Last Friday (March 17), The Arkansas House voted down HB 1725, legislation that would place state agriculture-related regulatory agencies, including the Arkansas Plant Board, under greater control of the Arkansas Agriculture Department. Needing 50 votes to pass, the bill was defeated with 30 ayes, 31 nays and 39 lawmakers not taking a position.
Claiming that placing more control in the Department of Agriculture’s hands would mean efficiency savings of some $600,000 annually, a strong push by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to pass the legislation was met with a vigorous pushback by opponents to defeat it.
Friday’s vote hardly played a nail-in-the-coffin role, though. On Monday (March 20), proponents of the governor’s plan came back for a second round of voting. The Monday tally registered 44 aye votes – still not enough to pass.
Among the groups opposed to the Department of Agriculture power shift is the Arkansas Farm Bureau. On Tuesday morning, between House votes, Stanley Hill, vice president of public affairs and government relations, spoke to Delta Farm Press. Among his comments:
Is it your expectation that there will be another vote on this in the House?
“No. My expectation is that won’t happen at this point. It’s already been voted on twice (and failed). But we really don’t know where it’s going from here -- it isn’t over until it is. It could come back at any time. They could expunge the previous vote and revote.”
What are the key reasons for Arkansas Farm Bureau’s opposition?
“Our policy statement says would like for the Plant Board, Livestock and Poultry, and Forestry to remain independent in their functions. The Arkansas Ag Department, when it was established in 2005, consolidated some administrative functions. At the same time, the department was only for marketing and promotion (of the state’s agriculture) – non-regulatory.
“While (HB 1725) said the agencies could retain authorities to promulgate rules and regulations, it would consolidate power into the principal agency (the Ag Department). It would also give the authority vested in the agencies over their assets to the Agriculture Secretary. That’s where we have a problem. The agencies must maintain control over their assets – cash, property like equipment and vehicles.”
On hearing from members…
“There’s certainly been an uptick in contacts. We’ve reached out to our members and they’ve gotten ahold of their elected legislators. They’ve been voicing concerns and we’ve been unified in our belief this is an overreach.
“We’ve suggested the reorganization of the Agriculture Department be studied further. Maybe we can find consensus through such a study. To this point, that’s been rejected.”
Is it a concern that if HB 1725 doesn’t pass the House, there will be an attempt to pass something similar through the Senate?
“It is a concern that it could be resurrected in some form or fashion. That could happen with a Senate shell bill.”
So, we’re something like nine days away from the end of the legislation session?
“That’s debatable, as well. The House has a resolution to recess after (Wednesday, March 22) until Monday (March 27). While we first were hearing the session would run through the end of the month, we’re now hearing it’s likely to go through April 6.”
What about the bills that would allow the Plant Board to increase fines for egregious spraying violations? Any movement on those?
“The full House should vote on one today. I believe amendment language has been agreed on by sponsors of both bills that will lead to the possibility of increased fines.”