The Land Stewardship Project’s State Policy Steering Committee convened last week to start setting LSP’s state policy priorities for the 2019 Minnesota Legislative Session, which begins Jan. 8. The committee, made up of LSP members who are farmers and leaders in their communities, directs what LSP supports and champions on the state level. Below are the issues that LSP will be prioritizing during the 2019 Minnesota Legislative Session. The below list is incomplete, as some additional discussions are needed to secure additional ideas.
The Forever Green Initiative at the University of Minnesota is employing cutting-edge research to help farmers get more continuous living cover on the land by developing and marketing perennials and cover crops. Full funding for the program is $5 million per year and the Land Stewardship Project has generally secured $1 million per year for the program in past legislative sessions. Fully funded, Forever Green would be as effective as possible—profitably building soil health and cleaning our water.
Address the Family Farm & Dairy Crisis
Family farmers, especially dairy farmers, across Minnesota are facing a farm crisis after several consecutive years of low prices. LSP will continue pushing for substantial funding increases for Farm Advocates and Farmers' Legal Action Group (FLAG)—two groups that assist farmers facing financial stress and keep farmers on the land by letting them know their rights when faced with foreclosure and other crises. However, that is not the full solution to the crisis. LSP will continue to be in active conversations with members to find meaningful ways the state can keep family farmers on the land and help rural communities thrive.
Beginning Farmer Tax Credit
Last year, after strong LSP member engagement and active work at the Capitol, the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit passed and became law. This program, which is based on a bill written by LSP members, provides a tax credit to land and asset owners who rent or sell to beginning farmers, as well as provides for beginning farmers to take an approved farm business management course. As of early December, 831 applications for the program have been approved. However, in implementation, we have found that adjustments are required to ensure beginning farmers who have already completed an approved farm business management course are eligible for the tax credit. Additionally, LSP will push for a percentage of the $6 million pot to be set aside for farmers of color, indigenous farmers, and women to assist more socially disadvantaged farmers (as defined by federal law) on the land.
WCROC Organic & Grazing Dairy Research
The University of Minnesota’s West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris has long been recognized as a national leader in organic and grazing dairy research, and is long overdue for some upgrades. To continue its cutting-edge research and support for farmers who are looking ways to profitably get more livestock on the land, the dairy requires significant upgrades. A recent feasibility study showed this would cost about $3 million.
We have made it a priority to stop corporate attempts to weaken local control. For example, in 2017, we stopped a bill that would have made it more difficult to enact an interim ordinance, also known as a moratorium, in a local community, which has been used by LSP members to stop factory farms and frac sand mines. We will continue to fight to keep local control and democracy strong.
In addition to prioritizing local control, we have also prioritized protecting from corporate attacks environmental review on factory farms and frac sand mines. For example, in 2017, corporate ag interests pushed to double the size factory farms can be before environmental review is required. If passed, it would have meant more and larger factory farms in Minnesota. Environmental review is a key way for neighbors to have a say and to know what is being proposed in their community—it is critical to the viability of rural communities.
MPCA Citizens’ Board
Between 1968 and 2015, the MPCA Citizens' Board served as a testament to our Minnesota value that people deserve a say in the decisions that impact their lives and communities and that having that day was key to people-centered democracy in our state. However, after the Citizens' Board ordered full environmental review of a proposed 9,000-cow factory dairy farm, the state Legislature abolished it, literally in the dark of night during the final hours of the 2015 session. Reinstating the board would bring democracy back to the environmental review process.
Paid Family Leave
Allies of the Land Stewardship Project, such as the Main Street Alliance, which organizes small business owners, and ISAIAH, which organizes people of faith, are championing the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act. This program would create a state-administered, self-sustaining insurance program that provides Minnesota workers with modest but meaningful benefits for parental and medical leave. The employer and employee would each pay 0.27 percent of a worker’s wages into an insurance pool to fund it. Members of LSP's State Policy Steering Committee endorsed the proposal because they recognize how meaningful it would be to family farmers with employees, family farmers who work off the farm, small business owners, and all Minnesotans. The Main Street Alliance will be supporting LSP initiatives during the 2019 Legislative session as well.
LSP member-leaders and LSP organizer Ben Anderson have also launched a new local foods campaign and are getting input via listening sessions and a survey about what policy priorities would support a more sustainable food system. For more information, contact Anderson at 612-722-6377 or via e-mail.
During the 2019 session of the Minnesota Legislature, LSP will be working toward a healthcare system that works for family farmers, small businesses and rural Minnesotans. LSP will be supporting legislation that allows farmers, business owners and other self-employed people to buy into MinnesotaCare, the state’s public healthcare program that currently is available to lower income residents. LSP supports allowing farmers, business owners and other self-employed people the option of buying into the program at its current value so that they can get access to high-quality, affordable healthcare.
LSP is also supporting legislative action to continue the Healthcare Provider Tax that will be sunsetting in the next year. The healthcare Provider Tax funds essential healthcare services for over one million Minnesotans and enables critical investments in the health and well-being of Minnesota’s communities. Allowing the Healthcare Provider Tax to expire would create an annual revenue shortfall of $680 million. This loss of funding will jeopardize healthcare access for thousands of low-income Minnesotans, threaten the stability of the healthcare sector and negatively impact the state budget. LSP supports the healthcare Provider Tax because it has provided a stable source of income for the healthcare access fund and has historically funded MinnesotaCare.
For details on LSP’s work on creating an affordable, quality healthcare system, check out our Affordable Healthcare for All web page, or contact Johanna Rupprecht (email@example.com, 507-523-3366) or Paul Sobocinski (firstname.lastname@example.org, 507-342-2323).
State Policy Platform
When we met last week, LSP's State Policy Steering Committee also began the process of developing an updated comprehensive State Policy Platform that will inform our policy work on the state level. We are excited to unroll this in the near future and welcome feedback from our members.
LSP organizer Amanda Babcock focuses on state policy issues. For information on LSP’s state policy work and how you can get involved, contact Babcock at 612-722-6377 or email@example.com. More information is also available on LSP's State Policy web page.