question of fact, an appellate court will not reverse the trial court absent evidence that the trial court clearly lost its way given the weight of the evidence. For the Seventh Districts’ opinion in Cliffs and Creek, LLC v. Swallie, 2018-Ohio-5410 (7th Dist.), click here.
Written by: Evin Bachelor, Law Fellow, and Ellen Essman, Sr. Research Associate
The end of the year is here, and there is a flurry of news coming across our desks. We wish you a prosperous 2019 and look forward to keeping you up to date on what is happening in the agricultural law world.
Here’s our latest gathering of agricultural law news that you may want to know:
GMO labeling rule released by USDA. The Agricultural Marketing Service posted the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard rule on the Federal Register, located here, on Friday, December 21, 2018. According to the rule page, the rule “establishes the new national mandatory bioengineered (BE) food disclosure standard (NDFDS or Standard).” The standards require foods labeled for retail sale to disclose certain information either through a new symbol, inclusion of a QR code that provides a link to a website, including a phone number to text for more information, or including the term “bioengineered” on the label. The rule defines bioengineered food as food that contains genetic material modified through changing DNA or other modifications that could not be done through conventional breeding or otherwise found in nature. Exemptions for foods served in restaurants and very small food manufacturers with gross receipts of less than $2.5 million limit the rule’s applicability. The rule will take effect on February 19, 2019, with compliance becoming mandatory by January 1, 2022. For more information, or to see the new label, visit the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s BE Disclosure webpage here.
Farm Bill provides good news for dairy farmers. Under the 2018 Farm Bill Conference Report, available here, the Margin Protection Program (MPP) was renamed the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC). The name was not the only change made to the program. Per the USDA, the program “is a voluntary risk management program… offer[ing] protection to dairy producers when the difference between the all milk price and the average feed cost (the margin) falls below a certain dollar amount selected by the producer.” The Farm Bill lowers the premium rates for risk coverage. Furthermore, the bill adds coverage levels of $8.50, $9.00 and $9.50 for a dairy operation’s “first five million pounds of participating production.” If a farmer covers his first five million pounds at $8.50, $9.00, or $9.50, he then has the option to cover anything in excess of five million pounds at coverage levels of $4.00-$8.00 (in fifty cent increments). Another notable change—the Farm Bill allows farmers who maintain “their coverage decisions, including coverage level and covered production, through 2023,” to “receive a 25% discount on their premiums each year.” The DMC language can be found in section 1401 of the Farm Bill.
Missouri farmer pleads guilty to wire fraud for falsely marketing grains as organic. Federal prosecutors charged Mr. Randy Constant with wire fraud, alleging that since 2008 he and his associates improperly marketed millions of dollars worth of grain as certified organic while knowing that it was not. Mr. Constant operated certified organic farms as part of his larger operation, but “at least 90% of the grain being sold was actually either entirely non-organic or a mix,” according to the information filed by the federal prosecutors. Federal prosecutors sought full restitution of approximately $128 million for victims/purchasers, in addition to the forfeiture of 70 pieces of equipment, ranging from pickup trucks to combines and semi-trucks to GPS yield mapping systems.
On December 20, 2018, Mr. Constant entered a plea of guilty. The magistrate filed a report indicating that Mr. Constant understood what his plea meant, and that the one count of wire fraud is punishable by (1) a maximum of 20 years in prison, (2) a maximum of 3 years of supervised release following prison, and (3) a maximum fine of $250,000. Further, Mr. Constant will be barred from receiving USDA benefits, including those from USDA Farm Service Agency, Agricultural Marketing Service National Organic Program, and Federal Crop Insurance Program. Additionally, Mr. Constant could face restitution to all victims/purchasers of approximately $128 million. For more information, search for United States v. Constant, 6:18-cr-02034-CJW-MAR (N.D. Iowa 2018).
Japan set to lower tariffs on agricultural commodities from TPP members and the EU. The United States exports a significant share of the beef, pork, wheat, and other farm products imported by Japan. However, two major trade agreements set to take effect early in 2019 will result in reduced tariffs for imports into Japan from a number of other countries. The United States withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, but 11 other nations continued to pursue the agreement, which is set to begin taking effect at the start of 2019. On February 1st, the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement takes effect, and will result in lowered tariffs for a number of agricultural products, especially for beef. Under the new agreements, chilled or frozen beef from EU and TPP exporters will face a 26.6% tariff, while tariffs on American beef will remain at 38.5%. Prepared pork from EU and TPP exporters will face a 13.3% tariff, while tariffs on American pork will remain at 20%. For more information on Japan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan’s TPP webpage here. For more information on Japan’s agreement with the European Union, visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan’s EU agreement webpage here.
