By Kim Jarrett
The Pennsylvania House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee this week recommended approval of a bill that would allocate money for a Pennsylvania Rapid Response Readiness Account to help the agriculture industry in times of emergency, including foodborne illnesses and outbreaks.
“With recent and ongoing threats such as avian influenza and spotted lanternfly, it is important we are prepared and able to provide a rapid and well-coordinated response,” said Rep. Martin Causer, R-Bradford, the bill’s sponsor and chairman of the committee.
The committee approved a flurry of bills in a meeting that lasted less than 25 minutes beginning with House Bill 1348, sponsored by Rep. Barbara Gleim, R-Carlisle. The bill gives limited liability protection from lawsuits for injuries and damages to agritourism businesses where no one is at fault. The farmers would have to post signs and provide a written consent form to visitors which could be as simple as what is written on an admission ticket, said Kerry Golden, executive director for the committee.
Other bills recommended to the full House of Representatives:
• House Bill 1514, sponsored by Rep. John Hershey, R-Mifflintown. The bill would reestablish the dormant PA Farm-to-School program, which would increase exposure to agriculture for elementary school students and improve nutrition for children.
• House Bill 1517 gives the State Conversation Commission authority to provide grants, low-interest loans and tax credits to farmers. The bill is sponsored by Rep. David Zimmerman, R-New Holland.
• Rep. Pam DeLissio, D-Philadelphia, sponsored a bill to create a new grant program to reestablish the former Agriculture and Rural Youth Development Program. The money would go to youth organizations to promote development in agriculture, community leadership, vocational training and peer fellowship. Pennsylvania has one of only three agriculture-only high schools in the United States, Walter B. Saul High School in Roxborough.
• House Bill 1519, sponsored by Rep. Chris Rabb, D-Philadelphia, would develop a block grant program that would encourage farmers to grow high-priority crops including hemp and hops. These crops are not available for federal funds, Rabb said.
• Farmers in rural communities often have to drive many miles to find meat processors and inspectors. House Bill 1520, sponsored by Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Carmichaels, will create a grant program to reimburse costs for small or new processors.
• Farmers would get help with business plans along with transitions of succession plans through a newly-created Pennsylvania Agricultural Business Development Center that will be created if House Bill 1523, sponsored by Rep. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon, passes the Legislature and is signed by the governor.
• House Bill 1526, sponsored by Rep. Rich Irvin, R-Huntingdon, will reestablish a low-interest loan program for agriculture and conservation best management practices. The loans are administered by the State Conservation Commission.
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