Capitol Roundup

Budget becomes law; Disaster Relief bill & Farm Act adopted

The General Assembly adopted several bills relating to North Carolina agriculture this week in a flurry of legislative activity before the July 1st deadline for enacting the 2017-18 budget.

The State Senate voted 34-14 to override the Governor's veto of SB 257, Appropriations Act of 2017, on Tuesday and the House followed suit by a 76-43 vote on Wednesday. The two-year spending plan is now law.

On Wednesday, the House and Senate adopted the conference report for SB 615, North Carolina Farm Act of 2017. The bill now goes to the Governor who has the options of signing the bill, vetoing it, or allowing it to become law without his signature. The bill includes a provision that prohibits farmers from transmitting membership dues to a union on behalf of their farm employees. Also, the bill would disallow the practice of using a litigation settlement as a means to require unionization of farm workers. As previously reported, the bill would clarify that farm buildings or structures used for agritourism are exempt from county zoning if the farm holds a qualifying farmer sales-tax exemption certificate or is enrolled in the present-use value program. Further, it would clarify the definition of agritourism activities to include weddings, receptions, pick-your-own operations and other events held on a farm because of its rural setting. In accordance with these clarifications, the "farm building" definition provided by the state's building code would be streamlined. The bill would also remove a redundant statute authorizing counties to zone swine farms that have more than 600,000 pounds steady state live weight; clarify that a farmer does not have to hire professional engineers to close a hog lagoon; incorporate grazing fees and income from bees (except honey) into PUV income calculations; and allow for the sale or disposal of animals left at a livestock facility after two months without payment under a boarding contract. Farm Bureau strongly supports the Farm Act and is asking Governor Cooper to sign the bill into law.

Finally, the General Assembly sent SB 338, Disaster Recovery Act of 2017 to Governor Cooper's desk on Wednesday by unanimous votes in the House and Senate. The bill provided $20 million to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for stream debris removal and farm road repairs. The appropriation also designates supplemental funding for the AgWRAP to support disaster-related farm pond and dam repairs. Further, the Department is authorized to provide $1 million for drought relief in several Western North Carolina counties. Farm Bureau supports the legislation and urges the Governor to sign it.

On Friday, the General Assembly adjourned until August 3rd. During that session, the Legislature might consider bills relating to redistricting and certain matters that were pending in conference committees or were awaiting concurrence votes in each chamber.

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