Friday, March 23, 2018

Simpson Secures Fire Borrowing Fix and Forestry Reforms in the Omnibu

Washington- Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson applauded the inclusion of a fire borrowing fix and forestry reforms in the Omnibus Appropriations bill. Simpson has long championed a fix to fire borrowing having authored the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act which would treat wildfires like other natural disasters. The Omnibus includes the core principles of this bill by addressing the rising cost of fire suppression and a budget mechanism to provide parity with other natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes.

“The FY18 Omnibus spending bill might be one of the most critical pieces of legislation for western members I have seen since coming to Congress,” said Congressman Simpson. “I am thrilled this Omnibus provides a solution to fire borrowing. It has been my top legislative priority for years and by including this in the Omnibus, the Forest Service will be able to complete their maintenance and prevention work without fear of losing those dollars to suppression. It is long past due that wildfires in the west receive equal treatment with other natural disasters and this bill delivers the necessary budget changes to stop the dangerous practice of fire borrowing that has led to catastrophic wildfires in Idaho and throughout the west. I would like to thank Chairman Calvert and his counterparts on Interior Appropriations for prioritizing these important provisions. I would also like to thank Congressman Schrader and Senators Crapo and Wyden who have been champions of the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act since I began this effort in 2013.”

The legislation also includes several important forest management reforms that will allow the Forest Service and Department of the Interior to accomplish more prevention and management, which also helps reduce wildfires. Specifically, the Omnibus includes a fix to the disastrous court ruling known as the Cottonwood decision that has resulted in vegetative management projects and millions of board feet being put on hold. Congressman Simpson introduced the Litigation Relief for Forest Management Act last year, which is bipartisan legislation that would resolve the Cottonwood case. Similar language was included in the Omnibus spending bill.

“The forest management reforms in this bill will give land managers the tools they need to get the job done,” added Simpson. “The Cottonwood decision is a concern I heard from the local Forest Service on the ground, all the way up the Secretary of Agriculture as a barrier that stands in the way of improving the health of our federal forests. This is a serious problem that needed to be addressed, and this bill solves that issue as well.”

The Omnibus also addresses support for rural counties by fully funding Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) and reauthorizing Secure Rural Schools (SRS). This vital funding supports county budgets for the most critical of needs such as roads and schools.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Trespass bill protects property rights in Idaho

POCATELLO –Idaho lawmakers today passed a common-sense bill that strengthens the protection of private property rights by amending the state’s various and often confusing and inconsistent trespass laws and consolidating them.

House lawmakers voted 51-18 to support House Bill 658, which passed the Senate by a 29-6 vote.

Those votes were taken after several public hearings that stretched on for hours, where dozens of farmers, ranchers, and other landowners provided examples of how trespassers have damaged or destroyed expensive equipment, drove through freshly planted fields, used corrals for firewood, cut down their fences and harassed and even shot livestock.

Together, the testimony painted a shocking picture of how trespassers have caused serious damage to private land, equipment, and livestock. 

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation President Bryan Searle, a farmer from Shelley, was one of those who testified about the headaches and damage trespassers have caused his operation over the years.

Searle said most private landowners are quick to grant permission to hunt, fish or recreate on their property if asked permission first.

“Farm Bureau members and other landowners across the state are grateful that legislators understand how vitally important it is to uphold constitutionally guaranteed private property rights,” Searle said after the House passed the bill, which now goes to Gov. Butch Otter for his signature.

Searle said that HB 658 “will ensure that we continue to foster a cooperative culture between landowners and those who ask for permission to recreate on private lands.”

HB 658 provides tougher penalties for people who willfully and knowingly trespass on private land. The key point here is that the new law is not going to result in Girl Scouts, missionaries or other innocent people becoming criminals because they accidentally stepped foot on private land, a claim often repeated by opponents of the bill.

The legislation does not criminalize innocent behavior. In order to commit a criminal trespass, the person must “know or have reason to know” they are trespassing.

People who testified in favor of the bill made it clear that those who trespass willfully are a small minority. But under current law, the penalty for trespassing isn’t sufficient to deter them or inspire law enforcement to pursue trespassing cases. As of today, someone found guilty of trespassing on private ground faces a $50 fine.

Under the new law, which goes into effect July 1 when signed by the governor, someone convicted of willful criminal trespass faces a minimum $300 fine for a first conviction, $1,500 for a second conviction and $5,000 for a third conviction. A person with a third conviction could face a felony charge if there is more than $1,000 worth of damage involved with the trespass.

