Posts Tagged ‘Support for Farmers’

Session Update: Sine Die Report

March 1, 2023

On Saturday we adjourned the 2023 General Assembly Session sine die. Despite a political divide in the Senate that blocked the progress of some common-sense policies that had advanced through the House, we were still successful in passing a variety of legislation that serves all Virginians.

Protecting Ratepayers
In recent years much of my focus has been on energy policy, and more specifically restoring State Corporation Commission (SCC) authority to help lower electric costs for Virginians. I’m pleased to report after significant negotiations, we passed a bill (HB 1770) that largely unties the hands of the SCC and allows them to do their job to set rates that protect ratepayers, while ensuring our utilities remain financially stable and able to invest to meet the needs of the grid. Among the highlights, it guarantees a larger portion of overearnings are to be returned to ratepayers, rather than allowing the utility (Dominion) to retain them. Further, it requires the utility to move a portion of the current rate adjustment clauses (RACs) to the base rate which should result in some net savings. I had carried a stand-alone bill on the RAC issue and was glad to see that component addressed in the conference report. Finally, after a two year transition period, it removes all limitations on the SCC’s ability to set the rate of return (profit margin) for the utility as they see fit. I know for many families electric bills have increased significantly in recent months. This legislation should put downward pressure on further increases, providing much needed relief.

Admittedly, it was not a perfect deal. For example, a provision that would have allowed the SCC to alter the timeline of plant closures required under the Clean Economy Act (VCEA) if they felt grid reliability would be threatened did not make it in the final deal. I had carried another stand-alone bill that focused on this issue. While it was included in the House version that had passed, unfortunately it was not in the final conference report.

Much like repealing the California Vehicle Emissions Mandate, I expect this is an area the General Assembly will be forced to address in the future to safeguard grid reliability and avoid rolling blackouts like are commonplace in California and third world countries. Forcing folks to sit in the dark or be stranded on the side of the road to maintain ideological purity and placate environmental fearmongers is not progress.

Meeting our Workforce Needs
In addition to the utility reform bill, one of the most significant accomplishments that secured bipartisan support was the passage of legislation (HB 2195) to consolidate all workforce programs under one centralized secretariat. Meeting the needs of employers and providing the resources for citizens to secure the training and credentials necessary to improve their circumstances has been a top priority of the Youngkin Administration. Unfortunately, it has been widely recognized that Virginia currently has a complicated maze of workforce related programs stretched across six cabinet secretariats and countless agencies. This leads to confusion for employers and job seekers. Reform and consolidation of our programs has been a long time coming as numerous reports and studies over the years have recommended it. This legislation underwent numerous revisions to address concerns and the final product received near unanimous support.

My Legislation
While this session was not without some personal disappointments, on the whole we had many successes on the legislation I patroned. In addition to the six bills headed to the Governor that I mentioned in my last update, I had three additional bills that successfully finished making their way through the General Assembly last week.

HB 1660 extends the Dairy Margin Coverage Premium Assistance Program for an additional five years. In the most recent VDACS analysis, this program has demonstrated its effectiveness at helping dairy farmers and securing additional environmental stewardship practices on our farms.

HB 2126 Grants electric utilities the ability to maintain gravel access roads permanently, provided certain environmental standards are met when they are constructed. Current regulations require that when these roads are built to install our maintain transmission lines, they are required to be torn up and “reclaimed” when the work on that specific project is completed. This adds costs for the utilities when they have to regularly reinstall and reclaim these roads. Further, regular land disturbance can lead to more environmental degradation than if the initial road, once installed, is left alone.

HB 2428 Puts in place standards that protect our kids from being marketed marijuana and other harmful psychoactive substances. The bill makes clear that no substance that is illegal, which currently includes marijuana, can be advertised whatsoever. However, it proactively adds protections in code in the event a retail market is established for marijuana in the future. Other states that have established a legal retail market without also enacting these standards have seen a proliferation of advertising that has inappropriately targeted kids. Regardless of how you feel about adult use of marijuana and related products, studies consistently show negative consequences when used by minors. This bill, if signed into law, will allow us to avoid the pitfalls of other states that have seen use among young people increase significantly.

