Committee sends ‘Boneta Bill’ to full house

By Jessica Dahlberg
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The grassroots-supported “Boneta Bill,” meant to protect farmers’ rights, won overwhelming approval from a House on Wednesday and moves on to its first reading in the full House of Delegates on Thursday.

The House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee voted 21-1 in favor of a substitute version of House Bill 1430, sponsored by Delegate Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge.

The bill seeks to expand the definition of agricultural operations to include the sale of products to consumers and businesses. In endorsing the measure, the committee made a few changes. One would prevent counties from classifying activities as non-agricultural without providing sufficient proof.

“If you’re farming, you’re farming. And if someone comes along and says you are not farming, the burden is on them to prove that you are not farming,” Lingamfelter said.

The committee also added a re-enactment clause to HB 1430. It says the regulations provided by the bill would not take effect unless the 2014 General Assembly also passes the legislation.

The re-enactment clause would delay the impact of the bill for another year, which did not sit well with its supporters.

“I feel we are getting closer, but we aren’t there yet,” said Heather Steffl, a local farm customer and advocate. “I’m not a fan of delaying the time period, though.”

HB 1430 draws its name from Martha Boneta, a Fauquier County farmer. Last year, she got into a dispute with county officials because she was selling handicrafts and holding events at her farm without proper permits. Boneta’s supporters demonstrated with pitchforks – first in Fauquier County and this week at the state Capitol – to protest what they see as government interference in farmers’ activities.

Also Wednesday, the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee approved a bill to exempt from state inspections certain food items that are made in private homes and then sold to the public.

The committee unanimously recommended that the full House pass its substitute version of HB 1852. Under the bill, farmers could sell herbs and seasonings, nuts, dried pasta and pickles up to a $3,000 cap.

“The additional $3,000 dollars will help me afford dance lessons for my children,” said Lois Smith, a farmer from Spotsylvania County.

The food would have to be labeled with the name, address and phone number of the person making the product and the date the food was processed. The label would have to include the statement “NOT FOR RESALE – PROCESSED AND PREPARED WITHOUT STATE INSPECTION.”

HB 1852 has been placed on the House’s uncontested calendar and also will be heard Thursday.

Capital News Service is a student news-gathering program sponsored by the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University.

How they voted

Here is how members of the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources voted Wednesday on “HB 1430 Right to Farm Act; expands definition of agricultural operations.”

YEAS – Sherwood, Ware, R.L., Wright, Orrock, Scott, E.T., Marshall, D.W., Poindexter, Pogge, Knight, Edmunds, Wilt, Morefield, Webert, Ransone, Fariss, Lewis, Bulova, Sickles, James, Torian, Keam – 21.

NAYS – Plum – 1.

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