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January 12, 2006

Farmers hope to cultivate policy at Legislative Day

RICHMOND—Nearly 175 farmers will make their way to Virginia’s capital Jan. 24, “stopping” legislators to talk about issues important to them and their rural neighbors.

Virginia Farm Bureau Federation will sponsor the event, which will wrap up on Jan. 25. The theme is “Stop and Think about Farmers.”

“As the commonwealth continues to grow and urban areas continue to expand, it becomes vital that the concerns of farmers and rural residents are heard,” explained VFBF President Bruce L. Hiatt. “Agriculture is still the state’s largest industry, generating more than $2.6 billion in cash receipts.”

Farm Bureau members have identified five priority issues they will bring to the General Assembly’s attention this session, along with several funding items.

Leading the way is the issue of eminent domain.

“Virginia’s statutory law needs to be amended to clarify and strictly define public use and public necessity,” Hiatt said, referencing the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Kelo v. The City of New London, Conn. That decreed land could be condemned for economic benefit by a governmental entity and transferred to a nongovernmental entity. “We also need to get the ball rolling on enacting a constitutional amendment giving these protections.”

Hiatt lauded the General Assembly for passing laws last year requiring more specific notification provisions prior to a condemning authority entering property under consideration for eminent domain, as well as clarifying property owners’ recourse if damage occurs during such entry.

“These changes did not apply to all entities with condemning authority, though,” he said.

Farm Bureau members also will push for tax incentives for the production and use of alternative fuels, and creation of an alternative fuel refinery in the mid-Atlantic region.

Members plan to voice their support for all provisions of the Virginia Farm Winery Act.

They will discuss with elected officials the importance of increased state funding for improving safety and maintenance of farm-to-market roads, with special emphasis on bridges and signage for farm equipment.

With regards to taxes, Hiatt said Farm Bureau members want to see state and local tax structures reformed to alleviate reliance on real estate taxes. “We will let the legislators know that we support the expansion of current law to allow local governments to implement impact fees or adequate public facilities ordinances on residential development, to help share the cost of providing new services for them.

“We are also seeking state matching funds for local Purchase of Development Rights programs through the Virginia Agricultural Vitality Program, including $500,000 for the Office of Farmland Preservation,” Hiatt said.

Contact Martha Moore, VFBF governmental relations director, at 804-290-1013.

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