Legislative Update: The Bills Are Filed!

Things are about to get exciting in the Illinois legislature. In an election year, such as this, the legislative session tends to be slower from January through the primaries. This year the schedule was particularly back loaded, so there has not generally been a lot of action so far. Now that we have all voted in the primaries on March 20th, the legislature takes a two-week spring break and then April and May will see a flurry of legislative activity. Illinois Stewardship Alliance and our members will be there to make sure our agenda is part of the action.

Local Food Lobby Day

Please make sure to mark your calendar to join us for Local Food Lobby Day on April 26th. With a more condensed legislative schedule this year, we still have a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time, and your participation will help us make sure local food and sustainable agriculture policy advances this year.

Bill Updates

Earlier this year, we announced our 2018 state legislative priorities. We are working on three bills and a soil health resolution. Again, things have started slowly this year, but we want to keep familiarizing you with the bills so that you’ll be pumped to join us for lobby day next month. If you cannot make it to lobby day, you can still call or email your state legislators to ask for their support. Find your state representative and state senator on the IL State Board of Elections website. Click on the bill numbers below to see if your state legislator is already a cosponsor, and if they are not, please give them a call.

  1. Industrial Hemp Farming (SB2298 Sen. Toi Hutchinson): This bill would allow farmers to apply for permits to grow hemp, as authorized by the 2014 federal Farm Bill. Learn more about hemp’s history in Illinois and potential benefits in our op-ed from last year.

There should be an amendment to the bill ready in coming weeks, so the amendment is what we will work on passing. There is a bill in the Senate only and it has been assigned to the Agriculture committee. No votes have been taken yet.

  1. SNAP at Farmers Markets (SB2588/HB4568 Sen. Don Harmon/Rep. Tim Butler): We worked with members of the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity to pass a bill in 2016 that created a state fund to match SNAP (food stamp) participants’ purchases at farmers markets with additional funds for fruit and vegetables, but Governor Rauner requested it be made into a pilot program. It has not been funded yet and would expire next year, so this bill removes the expiration date to make it a permanent program. We also need to keep pushing the legislature to appropriate the $500,000 authorized by the bill they passed unanimously in 2016.

When you speak to your state legislator, there are two asks on this. One ask is to support and cosponsor SB2588 if they are a senator or HB4568 if they are a representative. The other is to help make sure the $500,000 is appropriated. The money qualifies for a dollar-for-dollar federal match, helps low income residents access more fresh produce, and it puts money in the pockets of local farmers.

Identical bills were filed in both the Senate and the House. Ultimately, we will pass just one all the way through both chambers, but for now, we are working on both. The Senate bill passed committee on an “agreed bills” list, which means no one registered opposition. It could be heard on the Senate floor by the 3rd week of April. The House bill was just recently assigned to the Human Services committee, so no votes have been taken yet.

  1. Home-canned Tomatoes (SB2895 Sen. David Koehler): The Food Freedom Act we passed last year was not supposed to allow canned tomatoes to be made in a home kitchen but the language is a little vague. We are working with public health representatives to come up with a way to clarify the law that would allow cottage food operations to produce canned tomatoes. For now, consider them not allowed. If you want to be able to sell your canned tomatoes, please help get this bill passed. There is just a placeholder bill filed now, but once we finalize some details with other stakeholders, we will file an amendment with the real language. You may get a better response from legislators if you contact them after the amendment is filed, so keep an eye open for further updates.
  1. Fully funding the Soil & Water Conservation Districts: This will be a resolution we introduce with our conservation partners to urge the legislature to support the Soil & Water Conservation Districts, the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy, and soil health in general.

Again, please save the date for Local Food Lobby Day on April 26th!