It should be noted that during public testimony, no one complained about the stiffer penalties for trespassing. It should also be noted that most of the criticisms leveled at the bill are longstanding provisions within existing law.

Contrary to what some opponents said about the bill, it does not eliminate landowners’ posting requirements. In fact, it increases them.

Under current law, neither fenced land nor cultivated land needs to be posted.  HB 658 requires landowners to post all unfenced and uncultivated property, as well as fenced land that is adjacent to public land at the corners and boundaries where the property intersects navigable streams, roads, gates and rights-of-way. The property must also be posted so that a reasonable person would be put on notice that they are entering private land.

That is a higher posting standard than current law requires.

The bottom line is that a coalition of 34 farms, forestry, industry, business, retail and other groups supported the legislation, and while some sportsmen’s groups opposed it, others did not, nor did the Idaho Department of Fish and Game oppose the bill. 

Organizations representing tens of thousands of Idahoans collectively told lawmakers there was a problem with the state’s current and confusing trespass codes and dozens of private landowners showed up at the Capitol to provide specific examples of why that’s the case. 

The result is a new, consolidated trespass code that has been simplified so that it is more understandable by the public and strengthens the protection of private property, which is one of the most basic of human rights that helps guarantee individual freedom.

A right to repair: Farmers want computer codes

Roberts—Since the dawn of time, Farmers not only produced food to feed the world, but they fixed the machinery that helped them do it.

Enter the 21st century and computer software that's now entwined in every tractor and almost all equipment. These days farmers can’t pull a water pump and install a new one without a software code. Just like Hal, the computer that took over the spacecraft in the movie 2001 Space Oddity modern day software systems in equipment is every bit alarming.

Farmer Andrew Mickelsen of Michelsen Farms out of Roberts says he can’t do basic repairs on his tractors because of the software computer codes have locked him out.

“I went to the Bonneville County Farm Bureau with a resolution," said Mickelsen. "We think farmers have a right to the codes and that information. We should be able to fix our equipment without going to the dealer and paying hundreds of dollars to fix minor repairs.”

At Mickelsen's Farm outside of Roberts this time of year you’ll find a long line of bright-green tractors. The fleet looks brand new and is well maintained and the oldest tractor is 6 years old.The tractors have tracks instead of wheels and they’re worth a quarter million dollars apiece. When something goes wrong there’s an annoying in-cab alarm that sounds at intervals to alert the driver of a myriad of problems, everything from oil pressure to faulty hydraulic connectors.

In the cab of one of his tractors, Mickelsen pulls up an iPad-sized screen.

“It shows all the codes that we have going on, and whether its active right now. But a lot of times when we see the codes it says ‘tracks control communication fault.’ Basically, it says there's some problem somewhere, sometimes the codes don’t mean anything. We get bogged down in information that’s useless unless we take it to the dealer,” said Mickelsen.

Because of ever-increasing, high-tech farm machinery a farmer has to have special diagnostic tools to stop alarms. All tractors now have software connecting to a port inside the tractor that points out the problem. Right now tractor manufacturers have that tool, and it can cost hundreds of dollars in call-out fees for cash-strapped farmers. For the Mickelsens and other farmers used to fixing their own equipment, it's not only expensive but annoying.

“We got the resolution considered at Bonneville County Farm Bureau and the American Farm Bureau put it in their policy book,” said Mickelsen. “We believe that it’s the farmers right to have that information that the dealerships have to repair the equipment.”

The Mickelsen is one of many farm families in the US that are fighting for the right to repair equipment. Momentum is building and there are eight states pushing “Right to Repair” bills in their legislatures. The legislation requires companies to give consumers and repair shops full access to service manuals, diagnostic tools, and parts so farmers are not limited to a single supplier.

“In the old days if we had a problem we’d check the fuel, check the compression little things like that,” said Mickelsen. “It could be maybe five things, now its one of a hundred things. So over time, the problems have multiplied and its harder to find what went wrong.”

The issue is growing across the US and now farmers have a new partner: iPhone repair shops. Repair shops across the US struggle to find certified components and codes to fix broken phones, tablets and laptops.

Farm machinery and big tech companies are lobbying against the right to repair bills, and have sent lobbyists to state Capitols citing intellectual property concerns.

