Dorchester Farm Bureau hears from local legislators

By Debra R. Messick, Special to Dorchester Banner
Posted 5/11/22

For the first time in two years, Dorchester County Farm Bureau members gathered in person to hear from District 37 state lawmakers for a legislative wrap-up breakfast at Layton’s Chance …

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Dorchester Farm Bureau hears from local legislators


For the first time in two years, Dorchester County Farm Bureau members gathered in person to hear from District 37 state lawmakers for a legislative wrap-up breakfast at Layton’s Chance Vineyards outside Vienna on Wednesday, May 4.

Following an opening prayer led by John Brinsfield, his wife, Dorchester Farm Bureau president Valorie Brinsfield, expressed gratitude at returning to a face-to-face meeting. She thanked Layton’s Chance for hosting the event, which had previously been held in Cambridge.

Brinsfield acknowledged board members present and those that had traveled to Farm Bureau Day in Annapolis. She expressed appreciation for the event’s virtual coverage providing a wider opportunity to interact with legislators.

Tyler Hough, the Farm Bureau’s Eastern Shore field manager, summarized “what was fought for and accomplished” by the group during the recent legislative session in Annapolis.

Hough commended FB Government Director Colby Ferguson for exhaustive diligence in following close to 1,000 bills from start to finish throughout the legislative process. Of those, the bureau supported 63 total bills, with 29 passing.

"Three of the 23 bills we opposed got through, but were extensively amended, lowering their impact on the ag community," Hough noted.

State Sen. Addie Eckardt thanked Ferguson and Assistant Agriculture Secretary Rich Colburn for being accessible to and working tirelessly for the agricultural community.

“This was a very interesting session, from my perspective. I’ve never gone into a session with a structural (funding) surplus,” Sen. Eckardt noted. Though the $7 billion surplus was largely due to federal money, she considered Gov. Hogan's frugal spending and focus on providing tax relief beneficial.

Working mostly on bills related to health care, Sen. Eckardt was pleased that dental care for Medicaid had passed. She pointed to Wicomico County's Mission of Mercy as an example of the bill’s importance.

 "People line up around the building from midnight on, just to get dental care, because most dentists don't take Medicaid and we don't have dental clinics. They wind up having significant health issues due to lack of dental care. It's been a priority for the state to remedy this for a long, long time, and finally was a bipartisan effort," she said.

With $350 million allotted for tax relief, Sen. Eckardt was disappointed that only government or educator employee pension plans were eligible for tax credit.

Another tax benefit which passed rewards businesses with incentives for hiring folks coming out of jail, with disabilities or who are unable to work a regular full-time schedule. 

A final benefit offered included a combination of sales tax relief on diapers, baby bottles, medical equipment such as blood pressure monitors and thermometers, some insulin supplies, and oral care products, toothbrushes, and toothpaste, Sen. Eckardt added.

She was especially pleased that the district's legislative team fought successfully during the session’s final days to win passage of additional Sunday hunting hours for Dorchester and surrounding counties. Pointing to other positive changes such as expanded hunting on state property, Sen. Eckardt was eager to continue pushing ahead in the coming session.

She cited some promising work on the TODB bill (Transfer Deed on Death Bill) designed to help farm families use a simple one-page form to ensure that in the case of a sudden death without a will, property would remain within the family.

"We've been working on it for a few years, and will prefile next year, and I'm pretty sure it will go through," Sen. Eckardt said. Other bills she plans to continue working to pass include decreasing electrical sales tax for farm-related activities and property tax relief on AG properties, she added.

Keith Graffius spoke on behalf of U.S. 1st district congressman Andy Harris who was out of the country, offering special thanks to District 37 legislators.

"The Congressman’s district covers 12 counties, so we work with a lot of delegations. I can tell you from personal experience that you have some of the best representation out of at least those 12 counties we work with. They’re in a super minority up there in Annapolis, it’s not easy for them, but they’re able to bring some stuff home for you, because of the relationships they’re able to build and how they work with folks," Graffius said.

He reminded Farm Bureau members that Harris serves on the Appropriations Committee Ag Subcommittee, responsible for all federal dollars going into USDA. He encouraged members to continue reaching out with agriculture-related concerns, but also for other issues such as Social Security and VA. 

Representatives Chris Adams and Johnny Mautz, both on the Economics Matters Committee, summarized crucial accomplishments and challenges.

Rep. Adams described the pride he took in signing on as a plaintiff in the recent lawsuit challenging the proposed congressional redistricting plan.

“They took the pavement, asphalt and metal from the Bay Bridge and connected it between the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Anne Arundel County. How is Annapolis like Vienna, Cambridge or my hometown of Hebron?” Rep. Adams asked. “Representation needs to accurately reflect the district.”

Discussing the Climate Solutions Now Act (SB 528), Rep. Adams described it being "designed to ban natural gas."

While the passed bill didn’t succeed “this time,” Rep. Adams warned against that "aspirational goals do exist" to ultimately electrify the grid, getting rid of all forms of fossil fuel, replacing them with solar and wind. He referenced California's rolling blackouts and brownouts as what such a plan would look like, adding, "I don't think anybody’s against the idea of using solar panels or off-shore wind if properly placed. But not by ending the use of fossil fuels.”

Rep. Adams objected to the legislature passing the paid family medical leave bill (SB275) without studying a more cost-effective method than creating a mandatory state-run insurance program funded by a $1.6 billion payroll tax.

Rep. Mautz joined Rep. Adams in opposing the current climate and paid leave bills.

Rep. Mautz objected to the climate bill’s goal of discouraging use of natural gas and incentivizing energy reliance on electrification through renewable generation to achieve a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions goal. He pointed out that nuclear generators would achieve the goal sooner with less fiscal impact on consumers and small businesses.

However, he pointed out that a side benefit to progressive legislators’ and environmental groups’ single-minded focus on the bill’s passage may have removed agriculture, usually one of their targets, from their sights this year.

Like Rep. Adams, Rep. Mautz took issue with the paid family leave bill, citing the additional financial cost involved in adding another layer of government bureaucracy, requiring a $1.6 million payroll tax, for a less reliable system. He pointed to Connecticut’s success in contracting with private insurer Aflac as a preferable way to help find a solution to the “very real issue” of needed paid leave time.

Rep. Mautz was also pleased that additional Sunday hunting hours had passed, calling it a boon to encourage more youth hunting and a way to help cull herds of 40 to 50 deer which damage crops.

The legislators closed by discussing questions raised by farm bureau members in attendance on the recent 30-day gas tax holiday, future impact of the proposed new Bay Bridge and increased pressure on existing roads from the additional traffic, and the dangers of becoming dependent solely on an electrical grid supported by solar and wind power, without some fossil fuel.