Ohio Case Law Update
- Signing a mortgage is enough to bind signatory despite not being named in the mortgage if the signature demonstrates an intent to be bound by the mortgage. The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel for the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals asked the Ohio Supreme Court to clarify “whether a mortgage is invalid and unenforceable against the interest of a person who has initialed, signed, and acknowledged the mortgage agreement but who is not identified by name in the body of the agreement.” In this case, Vodrick and Marcy Perry filed for bankruptcy. At issue was a piece of property subject to a promissory note and mortgage. The bank held the promissory note, which was signed and initialed by Mr. Perry only, while the mortgage was signed by both Mr. and Mrs. Perry. The Ohio Supreme Court held that “the failure to identify a signatory by name in the body of a mortgage agreement does not render the agreement unenforceable as a matter of law against that signatory.” The focus is on the signor’s intent to be bound by the mortgage, even if the mortgage itself does not mention the signor by name. The case is cited as Bank of New York Mellon v. Rhiel, Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-5087, and the Ohio Supreme Court’s opinion is available here.
- Specific reference in a deed to a mineral interest preserves the interest despite Marketable Title Act when the reference includes the type of interest created and to whom the interest was granted. Generally, Ohio’s Marketable Title Act allows a landowner with an unbroken chain of title for forty years or more to take an interest in the land free and clear of other claims that arose before the “root of title.” However, there is an exception where prior interests will still apply if there is a specific identification of a recorded title transaction, rather than a general reference to an interest. In this case, Nick and Flora Kuhn conveyed a 60-acre tract of land in 1915, but retained an interest in royalties from any oil and gas extracted from the parcel, specifically naming Nick and Flora Kuhn and their heirs and assigns. Then in 1969, the Blackstone family purchased the 60-acre parcel, and received a deed that included language “[e]xcepting the one-half interest in oil and gas royalty previously excepted by Nick Kuhn, their [sic] heirs and assigns in the above described sixty acres.” The Blackstone family sought to quiet title and have the Kuhn heirs’ interest extinguished or deemed abandoned in 2012. The Ohio Supreme Court interpreted the language in the deed as sufficient to survive Ohio’s Marketable Title Act, which preserves the Kuhn heirs’ oil and gas interest that dates back to 1915. The case is cited as Blackstone v. Moore, Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-4959, and the Ohio Supreme Court’s opinion is available here.
Hemp is one of the most talked-about provisions of the new Farm Bill passed earlier this month by Congress and signed by the President on December 20. There’s a lot of excitement about the removal of federal restrictions on hemp production and the economic opportunities for growing hemp. But what exactly does the Farm Bill say about hemp? Can Ohioans now grow, use and sell hemp and hemp products? We dove into the 807 pages of the Farm Bill Conference Report (available here for your reading pleasure) to find answers to your questions about the new legal status of hemp and hemp cultivation.
What is hemp?
Before we go much further in this discussion, it’s important to understand that both hemp and marijuana are species of cannabis, but they have different properties. Of particular note is the fact that marijuana contains much more tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) than hemp. THC is the part of a cannabis plant that can cause a psychoactive effect in certain concentrations, but hemp plants generally do not contain enough THC to produce a “high.” Hemp has many uses— it can be used for construction materials, fabrics and clothing, and animal bedding. It has even been discussed as a potential cover crop. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a very popular extract of the hemp plant that is alleged to help those with anxiety, pain, inflammation, and other ailments, but not much research has been done to verify its effectiveness for medical use. Note that CBD is also an extract of the higher THC marijuana plant.
Hemp is removed from the federal list of controlled substances—but only if it meets certain requirements
First and foremost, the Farm Bill removes hemp from the federal list of controlled substances. Section 12619 of the bill removes hemp from the definition of marijuana, which is still an illegal drug under federal law. In the same section, the bill federally decriminalizes tetrahydrocannabinols (THC) in hemp. Not all hemp, however, is subject to this exemption. Only hemp and THC as defined in the Farm Bill and as grown under the conditions set forth in the Farm Bill are accorded the exemption.
So, how does the Farm Bill change the definition of hemp? The main hemp provision of the bill, Section 10113, separates hemp from the definition of marijuana and redefines hemp as “the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.”