Big tractor companies say that farmers don’t actually own the tractors that they pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for and instead receive a 'license to operate the vehicle.' They lock farmers into license agreements that keep them opening the software running their tractors and the signals they generate.

Grassroots activists are educating fellow farmers and hitting the corridors of Statehouses to counter the farm software lobby.

Mickelsen thinks farmers are being held for ransom when their machinery breaks down.

“In the old days, we could work on anything. We’d pull a tractor in the shed and we had the books and tools to get it done. Now you got to have the manufacturers diagnostic computers and software,” said Mickelsen. “Opening up and getting us back under the hood of these tractors will allow us to fix them once again.”

The semi-truck situation is much better on the farm according to Mickelsen.

“The great thing about the trucks is that because of some lawsuits and legislation years ago, it ruled that trucks and cat engines have to be able to have computers and software available at repair shops. So if our International breaks down we got a computer, we can plug it in and we have the codes, we can read pressures in the engine, we can do a lot more with our trucks than any of our tractors, said Mickelsen.

And not having the right diagnostic and disassembly tools can bring operations to a dead stop. Last fall in the middle of harvest the tractor Mickelsen was driving had an alarm go off.

“We had problems on one the tractors. Some wires shorted-out and blew a fuse, we didn't know it at the time. We don't have a diagnostic computer. Our dealer sent a tech out and we had to take the tractor offline for three days," said Mickelsen. "Turns out it was a 2-dollar fuse in the back of the tractor. It's something that could've been fixed in minutes, instead took days, because we don’t have codes or tools to fix the problem. It cost us a lot of time and money.”

In Nebraska, the legislature has considered 'The right to repair act' for the past two years. State Senator Lydia Brasch spearheaded efforts to free up computer codes. Senator Brasch told the Website Motherboard that releasing codes evens the 'right to repair' playing field.

"This fair repair act gives farmers the ability to purchase the diagnostic tools and take tractors to a local shop or try and repair equipment themselves," said Senator Brasch.

Apple and other high tech companies showed up in Lincoln to fight the bill. LB67 is still being held in the Nebraska Statehouse, yet this year 12 other states have right to repair bills under consideration.

"This complicated issue impacts all equipment manufacturers with embedded software in their products. Customers, dealers, and manufacturers should work together on the issue rather than invite government regulation that could ask costs with no associated value," Ken Golden PR Director of John Deere and Company told Motherboard.

Although there's a resolution in the AFBF policy book, no legislation has been proposed at the Idaho Statehouse. Farmers like Mickelsen says with costs and frustration rising on the farm, that could soon change.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Lawmakers honor JFAC chairmen

Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, Rep. Maxine Bell, Senators Shawn Keough and Trent Hill--Ritter photo

Boise--A touching noon-hour rotunda ceremony honored two of the longest-serving chairmen of the Idaho Legislatures powerful Joint-Finance Appropriation Committee.

Representative Maxine Bell and Senator Shawn Keough are the most senior members of the Idaho Legislative body and both will retire after decades of service on the Finance committee.

Both chairmen were considered champions of agriculture, with both recognizing the importance of the Ag Industry in the State Economy according to Speaker of the House Scott Bedke. He says they served with distinction.

"It's sad to see them go, but a tribute to Idaho for sending such high-quality people to the Legislature. We can't find higher quality individuals in all Idaho. They're among the best to ever walk these halls. I was privileged to serve on JFAC with both of them, and count them as my best friends in the legislature," said Speaker Bedke.

Representative Bell was first elected to the Idaho House in 1988. The former school librarian was a graduate of Idaho State and got her political start with Idaho Farm Bureau.

"I came up in my mid 50's, prior to that we were active in County Farm Bureau, then active in the State, and then the American Farm Bureau level. The whole thing with Farm Bureau was to teach us the issues and find solutions. We learned how to talk to people and it served us well," said Bell.

Senator Keough out of Sandpoint is the longest-serving female senator in the history of the state. When she completes her 11th term in November of 2018, she’ll have served 22 years in the Idaho Senate.

“I’ve been proud of working with fellow area legislators over the years to get road projects built and others moved forward, secure additional funding for our schools, extend high-speed internet into our high schools, provide increased opportunities for higher education right here at home, and many other items that have made our government run better and assisted our citizens to have opportunities to prosper,” Keough said. “I sincerely thank the people of Legislative District 1 for the opportunity to be a public servant,” said Keough

Speaker Bedke says the JFAC Co-Chairs made his job easier.

