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Current Grange News - 2020

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January 2020



POLICY UPDATES AND ISSUE NEWS JANUARY 2020 WRAP-UP

Agriculture and Food

Spending Bills Clear Congress

A couple days before heading home for their Christmas break, Congress cleared spending packages to fund the federal government for fiscal 2020. The legislation includes several new appropriations for agriculture:
• An additional $1.5 billion for disaster relief (including quality loss) for farmers and ranchers.
• Reinstatement of the $1-a-gallon biodiesel tax credit.
• Increases staffing to relieve shortages at Farm Service Agency offices.
• Kick-starts new farm bill-authorized programs including dairy business innovation initiatives, healthy fluid milk incentives projects, and micro-grants for food security.
• Boosting rural broadband deployment by providing an additional $550 million for USDA's ReConnect program.
• Hiring an additional 240 agricultural customs inspectors to protect domestic agriculture from importation of foreign diseases and pests.

Health Care

Spending Bills Include Health Care

Significant health care policy changes include several National Grange priorities:
• Repeal of the "Cadillac" tax on high-end employer-funded health insurance
• Repeal of the medical device tax
• Repeal of the individual mandate health insurance tax

Several National Grange priority health care issues were left unsolved including prescription drug pricing and surprise medical bills. These will be back on the table for 2020.

Drug Pricing Bill Passes House

Speaker Pelosi's drug pricing bill, H.R.3, passed the House 230-192 along party lines in December. H.R.3 would require the federal government to negotiate prices for costly drugs. However, H.R.3 may be dead on arrival in the Senate. Early in December Senators Grassley (R-IA) and Wyden (D-OR) introduced their bipartisan Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019. The Grassley-Wyden package takes a more prescriptive approach to drug pricing and appears to enjoy a broader patient support base.

When Rural Hospitals Close Doctors Leave

When local hospitals close, rural and small town residents lose their availability to physicians in the local health care system as well. Not only are surgeons leaving these communities but so are primary care physicians. It appears priority objectives for rural health care policy must include a focus on supporting and maintaining systems that do not depend on hospitals.

Paper Please

National Grange members have always asked for the choice to receive paper copies of notices, invoices, reports, statements and more rather than be forced to go online for these. Yet, the federal government and most large corporations are intent on going paperless, like it or not. Now, Representatives Larson (D-CT) and Buchanan (R-FL), and Senators Wyden (D-OR) and Cassidy (R-LA) have introduced the bipartisan Know Your Social Security Act which would restore the printed statement until such time as the wage earner chooses to transition to online statements.

Telecommunications

Robo Relief

Congress has passed the TRACED Act with the President's support. The Act will require phone companies to implement cell-blocking technology and call authentication technology to determine if scammers are calling. Primary drivers of this National Grange priority on Capitol Hill to stop illegal and unwanted calls were Representatives Pallone (D-NJ) and Walden (R-OR), and Senators Thune (R-SD) and Markey (D-MA).

A $9 Billion 5G Fund for Rural America

National Grange President Betsy Huber issued an early December statement strongly supporting Federal Communications Chairman Pai's plan to deploy high-speed 5G broadband into the rural and small town landscape. Huber lauded it as a huge step forward for rural equity in the social, education, health care, business and many other spheres. "Under his tenure, Chairman Pai has done so much within his area of influence to advance rural communities," according to Huber.

Satellite Programming Endangered

The National Grange has supported the reauthorization of the Satellite Television Community Protection and Promotion Act of 2019 (STELAR) before it expired December 31. Unfortunately Congress allowed STELAR to expire. This leaves 870,000 satellite TV subscribers vulnerable to higher fees and the possibility of losing local and regional programming. It is imperative that Congress address retransmission fees and the negative impact on rural communications access.

Clear the Path for Mixed-Technology Broadband

The National Grange and the Connect Americans Now Coalition are urging the Federal Communications Commission to remove regulatory barriers to TV white space technology. The integration of unused TV white spaces with other broadband technologies will help extend connectivity to the "last mile" in rural areas.

