Governor Signs Agriculture Bills into Law

ANNAPOLIS (April 14, 2008) - Governor Martin O'Malley signed into law three agriculture-related bills Tuesday, April 8. The bills increase the penalties for animal health violations, change the frequency of veterinary hospital inspections in Maryland to focus on problem entities, and address Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation easement restrictions.

The General Assembly also passed a number of other bills benefiting agriculture, including the 2010 Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund.

2008 agriculture-related bills signed are:

-- HB 227, which extends the authority of the Secretary of Agriculture to impose penalties on any person who violates animal health requirements, and

-- HB 228, which changes requirements for veterinary hospital inspections to allow the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners to focus resources where needed.

-- HB 976, which requires that releases from easement restrictions issued by the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (MALPF) include a statement acknowledging the status of adjacent farmland; and altering the size of lots that may be released from easement restrictions by MALPF under specified circumstances.

Among other agriculture-related bills to be signed by Governor O'Malley are:

-- HB 1481, which authorizes the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners to issue a license to an animal control facility to administer specified drugs to sedate or euthanize animals;

-- HB 140, allows a credit against the Maryland income tax for specified cellulosic ethanol technology research and development expenses paid or incurred by an individual or corporation;

-- HB 208 and SB 419 establish the Maryland Wild Pollinators Program to increase awareness of wild pollinators and the availability of noninvasive plants that are pollinator friendly; and requires MDA to provide grants to increase the availability of seed and nursery stock for noninvasive plants that are pollinator friendly;

-- HB 369 and SB 213, which alter the Chesapeake Bay 2010 Trust Fund and its purposes by establishing in statute the BayStat Program and requiring the BayStat Subcabinet agencies to distribute the funds to various entities for non-point source pollution controls particularly for agricultural cover crops and best management practices;

-- HB 543, which establishes the Maryland Dairy Farmer Emergency Trust Fund, administered by the Maryland Department of Agriculture, to provide financial assistance to dairy farmers during periods of economic hardship due to depressed milk prices. The Governor would be authorized to provide funding through general funds.

-- HB 662, which imposes a 25 percent surcharge on the existing agricultural land transfer tax, with most of the new revenues collected by the State going to fund the Next Generation Farmland Acquisition Program to help young farmers acquire their first farms and preserve additional acres of farmland. The bill also enables the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation to make additional farmland protection easement purchases over the next few years through the use of installment purchase agreements.

-- HB 696 and SB 158, which establish the Jane Lawton Farm-to-School Program in the Department of Agriculture to promote State agriculture and farm products to children through school meal and classroom programs;

-- SB 920, which establishes a Task Force to Study Statewide Gypsy Moth Infestation to report its findings and recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly on or before August 31, 2009; and

-- HB 1624, which establishes a farmstead cheese Laboratory Testing Fund; authorizes DHMH to establish a five-year pilot farmstead cheese program and authorizes the DHMH Secretary to issue up to five milk processor-farmstead cheese producer permits under the pilot program.

"Working closely with the General Assembly this session, we passed key legislation to protect our priorities of strengthening our middle class and our small and family owned businesses and farms, providing opportunity for more people, and protecting the health of our citizens and the environment," said Governor O'Malley. "When our farm businesses are sustainable, the next generation will see farming as a viable career opportunity, and Maryland will preserve its open space and locally-grown food industry."

"We are very pleased by this year's legislative session and are already working to get these laws up and running," said Agriculture Secretary Roger L. Richardson. "We thank Governor O'Malley, the General Assembly, the farm community and the citizens who pushed for passage of these bills. Their support shows that more people are recognizing how important agriculture is to their lives."

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