"I never had to worry about JFAC since I've been Speaker. We met often, we were always on the same page early and they were loyal and supportive, never pushovers they defended their opinions. We had a meeting of minds, they got it done and done well and we will miss them," said Bedke.

Both chairmen were presented with gavels and will return to their home districts and lives.

"They made it happen, it's not going be easy to replace them," sighed Speaker Bedke.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

House passes resolution to pay Ranchers legal fees

Boise--The Idaho House of Representatives passed a resolution Monday advising the state’s Constitutional Defense Fund to reimburse two Owyhee County ranchers over a half million dollars in legal fees.

A decade ago ranchers Paul Nettleton and Tim Lowry's victory in the Idaho Supreme Court preserved Idaho's state’s sovereignty over stock water rights on the range.

Speaker of the House Scott Bedke of Oakley said the two ranchers, stood alone against the federal government's claim that the Feds held water rights on BLM land.

After a prolonged legal battle spanning a decade, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled with them, saying that the ranchers, not the federal government had put the water to beneficial use — a key part of state water rights. But in a surprising twist, the court also ruled that because the federal government presented a legitimate case, it did not have to pay the ranchers’ legal fees.

Majority Caucus Chairman John Vander Woude of Nampa rose in favor of the proclamation saying the State of Idaho is forever indebted to the ranchers.

“These ranchers were brave enough to stand up to the federal government,” said Vander Woude, “They’ve gone into debt, at the risk of their ranches all for the state of Idaho.”

Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, questioned the proclamation and legal fee reimbursement and then the constitutionality of the measure warning it could open the door to future claims.

“I'm troubled they needed help, but we might be stepping out in a place where we would not have to go for funding the Constitutional Defense Fund,” Bell said.

The proclamation now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

In the late 1990s, the Bureau of Land Management hauled the two ranchers into state court to determine who owned the water rights on grazing allotments traditionally used by ranchers since the late 1800s.

Lowry and Nettleton fought the BLM’s challenge of their stock water rights during the Snake River Basin Adjudication when the US government filed overlapping claims to the ranchers’ stock water rights.

While the decade-long legal fight was successful, ending in 2007, the rancher's legal defense cost more than a million dollars when they were denied reimbursement of legal fees. The ranchers have negotiated their legal fees down to $300,000 apiece and have secured 20-year loans to cover their bill.

House Leaders decided on the proclamation because of a 1994 state law that says that Idaho cannot pay for private legal fees. The exception, in this case, is that the ranchers preserved State control over its water and they deserved reimbursement.

Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane says because the House of Representatives is not passing a law to pay legal fees, it's not against the law. “A proclamation does not meet those legal requirements to become law. As a policy pronouncement of the House, no constitutional issues are raised,” said Kane.

Read more here:

Monday, March 19, 2018

NCBA Hails Introduction of Bipartisan ACRE Act in U.S. House

Washington- The National Cattlemen's Beef Association backs the introduction of legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that would prevent 200,000 farms and ranches from being regulated as if they were toxic Superfund sites.

The bill, introduced by U.S. Reps. Billy Long (R-Mo.) and Jim Costa (D-Calif.), is known as the Agricultural Certainty for Reporting Emissions Act and is supported by 85 original co-sponsors.

"There's not a lot of bipartisan consensus on Washington, DC, these days, but one thing that a lot of folks on both sides of the aisle can agree on is that the CERCLA law that regulates toxic Superfund sites shouldn't apply to animal agricultural operations," said fifth-generation California rancher and NCBA President Kevin Kester. "CERCLA was never intended to regulate cow manure, and Congress should fix this situation as soon as possible."

Similar bipartisan legislation - the Fair Agricultural Reporting Method (FARM) Act - was introduced in the U.S. Senate by U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) on Feb. 13. That bill currently has 37 co-sponsors and could be marked up by the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee as soon as next week.

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) was enacted to provide for cleanup of the worst industrial chemical toxic waste dumps and spills, such as oil spills and chemical tank explosions. CERCLA was never intended to govern agricultural operations, for whom emissions from livestock are a part of everyday life.

To make this clear, in 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized a rule to clarify that farms were exempt from CERCLA reporting and small farms, in particular, were exempt from EPCRA reporting, given that low-level livestock emissions are not the kind of "releases" that Congress intended to manage with these laws.

