AUSTIN, Texas – Feb. 19, 2013 – The bipartisan Farm-to-Table Caucus filed the first six bills of their legislative agenda focusing on a wide-range of issues that affect small family farms, urban farms and food producers statewide.
"The bills filed today are the first step toward updating our outdated laws. We want to ensure a successful future for the small farmers and producers all across Texas, and improve access to nutritious local foods," said Representative Eddie Rodriguez, Chairman of the Caucus. “For many, food means freedom. And we must make sure we lower the barriers to that freedom.”
Representatives Eddie Rodriguez (Austin) and Lois Kolkhorst (Brenham) jointly filed House Bill 970, which has been referred to the Committee on Public Health to expand the cottage foods provision to include more food products, mirroring several other states’ cottage food laws. H.B. 970 will also remove the restriction that the sales must occur at the seller’s home, allowing sellers and buyers to do business at farmers markets. This bill addresses issues not included in last session's S.B. 81, the “Baker’s Bill,” which allowed cottage food producers to make specific low-risk foods in their homes and sell directly to consumers, without regulation by state and local health departments.
H.B. 910 filed by Caucus Vice-Chair Representative Kolkhorst (Brenham), which has been referred to the Committee on Public Health, will limit fees for direct-to-customer transactions for farmers and other food producers. Small food producers and farmers who sell directly to consumers currently face burdensome fees, discouraging them from selling at farmers markets. H.B. 910 limits fees to 50 dollars annually, protecting farmers and producers, and limiting renewals to no more than one per year.
Representative Susan King (Abilene) filed H.B. 1393 to remove a major barrier for food producers − the requirement that a licensed facility be in a separate building than a residence. This bill removes the need to build an entirely separate building at a significant expense for food storage, allowing farmers to store foods such as eggs or meat on the farm, or a small commercial kitchen.
H.B. 1382 filed by Representative David Simpson (Longview) will allow farmers and food producers to provide samples of produce at farmers markets. This bill expands the current Health & Safety Code provision to all farmers’ markets and farm stands. Current regulations for providing food samples are based on the conditions in brick-and-mortar facilities and pose unnecessary restrictions for farmers who want to provide samples of their food to customers at farmers’ markets.
Caucus Chair, Representative Rodriguez (Austin), filed H.B. 1306 to help urban farms, small produce farms, and community gardens qualify for the agricultural valuation that they are entitled to. Small produce farms and community gardens are often denied their agricultural valuation and face excessive taxation, making success of these farms difficult. The bill defines the production of fruits and vegetables as an "agricultural use,” allowing tax assessors to grant agricultural valuation. By implementing a small minimum acreage requirement, this bill protects small farms from being disqualified by appraisal districts based solely on their size.
Caucus Member Representative Borris Miles (Houston) filed H.B. 254, referred to the Natural Resources Committee, which will exempt farms from paying for wastewater fees for a service they do not use. Urban farms and community gardens are often charged wastewater fees in accordance with the amount of water they use. This bill specifies that farms and community gardens would not be subject to wastewater fees in excess of actual wastewater services provided.
About Texas House Farm-to-Table Caucus
The Caucus is the first state legislative caucus of its kind in the nation. It is a bipartisan organization of the Texas House Representatives interested in public policy relating to the production, distribution and consumption of fresh Texas foods. The Caucus officers include Representative Eddie Rodriguez (Austin), Chair; Representative Lois Kolkhorst (Brenham), Vice-Chair; Representative John Kuempel (Seguin), Secretary; and Representative Armando Walle (Houston), Treasurer.
Selena Saucedo Booth
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