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Wild animals, water and budgets debated at Statehouse

By Matt Reese

There was no shortage of activity at the Ohio Statehouse in recent weeks concerning a wide away of ag-related topics.

Lake Erie

“It has been an exciting couple of weeks here as the General Assembly wrapped up their work for the summer,” said Beth Vanderkooi, with the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. ”There has been a tremendous flurry of activity with legislation ranging from HB 487, which was the Mid-Biennium Review and an energy omnibus bill (SB 315). We also dealt with issues as wide an varied as wild and dangerous animals, commodity marketing agreements, and an expansion of the Ag Linked Deposit Program.”

Perhaps one of the biggest agricultural victories in this list was the inclusion of Clean Ohio funding in the Mid-Biennium Review. The Clean Ohio Program funding in the bill includes funding for two important farmland preservation programs with $6 million to purchase agricultural easements and $36 million to preserve green space.

“Retaining funding for the Clean Ohio Programs is probably one of the more exciting things,” Vanderkooi said. “We weren’t sure we could get that done.”

The signature of Gov. John Kasich on the Great Lakes Compact was another important victory for Ohio agriculture.

“We were also happy to see the Great Lakes Compact go through, which is something that has been on our radar screen for about 10 years,” she said.

The Great Lakes Compact is an agreement between seven states and two Canadian provinces governing the use of the Great Lakes that account for 90% of the fresh surface water resources in the U.S. In terms of agriculture, very few Ohio farm operations, other than very large nursery or specialty crop growers, would probably not use enough water to fall under the regulations. If farms do, however, meet the regulatory criteria, OFBF supported a grandfather provision for agriculture included in the agreement that those who meet the threshold for water withdrawals would only be regulated for new or increased water use.

Another pieces of legislation on the OFBF agenda was SB 310 that deals with the ownership of exotic animals.

“For quite some time Ohio has been struggling with issues related to exotic animals like lions, tigers, certain primates and some venomous snakes. SB 310 is legislation that came about partially because of that long-standing work, but partially due to the sense of urgency after the Zanesville incident,” Vanderkooi said. “OFBF advocated that, while we are going to restrict the ownership of some of these animals in the future, there needs to be a reasonable, workable grandfather clause. The reality is that that some folks have these animals, and they have property rights with those animals. We weren’t going to be supportive of any legislation that said, ‘If you have this animal, you have to get rid of it.’ For those who have these animals, we need to come up with a reasonable permitting process that will allow them to keep the animals in a way that ensures the animal’s safety and the public’s safety.”

SB 315 establishes one of the nation’s toughest regulatory frameworks for overseeing the new technologies that allow for the exploration of natural gas in deep shale rock formations. The new law builds on recently approved well construction standards, which are extremely protective of groundwater and the environment.

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