Budget Update
As I’ve stated before, the Commonwealth’s spending plan is generally one of the most significant items we handle every session. It’s important to note Virginia adopts a biennial budget and therefore for the coming year we already have a budget in place. However, customarily we still adopt revisions to the budget in the odd year based on updated revenues and needs. Because of a budget surplus, we went into the session with roughly $3 billion additional to appropriate and potentially build on our efforts from last year to provide direct relief to taxpayers.

While as of last Friday it looked like budget negotiators had a tentative deal in place, unfortunately that fell apart when the Senate Democratic caucus balked. Instead, what we left Richmond with Saturday was a very narrow budget deal that only addressed a handful of items. It addresses the reporting error at the Department of Education to ensure every school division receives at least as much as they had been told last year. It also makes additional required appropriations to the Rainy-Day Fund and the Virginia Retirement System to ensure we maintain our top bond rating. Finally, it adds a supplement to the capitol fund to address some cost overruns for projects that have come about due to inflation in the construction industry.

Budget conferees have indicated they will continue to negotiate on a broader deal and I’m hopeful we can have one in place to vote on sooner rather than later.

Thanks Anna!
There’s a lot of folks that work behind the scenes to make our legislative process work. This includes Clerk’s office staff, Division of Legislative Services staff, the staff for each legislator, and last but not least, our House Pages! The page program consists of 13 and 14 year old students that stay in Richmond during session to provide a helping hand wherever needed and to learn more about their legislature.

This year the 26th District was well represented by Anna Webb (pictured directly below). I enjoyed getting to know Anna and wish her all the best in her future endeavors.

The end of the session was bittersweet this year as many of my colleagues have decided to retire at the end of the current term. I’ve built some great friendships over the years with these individuals and it’s sad to see them go, but I wish them well. All have been effective legislators and left a positive mark on the Commonwealth.

Among those retiring that I’ve served with for nearly the entire duration of my service are Delegates Rob Bell, Roxanne Robinson, James Edmunds, Margaret Ransone, Kathy Byron, and Ken Plum.

Following Report Demonstrating Positive Results, Obenshain and Wilt File Legislation to Continue Program Supporting Dairy Farmers

January 11, 2023

HARRISONBURG- On Monday Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) and Delegate Tony Wilt (R-
Rockingham) filed a pair of bills to continue the Virginia Dairy Margin Coverage Premium Assistance Program. This follows an encouraging report from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and
Consumers Services (VDACS) that offers convincing evidence that the program met both the goals of
offering tangible help to the struggling dairy industry, while also incentivizing farmers to implement
environmental stewardship practices.

“I am very pleased to see that the program has been helpful to farmers and also that it has successfully
promoted voluntary implementation of agricultural best management practices,” Obenshain said. “The
dairy industry has struggled over the past few years, but this approach has proven to be a real win-win for
the industry and we have made a strong case for its continuation.”

“It’s exciting to see that the program is working,” stated Wilt. “Since Rockingham is the top dairy
producing locality in the Commonwealth by a wide margin, ensuring a sustainable industry is vital not
only for our farmers, but our local economy as a whole. It’s equally as exciting that this program likely
encouraged dozens of farmers to voluntarily implement or renew best management practices on their

“The recent VDACS report confirms the program has been a success both in terms of assisting our
farmers and encouraging environmental stewardship practices,” said Eric Paulson, Executive Secretary of
the Virginia Dairyman’s Association. “Given this success, it makes sense to continue it beyond this year
and I’m thankful to Senator Obenshain and Delegate Wilt for their willingness to bring legislation

Without this legislation, the original program was implemented on a trial basis and is otherwise
scheduled to expire in July. Both Delegate Wilt and Senator Obenshain played a significant role in
establishing the original program a few years ago through prior legislative action and their efforts to
secure funding in the state budget.

