AUGUSTA — Rep. William Pluecker, I-Warren, is a longtime Maine farmer, and now, on his first stint in the Maine House of Representatives, he is taking his agricultural experience to Augusta, introducing several bills for the health of Maine farms. A Feb. 5 hearing is already scheduled for one his bills: LD 36, An Act To Change the Composition of the Board of Pesticides Control.
That hearing, organized by the Committee on Agriculture Conservation and Forestry will be at 1 p.m., Room 214, in the Cross Building at the state capitol.
Pluecker, who owns and operates Hatchet Cove Farm with his wife, Reba Richardson, milks cows, plows fields and raises produce, as well as now serves Appleton, Hope, Warren and part of Union in Augusta.
A former policy committee member at MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association), Pluecker is familiar with governmental processes and has jumped right into the fray. Two weeks into the 129th Session of the Maine Legislature, Pluecker is tracking the progress of each of his bills.
“There’s a lot to learn,” he said, Jan. 28. “It’s like going back to school.”
While some of his proposed bills have made their way toward various legislative committees, a few have dropped off the table. That is also part of the process in Augusta. An LR represents a Legislative Request Number, which is assigned by the Revisor of Statutes when a request for a bill is made. LR numbers are used to track a bill until it is printed as a Legislative Document (assigned an LD number).
Pluecker’s 129th Session initiatives are as follows:
LR 1070, An Act To Expand Marketing Opportunities for Maine Farmers and Improve Accessibility of Maine-grown Fruits and Vegetables
This bill emerges from Pluecker’s experience in the business, and conversations with other farmers and individuals associated with programs to get fresh vegetables into low-income homes. This includes strengthening nutrition incentives, which increase the value of federal nutrition assistance dollars (SNAP/EBT).
“I am very excited about this one, as it expands a program that our farm has been using for years,” said Pluecker. “It builds a state program to leverage federal dollars to expand local farms abilities to market vegetables to SNAP recipients.”
LR 878, An Act To Establish Appliance Energy and Water Standards
”This is a great bill that, when passed, will enable consumers to save hundreds of dollars a year in reduced energy and water usage in our residential and commercial appliances,” he said. “It also will slow green house gas emissions and our state's contribution to climate change that is so rapidly challenging our fishing and farming industries in the state.”
Several states have adopted their own appliance standards, according to the U.S. Dept. of Energy. The bill’s roots lie with Pluecker’s ongoing work with environmental groups on this particular effort.
“This is a bill brought to me by livestock farmers across the state,” said Pluecker. “When meat is labelled as being from Maine, we need to be able to trust that the animals lived in Maine. As it is now, animals are being shipped to Maine, slaughtered here, and labelled as Maine-made meat. This is undercutting the price and market for our local farmers. Maine has a coveted brand that we need to protect for our local industry.”
The bill, which made it to the Committee on Agriculture Conservation and Forestry on Jan. 24, includes:
1. Poultry and poultry products sold or offered for sale may not be labeled with a certified "Maine" trademark or labeled or advertised as "Maine-raised" or by a similar designation unless the poultry was raised solely in the State from no later than the 7th day after hatching; and
2. Meat and meat products sold or offered for sale may not be labeled with a certified "Maine" trademark or labeled or advertised as "Maine-raised" or by a similar designation unless the animal was born in the State and raised solely in the State.
The bill also requires the Commissioner of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, under the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 22, chapter 562-A relating to preparation of livestock and poultry products for human consumption, to enforce the prohibition on labeling or advertising poultry, poultry products, meat and meat products sold or offered for sale as "Maine-raised" unless the requirements in this bill are met.
The Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association is watching this bill.
LR 758, An Act To Require Ingredient Lists at Retail Food Locations
A Union mother contacted Pluecker about this issue, he said. Her son has food allergies and, “ is difficult for the mother to know that she is buying food that is safe for her son to eat when they go to retail food locations like bakeries or ice cream shops because the people behind the counter aren't the ones who produced the food, and don't know if the food contains potential allergens,” he said.
The bill would contain language mandating that ingredients of food products be available to customers when they go into those sort of stores.
