Ag gets mixed legislative bag

Local farming leader says plenty needs legal attention

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— When the Colorado Legislature adjourned last week, agricultural producers had more legal support than they had before the session. But at least one Yampa Valley rancher said the Statehouse action left much to be desired.

Backing from the Legislature is a trend ranchers and farmers have been enjoying in recent years, according to Linda Clausen, communications director of the Colorado Cattlemen's Association.

"It's definitely more and more every year that we've seen support for agriculture," she said.

Dan Craig, a local rancher and president of the Routt County Farm Bureau sees the Legislature's work for agriculture in a more subdued light.

"I think there were some positive things that came out of it and I think there are still some things that needed to be done," he said.

Craig wanted to see a law passed that would have help restricted the ease with which issues can be put on the ballot.

"You can get things passed that shouldn't be," Craig said, echoing the sentiment of fellow ranchers who in recent years have been upset with some statewide ballot measures like the anti-trapping Amendment 14, which was passed by Front Range voters but impacts rural interests significantly.

Senate Bill 214 would have addressed that issue. The bill had required that a petition be signed by a certain percentage of people from each part of the state.

"It's to ensure equal representation in rural areas and the agricultural vote," Clausen said.

However, the bill was postponed indefinitely by the state Senate Appropriations Committee late last month.

One of the the most influential agricultural bills to go through the Legislature this year was SB 29, known as the Right to Farm Bill.

Gov. Bill Owens signed the bill into law on March 29.

The law states that "methods and practices that are commonly and reasonably associated with agricultural production is not a public or private nuisance."

The wording is important because it shifts the burden of proof from the defendant to the plaintiff.

The original idea for such a law came from a ordinance drafted by the committee of the Routt County Open Lands Plan.

"In my opinion, it's good for agriculture," Attorney Mike Holloran said.

Another agricultural-friendly bill, House Bill 1348, is sitting on the governor's desk but has yet to be signed into law.

If signed, the bill would give state tax credits to people with conservation easements based on the easements' value.

An easement worth $50,000 would earn the same amount for a state tax credit. However, there would be a $100,000 cap on the tax credit.

"The people in the land trust community are very excited about it," Extension Agent C.J. Mucklow said.

Yampa Valley Land Trust Executive Director Susan Otis is optimistic about the bill.

"The state incentives provide more benefits all around for landowners working with a conservation tool," she said.

Another tax relief bill, HB 1162, also is sitting on Gov. Owens desk waiting to be signed.

If put into law, the bill would exempt agricultural producers from paying sales tax on farm equipment repairs, parts and maintenance,

"Those types of things are very helpful," Craig said.

The Colorado Cattlemen have their eyes on another bill sitting on Owens' desk.

"We're really hoping that (HB) 1212 is signed by the governor," Clausen said.

It would insure that commissioners from the State Board of Stock Inspections would be paid a mandatory fee, instead of a contribution.

The inspection money that's collected goes to organizations dedicated promoting beef sales.

The bill also insures the fees will be collected despite federal laws inspection regulations.

To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206 or e-mail dcrowl@amigo.net

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