Coming soon: state and federal hemp production plans
The new law doesn’t allow a producer to start growing hemp today. Instead, Section 10113 of the Farm Bill describes the two situations under which a producer will be able to engage in legal hemp production in the future. In the first situation, the States or Indian tribes may take charge of the regulation of hemp production within their boundaries. To do this, a State must first submit a plan to the USDA through their state department of agriculture. A State plan must include:
- A way to keep track of land where hemp is produced within the state;
- Methods the state will use to test how much THC is in hemp plants;
- A way to dispose of plants or products that have a higher THC concentration than is legally allowed;
- A procedure for inspecting hemp producers;
- A plan for enforcing the law;
- A system for dissemination of a hemp producer’s information to the USDA; and
- Assurances that the state has the resources to carry out the plan.
A producer who wants to cultivate hemp in a State that has an approved hemp production plan must first comply with the State’s plan before beginning to grow hemp. Predictions are that it may take a State about a year to create its hemp production plan and obtain the required USDA approval for the plan.
The second situation for growing hemp comes into play if a State or Tribe does not submit a hemp plan to USDA. In this case, as long as the State has not limited the regulation or production of hemp under state law, the Secretary of Agriculture for the USDA may establish a plan “to monitor and regulate” hemp production within that State. A plan established by the USDA must meet the same criteria as a plan written by a State, and the law also requires the USDA to establish a licensing procedure for producers. Thus, a producer in a State that doesn’t have a hemp plan could legally grow hemp by obtaining a USDA hemp license through the hemp regulations that the USDA will develop, unless the State has prohibited hemp cultivation. Section 10113 specifically states that it does not preempt or limit any state law that “regulates the production of hemp” as well as any state law that is “more stringent” than federal law in regulating hemp production. Thus, a State can outlaw hemp production within its boundaries or include additional restrictions and requirements in its State plan as long as the plan complies with the federal law requirements.
Handling producer violations
What if a hemp producer doesn’t comply with the new law or with the State or USDA hemp production plan? Section 10113 also describes how violations of the law will be handled. If a hemp producer negligently violates a State or USDA hemp production plan, the producer could be subject to enforcement. One negligent violation of the plan would not trigger criminal punishment, but the violator would have to comply with a corrective action plan prescribed by the State or USDA. However, if a producer negligently violates a plan three times in five years, the producer will be banned from producing hemp for five years. Examples of negligent violations in the law include: not providing a legal description of the land where hemp is produced, growing hemp without obtaining a license “or other required authorization” from the State, Tribe, or USDA, or producing hemp with a THC concentration higher than 0.3 percent. If a producer violates a State or USDA plan “with a culpable mental state greater than negligence” (that is, purposely, knowingly, or recklessly), then the State or USDA must report the violation to law enforcement authorities. Furthermore, persons convicted of a felony relating to a controlled substance under state or federal law are generally barred from hemp production for ten years following the date of their conviction, with the exception of persons convicted of a controlled substances felony but lawfully participating in a pilot program under the 2014 Farm Bill. Finally, if a person falsifies an application to participate in hemp production, that person will be totally barred from producing hemp.
Legal hemp not to be prohibited in interstate commerce
The new law also allows for the interstate commerce of legally produced hemp and hemp products. Section 10114 says that a State or Indian Tribe cannot prevent the transportation or shipment of legally produced hemp through its state or territory. While a State may ban the sale of hemp or hemp products solely within its borders, it must allow hemp products to move freely through the State. For example, imagine that Pennsylvania allows hemp production but Ohio does not. Producers of legal hemp in Pennsylvania could not sell the hemp within Ohio, but Ohio could not prohibit a truck, train, or other type of transport from carrying the hemp through Ohio to a destination outside of Ohio.
Hemp becomes eligible for crop insurance
Importantly, the Farm Bill also addresses hemp production risk by amending the Federal Crop Insurance Act to include hemp. Section 1119 adds hemp to the definition of “agricultural commodities” that can be insured and section 11106 adds legally produced hemp to the list of crops that can be insured even after harvested. Other provisions in Title XI waive marketability requirements for researching hemp.
Making way for hemp research funding
Several provisions in the Farm Bill ensure that it is legally permissible to fund hemp research. Section 7129 amends the National Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching Policy Act to allow the Secretary of Agriculture to award grants for researching hemp and the development of hemp products. In section 7501, the bill amends the Critical Agricultural Materials Act to allow research on hemp, meaning that Congress believes hemp has the “potential of producing critical materials for strategic and industrial purposes.”
Finally, section 7605 amends the hemp pilot program language from the 2014 Farm Bill (for information on the pilot program, see our previous blog post). The Secretary of Agriculture is tasked with conducting a study on the pilot program and submitting a report on the study to Congress within a year. Section 7605 also repeals the hemp pilot programs, but only one year after final regulation on hemp production under section 10113 is published.
