Committee chairs call for Missouri special session on unresolved agricultural issues

(The Center Square) – Four agriculture committee chairs are requesting Gov. Mike Parson call a special session to once-and-for-all establish a state eminent domain policy and extend tax credit programs for meat processors, soybean and corn producers.

Republican Sens. Jason Bean, Holcomb, and Mike Bernskoetter, Jefferson City, and GOP Reps. Don Rone, Portageville, and Rick Francis, Perryville, in a letter to Parson said bills import to agriculture ‘’the number one industry in Missouri” – were derailed by late-session “trivial tactics.”

The four want Parson to call lawmakers back to Jefferson City to address “a number of legislative items directly affecting agriculture in our state,” including reconsidering House Bill 527 and Senate Bill 37, two measures that stalled when the 2021 session adjourned last month.

HB 527, filed by Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Pleasant Valley, seeks to undo a 2019 Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) determination that Chicago-based Invenergy can condemn property for its $2.3 billion Grain Belt transmission line by requiring county commissions to approve proposed electrical transmission lines.

Invenergy’s Grain Belt Express project would traverse 780 miles and four states to deliver 4,000 megawatts of wind-derived energy from western Kansas to Indiana, where it will be fed into an 11-state grid.

The PSC rejected the project in 2018, which would traverse 206 miles in Missouri and span eight counties, largely over property rights objections.

However, when Invenergy assumed ownership of the project in 2019, it asked the PSC to designate it as a public utility to grant it eminent domain authority to condemn private property to secure rights-of-way easements, the PSC agreed.

Haffner’s HB 527 was advanced by the House in a 123-33 vote on Feb. 25 and sent to the Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy and the Environment Committee on March 11. It died without a Senate hearing.

The committee chairs say lawmakers need to pound out the state’s eminent domain policy sooner rather than later.

“This is an issue of great concern for agriculturists and all Missouri landowners, and we have a duty to provide them with certainty moving forward,” the letter, on Rone’s letterhead, reads.

Bean, Bernskoetter, Francis and Rone also said lawmakers need to return to approve SB 37, which began as a measure dealing with anhydrous ammonia regulations but was expanded to include extending tax credits to tax credit programs for soybean and corn producers, as well as meat processing companies, before they expire next year.

SB 37 died in conference, spurring criticism from the Missouri Agricultural & Small Business Development Authority (MASBDA) and Missouri Farm Bureau.

“With the failure of Senate Bill 37, three of our critical tax credits for agriculture and small businesses will sunset Dec. 31, 2021,” MASBDA Executive Director Jill Wood said. “Our agriculture stakeholders are undeniably concerned.”

“We are disappointed that the Legislature failed to extend the expiring MASBDA tax credit programs,” Bureau President Garrett Hawkins said. “Simply put, these credits work. Programs like the Meat Processing Facility Investment Tax Credit help small business grow, bring investment to our rural communities, and, in this specific case, help consumers have more local food choices.”

Missouri lawmakers are also calling for special sessions to fund Medicaid expansion, address “election security,” extend a Medicaid hospital tax and stop Kansas City from “defunding” its police.

But the four argue the issues confronting Missouri’s agricultural industry need to be addressed before next year.

“As you are aware, agriculture is the number one industry in Missouri. While it was my hope these issues would be heard and voted on in both the House and Senate chambers, they were not,” the letter said. “The legislative issues in the agriculture space were, sadly, overshadowed by trivial tactics at the close of our regular session. I humbly request you consider taking up these fundamental issues during a special session.”

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