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End of year a busy time for Ohio legislators with solar and ag measures

By Peggy Kirk Hall, director of agricultural law, Ohio State University Agricultural and Resource Law Program

A new law giving local governments zoning authority over small-scale solar facilities may feel like a just-before-Christmas gift to counties and townships dealing with solar development conflicts. The late amendment was one of a few surprises from the legislature as it wrapped up its lame duck session in mid-December. 

Several other pieces of legislation affecting agriculture and natural resources that passed include local preemption of pesticides, loosening oil and gas drilling reviews on state lands, and new knowledge requirements for environmental health specialists that inspect retail food establishments. Here’s a summary of the agricultural related bills that passed and now await the Governor’s action.

Zoning authority over small scale solar — H.B. 501

An amendment to a township bill will grant counties, townships, and municipalities regulatory authority over “the location, erection, construction, reconstruction, change, alteration, maintenance, removal, use, or enlargement of any small solar facility, whether publicly or privately owned, or the use of land for that purpose.” The bill defines a “small solar facility” as one that has a single interconnection point to the grid and is under 50 MW. That number is important, because it addresses solar facilities that were not subject to S.B. 52, passed last year, which gave counties and townships new authority over wind and solar facilities that are over 50 MW. 

Agriculture – H.B. 507

This bill began as a simple provision reducing the number of poultry chicks that can be sold in lots from six to three. Before it passed, however, the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee added six amendments, including these:

• Local preemption of pesticides

• Prohibits a political subdivision from regulating or banning the packaging, registration, labeling, sale, storage, distribution, use, or application of a pesticide registered with ODA on private property.

• Environmental health specialists and food safety regulations

• Requires ODA and ODH to adopt new rules for evaluating Environmental Health Specialists’ knowledge of food safety laws and to include the evaluations when assessing a board of health’s ability to license retail food establishments and food service operations. Also revises several food safety laws to align them with state and federal laws.

• Green energy in competitive retail energy laws

• Defines “green energy” to be any energy that releases reduced air pollutants and cumulative air emissions or is more sustainable and reliable relative to some fossil fuels or is generated using natural gas, but excludes natural gas energy from renewable energy credits, except for gas from biologically derived methane.

• Internet sales exemption from auction laws

• Exempts from auctioneer and auction firm licensure requirements a person who, in any
calendar year, sells not more than $10,000 of personal property via an auction
mediation company (for example, eBay) if the company provides fraud protection to the buyer; and the property is the person’s own personal property, or the property is the personal property of another (sold without compensation).

• Oil and gas drilling on state land

• Requires a state agency to lease agency-owned oil and gas resources “in good faith” until new rules for nominating the development of resources are adopted by the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission. The leasing party must demonstrate insurance and financial assurance and register with ODNR.

• Towing authorizations for conservancy districts

 Authorizes a conservancy district police department to order the towing and storage of
a motor vehicle when the vehicle is an abandoned junk vehicle and when left on private or public property for a specified time.

Tax amnesty and appropriations – H.B. 66

H.B. 66 sets up the possibility of a tax amnesty program in 2023 and allocates $6 billion in one-time appropriations of COVID relief funds. And Medicaid draw down funds.

• Tax amnesty

Allows a two-month tax amnesty program in 2023 for delinquent state taxes, local sales and use taxes, income tax withholding and more, but only if additional revenues from amnesty will be needed to meet General Revenue Fund obligations.

• Ag-related appropriations

$4.5 million to Ohio Department of Agriculture for grants to county agricultural societies.

$250 million to Ohio Dept. of Development for water quality grants program.

Millions to Ohio Department of Natural Resources for state and local parks, and improvement, recreation, and conservation projects.

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