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IFB delegates to consider marketing, pandemic, solar policy

After a long day of delving into pressing issues, Illinois Farm Bureau Resolutions Committee members completed IFB’s policy process work Wednesday evening.

“Our membership needs to know the Resolutions Committee did a deep dive and really vetted county submittals,” said State and Local Government Subcommittee Chairman Leon McClerren of Franklin County before starting a four-hour drive home. “I hope this gives the membership satisfaction.”

The Resolutions Committee followed COVID-19 statewide mitigation requirements while meeting at the IFB building in Bloomington. Unlike in August when all submittals were considered by the committee as a whole, the State and Local Government, Natural Resources, and Agricultural Production and National Issues Subcommittees considered submittals in separate meetings. Afterward, the Resolutions Committee as a whole heard the subcommittees’ recommendations and debated all the submittals.

“What’s next?” asked Brian Duncan, IFB vice president. “We dealt with these policy submittals, and the next thing is the delegates have their say. This is all prepping for the day when the members really speak. So, the members provide these issues for us to deal with, they provide the language for the Resolutions Committee to look at. We vet them, we get all the answers to the questions we hope maybe would be asked on the delegate floor. Then once the delegates act on it, it goes in the policy book. Then it’s up to leadership and staff to execute on these.”

Pandemic issues surfaced in the State and Local Government Subcommittee with proposed insurance liability policy from White County Farm Bureau. Committee members discussed the need to protect businesses, including farms and agricultural ones, defined as essential businesses during the pandemic.

“We discussed the legal nightmare,” Subcommittee Vice Chairman Dave Isermann told Resolution Committee members.

The Resolutions Committee voted in favor of new policy to support legislation that will protect small businesses deemed essential, in compliance with federal and state regulations, from liability claims made by employees and customers related to the coronavirus or other similar pandemics.

IFB delegates also will consider new transportation policy related to township highway commissioners submitted by Lee County Farm Bureau. During lengthy debate, Resolutions Committee members discussed challenges along with county government differences regarding township road authority.

The Resolutions Committee voted to forward policy to support requiring the township highway commissioner to provide explanation if the highway commission denies a road access request of a landowner, and establishing a process for landowners to appeal a decision of a township highway commissioner.

The Natural Resources Subcommittee discussed at length several policy proposals related to commercial solar and wind energy facilities and crop protection application, education and recordkeeping.

IFB delegates will consider new policy, submitted by Lee County Farm Bureau, to support statewide regulations to require a notice of intent to construct commercial solar energy projects and a hearing prior to construction of a commercial solar energy project. Current IFB policy opposes both.

“On solar energy, we do a 180-degree turn and support” a notice of intent to construct and a hearing prior to construction of commercial solar projects, said Natural Resources Subcommittee Chairman Joe White of Kane County. “The times have changed.” White noted commercial solar energy projects have been proposed on 12,000 acres in Lee County.

“I think this policy development process really vets a lot of the concerns the members have,” White added.

The Resolutions Committee voted in favor of an amended crop protection policy proposal from Champaign County Farm Bureau. The policy would support establishment of an industry standard for voluntary field marking that displays the traits planted in a field.

During subcommittee discussion, Lauren Lurkins, IFB director of environmental policy, explained some states and the Extension Service, but not in Illinois, offer a field marking program that primarily uses field flags to denote what is planted in a field.

Subcommittee members supported a voluntary effort. Lurkins pointed out American Farm Bureau Federation policy opposes any requirement to notify all neighbors ahead of a pesticide or fertilizer application.

The Resolutions Committee also supported an amended policy proposal related to specialty crops from Union County Farm Bureau.

IFB delegates will consider new policy to support development of new crop protection technologies that benefit specialty growers and row crop farmers alike while minimizing the effects on other plant habitat and the environment.

The Resolutions Committee voted in favor of adding “specialty crop” to existing policy supporting continuation of state university ag department research programs that identify optimum application timing of herbicides for weed control while reducing any negative impact to “row crop and specialty crop” plant development.

The Agricultural Production/National Issues (APN) subcommittee discussed issues ranging from dairy marketing to government farm policies to contract production and marketing to food labeling.

“We covered a myriad of topics,” explained Keith Mussman, APN committee chairman and Kankakee County Farm Bureau president. “For a corn and soybean and chicken farmer, I found it interesting that the submittal our committee needed the most education on was in regards to milk pricing. And that’s the beauty of Farm Bureau. We have grassroots issues. We have problems in a segment of agriculture that some of us don’t know about but we’re willing to try to learn about it.”

