So what did the General Assembly do for, or to, agriculture this session? As it turns out, more than you think.
Hemp and what to do about this latest crop was a big part of the bills lawmakers looked at in the 2018 session. That included adding unprocessed hemp seeds to the state list of commodities that already includes wheat, corn, oats, barley, rye, sunflower seeds, soybeans, beans, and grain sorghum. It also is now classified as a farm product, both which took place under Senate Bill 205, sponsored by Sen. Don Coram of Montrose, one of the legislature’s go-to folks for carrying measures on hemp. The bill is awaiting a signature from the governor.
Coram sponsored a similarly successful bill last year to classify industrial hemp as an agricultural product so that those who raise it can use existing agricultural water rights for irrigation.
Another Coram bill also waiting for a decision by Gov. John Hickenlooper is Senate Bill 235, which sets up a study on whether to create an industrial hemp research and development authority. That eight-member taskforce is expected to come up with recommendations by Dec. 1 on whether to set up that authority, which would be part of the state’s economic development process and would look for research, education and development programs related to the hemp industry.
The General Assembly didn’t forget about the plight of the aging agricultural workforce. Senate Bill 42 would up the agricultural workforce development program, to be housed within the Department of Agriculture. That program is designed to help young and beginning farmers and ranchers through internships, partially paid for by the state, that help those starting out in the business learn the ropes. The internship is limited to 130 hours for a maximum of six months.
Farmers and ranchers willing to offer those internships would have half of their costs — wages, overhead and other “incidental” costs — reimbursed by the state. The bill was sponsored by Sens. Kerry Donovan of Vail and Larry Crowder of Alamosa, and is waiting for a signature from the governor.
Senate Bill 239, sponsored by Rep. Jon Becker of Fort Morgan and Sen. Vicki Marble of Fort Collins, could clear the way for animal chiropractors to treat animals — primarily dogs and horses — without first obtaining a veterinarian referral.
Current law requires a licensed chiropractor to get that referral, but the bill allows chiropractors to bypass that step if they take eight hours of coursework on a wide range of contagious and infectious diseases, such as rabies, West Nile, canine brucellosis and plague. The coursework also would review diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans, such as equine herpes. Another hour of coursework would include information on state law regarding notification when a chiropractor finds contagious, infectious and those zoonotic (animal to human) diseases. Those who don’t take the coursework must still obtain a referral from a vet, and those who do complete that coursework must still notify the animal’s vet, if available, of the treatment within seven business days.
The bill also changed the definition of horses for purposes of animal chiropractic care. Yup, you read that right. They’re now known as “equids,” which in addition to horses can include other mammals in the horse family, such as zebras, donkeys or mules.
The bill won unanimous approval on its trip through the House and Senate, with backing from both the chiropractor and veterinary medicine organizations, Colorado Farm Bureau and the Department of Agriculture.
The governor has a deadline of Friday, June 8 to sign or veto all bills forwarded to him by the General Assembly. This year, that’s 438 out of 721 measures, or just a little under 60 percent.
One bill that didn’t make it: House Bill 1043, requiring “country of origin” labels on beef sold in retail businesses. Rep. Kimmi Lewis of Kim tried for a second year to find support for her bill that she said would protect Colorado beef. But as with her effort in 2017, the bill was opposed by the Colorado Farm Bureau, the livestock association, the corn growers, cattle and wool growers groups.
That opposition showed up in a five-hour hearing that drew remote testimony from several parts of the state. The North American Meat Institute pointed out that the bill, if passed, would conflict with federal law that preempts states from setting up their own labeling or packaging systems as it applies to meat. That federal law has been affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
House Bill 1043 lost on a bipartisan vote of three in favor and 10 against, including Becker.
The General Assembly also reauthorized regulations on custom meat processing (House Bill 1235), gave another five years to the state’s food systems advisory council (House Bill 1236, a Becker bill) and continued the state’s measurement standards law within the Department of Agriculture for another 15 years (House Bill 1146). All three are awaiting signatures from the governor.