April Legislative Update: Where are those bills now?

As April draws to a close, we have just about a month left until the end of the regular Illinois legislative session on May 31. While we continue to shepherd our four bills through the legislative process, we also hosted a successful Local Food Lobby Day and are planning a Healthy Soils Healthy Waters advocacy day at the Capitol on April 26. Read on for the current status of all the bills!

Illinois Food Freedom (HB3063 – Rep. Guzzardi/Sen. Koehler):

Initially modeled after the Wyoming Food
Freedom Act, this bill has been negotiated with public health groups, and with some compromises, is actually agreed to by these parties! This bill flips the entire paradigm of cottage foods (homemade foods sold at the farmers market) in Illinois. Instead of allowing nothing but a few food types, the law would allow everything but a list of more potentially dangerous foods. It also removes a cap on gross revenues.

Under the current cottage food law, jams, jellies and baked goods are allowed, but no value-added vegetable products (other than maybe zucchini bread) are allowed. Diversified family farms in Illinois raise more vegetables than fruits and providing an opportunity to process these foods and add value has the potential to not only decrease food waste, but to increase the economic viability of small farms. One organic vegetable farmer has said this bill will essentially eliminate food waste from her farm! It would also delete a cap on gross revenues, so that this could be a real income opportunity for food entrepreneurs.

Not allowed are things like meats, poultry, dairy (except in baked goods or caramels), sprouts, garlic in oil, cut melon or tomato (though cut and frozen tomato is allowed), canned foods with some exceptions for things like jams and pickles. See the full list in Section 4(b)(1.5) here.

Status: This bill passed the IL House UNANIMOUSLY the evening before our Local Food Lobby Day! We had not introduced a version in the Senate because, frankly, we thought it would be too controversial to go anywhere. Now, the House bill will move to the Senate, retaining its House bill number (HB3063) with Sen. Koehler as the sponsor and could be voted on in the next couple of weeks. Once it passes the legislature, it will be sent to the Governor within 30 days, and he will have an additional 60 days to sign or veto it (though we do not expect a veto).

What you can do: We need to start cultivating Senate cosponsors! Call your state senators and ask them to support and co-sponsor HB3063 for Illinois Food Freedom.

Listen to what the bill sponsor, State Rep. Will Guzzardi, had to say at our press conference back in February:

Local Food Business Opportunities (SB1469/HB2820 – Sen. Koehler/Rep. Andersson):

This bill is in response to farmers market vendor complaints that market rules vary dramatically from county to county, adding expense and compliance complexity. It provides statewide consistency in certain sanitation requirements.

One of the biggest issues has been disparities in refrigeration requirements. Some counties allow coolers, while others require mechanical refrigeration, and some even say which models are allowed. There were no eggs at some markets last year because those counties made refrigeration so challenging. At another market, there was a fee for bringing a refrigerator, which was the equivalent of entire profit the farmer expected to earn from eggs that season. The bill also provides that vendors may share handwashing stations.

Status: This bill was introduced in both the House and the Senate and, like the Food Freedom bill, it was amended to be an “agreed bill,” meaning that we sat down with the former opposition and worked out an amendment that satisfies all of us. It has passed committee in both chambers. The bill could be voted on before the end of the month in both chambers and then will go on to the Governor for signature.

Unprocessed Milk (SB1662 – Sen. Koehler/Rep. Breen):

Provides that raw milk may be produced, distributed & sold in accordance with IL Dept. of Public Health (IDPH) rules, and deletes restriction to on-farm only sales & distribution. This bill is a response to regulations implemented last year, after 30+ years of sales under loose regulatory guidance. These new regulations limit all methods of distribution to the premises of the farm only, including herd shares, disrupting relationships and markets that developed over many decades. Herd shares were always treated as a property interest in the animals, so people could meet their farmer wherever it was convenient to receive their own milk. Now, meeting off the farm, no matter the contractual arrangement, makes everyone a criminal.

