The Legislature is nearing the point in the Regular Session where we can no longer discuss bills in the house of origin.  “Cross-over” Day, as it is called, is the last day we can discuss House bills in the House of Delegates, and it is rapidly approaching. Therefore, committee meetings and floor sessions are lasting longer as we discuss more and more issues.

As Chair of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee in the House of Delegates, we have focused this session on promoting issues and ideas to increase our agricultural output and economic opportunities for farming.  We have long been a state tied to industry such as coal, timber and natural gas but West Virginia has a long history with farming and other agricultural pursuits.

The new Agricultural Commission has recently talked about how he would like to see West Virginia provide more of the food West Virginians eat and purchase and I agree.  Several bills passed out of committee recently with the goal of creating more of these opportunities I’m talking about as well as increase jobs.

First bill, House Bill 4439, authorizes the Department of Agriculture to develop a Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture Program which would include proposing emergency or legislative rules, to integrate veterans into the field of agriculture and support veterans currently working in the field.

The bill would grant the Department of Agriculture the authority to create and maintain programs to encourage, support and develop agricultural opportunities for West Virginia veterans.  The bill would also exempt the Department of Agriculture from certain competitive bidding requirements for leasing land for the programs, require the Department of Agriculture and Veteran’s Administration to work together and create a fund for the programs and states how the fund income shall be used. The Fund would only to be used for purposes of the Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture Program and funds shall not revert to the General Revenue Fund.

Another bill, House Bill 4273, relates to herd share, or allowing people who purchase shares of a herd of cattle or goat to consume raw milk from those animals. The proposed bill allows co-owners of cows to receive raw milk from cows in which they share ownership.  This bill is a step forward for West Virginia farmers and consumers and those in surrounding states that believe in the freedom to choose their own foods and to farm their own property without interference.  The bill also contains a provision which would require the Commissioner of Agriculture to propose rules and to include standards for legislative approval by October 1, 2014.

Finally, a final bill, House Bill 3011, would remove the provision that requires an applicant to meet federal requirements concerning the production, distribution and sale of industrial hemp prior to being licensed.  The purposed bill removes the requirements that person submitting an application for growing industrial hemp meet the federal requirements in addition to state requirements.  The recently passed federal farm bill contained language permitting state departments of agriculture and universities to grow industrial hemp for research.

Industrial hemp has a variety of uses such as biofuel, fiber, clothing, food, building supplies, plastics and paper.  This would potentially provide West Virginia farmers another product to grow research and develop a market for and increase jobs.

If you should have any questions or comments regarding any issues or bills before the legislature please feel free to contact me. To write me, my address is Delegate David Walker, State Capitol, Building 1, Room 203-E, Charleston, WV 25305. Or you may call me at (304) 340-3135. I encourage all my constituents to remain active and become part of the legislative process.