Taxes

A bill has been introduced to update and modernize Section 2032A of the Internal Revenue Code regarding special use valuation on farm and ranch land for estate tax purposes. Representatives Panetta (D-CA) and Walorski (R-IN) are cosponsors of H.R. 5259, The Preserving Family Farms Act of 2019. The bill would allow property to be appraised on the basis of its current agricultural use value as farmland rather than its development value when determining estate taxes. The Panetta-Wolarski bill is supported by the National Grange and a long list of agricultural and landowner organizations.

Trade

USMCA is Nearing Reality

The US-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement is a major step closer to becoming law. Just before Christmas the House passed the trade pact with 193 Democrats and 192 Republicans voting in favor. Only 38 Democrats, two Republicans and one independent voted against UCMCA. This replacement to the North American Free Trade Agreement is seen as a major economic accomplishment that benefits U.S. agriculture and protects U.S. manufacturing jobs. Support is high in the Senate as well, but the USMCA vote may have to wait until the Senate finishes the impeachment trial for President Trump in January.

"Phase One" China Trade Pact

In mid-December, U.S. and Chinese officials signed off on a partial "Phase One" trade deal that includes a Chinese pledge to buy huge amounts (reportedly $50 billion) of U.S. farm commodities. The U.S. did not levy new tariffs on China December 15 as planned but current tariffs on Chinese products will remain and may be reduced over time as further negotiations progress on a second deal that encompasses intellectual property, technology transfer, currency manipulation and more. The "Phase One" deal is expected (guardedly) to be formally signed in early 2020.

Immigration/AG Workforce

Ag Worker Bill Clears the House

By a vote of 260-165, the House passed the bipartisan Grange-supported Farm Workforce Modernization Act, H.R. 5038 in December. The bill, sponsored by Representatives Lofgren (D-CA) and Newhouse (R-WA), expands H-2A from just a seasonal program into a year-round, three-year visa system. It provides a pathway to legal status for ag workers currently on farms and ranches to continue working in agriculture, requires the use of E-Verify to check the eligibility of new employees, and limits annual wage rate fluctuations. Proponents of the bill say it's the best chance to get relief from the ag worker crisis in the foreseeable future. Opponents say it gives eventual legal status to workers who are already in the U.S. illegally. Chances of passing any ag worker legislation through the Senate in 2020 is unclear.

H-2A Wages Jump 6%

The Labor Department announced ag worker wages under the H-2A program will go up 6% in 2020 to an average of $13.99 depending on the state. The five states of California, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Washington account for more than half of the certified H-2A workforce.

Under the Influence

Campaigns against driving under the influence of alcohol and underage drinking raise the awareness of the catastrophic dangers of alcohol abuse behind the wheel. But alcohol now has some stiff competition for the abuse landscape. Studies complied by CNN show the opioid, cocaine and methamphetamine crises are spilling over on to the roads. Marijuana is on the radar now as well. Breakdown of the studies show 8% of drivers said they had a drink before driving at some point during the previous year. Almost 5% of drivers reported driving under the influence of weed (marijuana) and approximately 1% said they had driven under the influence of other drugs. Studies also show marijuana use can seriously alter judgment, perception, ability to think clearly and reaction time.

Perspective

Most people do not pray, they only beg. ~ George Bernard Shaw

Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays. ~ Soren Kierkegaard

God warms his hands at a man's heart when he prays. ~ John Masefield

Don't pray when it rains if you don't pray when the sun shines. ~ Satchell Paige

Prayer is exhaling the spirit of man and inhaling the spirit of God. ~ Edwin Keith

In worship, God imparts himself to us. ~ C.S. Lewis

Feedback and questions are welcome. Call Burton Eller, at (202) 628-3507 ext. 114 or email beller@nationalgrange.org



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Each year at the Annual Session of the California State Grange, we process resolutions that if adopted, become the policies of the State Grange. The legislative committees will also review the Legislative Handbook and remove old or obsolete polices. If removed it does not mean that it is no longer our policy, as it remains an adopted policy, joining all our policies going back to 1873. The only way a policy no longer applies is by adopting a resolution to remove it.

These policies are incorporated into the Legislative Policy Handbook. They, with the other polices become the basis for our Legislative Lobbing efforts.

It should be noted that these polices are for our State Grange. The National Grange has its own policies, and we can and do have policies that are different or opposed to those of the National Grange.

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