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NOFA/Mass Priority Bills Hot Out of the Gate! Still time to increase support for senate bills.

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2019 March Issue Newsletter

By Marty Dagoberto, NOFA/Mass Policy Director

There is still time to show your support

Thanks to an outpouring of calls from organic advocates across the state, several of our priority proposed state laws have started the session with great momentum. The results of the January cosponsor drive surprised even the most optimistic advocates and bode well for the possibility of real change toward a regenerative and pollinator-friendly Commonwealth!

We’re seeing the most impressive numbers on our top 3 priority areas (not a coincidence):

37% of the legislature supports the establishment of a Mass. Healthy Soils Program!

80% of state representatives support restricting neonicotinoid use to licensed pesticide applicators and 18% support an all-out ban on neonics!

28% of the legislature supports returning control over pesticides to local municipal governments!

Now it’s a long way to the finish line (formal legislative session ends July 2020), but this hot start for our top priority bills is very encouraging. Legislators take the lead from their constituents when deciding which bills to cosponsor, so if you contacted them on any of these bills, give yourself a pat on the back. Thank you for taking action! (If you didn’t, it’s OK, there is still much work to do.)

You can view a breakdown of all of the bills we’re tracking on our legislative priorities page, and you can see a spreadsheet of all the legislators and who supported which bills, here.

Please thank the cosponsors and ask the others to cosponsor the senate bills listed below. Now is a good time to contact legislators and thank them for supporting the bills that they cosponsored. Positive reinforcement will help us cultivate organic champions! You can also ask them to cosponsor any of the senate bills below.

What’s next for these bills? While the cosponsor deadline is closed for house bills (those with a “HD” number), legislators can still cosponsor senate (“SD”) bills. If either of your legislators have not cosponsored any of the senate bills that you support, please contact them and ask them to do so (house members can cosponsor senate bills).

Bills which are still accepting new cosponsors include:

SD.1438 - “An Act to promote healthy soils”

SD.1366 - “An Act protecting pollinators by eliminating harmful products.” (Neonic ban)

SD.2175 -”An Act empowering towns and cities to protect residents and the environment from harmful pesticides.”

SD.755 - “An Act relative to the use of glyphosate on public lands.”

SD.2072 - “An Act relative to the pesticide board” (protecting groundwater from pesticides)

You can visit our action page for more details and guidance on how to contact your legislators.

Then what? Soon we’ll know which legislators and which bills are assigned to which committees, and that will help us determine where to focus our advocacy (the bills will also receive new numbers at that time). There will be public hearings likely starting in May. Expect to hear from us when we need to submit testimony and fill up the hearing rooms with supporters. (Unfortunately we might only get a few days’ notice...).

More context about our top three bills.

Healthy Soils for a Healthy Climate - 37% of the legislature in support!

Might there finally be the political will to take meaningful climate action in Massachusetts? According to the new senate president, Sen. Karen Spilka, nothing the Legislature does this legislative session will be as important as addressing climate change. Governor Baker has even broken ranks with national GOP leaders and recently testified before Congress about the urgent need for climate action.

Thanks to advocates like you, state legislators are now realizing the central role that agriculture must play in mitigating and adapting to climate change. Farms employing Healthy Soils Practices are seeing soil carbon levels increase from a baseline of 1-2% up to 5-8% in as little as ten years, which add up to 25 to 60 tons of carbon per acre. Agriculture has the potential of going from a net producer of greenhouse gases to a net reducer. With state incentives and support, farmers can adopt these practices, helping to slow climate change, improve water quality and quantity, become more resilient to extreme weather – and become more profitable.

More than a third of the legislature has signed on to support the Mass. Healthy Soils Bill (SD.1438/HD.3065). This bill creates a Healthy Soils Program within the Commission for Conservation of Soil, Water and Related Resources, which would seek to provide incentives including loans, grants, research, technical assistance and educational material on healthy soils practices to our agricultural community.

We are so fortunate to have our lead sponsors, Senator Jo Comerford and Representative Paul Schmid, pushing for climate-smart agricultural policy. This bill is already endorsed by such major farming organizations as: Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation, New England Farmers Union and American Farmland Trust. NOFA/Mass is now calling on other food and climate advocacy organizations to join with Soil4Climate and Regeneration Massachusetts in our coalition effort to pass this critical piece of legislation.

Take Action: There is still time to increase support for the Healthy Soils Bill by asking legislators to cosponsor the senate version of the bill, SD.1438. Please look up your legislators and see if they are on the list of cosponsors. If they are, please thank them! If they are not, ask them to “please cosponsor SD.1438, Senator Comerford’s Healthy Soils Bill.”  (Click here to take action within seconds, but know that personal phone calls have a far greater impact.)

Organizations in support of the Healthy Soils Bill are also asked to endorse this legislation.

Mass. Pollinator Protection Act - 80% of State Representatives Support Restricting Neonics

Pollinator people across the state really turned up the volume to protect our insect allies. Several offices have told us that this is once again the issue they are hearing the most about. Thanks to the efforts of a broad coalition of beekeepers, environmental groups, organic agriculture and consumer advocates, the Pollinator Protection Act (restricting neonics) has a record amount of support.

Getting 80% of the House of Representatives to cosponsor a bill calling for restrictions on neonics (HD.3339) is a monumental accomplishment, which is appropriate considering the urgent need to take action on the class of pollinator-killing pesticides known as neonicotinoids (neonics). What really caught our eye is that 18% of legislators have so far co-sponsored SD.1366, an outright ban on neonics! It’s clear that there is momentum toward doing something about neonics, thankfully.   

In 2017, Massachusetts beekeepers reported a 65% annual loss in colony numbers. In a 2017 sample of honey from around the world, 75% of samples from six continents contained a quantifiable amount of at least one neonicotinoid. An increasing number of studies points to neonicotinoids as a likely driver of pollinator decline.

While the European Union recently banned all outdoor applications of neonics, the Mass. Pesticide Control Board has failed to even begin a review of these chemicals. The state legislature must take action to protect pollinators before it’s too late.

Rep. Dykema’s Pollinator Protection Act (HD.3339) limits the sale and use of neonics to licensed (and trained) pesticide applicators, which would take these pesticides out of the hands of consumers. Sen. Eldridge’s Neonic Ban (SD.1366) places an outright ban on the sale, distribution or use this class of pollinator-killing pesticides across the Commonwealth!

However, even with 80% of representatives already on board with restricting neonics, we will have to fight for the bill to even see the light of day and receive the vote it so clearly deserves. Powerful lobbyists for the chemical industry will do everything they can to stall the bill, so we must remain vigilant and vocal in support of the pollinators. It’s our job, as grassroots activists, to make it a political liability for legislators to let such a popular and necessary piece of legislation die at the behest of special interests.

Take action: Senator Eldridge’s Neonic Ban (SD.1366) is still accepting cosponsors. Please contact your state legislators and ask them to cosponsor this bill so that the legislators see the momentum behind taking serious action on neonics.

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