Last week members of the House of Representatives passed the Farm Bill conference report, 251 to 166, but not all of Colorado’s lawmakers are happy about the agriculture bill.
Despite advocating for and successfully adding several amendments to the final bill — such as permitting the nation’s universities to grow hemp for research purposes — Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, said he voted against the Farm Bill, saying it’s time to stop the nation’s “soviet-style” agriculture policy.
“Despite several encouraging individual provisions, today I voted against the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act,” Polis said in a news release. “This pork-laden bill contained a wide range of extraneous taxes, including a Christmas Tree Tax, and failed to cut wasteful spending like $30,000,000 for a USDA Catfish Inspection program that has never inspected a single catfish.”
One of Polis’ colleagues from across the aisle, Congressman Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, praised the measure’s passage. Although Tipton did not vote for the Farm Bill due to a death in the family, he is a member of the House Agriculture Committee and helped craft the final version of the bill, which included one full year of funding for the federal payment in lieu of taxes program.
The PILT program provides funding to counties that have large tracts of nontaxable federal lands in their jurisdictions.
“I was pleased that the Conference Committee listened to our call to include funding for the vital PILT program that so many rural counties rely on to provide essential services including education, infrastructure maintenance, and law enforcement,” said Tipton in a statement. “I will continue to work toward a longer-term solution for PILT that will provide counties with greater certainty so they can make decisions and budget further out than just one year at a time.”
The Farm Bill next goes to the U.S. Senate for final consideration where it already has at least one Colorado supporter.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., served on the conference committee that negotiated the final version of the bill, which includes three forest health measures introduced by the Colorado senator.
“Colorado’s forests are part of our state’s identity, but their health has been threatened by persistent drought conditions and the effects of a warming climate,” Bennet said in a release. “Two consecutive summers of devastating wildfires in Colorado demonstrate why we need to actively manage our impaired and overgrown forests.”
Bennet’s National Forest Insect and Disease Treatment Act, which is cosponsored by Sens. Mark Udall, D-Colo., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Max Baucus, D-Mont., would create a program to designate new national forest acreage suffering from insect and disease epidemics for expedited treatments, according to a news release from Bennet’s office. The treatments would then be carried out under the authorities provided in the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003.
Also included in the larger Farm Bill is a version of Bennet’s Permanent Stewardship Contracting Authority Act, also cosponsored by Udall and Baucus, which would permanently reauthorize nationwide Stewardship Contracting authority for the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. The contracts support public-private partnerships that create Colorado jobs, reduce fuel loads on public lands and allow the private sector to turn the problem of excess biomass into profit, the release stated.
Lastly, the bill contains a version of the Sodsaver Prairie Protection Act, a bill Bennet helped introduce last year, which would modify crop insurance premium assistance for insured crops grown on native sod converted to cropland. This provision is projected to save taxpayers $200 million over 10 years, and would encourage conservation of grasslands that pheasants, ducks, and other wildlife use as a habitat, the release stated.
“This pork-laden bill contained a wide range of extraneous taxes, including a Christmas Tree Tax, and failed to cut wasteful spending like $30,000,000 for a USDA Catfish Inspection program that has never inspected a single catfish.”
Rep. Jared Polis