Monday, February 27, 2012

House Finance Passes Agriculture Package

Late Friday afternoon, the House Committee on Finance approved a legislative package supporting agriculture in Hawai’i. The bills advancing are:

HB 2100 Relating to Bees.  HB2100 appropriates funds to the University of Hawai’i for statewide honeybee hive research. The bill will make an appropriation to be determined to each to the counties of Hawaii, Maui, Oahu, and Kauai, and the University of Hawai’i at Hilo for hands-on training with honeybee hives.

“The sale of honey, value-added honey products, and queen bees constitutes a significant portion of our agriculture industry. Providing funding to five locations on four islands will allow more of the state to become shareholders in this lucrative business,” said House Committee on Agriculture Chair, Rep. Clift Tsuji.

HB 280 Relating to Agriculture.  House Bill 280 will remove the requirement that all Hawaii-grown green coffee beans shall be inspected and certified by the Department of Agriculture and permits Hawaii-grown green coffee beans to be shipped outside the area of their geographic origin without being inspected by the Department of Agriculture.

“We required the inspections in an effort to help coffee farmers in response to a high profile coffee bean fraud incident a few years back," added Rep. Tsuji.  "Without sufficient funding for the inspectors, this mandate has done more harm to the industry than good and needs to be repealed."

HB 2244 Relating to Agriculture Inspectors. House Bill 2244 authorizes the Department of Agriculture to establish compliance agreements with the federal government and other states for inspections conducted in the state of origin. This will mitigate the risk posed to biosecurity in the form of invasive species being transported with imported goods. The legislation will also bring Hawaii's fruit, vegetable, and flower export industries into compliance with federal regulations and requirements from other states.

“HB2244 is a classic win-win piece of legislation for the state of Hawaii," said Tsuji. "It protects our state from the threat of invasive species coming in with imports, eases the burden on our agriculture inspectors, and eliminates federal and interstate compliance issues for our agricultural export industries.”

HB 1943 Relating to Invasive Species. House Bill 1943 makes an appropriation to the Department of Agriculture to fund the plant quarantine detector-dog program.  State funds will replace Federal funds that sponsored the detector-dog program that ended with recent budget cuts. The primary role of the detector-dog program is to prevent the brown tree snake from coming to Hawai’i, but it will also cover other threats to the state's biosecurity.

“We have seen how the brown tree snake has decimated the native flora and fauna of Guam, and I am not willing to see the same thing happen to Hawaii," added Rep. Tsuji.  "Biosecurity doesn’t only protect our environment and native species, it fortifies our tourism and agricultural industries."

HB 1942 Relating to Agriculture.  HB1942 allows moneys in the pest inspection, quarantine, and eradication fund to be expended for the Electronic Importer Manifest Program (EIMP). The EIMP is a Department of Agriculture mandate that provides for the transfer from an importer to the plant quarantine inspector of data on all commodities of interest imported by aircraft or ship.

“There are excessive backlogs in agriculture inspection resulting from the lack of implementation of integrated technologies, most notably the EIMP,” said Rep. Tsuji. “Appropriating funds for EIMP will place the program in compliance with existing requirements and eliminate the backlog keeping agriculture products from reaching the market in a timely manner.”

HB 1941 Making an Appropriation for Agricultural Inspection Facilities and Related Infrastructure.  HB1941 makes a total appropriation to be determined to establish agricultural inspection biosecurity facilities and related infrastructure at the Honolulu International Airport, Kona International Airport, Kawaihae Harbor, Kamuela Vacuum Cooling Plant, and Honolulu Harbor.

“The creation of adequate agricultural inspection biosecurity facilities at our main airports and harbors is essential in our efforts to prevent invasive species from wreaking havoc on our ecosystems and biodiversity,” said Tsuji. “If an invasive species were to take root in Hawai’i, the results have the potential to be permanent and devastating.”

HB 2093 Relating to Agricultural Education.  HB2093 establishes a Center for Agricultural Leadership within the University of Hawai’i at Hilo and requires the University of Hawai’i to establish a two-year pilot project at one high school in each county to determine the steps necessary for a school farm to be food safety certified by the Department of Agriculture.

“The creation of the Center for Agricultural Leadership will increase opportunities for an agricultural education and career path throughout the University of Hawai’i system,” said Rep. Tsuji. “Developing a method for making school farms food safety certified will break down the biggest barrier in supplying our children with fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables.”

HB 1947 Relating to Agriculture.  House Bill 1947 authorizes the Department of Agriculture to establish an Agricultural Safety and Security Program, which will be accompanied by an Agricultural Practices Audit and Certification Revolving Fund.  Under the voluntary program, the Department will conduct audit and certification services indicating a producer’s compliance with generally accepted agricultural and management practices as well as food security and traceability requirements.

“Recent rat lungworm nematode cases on the Big Island show that Hawai’i is not immune from the threat of food borne illness,” said Rep. Tsuji. “The agriculture industry has developed a series of practices to mitigate these risks. HB 1947 will benefit farmers and consumers of local produce by assuring everything going to market will be safe for consumption.”

The Finance Committee deferred HB 2668 Relating to Agriculture for now, but will be working on the language of the bill within the next few daysCurrently, HB2668 amends an important agricultural land tax credit to allow an additional fifteen percent credit for drought mitigation and changes the tax credit cap from $7,500,000 per year to $5,000,000 per year for the 2012 tax year, and $7,000,000 for the 2013, 2014, and 2015 tax years. The bill also creates a livestock feed tax credit for 2012 and creates a feed development tax credit program for 2013 and 2014.

“House Bill 2668 provides much needed assistance to the business side of agribusiness,” added Rep. Tsuji. “We currently import 100% of our feedstock and this piece of legislation will also promote the development of a local feedstock industry.”

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