How does current Ohio law treat hemp production?
Ohio law defines marijuana as “all parts of a plant of the genus cannabis…” in Ohio Revised Code section 3719.01. Hemp is in the genus cannabis, as discussed earlier in this post. Therefore, under current Ohio law, hemp is the same as marijuana. Marijuana is a controlled substance under Ohio law, and the law states that “[n]o person shall knowingly obtain, possess, or use a controlled substance.”
What about hemp-derived CBD oil? Ohio enacted a medical marijuana law in 2016, although dispensaries in the state have yet to open (so far, only one dispensary in the state has been licensed). In order to obtain medical marijuana in Ohio, it would have to be prescribed by a physician with which the patient has a “bona fide physician-client relationship,” and the patient would have to have a qualifying medical condition. Medical marijuana can be prescribed and used in oil form under the law. Since Ohio law lumps hemp in with marijuana, this means that in order to obtain CBD oil derived from hemp, a person would also have to follow the steps to obtain medical marijuana. Hemp-derived CBD oil also does not fall under any exceptions in Ohio’s definition of marijuana. Ohio’s State Board of Pharmacy specifically stated in a guidance document that CBD oil can only be legally dispensed from a licensed dispensary. In releasing this guidance, the Board of Pharmacy is purporting to act under the rulemaking authority granted under ORC 3796.04.
Note, however, that there are exceptions to Ohio’s definition of marijuana. According to Ohio law, marijuana “does not include the mature stalks of the plant, fiber produced from the stalks, oils or cake made from the seeds of the plant, or any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the mature stalks, except the resin extracted from the mature stalks, fiber, oil or cake, or the sterilized seed of the plant that is incapable of germination.” Since hemp falls under the definition of marijuana, it is possible that some of these exceptions could also apply to certain hemp products made from stalks or seeds. Thus, it is plausible that some hemp products could be sold and used in Ohio. The law also states, however, that no person (other than those licensed under the medical marijuana law) “shall knowingly cultivate” marijuana. Again, since hemp is part of the state’s definition of marijuana, under the law, that means that nobody can “knowingly cultivate” hemp, either.
In sum, it appears as though some excepted hemp products could be sold in Ohio, but not CBD oil, as it does not fall under the exception. Even if some hemp products can be sold in Ohio, hemp itself cannot currently be cultivated in Ohio. The new hemp language in the Farm Bill allows states to be more restrictive with hemp than the federal government, so Ohio can continue its ban on certain hemp products even with the new federal law. The State cannot, however, stop the transportation of hemp across the State, as explained above. Conversely, Ohio’s General Assembly could remove hemp from Ohio’s definition of marijuana and redefine hemp according to the Farm Bill’s new definition, which could allow for legal hemp cultivation under the Farm Bill. For the time being, growing hemp in Ohio is not legal, but that is subject to change.
Stay tuned to the Ag Law Blog for continuing updates on hemp laws!
Here’s our gathering of ag law news you may want to know:
We have a Farm Bill. After months of waiting, the United States Congress has passed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, known as the Farm Bill. Members of Congress have been working for months trying to reconcile a House version and a Senate version in what is known as a Conference Committee. On Monday, December 10th, the Conference Committee submitted a report to members of Congress. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate approved the report by bipartisan majorities within a matter of days. The bill will become law once signed by President Trump, which analysts expect him to do by the end of this week.
The Ohio Ag Law Blog will explore some of the major provisions that will affect Ohio from a legal perspective, rather than restate what other news outlets and other sources have already said about the Farm Bill. First up will be a blog post about what the Farm Bill means for hemp in Ohio, so stay tuned for an in-depth analysis.
Syngenta settlement approved by federal judge. As previously reported in the Ohio Ag Law Blog here and here, the major multi-year class action lawsuit against Syngenta for failing to receive import approval from China before selling its Viptera and Duracade seeds in the United States has been settled for $1.51 billion. On December 7th, Judge John Lungstrum of the U.S. District Court for the District Kansas issued a final order granting the settlement. In the order, the court overruled a number of objections from class members who opposed the settlement. It also awarded one third of the settlement amount to the plaintiffs’ attorneys as attorney fees, valued at $503,333,333.33. The next step could involve appeals by those opposed to the settlement. According to a statement posted by one of the co-lead counsels for the plaintiffs, payments to eligible parties could begin as early as the second quarter of 2019, depending upon whether any appeals are filed.
