The House of Representatives passed the Governor's Tennessee Broadband and Accessibility Act in a 93-4 vote, sending it to Governor Haslam's desk for signature. The bill aims to increase broadband access to Tennessee’s unserved citizens. Tennessee currently ranks 29th in the U.S. for broadband access, with 34 percent of rural Tennessee residents lacking access at recognized minimum standards.The Senate passed the legislation 31-0 on April 3. The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act provides $45 million over three years in grants and tax credits for service providers to assist in making broadband available to unserved homes and businesses. In addition, the plan will permit Tennessee’s private, nonprofit electric cooperatives to provide retail broadband service and make grant funding available to the state’s local libraries to help residents improve their digital literacy skills and maximize the benefits of broadband.
A proposal to impose a new annual fee on all water rights in Oregon has passed a key legislative committee but the amount is no longer specified. House Bill 2706 originally sought a $100 yearly fee for every water right, capped at $1,000 for individual irrigators and $2,500 for municipal governments.The bill is intended to pay for water management conducted by the Oregon Water Resources Department, but opponents say it unfairly targets irrigators who are already under financial strain.Rep. Ken Helm, D-Beaverton, proposed an amendment stripping the specific amounts from HB 2706 to “lower the heat” on the bill and demonstrate that a fee amount is not “pre-ordained,” he said. The House Energy and Environment Committee approved the amended bill 5-4 during an April 17 work session, referring it to the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, which isn’t subject to normal legislative deadlines. Helm said he’s overseeing a work group that’s discussing a companion bill, House Bill 2705, which requires irrigators to install measuring devices to gauge water use and was previously referred to the House Rules Committee.
With just three meetings under its belt, the Feral Hog Task Force at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is rooting around for a solution to a growing problem. One possible solution is Kaput, whose active ingredient, Warfarin, is proven to work on quadrupeds, such as hogs. Kaput also kills other animals, such as black bears, which the LDWAF has worked to de-list as an endangered species. The poison is delivered from traps mixed with feed that attracts bears and hogs alike.“The black bears can easily get into the feeders meant for feral hogs,” said Jim LaCour, state wildlife veterinarian with LDWAF and a task force member. “We know that they will feed as long as they can, which could easily mean a fatal dose for bears.”LaCour admitted it was an effective deterrent for the hogs, a continuing threat to property and lives. “If they consume it for four or five days, it's highly toxic,” LaCour said. “It's nearly 100 percent lethal.”
A state tax credit that helped propel Oklahoma to third in the nation in its capacity to generate electricity from wind is coming to an end, but it will be years before state coffers see results of the change. Gov. Mary Fallin on Monday signed legislation that rolls back a 10-year tax credit for electricity generated by zero-emission facilities that was launched in 2003.Under the measure, zero-emission facilities must be operating by July 1 this year to qualify for the credit, instead of Jan. 1, 2021. It is one of several revenue proposals that Oklahoma lawmakers are considering as they struggle to close an estimated $868 million budget shortfall. But closing the window of eligibility will have no short-term impact on state tax collections, according to fiscal analysts. The first tax year that the change will be fully in effect is 2027.
A Montana legislative committee has tabled a lawmaker’s attempt to clarify how private land is leased to oil companies. Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen, is the sponsor of House Bill 384, which would have revised language used on oil and gas leases to inform landowners of the associated costs of oil extraction from their land. Knudsen said leases tell landowners they will receive royalties from wells on their land. However, he said the oil industry tends to deduct transportation and operating costs from that royalty. That information isn’t generally on the lease. Knudsen’s bill would require lease agreements to notify landowners of these associated costs. He said the bill would not prevent agreements that simply pay a gross royalty. No supporters spoke on the bill in the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee last week, despite its nearly unanimous passage in the House. Throughout Montana’s 65th Legislative Session, issues of personal freedom have continuously taken center stage. One bill that encapsulated that was one that would have allowed for the limited sale of raw milk.The Senate voted down House Bill 325 22-28 after debating it for more than an hour. The bill, introduced by Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, allowed for milk sales from a limited numbers of milk-producing cows, sheep and goats. It would have barred producers from selling raw milk in a retail setting, allowing just person-to-person sale. With the closure of coal-fired power units in Colstrip imminent, one lawmaker is carrying a bill that would facilitate an environmental cleanup plan for the areas surrounding the plant.Sen. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, said his bill was the result of work between environmental groups, coal companies and the Senate Natural Resources Committee.“The bill’s solid,” Ankney said. “It’ll take care of what we need to take care of.”Senate Bill 339’s 10 supporters at the House Energy, Technology and Federal Relations Committee hearing said the bill takes the necessary steps to ensure adequate cleanup.