Both submittals on dairy marketing, one concerning Class 1 milk pricing and the other addressing Federal Milk Market Order reforms to depooling rules, were approved.

The subcommittee did not include a policy submittal that would have removed IFB’s opposition to government supply or acreage reduction programs. The subcommittee and full committee felt this would be a major shift in IFB policy and that production would be moved away from U.S. producers.

A Recommendation to the Board was received by the District 2 Livestock Working Group involving pricing, transparency and profitability issues for livestock producers. Through the recommendation, Carroll, Jo Daviess, Ogle, Stephenson and Winnebago-Boone Farm Bureaus are encouraging the board to actively pursue solutions which align with IFB policy concerning livestock pricing and marketing.

Subcommittee vice chairmen include Keith Poole, Ogle County, State and Local Government; Dennis Smith, Vermilion County, Agricultural Production and National Issues; and Dave Isermann, LaSalle County, Natural Resources.

Democrats maintain supermajorities in General Assembly

Illinois’ political landscape remains relatively unchanged in the Statehouse after Tuesday’s election. However, a couple of House races remained too close to call, said Kevin Semlow, Illinois Farm Bureau director of state legislation.

Both the Senate and the House maintain veto-proof supermajorities, while the Senate Democrats will have a “super, supermajority,” Semlow quipped.

In the Senate, Democrats picked up one seat, giving Democratic leaders 41 members compared to 18 Republican senators. Democrats needed 36 seats for a veto-proof supermajority, but they will have a five-plus supermajority.

Following the election, current Republican Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, announced he would not seek that leadership post again. Semlow noted Thursday Sen. Dan McConchie, Lake Zurich, was unveiled as the caucus’ official nominee for Republican Leader after a special meeting was held.

House Democrats maintained a veto-proof majority. However, House Republicans may pick up two seats, pending the outcome of a very tight race and vote-by-mail ballot totals, according to Semlow.

If the election outcome trend holds, House Democrats will have 72 members compared to 46 House Republicans.

“We will see an even stronger urban Democratic majority in the House as the two southernmost Democratic House members lost re-election,” Semlow said.

“IFB looks forward to working with all newly elected members of the House and Senate as well as the current ones,” he continued. “The biggest challenge is working in an environment of remote meetings and building relationships during this time.”

Looking ahead to the legislative session following the defeat of the income tax constitutional amendment, Semlow predicted a readjusted approach when the General Assembly takes on the state budget. His list of possibilities included an increase in the flat tax rate, budget cuts and searches for other revenue sources. “This will be a huge discussion for the General Assembly, and we will continue to work with them as they discuss the options,” he added.

While the fall veto session is scheduled before and after Thanksgiving, leaders have discussed shortening, modifying or even relocating the session from Springfield because of increasing cases of COVID-19, according to Semlow.

“We anticipate, during veto session, a continued focus on clean energy policy,” Semlow said. “IFB is working with other agricultural groups to make sure that ethanol and biodiesel are part of the discussion as we move toward a clean energy policy.”

Other veto issues may include social justice and equality issues. Semlow pointed out Senate committees have been meeting virtually and working on elementary and secondary education, judicial reform and economic development. “There is a possibility a legislative package may be put forward on those issues,” he said.

Guebert: Voters decided flat tax ‘fair way’ to tax income

Illinois voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment Tuesday to change Illinois’ flat rate income tax. Illinois Farm Bureau opposed the measure and worked to educate IFB members and voters on the reasons why this was not sound tax policy.

“We are pleased the voters of Illinois have spoken and decided the state’s flat tax is the fairest way to tax income,” said IFB President Richard Guebert Jr.

Amendment proponents needed either a simple majority of all votes cast in the election or 60% of those who voted on that question. The proponents conceded after the Associated Press reported that 55% of votes were against changing the flat rate income tax structure.

County Farm Bureaus and Farm Bureau members worked hard, sharing information and urging people to vote no through multiple actions, such as posting yard signs, social media messages, writing letters to the editor and advertising on radio.

Guebert praised their efforts: “All members of Illinois Farm Bureau should be proud of the campaign we ran. We focused on the issues, IFB policy and facts to educate our members and voters across the state.

“This election outcome truly shows that your vote matters,” the IFB president continued. “It is also a testament to IFB’s grassroots process that enables members to unite behind our policies and together make a real impact on critically important matters in the state.”

However, Guebert cautioned Farm Bureau members’ work remains to address the state’s poor finances and the large liability of the state pension system.

“IFB will continue to work with policymakers in Springfield to change our state’s fiscal habits” that include an ever-mounting backlog of unpaid bills, he said.