Despite the tremendous distractions in Missouri politics this spring, the 2018 Missouri legislative session ended with several big wins for both rural Missourians and the entire state. Lawmakers were able to overcome personal and political differences to prioritize agriculture, the state’s number one industry, in the closing days of session.
At the last minute, the House of Representatives approved ballot language allowing the voters of Missouri to decide whether to allow a transportation funding increase. Missouri’s gas tax has not changed in 26 years and its value has been eaten alive by inflation. This proposal may be what is needed for road and bridge funding to keep pace with increased costs. MOFB has encouraged the legislature to address this for several years, and it was great to see the legislature step up and move a solution forward.
Late last year, Missouri Farm Bureau members prioritized expanding access to high-speed broadband internet. They identified problems with potential lawsuits and a lack of coordination on the statewide level to encourage infrastructure deployment. The legislature directly addressed both of these issues in ways that could pay dividends in the coming years.
Senator Mike Cunningham and Representative Curtis Trent crafted a bill to minimize the threat of lawsuits for rural electric cooperatives installing fiberoptic cable on existing power lines in order to deliver world-class internet access to rural areas. Some trial attorneys had called this an eminent domain taking and tried to score multimillion-dollar settlements for the “damage” caused to property owners by this additional wire being strung on a pole. The bill lets landowners sue if the installation causes actual physical damage to their land but prevents these ridiculous class actions.
A separate bill sponsored by Senator Dan Hegeman and Representative Delus Johnson sets up a Rural Broadband Development Fund to help outline how service will be delivered to rural areas. While this year’s bill only creates a framework, hopefully future years will see money appropriated to execute the Fund’s plan of bringing truly high-speed internet to all parts of Missouri.
Senator Mike Cunningham and Representative John Wiemann led the effort to clarify the Missouri Clean Water Law to ensure that storm water runoff and irrigation flows do not require permits from the Department of Natural Resources unless they are entering and harming a water of the state. This provision will not change the way these waters are treated, but it will clarify some ambiguous legal provisions to prevent unreasonable lawsuits.
A broad-ranging agriculture bill led by Senator Brian Munzlinger and Representative Jay Houghton perhaps caught the most national attention of any bill this session. One of its provisions requires any food labeled as “meat” to be harvested from an animal carcass. This seemingly obvious definition has become more controversial with the advent of plant-based and lab-cultured imitation meat products. If signed by the Governor, this consumer-clarity law would make Missouri the first state to prevent such products from being labeled as “meat” and could set off a wave of similar laws in other states.
As with any year, there are always priorities left on the table to be addressed in the future, but even this small sample shows that 2018 has been a good year for Missouri agriculture policy. All eyes will now turn to the Governor for signatures, but thus far he has not signaled opposition to any of these priority issues.