Upon being sued in 2009 by environmental advocacy groups, the Obama Administration's EPA defended the exemption in court on the grounds that CERCLA and EPCRA do not explicitly exempt farms because Congress never believed that agriculture would be covered under these statutes, so a specific statutory exemption was not viewed to be necessary.

Unfortunately, in April 2017, the D.C. Circuit Court vacated the EPA's 2008 exemption, putting nearly 200,000 farms and ranches under the regulatory reporting authorities enshrined in CERCLA and EPCRA. The new reporting requirements could have gone into effect on Jan. 22, but the Court delayed implementation of the requirements until May 1, 2018, which gives Congress time to act.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Idaho Wheat Commission Funds Endowed Chair of Risk Management

Boise-The Idaho Wheat Commission announced a $2 million gift to the University of Idaho Thursday to fund a new effort to expand education focused on risk management.

The Idaho Wheat Commission gift will establish an Endowed Chair of Risk Management to enhance existing programs in agricultural commodity and financial risk management. It will expand collaboration between the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and the College of Business and Economics.

The two colleges cooperate on the Agricultural Commodity Risk Management Program and the Barker Capital Management and Trading Program.

“We believe this is an opportunity to fill a gap in the supply chain. It will provide students with the valuable real-life experience to succeed in that area of the industry and, by so doing, strengthen the agricultural industry as a whole,” said Blaine Jacobson, Idaho Wheat Commission executive director.

“The support of the Idaho Wheat Commission ensures the university will continue to expand the unique and transformative educational opportunities made possible by this collaboration,” said Michael P. Parrella, CALS dean. “This will further enhance our national reputation for educating students on managing agricultural market risks using a wide variety of tools that include futures and options trading and using securities markets to counterbalance agricultural risks.”

The endowed chair will also provide valuable outreach to commodity groups, agribusinesses, producers, financial institutions, market participants, policymakers and others who use active risk management practices, Parrella said.

The individual holding the endowed chair will have considerable depth of experience in conducting research related to agricultural commodity and financial security markets on a global, national and regional scale. Their future research in this position may include price forecasting and examining impacts of changing policies, macroeconomic factors and structural changes in commodity markets on risks encountered throughout the supply chain.

"A solid foundation in business benefits students of all disciplines, which is why hands-on learning opportunities in risk management are so valuable," said Marc C. Chopin, CBE dean. "The support of the Idaho Wheat Commission and expanded collaboration with the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences ensures we can continue to provide students with experiences like this and prepare them to make meaningful contributions to Idaho's businesses and economy."

U of I agricultural economics graduate student Brett Wilder of Meridian is among students who benefit from the collaborative programs. He is studying livestock markets as part of his passion to help farmers and ranchers improve profits.

“We are fortunate to have seen first-hand the importance of proper risk management and to have hands-on experience with real-world tools that can be a game changer for farmers and ranchers,” Wilder said. “The IWC gift of an endowed chair will make this program even more attractive for students to come to the University of Idaho to learn these important and valuable skills for risk management in both commodities and securities markets.”

Transportation Department Extends ELD Waiver for Ag Haule

Washington--The Department of Transportation has again extended the deadline for agricultural haulers to comply with the electronic logging device mandate. DOT’s initial agricultural exemption was set to expire on March 18. The new extension, which carries the exemption through another 90 days, allows the department additional time to issue guidance on the newly interpreted 150 air-mile agricultural commodity exemption and the hours of service regulations.

While most farmers and ranchers should be exempt from the ELD mandate because they can claim covered farm vehicle status, drivers who haul livestock, live fish and insects are likely to fall under the requirements.

Drivers who have to use ELDs would be limited to current hours of service rules, which restrict a driver to only 14 “on duty” hours, with no more than 11 active driving hours. Once a driver hits those maximum hour allotments, he must stop and rest for 10 consecutive hours, which would be problematic when transporting livestock and other live animals.

Concerned about livestock haulers’ readiness to comply with the mandate, as well as how the mandate will affect the transported animals’ well-being, the American Farm Bureau Federation and seven livestock organizations last fall asked DOT for a waiver and exemption from the original Dec. 18 ELD implementation deadline.

In their petition, the groups pointed out livestock haulers’ strong commitment to ensuring the safety of both the animals they’re transporting and the drivers they share the road with. In addition, livestock haulers often receive specialized training beyond that required for their counterparts driving conventional commercial motor vehicles.

