Legislative Action News, January 21, 2014

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Farm Bill Progress Stumbles

Both the House and Senate are in recess this week. As widely reported, House Speaker Boehner informed House Agriculture Committee Chairman Lucas and Ranking Member Peterson that he would not allow a vote on a farm bill conference report that included a dairy program with supply management features. A feature the Speaker had previously referred to as Soviet style agricultural policy. During House floor consideration of the farm bill last July an amendment stripped out the supply management provisions. However, those provisions remain in the Senate bill and appeared to be headed towards the final bill.

With dairy unresolved, no conference meeting has taken place in January, despite widespread expectations that Congress would be finished with the farm bill in January.  It is still possible that the full farm bill conference committee will meet to vote on outstanding issues, including country-of-origin labeling, catfish inspection, and state’s rights with respect to food and agricultural standards, though the four principals (Chairs Stabenow and Lucas and Ranking members Cochran and Peterson) seem to be trying to negotiate and settle these remaining issues at the same time they are working on a new dairy compromise.

If the four principals do settle all issues it is possible that no further conference meeting is necessary, provided that a majority of conferees are willing to sign off on a final conference report. So look for some signal when the House and Senate return the week of January 27. A compromise on dairy could lead to a conference meeting with votes on some remaining issues or it could lead to a signed conference report to be taken up on the House and Senate floor. In either case it now seems likely that the earliest that Congress could complete a farm bill is in February.

ASFMRA Comments on EPA Renewable Fuels Proposal

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a proposed rule on November 29, 2013 that would set 15.21 billion gallons to be blended into the motor fuel supply in 2014. That amount is 16 percent lower than the 18.15 billion gallons established for 2014 under the renewable fuels law passed in 2007. This is the first time that EPA has set the amount less than allowed under the Act.

ASFMRA Government Relations Committee submitted comments on the EPA’s proposed rule on behalf of ASFMRA. ASFMRA does not support the EPA’s approach and the letter submitted by Dennis outlines why.  You can read the letter here.

If you like to read the EPA rule, it can be found here: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2013-11-29/pdf/2013-28155.pdf

Comments are due to the EPA by January 28, 2014. If you would like to comment on the proposed rule, details can be found in the link above or you can go to several websites such as the Renewable Fuels Association or National Corn Growers to find links to submit comments. Several links are provided below for your convenience.

http://www.ncga.com/rfs

http://www.fuelsamerica.org/page/speakout/take-a-stand-for-lower-gas-prices?source=DefendRFSEPAComments&utm_medium=IA&utm_source=fapartners&utm_campaign=DefendRFSEPAComments

Congress Passes FY 2014 Omnibus Appropriations Bill

Before heading into recess, both the House and Senate passed a $1 trillion plus omnibus appropriations bill by wide bipartisan margins. The bill was made possible by the budget agreement reached between the House and Senate last December. It is a significant step towards return to regular order by shifting away from repeated continuing resolutions and sequestration of discretionary accounts.

The agricultural portion of the bill provides the salaries and expenses for all agencies and offices of the Department of Agriculture. The Farm Service Agency salaries and expenses are set at $1.493 billion for FY 2014, while the Risk Management Agency’s salaries and expenses are $71.5 million.  The bill includes report language supporting FDA’s decision to rewrite and seek public comment on aspects of its proposed Food Safety Modernization Act regulations (see last legislative report for more on FDA’s proposed rule).

The bill also directs USDA to pursue options for obtaining additional reimbursements from public and private entities for the cost of providing imagery and/or imagery services acquired through the National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP). USDA is required to submit a report to the Appropriation Committee that includes a detailed description of options for obtaining such reimbursements, including a discussion on the option to request new legislative authority. ASFMRA will closely follow any developments in this area.

USDA names California counties for drought disaster assistance - Central Valley Business Times

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated 27 of California’s 58 counties as natural disaster areas due to damages and losses caused by extreme drought.

The designated counties in the Central Valley are Fresno; Merced; Kern; San Joaquin; Kings; Sacramento; Madera; Tulare; and Stanislaus.

Other counties designated are Alameda; Mariposa; San Benito; Alpine; Inyo; San Bernardino; Amador; Mono; Calaveras; Monterey; San Luis Obispo; Contra Costa; Los Angeles; Santa Barbara; El Dorado; Santa Clara; Tuolumne and Ventura. Read more: http://www.centralvalleybusinesstimes.com/stories/001/?ID=25010

Senate Mulls Additional Legislation on Appraisal Exemptions By Bill Garber

The Appraisal Institute anticipates that in the coming weeks a coalition of Senators primarily from rural states will introduce legislation that addresses the concerns that many community banks and credit unions (mostly in rural states) have expressed about a “shortage of appraisers.”

The concern has been raised in several meetings AI has had with Congressional staff, and it mirrors comments advanced by trade groups for community banking and credit unions during recent Congressional hearings. The common complaint is that the alleged appraiser shortage has forced banks to use appraisers from too great a distance and therefore aren’t familiar with the area or the property.

AI anticipates that the Senate bill will propose that properties be exempt from appraisals when a lender is keeping the loans on their books.

In meetings with Congressional staff, AI has pointed out that it generally is good business practice to obtain an appraisal regardless of whether or not one is required. AI also has explained current exemption requirements that already provide banks with ample exemptions — although these can be misunderstood by lenders. Further, AI has emphasized that instead of additional exemptions from appraisal rules, Congress should look at reasons why there might be a shortage of appraisers, such as an increasingly rules-based approach to valuation and increasing appraiser liabilities.

Look for action alerts on this issue, as grassroots education of Congressional offices likely will be helpful.

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