There is virtually no legal raw milk in Illinois as of last year. Farmers must now be permitted, but because their markets are so restricted by the on-farm only requirement, it is not worthwhile for many to become permitted. This means one less product that our family farmers can raise and supply to our communities and one less stream of income for them, not to mention that almost all Illinois raw milk consumers are now breaking the law. We have heard numerous testimonials from people whose health, they say, has improved with raw milk, including children who overcame eczema or chronic diarrhea and low body weight. Illinois Dept. of Public Health (IDPH) agrees with us that it would be safer to allow regulated off-farm delivery, but we have very powerful opposition working to force off-farm delivery to stay in the black market.

Status: This bill needs your help! The House version was assigned to a committee it would not have passed, and the Senate version is being aggressively fought by local public health associations and various larger farm organizations. We moved the Senate bill out of committee with an agreement to keep negotiating, but the other side is determined to kill it. If necessary, it can be extended all the way through next year.

What you can do: We have to educate senators and representatives, and need to work especially hard to gain Senate support right now. Call your state senator and ask them to support SB1662, Unprocessed Milk. Check out these tips for speaking to your legislator about this issue.

Industrial Hemp (SB1294 – Sen. Hutchinson):

Creates an opportunity for IL farmers and processors to apply for permits from the Illinois Department of Agriculture in order to grow and manufacture industrial hemp. The 2014 Farm Bill allowed states to write rules for hemp research and pilot programs, including for marketing research. In 2016, Kentucky already had over 135 farms, 4,500+ acres & 40 processors enrolled in hemp production.  IL was the lead producer in the ‘40s and Polo, Illinois was selected as the site for a national pilot program to grow hemp for World War II. It has been legal to buy, process, sell, and eat hemp, but we have had to import it from places like Canada, Russia, and China. (Note: Industrial hemp must have, by definition, less than 0.3% of the psychoactive substance found in other cannabis, so it is not a drug.)

Illinois passed a law in response to the 2014 Farm Bill authorizing state universities with 4-year agricultural sciences degrees to apply for hemp permits, but no applications have been filed. Since our law passed, the FDA, USDA, and DEA issued a joint statement that made clear that farmers can participate directly in research and pilot programs, and may sell their product, as long as it is part of some kind of research.

Hemp can be made into at least 25,000 different products, including everything from rope and cloth to plastic, “hempcrete,” particle board, and cosmetics. The oil and seed are used as nutritious food. Growing hemp can help farmers remediate land to transition to organic, and have the potential to outcompete herbicide-resistant “superweeds.”

Status: This bill has quite strong support in the legislature. It was introduced in the Senate only. It passed committee, but we still needed to amend it to clarify a few points and bring that amendment back to the committee. The amended bill should be ready for committee on April 27th, and then the bill will move to the full Senate.

What you can do: Call your state senator and state representative and ask them to support and cosponsor SB1294 and let our farmers grow this very useful crop.

Local Food Resolution (SR377/HR277 – Koehler/Butler):

This resolution is a message from the Illinois State Legislature urging Congress to support local food programs in the 2018 Farm Bill. Copies of this resolution will be delivered to all Illinois members of Congress, as well as U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, U.S. House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi…and President Donald Trump! With this administration’s calls to buy American, we want to see that manifest in support for local food economies.

Status: Identical Resolutions have been introduced in the House and the Senate. It passed the Senate Agriculture committee, and should be assigned to a House committee soon. Both should pass, but it would be great to have more cosponsors first.

What you can do. We want to get cosponsors in both chambers. Call your state legislators and ask them to support the Local Food Resolution (SR377 or HR277).

Here is Rep. Butler speaking at the February press conference:

Finally, thank you to the approximately 50 people who attended our Local Food Lobby Day. It is crucial for legislators to hear from their constituents. Whether or not you could attend, we encourage you to give their offices a call and let them know you support local food and family farms. If you have a farm, food business, farmers market, or are hosting any local food events, do not hesitate to invite your state legislators to attend or visit. You are important to them and they like to know what is going on in their districts. Remember, they are just people too, and are members of a community near yours. It does not hurt to sign up for their newsletters and follow them on social media to get to know them better. Let us know how we can help!