Another major roadblock to implementation for livestock haulers is their lack of awareness of the rule. Because the livestock hauling industry is small compared to the overall trucking industry, it isn’t well-represented before or strongly engaged by DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. As a result, livestock drivers who are aware of the program have had difficulty researching the ELD marketplace and identifying cost-effective solutions that are compatible with livestock hauling.

In announcing the latest waiver extension, FMCSA said over the next 90 days it will publish final guidance on both the agricultural 150 air-mile exemption and personal conveyance, as well as continue its outreach to the agricultural industry and community regarding the ELD rules.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

March Snowpack adds to year totals

Snowpack at Cuddy Mountain viewpoint looking into the Snake River from elevation 7,800 ft.  The Wallowa mountain range in Oregon can be seen in the distance. Steve Ritter photo

Council-Early March snowstorms did a lot to keep Idaho mountains blanketed in deep snow. The snowpack is making up the difference for lackluster levels earlier this year. According to Ron Abramovich with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and he says that Idaho farmers are in good shape.

“So even with a below-normal snowpack," says Abramovich, "we’re going to see adequate irrigation supplies across the state of Idaho this year.”

That’s because last year’s historic snowfall created enough storage in reservoirs to keep Idaho fields well-watered.

Abramovich says that streams in the central and northern part of the state are flowing at above-average rates – which means 2018 should be a great rafting season.

“There’s going to be a great rafting season up on the Payette River and the Main Salmon along with the Middle Fork. And the Selway and the Lochsa will really be flowing.”

He notes that one exception is in the very southwest corner of the state, where he expects a short rafting season on the Owyhee River.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Sheering Season in Gem County

Letha--Over 4,000 sheep are running through sheering sheds at Soulen ranch outside of Emmett this week, Rancher Harry Soulen says it was an easy season until last week with all the storms, but he says they made it through the winter and are looking forward to spring and greener pastures.

"We’re sheering right at 4000 hundred head of sheep here in Letha and we’re in the second day of sheering and the sheering crew are getting through about 800 head a day," said Soulen.

Soulen says they usually run about 10-thousand head but changing times have forced reduction of livestock on the range.

"Its a reduction of what we used to sheer, we used to sheer about 10-thousand head of ewes and yearlings, but with the loss of summer range due to the bighorn situation, this is the herd size we are limited to. because its the whole piece of the pie and if you have a portion of one thing it affects your whole operation, so we’re down to where we can only run about 4500 sheep," said Soulen.

House Ag Chair looking at Farm Bill Changes

Washington--House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway is holding off planned debate of the new farm bill to negotiate changes in the nutrition title that could gain more Democratic support.

House Democrats said they were unhappy with provisions in the draft bill that would increase the number of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients subject to work requirements and use the savings from reducing enrollment to expand state employment and training programs.

Representative Conaway of Texas, said he had a meeting on Tuesday with Democrat, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, and some other experts on welfare issues. Conaway had planned to release the draft bill this week ahead of a committee markup next week but he said that committee action before the two-week Easter recess was now "very doubtful."

“I don’t want to do is be in those negotiations, put something out, and then have to change it. I’d rather make the deal with Peterson to get him to a ‘yes. That’s when we’ll put it out,” Conaway told reporters.

Peterson says he has concerns saying that the bill could push 8 million people from SNAP rolls, but Conaway said: “we don’t think there’s anywhere near that many people” who would leave the program.

Insiders say that Conaway needs Democratic votes on the House floor to offset losses from Republicans who object to other provisions of the farm bill.

Senate Ag Committee leaders said that SNAP provisions are dead in that chamber, where Democratic support will be needed to get the 60 votes necessary to pass a farm bill.

“We’re looking to do some things that'll address the SNAP program and make it more directed to those who truly need it, but we won’t dramatically change the program,” said Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

The last farm bill authorized pilot projects to test ways of improving the E&T programs, but the projects are still changing. Some of the projects have suffered from staff turnover and loss of participation, according to USDA's latest report. As of Sept. 30, more than 34,000 people were enrolled in the 10 projects, with about half of pilot participants randomly assigned to a treatment group and half assigned to a control group.

Simpson Secures Fire Borrowing Fix and Forestry Reforms in the Omnibu

Washington- Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson applauded the inclusion of a fire borrowing fix and forestry reforms in the Omnibus Appr...