LR 661, An Act To Increase the Reimbursement Rate for Ambulance Service to Department of Corrections Facilities
As Pluecker went door-to-door, campaigning last fall, he heard from Warren residents, and the town office, that the town of Warren is required by law to make ambulance runs to the Maine State Prison, in Warren, when called.
“However, the prison has consistently reimbursed our town at the lowest possible rate, much lower than the actual cost of the ambulance run,” said Pluecker. “This increases the cost of our ambulance service, and in essence, the town of Warren has had to subsidize the emergency service of the prison with our property tax dollars. Clearly, the state has a need of our ambulance service, it is only fair that we are paid for the services we provide. This is the same situation at many DOC facilities in the state, and the legislators from many of those towns are ready to work on this issue.”
LR 559, An Act To Restore Revenue Sharing Retroactive to July 1, 2018
Another issue that caught Pluecker’s ear while he was campaigning concerned rising taxes.
“The number one issue at the doors this past fall was property taxes,” he said. “Wherever you are on the political spectrum, we have seen the state push more and more of its costs onto the towns. One of the ways it has done this is by reducing the revenue sharing with the towns. It is time that the state live up to the letter of the law and return that money to the towns.”
LR 55,3 An Act To Reestablish the Pesticide Notification Registry
According to Pluecker, this bill existed but was repealed a few years ago.
“As an organic farmer and licensed pesticide applicator, I know that pesticides are an important public health issue,” he said. “Many people have reactions to them, and organic farmers can loose their certification if their land is mistakenly sprayed. This bill restores the registry, so that those whose health and business rely upon not being sprayed with pesticides will have a warning that spraying will be occurring near their land.”
This bill, scheduled for the Feb. 5 hearing, reflects an attempt to diversify the state body that governs pesticide applications.
“Once again, as an organic farmer and licensed pesticide applicator, I understand the potential impact of pesticides on our land and environment,” said Pluecker. This bill restores the law that two of the at-large seats on the BPC will have an environmental protection focus. It will not remove any current members of the board, though replace the appropriate members when their terms ends.”
The language reads:
“....The board must be composed of 7 members, appointed by the Governor, subject to approval by the joint standing committee of the Legislature having jurisdiction over agricultural matters and confirmation by the Senate. To provide the knowledge and experience necessary for carrying out the duties of the board, the board must consist of the following members: one person with practical experience and knowledge regarding the agricultural use of chemicals; one person who has practical experience and knowledge regarding the use of chemicals in forest management; one person from the medical community; a scientist from the University of Maine System having practical experience and expertise in integrated pest management; one commercial applicator; and 2 persons appointed to represent the public. The 2 members appointed to represent the public must have a demonstrated interest in environmental protection and represent different geographic areas of the State. The term must be for 4 years, except that of the initial appointees, 2 shall serve 4-year terms, 2 shall serve 3-year terms, 2 shall serve 2-year terms and one shall serve serves a one-year term. Any vacancy must be filled by an appointment for the remainder of the unexpired term.”
This bill restores the requirement that the two public members of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, Board of Pesticides Control have a demonstrated interest in environmental protection, according to the bill summary. The change does not require the termination of the terms of current members of the board.
LR 550, An Act To Authorize the Joint Ownership of Dairy Animals and Eliminate Certain Regulation of Products Derived from the Animals
Pluecker has two milk cows, and invested $10,000 last year to build a milk room. He hopes this bill passes so that farmers with just a few dairy animals can share resources.
“As a farmer who has made the substantial investment to build a licensed dairy room, I know that it is not always a financially feasible option for farmers who only want to milk 2-3 cows,” he said. “It took me many years to pay back my investment. At the same time, we see the dairy industry in slow decline in the state. If we want to preserve our rural way of life on dairies, we need to make it easier for new farmers to try out a small dairy enterprise without all the investment. If they like it, then they could potentially expand into a larger licensed dairy. This bill allows a farmer to co-own a couple dairy animals, get the experience of caring for those animals, and sharing the milk and milk products of those animals with the co-owners without the substantial up front investment.”
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