As legislators are set to return to Jefferson City next month for the annual veto session, the Missouri Farm Bureau is already looking ahead to the 2022 legislative session.
Missouri Farm Bureau President Garrett Hawkins spoke recently about eminent domain reform, broadband infrastructure improvement and other legislative priorities for his organization, which assists Missouri farmers by promoting policy changes, ballot initiatives and political candidates.
Eminent domain reform is one of the Missouri Farm Bureau’s biggest priorities. The Grain Belt Express is an 800-mile merchant line that would transport renewable energy from western Kansas to the eastern part of the country. If constructed, it would run through the northern part of the state.
Hawkins has said the Grain Belt Express would make Missouri the “transmission superhighway for the Green New Deal.”
During the last session, the Missouri Farm Bureau supported a bill that would have limited companies’ power to construct merchant lines. It easily passed through the House in a 123-33 vote but did not receive any floor time in the Senate. Hawkins said it was frustrating the eminent domain reform bill was not considered in the Legislature’s upper chamber.
“For our members — particularly those who live and work in northern Missouri — it’s beyond frustrating,” Hawkins said. “All they have asked for all along is that eminent domain not be used for private gain. It’s pretty simple, really.”
Hawkins said eminent domain should be a last resort, and the Missouri Farm Bureau will continue to fight against this issue.
Eminent domain reform was among several other issues included in a special legislative session request by agriculture leaders in the state. If they are successful in their special session call, the Legislature would address eminent domain reform, clarify anhydrous ammonia regulation, and renew expiring Missouri Agricultural and Small Business Development Authority tax credits.
As one of the state’s advocates for agriculture, Hawkins said, the Missouri Farm Bureau will continue to look out for Missouri’s largest industry.
He outlined several priorities for the next legislative session, like broadband internet, considered one of the largest issues in rural America. Hawkins said a continued focus on investment in broadband infrastructure is critical.
Another popular topic in the 2022 legislative session will be election reform. Hawkins said initiative petition reform is the Missouri Farm Bureau’s main priority with elections.
“Our members have long believed that the Constitution should really only be changed when necessary,” Hawkins said. “There has been increasing concern, particularly about outside interests bringing in language and ideas as well as outside money into the state to amend our state Constitution.”
On the federal level, Hawkins said, the Missouri Farm Bureau is watching “overregulation” from the federal government.
He gave the example of the federal government reviving the Obama-era Waters of the United States rule. This action rolled back the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which Hawkins said was a better balance for Missouri farmers.
Hawkins also discussed the results from the 2021 legislative session, which concluded in May. Several Missouri Farm Bureau priorities, including eminent domain reform aimed at blocking the proposed Grain Belt Express, were not passed by the General Assembly.
While Hawkins said this was disappointing, he talked about the increased fuel tax and other approved legislation that will benefit the state’s agriculture industry.
Hawkins said a key highlight from the 2021 session was the passage of an increased gas tax for infrastructure improvements. Missouri’s first gas tax increase in 25 years, it will raise the gas tax by 2.5 cents a year for five years. Hawkins said the increased gas tax will help Missourians take care of the state.
“This is a big deal and one which signals that Missourians are ready to make an investment and help do what we can to take care of what we have but also plan for the future,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins said the Missouri Department of Transportation’s improvement plan for the next few years will emphasize rural roads, specifically lettered routes typically found near rural farmland. This plan was in place before the gas tax’s passage, but Hawkins said rural roads will now benefit even more.
“Those lettered routes my fellow farmers know well because those are the routes in which we’re hauling grain and hauling livestock,” Hawkins said. “I know when I’m home and when I’m pulling a trailer, I’m a little light-knuckled when we have crumbling shoulders on our roads.”
Hawkins talked about several other Missouri Farm Bureau priorities accomplished during the past legislative session — like House Bill 369, a conservation reform bill that revised feral hog regulation, established liability for prescribed burning and restricted surveillance on farmland.
The bill, which passed both chambers of the Legislature with broad bipartisan support, will make punishments more severe for people who violate feral hog regulatory measures.
“Not all Missourians deal with feral hogs on a daily basis,” Hawkins said. “For our farmers, ranchers and landowners that live and work in south-central Missouri, issue number one is feral hogs.”
As Hawkins continues in his role as president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, he affirmed his commitment to work for Missouri farmers.
“There’s always work to be done on behalf of farmers and ranchers in the agriculture industry in the state. The Missouri Farm Bureau has been here for 105-plus years, and we’ll continue to make sure that we’re being the voice of common sense and reason on a lot of issues. We certainly have a long list of things to do, but it’s exciting to be able to work with our members and to tackle these challenges each and every day.”
Originally Appeared Here