The federal Dairy Margin Coverage Program is part of the federal Farm Bill and functions much like an
insurance policy to guard against volatile milk prices and high commodity costs. The state premium
assistance program helps small to mid-size dairy farmers in covering their significant costs to sign up for
the federal program. To qualify for the state program, farmers must adopt or be in the process of adopting
a nutrient management plan or resource management plan. Dairy farmers that are interested in
participating should contact VDACS for more information.

Wilt Dairy Bill First to be Signed by Governor Youngkin

February 14, 2022

RICHMOND- On Monday Governor Youngkin signed his first bill into law. It happened to be legislation patroned by Shenandoah Valley Delegate Tony Wilt (R-Rockingham). Taking office in mid-January, Delegate Wilt’s was the first to make it to the Governor’s desk due to the emergency status of the legislation. The bill makes several adjustments to the recently established Dairy Margin Coverage Premium Assistance Program.

“As the Commonwealth’s top industry, it’s fitting to have the first bill signed into law be one that supports our farmers and agriculture economy,” said Wilt. “This bill makes some necessary improvements to our Dairy Margin Coverage Premium Assistance Program that was established last year. Providing some assistance to our dairy farmers while also further incentivizing conservation practices is something that I have worked on for several years. I’m glad we had the opportunity to get something across the finish line last year and can build on that progress now.”

“Thank you, Governor Youngkin and Delegate Wilt, for your work to expand eligibility to the Virginia Dairy Producer Margin Coverage Premium Assistance Program,” indicated Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) Commissioner Joseph Guthrie. “Now, more of the Commonwealth’s dairy farmers can participate in the federal Dairy Margin Coverage program and receive tier 1 level reimbursement for their participation, when they have a resource management plan or nutrient management plan that is certified or undergoing certification by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation or a local soil and water conservation district. This is a win for Virginia agriculture, for the consumer, and for environmental stewardship.

The legislation that has now become law ensures farmers can participate in the state premium assistance program, despite recent delays in the rollout of the federal farm bill program. The federal program works like an insurance policy to guard against low and volatile milk prices. The state premium assistance program helps small to mid-size dairy farmers in covering their costs to sign up for the federal program. The bill also ensures that farmers that choose to work with the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) on their conservation practices are still able to participate in the premium assistance program. Dairy farmers that are interested in participating should contact VDACS for more information.

This year is the long 60 day session and is set to conclude in mid-march. Delegate Wilt has served in the House of Delegates since 2010 and represents the City of Harrisonburg and a portion of Rockingham County.

Governor Signs Wilt Ag Legislation into Law

March 13, 2021

Harrisonburg- On Friday Governor Northam signed a bill into law that many in the agriculture and conservation community believe will be a helpful new tool to encourage local producers to implement water quality improvement practices. The bill, sponsored by Delegate Tony Wilt (R-Broadway), will offer an enhanced tax credit to farmers that implement certain best management practices on their farms.

Delegate Wilt first introduced similar legislation during the 2020 Regular Session, but that bill did not make it out of the Appropriations Committee. However, after a diverse coalition of agriculture, conservation and environmental groups spoke out strongly in support of the measure it found success in the legislature this year. The new credit will cover 50% of the cost of the practice and farmers interested in pursuing the credit will work with their local Soil and Water Conservation District office.

“The idea of an enhanced tax credit for our farmers was one of the recommendations included in the latest roadmap for restoring the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, so I’m glad to see it come to fruition,” said Wilt. “Along with existing cost-share and other programs this will further assist in the effort to improve water quality and meet our goals without the need for heavy-handed government intervention.”

Senator Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta) carried companion legislation in the Senate this year and that bill was also signed into law Friday by the Governor. In addition, Delegate Wilt served as the chief co-patron of another agriculture initiative sponsored by Delegate Wendy Gooditis (D-Clarke) that seeks to aid the struggling dairy industry through a Dairy Margin Coverage Premium Assistance Program. That bill is still awaiting the Governor’s signature, but it is expected he will sign the legislation. Delegate Wilt has championed targeted support for the dairy industry the last number of years as farmers have had to contend with extremely low milk prices and other compounding factors.