Lawsuit centered on definition of “natural” allowed to proceed in California. Sanderson Farms labels its chicken products as “100% Natural.” However, the environmental groups Friends of the Earth and the Center for Food Safety have alleged that Sanderson Farms’ labeling is misleading, false, and unfair to competition. The lawsuit hinges around Sanderson Farms’ use of antibiotics in light of its “100% natural claims,” as the plaintiffs have argued that the reasonable consumer would believe “100% natural” to mean that the chickens were antibiotic free. Sanderson Farms has repeatedly countered that its chickens were cleared of any antibiotics before processing.
Sanderson Farms has asked Judge Richard Seeborg of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to dismiss the case multiple times. Each time the court has either allowed the plaintiffs to amend their complaint or rejected Sanderson Farms’ motions. The most recent denial came days after Sanderson Farms issued a press release announcing that it would no longer routinely use antibiotics considered medically important for humans by March 1, 2019. The judge’s denial of the motion to dismiss does not mean that the plaintiffs are correct, it only means that the plaintiffs have presented enough facts for the case to continue.
The controversy stems from labeling and consumer expectations. We previously talked about the “what is meat” and “what is milk” debates in a previous blog post, and this issue is not much different. Again there is a word that has not been thoroughly regulated by a governing entity such that companies have used it to mean different things. As more labeling questions arise, the Ohio Ag Law Blog will keep you posted on trends and updates.
Ohio legislation on the move:
Lake Erie shoreline improvement bill passes. Last Thursday, the Ohio Senate and House of Representatives agreed to modifications to Senate Bill 51, which addresses Lake Erie shoreline improvements, along with multiple amendments. The primary purpose of the bill is to add projects for Lake Erie shoreline improvement to the list of public improvements that may be financed by a special improvement district (SID). According to the Legislative Service Commission’s analysis when the bill was introduced, a SID is “an economic development tool” that facilitates improvements and services in the district “through a special assessment levied against property in the district.”
The bill as passed also would remove a requirement, previously included in Senate Bill 299, for the Ohio Department of Agriculture to establish rules regarding the Soil and Water Phosphorous Program. Instead, the department would now be instructed to “establish programs to assist in reducing” phosphorous in the Western Lake Erie Basin.
Further, the House added amendments that change a previously passed spending bill, House Bill 529. The bill would authorize $15 million for a flood mitigation project in the Eagle Creek Watershed. The Columbus Crew would also receive $15 million for construction of a new stadium in Columbus. The Armstrong Air & Space Museum in Wapakoneta would receive $250,000 for improvements. A few other tax items were addressed.
The bill as passed is available for download from the Ohio General Assembly’s website here. An analysis of the bill as most recently referred from the House Finance Committee is available here. As of the time of posting, the Governor still has to sign Senate Bill 51 for it to take effect.
Ohio township bill passes. Last Thursday, the Ohio House of Representatives and Senate agreed to modifications to House Bill 500, which would make a number of changes to Ohio’s township laws. Some of the highlights of the most recent version include:
- A boards of township trustees must select a chairperson annually.
- Petitions to change the name of township roads will result in an automatic name change if the county commissioners do not adopt a resolution regarding the petition within 60 days.
- County commissioners will not be able to vacate township roads unless the applicable board of township trustees have adopted a resolution approving the vacation.
- A board of township trustees will have the authority to charge a fee against a person who appeals a zoning decision to the board of zoning appeals in order to defray costs associated with advertising, mailing, and the like.
- A board of township trustees may suspend a member of a township zoning commission or township board of zoning appeals after charges are filed against a member, but must provide a hearing for removal no later than 60 days after the charges are filed.
- In limited home rule townships, the current requirement that a township must submit a proposed zoning amendment or resolution to a planning commission will be optional.
This list comes from the Ohio Legislative Service Commission’s bill analysis as of the bill’s re-reporting by the Senate Finance Committee. The bill analysis has a full list of the changes that House Bill 500 would make. For more information on the bill, visit the bill’s webpage on the Ohio General Assembly website.
Importantly for agriculture, the Ohio Senate removed language from the bill that would have changed Ohio Revised Code § 519.21(B), which limits the authority of townships to restrict agricultural uses via zoning. Currently, townships may only regulate agricultural uses in platted subdivisions created under certain statutory procedures, and only if certain conditions are met. The House had passed a version that would have allowed townships to regulate agricultural uses in any platted subdivision, but the language would not have changed the certain conditions that would have to be met.
