Capitol Update: AgriGrowth Testifies on Meat and Poultry Worker Legislation
Earlier this week, AgriGrowth Executive Director Tamara Nelsen testified before the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee in opposition to House File 800. AgriGrowth believes the legislation is not only unnecessary, but also would result in significant regulatory overreach towards an industry sector already heavily regulated by more than a half dozen state and federal agencies.
In his opening remarks, Rep. Dan Wolgamott (DFL - St. Cloud) stated that the legislation, known as the “Minnesota Safe Workplaces for Meat and Poultry Processing Workers Act," would protect meat and poultry processing plant workers in addition to providing paid leave to all meat and poultry processing workers to recuperate from an illness, injury or to care for an ill family member. This bill would create a “ Workers’ Rights Coordinator'' position housed within the Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI) dedicated to enforcement and compliance. The legislation also contains numerous requirements (provision of PPE, adequate break time, routine cleaning, posting worker rights in multiple languages, etc.) that are already being provided by meat and poultry processing firms.
AgriGrowth’s testimony emphasized our members’ words and actions throughout the pandemic clearly demonstrated their number one priority was for the safety, health, and wellbeing of their employees. Not only did pre-pandemic food and worker safety measures often included masks, face shields, goggles, gloves, and protective clothing, but AgriGrowth members quickly expanded or adjusted such measures based on state and federal guidance.
The bill was passed on a 8-4 party-line vote and was referred to the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee. The Senate companion bill has not been scheduled for a hearing.
Minnesota Legislature Poised to Reach Second Committee Deadline
This coming Friday will mark what is known as the “second committee” deadline at the Capitol. The first committee deadline was last Friday, which meant that a bill must have cleared all policy committees in one body in order to remain alive for the session. The second committee deadline means bills must have cleared all policy committees in the other body in order to remain alive. The past several weeks have featured a flurry of committee activity on policy-related bills. Once the policy committees have completed their work, the work will shift to the creation of omnibus finance bills by both bodies.
These committees must complete their work by the third committee deadline, which is set for Friday, April 9.
Congressman Hagedorn Joins AgriGrowth Board for a Discussion on Federal Policy
On March 8, more than a dozen AgriGrowth directors and staff met virtually with Congressman Jim Hagedorn (MN-01) and his staff to discuss priorities for agriculture and food. Congressman Hagedorn pledged to work hard to ensure that progress made over the past four years on regulatory relief, tax reform, affordable energy, and on modern comprehensive trade deals was not lost.
AgriGrowth Directors emphasized the following priorities: expanded trade and market access, investing in infrastructure, improving and expanding broadband access, ensuring an adequate workforce through comprehensive immigration reform (or at a minimum, visa reform), and avoiding or challenging attempts towards regulatory overreach.
Directors also expressed concerns regarding federal and state approaches to climate change solutions and emphasized the positive role agri-food plays in moving us towards solutions to this challenge as well as the need to base any future requirements on sound science.
The meeting was critical for AgriGrowth to connect with Congressman Hagedorn as he serves on the Committee on Agriculture and the Committee on Small Business, as well as several subcommittees including the Underserved, Agricultural, and Rural Business Development Subcommittee of which he is the ranking member.
American Rescue Plan of 2021 Signed Into Law by President Biden
President Joe Biden recently signed into law the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package. In addition to another round of stimulus payments for Americans, the package emphasizes aid for families and state and local governments impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The relief package appropriates $3.6 billion for USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and his team to support the food and ag sector supply chains.
He applauded the package and its benefits for U.S. agriculture by stating, “America’s farmers, ranchers and producers will reap the benefits of the American Rescue Plan as more resources flow through the economy, as more businesses open up, spurring greater demand for American food and agricultural products.”