This winter marked the beginning of the 2017-18 legislative session on Beacon Hill in Massachusetts and a new session means starting the process over again with filing and re-filing bills. The Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) was the driving force behind filing agricultural-related bills and has supported numerous others that benefit farmers.

Another version of the Omnibus Bill, a conglomeration of a number of bills and provisions, has been refiled in the both the House and the Senate. While this year’s bill contains many provisions that MFBF supports, there are some that the organization is concerned about. As the bill progresses, MFBF will continue to monitor it in order to address these concerns.

As the session progresses, MFBF will be sending alerts and other information to members on how they provide support for these bills and hopefully move them along.

HD1356 – AN ACT TO PROMOTE THE CARE AND WELL-BEING OF LIVESTOCK

Creates a board within the Department of Agricultural Resources consisting of farmers, local humane organizations, veterinary organizations and relevant state agencies.

The board will be charged with ensuring livestock is treated humanely and will be given the ability to create relevant regulations, guidance, etc.

HD2338 – AN ACT ESTABLISHING AN AGRICULTURAL TOURISM STUDY COMMISSION

Agritourism is a growing business in Massachusetts, but is running up against conflicts with local zoning, agricultural preservation restrictions, etc.

This bill creates a Commission to explore how to appropriately support and expand this growing sector.

HD645 – AN ACT TO PROMOTE AND STRENGTHEN AGRICULTURAL PRESERVATION

This bill would delete a very broad and vaguely worded provision of the statute governing the administration of the Agricultural Preservation Restriction program. This provision has been responsible for significant conflict and misunderstanding in the administration of the APR program.

HD3032 – AN ACT TO ESTABLISH ESTATE TAX VALUATION FOR FARMS

This bill would ensure that for estate tax purposes, farmland is taxed at its agricultural value. Presently inherited farmland is taxed at its highest and best use. Often that means that those inheriting farmland have to sell some of it to pay the estate tax.

The bill contains a provision that if land is converted from farmland within 10 years of inheritance, that appropriate back taxes are paid.

SD258 – AN ACT RELATIVE TO APPLICATION DEADLINES FOR AGRICULTURAL, HORTICULTURAL, OR RECREATIONAL LAND

Paperwork for Chapter 61a is due Oct. 1 of each year – right in the middle of the growing season. This bill would move the deadline for applying for Chapter 61, 61a and 61b to Dec. 1.

Currently, if a municipality simply does not respond to a Chapter 61b application, the application is denied. This bill would give the town 90 days to respond. If they fail to do so, the property is automatically enrolled in 61b.

HD891 – AN ACT RELATIVE TO NON-CONTIGUOUS FARM LAND

Under Chapter 61a, qualifying land must be at least five contiguous acres. This is becoming a barrier to many small farms who farm less than five acres, as well as opening up new farmland where much of what is available is less than five acres in size.

This bill would allow land to be enrolled in 61a so long as there was a minimum of 5 acres, and non-contiguous plots are within 10 miles of each other, or within the same municipality.