Throughout the month of November, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) announced proposed amendments to rules, as well as the rescission and replacement of one rule, in the Ohio Administrative Code (OAC) Chapter 3717-1, the Ohio Uniform Food Safety Code. The changes are being recommended due to the required five year review of rules by ODH, as well as to “update the rules to be consistent to the current version of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Model Food Code,” which is required under Ohio law.
While most of the amendments to the rules are grammatical, or have to do with formatting or updating language, small, substantive changes are made in several rules. For instance, the proposed changes in OAC 3717-1-01 would change several definitions to be “consistent with FDA’s Model Food Code.” It would further “correct the definition of general use pesticide and restricted use pesticide to be consistent with the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s law,” among other changes. Proposed changes to OAC 3717-1-02.3 to make it mandatory for all food employees to cover or “restrain” their hair in some way. The changes recommended for 3717-1-03.2 would add requirements for the storage of utensils being used during cooking, prohibit the use of latex gloves in food service operations and retail food establishments, and add “nail brushes” to the list of control measures used by “food employees contacting ready-to-eat food with bare hands.” Changes proposed for OAC 3717-1-03.4 would add new requirements for the contents of a HACCP plan. Suggested modifications to 3727-1-08.2 would make it mandatory for the “[c]ustom processing of game animals, migratory waterfowl or game birds in a food service operation or retail food establishment…[to] be done only at the end of the work shift or day to prevent any cross contamination of product for sale or service.”
Finally, ODH proposes that 3717-1-20, which concerns existing facilities and equipment in a food service operation or food service operation, be rescinded and replaced. Although this seems like a major change, there are no real substantive changes between the current rule and the proposed replacement; ODH is simply suggesting a considerable reorganization of the rule’s wording and formatting. The entire rules package is available here.
A hearing on the changes will be held on Thursday, December 20, 2018 at 11:00 a.m. at ODH. The address is: 35 East Chestnut Street Columbus, Ohio 43215. The hearing will take place in ODH Basement Training Room A. Those who may be affected by the rules are invited to attend and participate. Any written comments must be submitted by 5:00 p.m. on December 18, 2018 to ODHrules@odh.ohio.gov. More information about the hearing, as well as a brief description of the changes being made to each rule, can be found in this document.
The legislative Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) has voted to send the "watersheds in distress" rule revisions back to the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA). JCARR reviews administrative rules to make sure they follow legal requirements, which we explained in a previous blog post. The "watersheds in distress" rules seek to address agricultural nutrient impacts on water quality, also explained in an earlier post. At its meeting yesterday, JCARR members voted 8 to 1 to recommend that ODA revise and refile the rules for consideration at JCARR's next meeting on January 22, 2019.
The January 22 meeting date efectively removes Governor Kasich's administration from the rules revision. Kasich issued an executive order last July directing his agencies to prepare the controversial rule package. But the incoming DeWine Administration will control the fate of the rules since DeWine takes office on January 14, 2019. JCARR is apparently counting on the new administration to take a different approach on agricultural nutrient pollution reduction.
"There will be a new administration and we'll have maybe more productive talks," stated JCARR's chair, Sen. Joe Uecker (R-Loveland). "The DeWine Administration has demonstrated an interest on working with stakeholders on this issue."
The lack of stakeholder involvement was a common concern voiced by JCARR members, who stated that the rules had been rushed and did not involve all of the interested parties. Several committee members also suggested that the rules are inconsistent with legislative intent and will have a significant adverse impact on farmers. The Ohio Soybean Association, Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association, and Ohio Farm Bureau echoed those criticisms to JCARR members while several local residents, local groups and the Ohio Environmental Council testified that the rules would not sufficiently protect water quality.
If ODA fails to refile the rules proposal for the January meeting, JCARR will have 31 days to recomend that the Ohio General Assembly invalidate the rules. That action would allow each chamber five days to pass a resolution invalidating the rules; if the concurrent resolution does not pass within that time period, the rules would stand. Alternatively, ODA could remove the proposal from JCARR's agenda and refile revised rules at a later date, a likely course of action for the incoming DeWine administration.
The Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) plays an important role in Ohio’s government. Its review of new and old rules assists in verifying that administrative rules are not duplicative, overly-burdensome, or costly. Among other things, JCARR also helps to confirm that rules in fact carry out what the legislature had in mind when passing the law. In fact, on Monday, December 10, 2018, JCARR will decide the fate of the controversial watersheds in distress rules (we explained the proposed rules in this blog post) prompted by Governor Kasich’s July 2018 executive order.
The Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review, often referred to by its acronym, JCARR, was enacted by the Ohio General Assembly in 1977, and is codified in section 101.35 of the Ohio Revised Code. JCARR is charged with “review[ing] proposed new, amended, and rescinded rules” from Ohio’s administrative agencies. The state’s administrative agencies are numerous and include the Ohio Department of Agriculture, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, just to name a few. The administrative agencies are responsible for making the administrative rules to help carry out the Ohio General Assembly’s legislation.
Make-up of the committee
JCARR is made up of five members of each house of the Ohio General Assembly, meaning that five members from the house of representatives and five members from the senate make up the full committee. The speaker of the house appoints the five representatives, and the president of the senate appoints the five senators. The appointments must be bipartisan; each house may only appoint three members of the same political party. During the general assembly’s first regular session, the speaker of the house chooses the chairperson of JCARR from their house appointees, and the president of the senate chooses the vice-chair. During the second regular session, the chair and vice-chair are chosen in the reverse.
Conditions that rules must meet
If JCARR reviews an administrative rule and finds that rule to “violates one or more” of six requirements, the committee may “make a recommendation to invalidate the rule.” The six requirements are as follows:
- The rules do not exceed the scope of the rule-making agency’s statutory authority;
- The rules do not conflict with a rule of that agency or another rule-making agency;
- The rules do not conflict with the intent of the legislature in enacting the statute under which the rule is proposed;
- The rule-making agency has prepared a complete and accurate rule summary and fiscal analysis of the proposed rule, amendment, or rescission (Revised Code 127.18);
- The rule-making agency has met the incorporation by reference standards for a text or other material as stated in Revised Code 121.72, Revised Code 121.75, or Revised Code 121.76; and
- If the rule has an adverse impact on business (Revised Code 107.52), the rule-making agency has demonstrated through the business impact analysis, the Common Sense Initiative office recommendations, and the agency’s memorandum of response to the recommendations, that the regulatory intent of the rule justifies its adverse impact on business.
If a rule is found to violate any of the conditions listed above, a member of JCARR can move to recommend a resolution to invalidate the rule. The motion for invalidation must include the reason for the invalidation specifically based on one or more of the above conditions. The motion can be to invalidate the whole rule, or just part of the rule. If the motion for invalidation is seconded by another committee member, the members of JCARR can then vote on the motion. A majority of the committee is required to recommend a resolution for amended, revised, and rescinded rules. A two-thirds super majority is required to recommend a resolution to invalidate a no-change 5 year review.
If a motion for invalidation passes JCARR, the rule is put into suspension, meaning the administrative agency cannot proceed with the rule. A member of the committee then writes a concurrent resolution about invalidating the rule. Then, depending on which house the writer of the resolution comes from, the resolution goes to the house of representatives or senate, where the body has five session days to act on the resolution. If that time lapses, or there is no majority vote within five days, then the resolution dies, meaning the rule would no longer be suspended. If the resolution does pass the first body by majority vote, it then goes to the other house of General Assembly. Again, in the second body, the resolution must be voted on within 5 session days and be passed by a majority vote. If the resolution does not pass or is not voted on, again, the rule comes out of suspension. Finally, if the concurrent resolution for invalidating the rule passes both the house and senate, the rule is invalidated.
5 Year Review of Rules
Administrative agencies in Ohio must review their administrative rules every five years. The first part of the review requires the agency to ascertain whether or not the rule has a harmful effect on business in the state of Ohio. If the agency decides that the rule does have a bad impact on business, then the rule must be sent to the Common Sense Initiative office (CSI). The CSI is charged with finding ways to diminish the effects on business.
After the analysis of the effect on business, the agency decides whether or not the rule needs to be updated or removed. Upon deciding that a rule needs to be changed or removed, the agency must then file the rule with JCARR as a five year amended or rescinded rule. Then, JCARR goes through the process described above—the committee determines whether the amended or rescinded rule violates any of the six requirements, and if it does, the committee follows the process for rule invalidation.
If the agency determines that the rule should remain as it is, then it should file the rule as a five year no-change rule. JCARR then considers the following questions as pertains to the no-change rule:
- Should the rule be continued based on the intent of the statute under which the rule was adopted?
- Should the rule be amended to give more flexibility at the local level?
- Should the rule be rescinded or eliminated because of unnecessary paperwork?
- Does the rule meet the standards for incorporation by reference?
- Does the rule duplicate, overlap, or conflict with other rules?
- Is there a continued need for the rule?
- If the rule has an adverse impact on business, did the rulemaker demonstrate through the business impact analysis, CSI recommendations, and the memorandum of response that the regulatory intent of the rule justifies its adverse impact on business?