The cat wasn’t breathing when firefighters with the Pikesville, Md., Volunteer Fire Company pulled it out of a raging apartment blaze earlier this year. So medics strapped on a special pet-sized oxygen mask, got the kitty inhaling and exhaling again, and then “transported him just like a patient to the 24-hour vet center,” fire Capt. Scott Goldstein recalled. The feline resuscitation was no big deal for the company, nor is it for many others in Maryland. EMS responders in the town of Bel Air saved a cat with CPR and oxygen in February. A fire crew’s little oxygen mask helped a dog breathe better after a house fire in Baltimore County last month. But while such rescues are fairly regular, they are also technically illegal. According to Maryland state law, giving medical care to animals without a veterinary license is punishable by a fine or jail time. Those who dare to do it can also be sued, and the state’s Good Samaritan laws only apply to humans. No one has ever been prosecuted or slapped with a lawsuit for this offense. Even so, Maryland lawmakers this week passed a bill that would make the state the latest to explicitly allow first responders to provide emergency medical aid to animals; it also gives them immunity from being sued for doing so. Ohio passed a similar law last year, and Colorado did in 2014. In all, 22 states now allow emergency crews to provide aid to an animal without fear of prosecution, according to Lisa Radov of Maryland Votes for Animals, which advocated for the legislation.
In 2016, no money trickled in from Tallahassee through the budget for Florida Forever, the state’s main program for acquiring lands for conservation and recreation, which has seen its funds — once as high as $300 million — thaw to less than $20 million in the last three years. Gearing toward the May 5 deadline to pass a budget for the 2017–2018 fiscal year, the Florida House is earmarking no funds for Florida Forever, while the Senate is offering $10 million — a half of the dollars for all land protection programs. “That is devastating to us to see what the House and the Senate are doing,” McCarthy said. Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida, said this year’s budgetary cut evinces lawmakers’ different priorities. “Even though Florida is a growing state and a very wealthy state,” he said, “legislators have an ideological belief that taxes should be cut, government spending should be cut. And a lot of legislators do not care about the environment at all.” The Florida Conservation Coalition, an association of environmental organizations, advocates for a quarter of the money in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund be spent on conservation. This is below the 33 percent the law requires but the legislature has failed to meet. Florida Forever was launched in 2001 as a replacement for Preservation 2000. Its budget comes from a third of real estate sale taxes but has steeply plunged since the Great Recession. At the 2014 state Senate election, some 75 percent of voters approved Amendment 1, which restores consistent funding for Florida Forever.“Unfortunately, the legislature has not done the will of the people in this state and has failed to fully fund Florida Forever, even though this amendment passed,” said Preston Robertson, vice president for conservation and general counsel at Florida Wildlife Federation.In 2015, environmental organizations, including Florida Wildlife Federation, launched a still ongoing lawsuit against the legislature for misappropriating Amendment 1 resources for administrative costs instead of land acquisition and protection.
Eight years ago, the Minnesota Legislature authorized the licensing of mid-level dental care providers, known as dental therapists, to practice in Minnesota. The new career was supposed to expand access to dental care to more state residents, especially those with low incomes or who live in rural areas where dentists may be rare. Comparable to a nurse practitioners, the first dental therapist graduates began seeing patients in 2011. Six years later, those benefits are materializing, according to Sharon Oswald, foundation and community affairs program manager with Delta Dental of Minnesota. A 2016 study by the University of Minnesota found dental therapists saw up to 90 percent of uninsured patients or patients on public assistance.But they're also showing benefits for all dental patients — such as shorter waiting times for appointments — and proving to be an economic asset to dentists.A 2014 study by the Minnesota Department of Health showed that almost one-third of all patients saw a reduction in wait times to get an appointment, especially in rural areas. Time with a provider increased by 10 minutes.
Hailing Wisconsin's strong tradition of military service and agricultural excellence, a group of state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are trying to bring the two traditions together with the Wisconsin Veterans Farm Bill of 2017. Senator Patrick Testin (R-Town of Hull) and Representative Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) along with co-authors Sen. Janis Ringhand (D-Evansville) and Rep. Ed Brooks (R-Reedsburg) are introducing a proposal to create a program to recruit military veterans into farming and authorize the creation of a logotype for veteran farmer products. “This legislation is pro-veteran, pro-agriculture, and pro-workforce,” said Rep. Goyke. “It makes investments in both the future of agriculture, and the futures of our veterans – it’s good policy, and I’m proud to author it.”
The land Steven Smith lives on has been farmed for more than 125 years. It's less than 10 acres, but Smith grows alfalfa and usually raises some cattle when prices are higher.But earlier this month, the Wright County assessor notified Smith and about 70 other property owners that their small farms will be assessed like the homes in Clarion, Eagle Grove and the other small towns they live around — rather than as agricultural properties.In other words, as far as his property taxes are concerned, Smith's farm is no longer a farm.The residential classification increases Smith's property values 70 percent. He expects his tax bill next year will rise substantially as well, climbing about $600.Unlike his urban neighbors, though, Smith said he gets few town amenities — no sewer, water or other services."It's hard enough to live in the country and try to farm a little bit," without the large increase in values and taxes, said Smith, who also cares for his 90-year-old mother. Other small farms across Iowa are seeing similar changes with new property statewide assessments mailed April 2. How property owners are treated across the state, however, may vary, Iowa assessors say, because the state gives little guidance outlining what constitutes a farm, despite repeated requests to lawmakers. Most assessors look to the state's administrative code that asks whether the land is "in good faith, used primarily for agricultural purposes," said John Lawson, Clayton County's assessor and president of the Iowa State Assessors Association.