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Ag bills move through Oregon Legislature

By Mateusz Perkowski
Capital Press — 

Update on bills in the Oregon legislature.

Legislation that would give Oregon farmers a tax credit for crop donations has unanimously passed the state Senate.

It is one of a host of agriculture and natural resource bills making their way through the legislature.

The bill, SB 1541, would allow growers to claim a tax credit of 15 percent of the crop donation’s value until 2020, up from 10 percent under a previous statute that expired in 2011.

Supporters said the higher tax credit rate will entice more farmers to donate crops to food banks, gleaning cooperatives and other non-profit groups.

The bill would cause the State of Oregon to forego nearly $2.5 million in tax revenue while the credit is in place, according to the state’s Legislative Revenue Office.

After passing the Senate with 30 “aye” votes on Feb. 14, the bill is now being considered by the House.

It has been referred to the Revenue Committee, which was scheduled to hold a public hearing and work session on Feb. 19.

Pollinator health bill

A bill that would create a task force on pesticides and pollinator health has passed the House.

The legislation, HB 4139, initially proposed restrictions on neonicotinoid pesticides that have been blamed for pollinator die-offs, but that language was stripped from the bill.

The task force would consist of eight members appointed by Gov. John Kitzhaber from academia, agriculture and the environmental community.

It would issue a report on best practices for neonicotinoid use, pollinator health and related issues, with possible recommendations for legislation.

The bill passed the House 54-4 on Feb. 14 and is now being considered by the Senate, where it has been referred to the Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

A public hearing and possible work session on the bill was scheduled for Feb. 19.

Reforestation assistance

Legislation that would help forestland owners pay for replanting trees after wildfires has been approved by the Senate Committee on Rural Communities and Economic Development.

The cost assistance and tax credit programs would apply to catastrophic fires that occurred after August 2012.

The bill has now been referred to the Oregon legislature’s Joint Committee on Ways and Means for further consideration of its financial impacts.
Well water regulation

Legislation that would affect the authority of Oregon water regulators to restrict the use of irrigation wells has failed to advance in the House and Senate.

The bills would have prohibited the Oregon Water Resources Department from shutting down an irrigation well unless it is individually proven to interfere with surface water.

The legislation was prompted by fears that the agency would shut down more than 100 wells in the Upper Klamath Basin this year due to drought.

However, the bills proved divisive in the agricultural industry.

They drew support from the Oregon Farm Bureau and Oregon Cattlemen’s Association but the Oregon Water Resources Congress and Oregon Association of Nurseries opposed them.

Proponents claimed the legislation would prevent water regulators from overstepping their authority and regulating wells based on regional models.

Opponents were concerned the bills would diminish the agency’s ability to enforce senior water rights.

Rep. Gail Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, supported the legislation and said many irrigators in the region could be economically devastated by water shut offs this year.

The legislation didn’t win favor with the Oregon Water Resources Department, which estimated the testing would have cost $80,000 per well, she said.

Two identical House bills dealing with the issue — HB 4044 and HB 4064 — received a public hearing but died in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

An identical Senate bill — SB 1572 — was referred to the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee but never received a public hearing.

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