If JCARR finds that one of the above questions was violated or not sufficiently addressed by the agency, then the committee can entertain a motion for invalidation of the rule, triggering the rule invalidation process discussed above.
JCARR has an excellent website with informative videos and other information about its purpose and how it carries out the review process, available here. For a deeper dive into JCARR and the review process, the committee’s procedure manual is also very helpful.
The holiday season stands out as one of the most generous times of year as people give gifts to the people they love. What better way to get into the holiday spirit than to talk about the tax implications of your gifts? There are three shopping weekends left until December 25th, so here are three highlights about the federal gift tax that you should know:
1. The federal gift tax is assessed on the person who gives the gift, not the person who receives the gift.
An individual who gives a gift of cash or assets with a fair market value greater than $15,000 to any one person in a given year will have to report the gift(s) using IRS Form 709 when filing taxes for that year. These forms cannot be filed jointly, so if a married couple gives a gift that is worth more than $30,000 to any one person, both of them must file IRS Form 709 and report half of the value of the gift.
Form 709 requires a few pieces of information about the gift and who receives the gift. It asks for things like a description of the gift, the recipient’s name and address, when it was given, and its value. While documentation or receipts do not have to be submitted with Form 709, filers should keep records for themselves about the gift in case the IRS has questions.
The gift tax rates for 2018 range from 18 to 40 percent. The rates depend upon how much in excess of the $15,000 exclusion the gift is valued. For instance, a gift valued at $20,000 would have no taxes on the first $15,000, but the $5,000 over the $15,000 threshold would be subject to an 18 percent tax. The 40 percent rate applies to gifts valued at $1,015,000, or $1,000,000 over the $15,000 exclusion.
Fortunately for the recipient, the gift does not count as income to the recipient because the gift falls under the gift tax rules instead of the income tax rules.
2. Each individual may give up to $15,000 in gifts to any person per year free of federal gift taxes. Because this rule focuses on the individual giver, a married couple could give up to a combined $30,000 in gifts to any one person tax free.
To illustrate, if Bob and Betty Buckeye have a daughter, Bernice, both Bob and Betty can give Bernice $15,000 worth of gifts in 2018, for a total of $30,000, without having to pay taxes on the gift. If Bernice is married to Brutus, then Bob and Betty could also give a combined $30,000 gift to Brutus; however, that money is Brutus’s. The gift to Brutus cannot be used to hide a gift to Bernice.
Importantly, some gifts are excluded from the gift tax and do not count toward the $15,000 exclusion threshold. These include gifts to a spouse, gifts of tuition paid directly to the college or institution, gifts of medical expenses, gifts to certain exempt organizations like charities, and gifts to certain political organizations.
However, things like forgiving a debt, contributing to a 529 education plan, making an interest-free or below market rate loan, transferring the benefits of an insurance policy, or giving up an annuity in exchange for the creation of a survivor annuity do count as gifts. When these gifts exceed the $15,000 exclusion threshold, they are taxable.
The $15,000 threshold is new for 2018. In 2017, it was only $14,000. The IRS now revises the amount based upon inflation, but is expected only to do so periodically in $1,000 increments.
3. Under the new tax plan passed by Congress and signed by the President in 2017, the higher estate tax threshold has made gift giving less urgent as a tax planning strategy.
Many individuals used the gift exemption as a way to provide for the next generation while also lessening the risk or burden of federal estate taxes. However, the 2017 tax reform doubled the value of an individual estate that is exempt from the estate tax to $11,180,000. A couple may take advantage of that individual exemption, and, with proper planning, shield $22.4 million in assets from the federal estate tax. Unless an estate is likely to reach the applicable threshold, gifts may not be as important of an estate planning tool solely to avoid estate tax consequences.
Long-term planners may want to keep in mind that the new estate tax exemption is set to expire at the end of 2025. If the $11,180,000 exemption is not extended by the end of 2025, the law will revert back to what it was before the 2017 tax reform, thereby returning the estate tax exemption threshold to around $5.5 million.
Disclaimer: While the estate tax changes may have made gifts less relevant as an estate planning tool for some, this certainly does not mean that gifts should be cancelled this year. The OSU Extension Farm Office cannot take responsibility for that. It only means that more families can focus on giving for love, rather than taxes.
For more information on federal gift taxes, contact an accountant or attorney, or visit the Internal Revenue Service’s “Frequently Asked Questions on Gift Taxes” here. For more general information about how taxes affect agriculture, visit the OSU Extension Farm Office Tax Law Library here.