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June 20, 2019 - 7:17pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in news, farm labor, agriculture, Business.

From Senator Michael Ranzenhofer:

The New York State Senate passed the “Farm Workers Bill.” State Senator Michael H. Ranzenhofer (R-C-I, Amherst) voted against it.

Senator Ranzenhofer has issued the following statement:

“Today’s passage of the Farm Workers Bill is devastating to our local farms. It does not take into consideration the economic and practical realities of farming. I have heard from and met with both farmers and farm workers who have shared the crippling impact this legislation would have on them.

“This is just another example of Downstate legislators who do not understand the Upstate economy. This will impose hundreds of millions of dollars in mandates onto farms who are already struggling. Simply put, it is going to eliminate jobs and put farms out of business.

“Furthermore, I am disappointed that such a critical bill would be introduced at the last minute and not ever be considered by the Senate Agriculture Committee or reviewed by the public.”

From Senator Rob Ortt, ranking minority member of the Senate Agriculture Committee:

“Tonight’s passage of the Farmworker Labor Act is disappointing and further displays the disconnect between state Democrats and Western New Yorkers. For months, I toured farms across western New York and spoke about this legislation with hundreds of workers, employees and community residents.

Employers and employees alike pleaded that this bill would destroy small family farms. With New York State farm closure rates already triple the national average, this legislation will grow the closure rate and devastate the number one economic driver in New York.

My chief concern when Democrats took over the entirety of state government was that Upstate would be ignored. Incredibly, it has gone further than that and Upstate is now being attacked by radical New York City regressives. Their willing accomplices include Democrats from the rest of the state, the Business Council, and the State Farm Bureau, who – sadly – should have all known better.

From Gov. Andrew Cuomo:

"My administration has proudly fought for working men and women across the board, from raising the minimum wage to strengthening worker protections in nail salons and the home healthcare industry. We believe all workers deserve to be treated with dignity and respect -- period.

"Over the weekend, I issued a reformed farm workers bill of rights, which guarantees farm workers will finally be granted basic rights to protect them from abusive and exploitive working conditions.

"With the passage of this legislation, we will help ensure every farm worker receives the overtime pay and fair working conditions they deserve. The constitutional principles of equality, fairness and due process should apply to all of us. I am proud that, with the help of my daughters' years-long advocacy on this critical issue, we got it done."

From Grow NY Farms:

For months, New York’s agriculture community worked with a purpose to meet a fundamental goal of developing farm labor legislation that would protect the combined interests of farms and farm workers. We negotiated in good faith with many majority lawmakers who were interested in hearing from those who would be directly impacted by the legislation.

Political realities meant we had to come to find a middle ground that was mutually beneficial.

We thought we had achieved that goal with a bill that while posing significant challenges for a struggling Industry, it was a vast improvement than where we started. Unfortunately, there were some flaws thrown into the legislation in the final days of this legislative session that made the bill unacceptable. Despite the passage of this flawed legislation (S.6578/A.8419), we have not given up on finding a way to fix those flaws.

These flaws include:

1.       A requirement that wages paid on the seventh consecutive day of work – are based on an overtime rate -- if a farmworker waives their right to a day of rest.

2.       The definition of family fails to recognize the role of close relatives such as aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins – and would make their participation in farm activities subject to the new statute.

3.       The creation of a wage board lacks New York’s key agency expert on agricultural issues – the State Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Markets.

4.       Elections involving the ability to form a union lack the integrity of a secret ballot.

At this time, we believe it is in the interest of all parties to continue working together to address these flaws and move forward with legislation that farmers, farm workers and the labor community can mutually embrace and reflect the spirit of the dialogue and discussion that has taken place in recent months.

It is also important to note the significant role played by all the farmers, farm workers and lawmakers who worked to build consensus on this issue.

Grow NY Farms represents a coalition of more than 50 New York farms, organizations, and local businesses. To learn more, visit www.GrowNYFarms.com.

June 19, 2019 - 3:38pm

A Statement from Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R,C,I-Batavia) on passage of the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act:

“As the former owner and operator of our family farm for decades, I know these new mandates will devastate New York’s family farms and disrupt the industry beyond repair – an industry that generates $4.8 billion in annual revenue. 

“Agriculture is a unique industry where production and success are contingent upon steady and reliable labor, and implementing more handcuffs on our farm owners and restricting the availability of that labor while increasing its costs will be devastating. 

“Furthermore, mandating time-and-a-half overtime pay for any hours over 60 in a week is just not practical. Our farmers are constantly fighting flooding, drought and unpredictable weather patterns that often require unpredictable work hours, which is ultimately necessary to achieve success in the business. 

“What’s more troubling is the establishment of a new board, headed by big-labor special interests, to further examine farm labor. The board wrongly excludes the Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets and will undoubtedly heap mandate upon mandate and cost upon cost upon our family farms. We need to leave this industry alone and allow the farmers themselves, many of whom have been perfecting their craft for generations, to run their businesses as they see fit without government intrusion. 

“New York City lawmakers have been behind this legislation from the beginning. Shocking, considering there are virtually no family farms in New York City. It’s an authoritarian overreach to dictate one of Upstate’s cornerstone industries from the towers and skyscrapers of the big city – another reason we need to consider my ‘Two New Yorks’ legislation. 

“I voted no on these big government farm mandates and will always stand with the tried and true producers of Western New York before Downstate lawmakers.”

June 12, 2019 - 5:56pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in agriculture, farm workers, farm labor, video.
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This morning a group of farmers and farm workers gathered in the parking lot of Farm Credit East before heading to Albany to participate in a rally against a proposed bill that would give farm workers the right to join unions and restrict their working hours to eight hours a day and 40 hours a week.

May 24, 2019 - 10:19pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in agriculture, news, farm labor.

Farmworkers have the right to form unions and collectively bargain for wages and working conditions, a New York appellate court ruled this week in a decision that also denied the respondent in the case an opportunity for a hearing on the topic.

The ruling drew a swift rebuke from the respondent, the New York Farm Bureau. The Farm Bureau issued the following statement:

“We are extremely disappointed in the majority’s decision and the breadth of its ruling. The Appellate Court was considering the trial court’s decision on a motion to dismiss, which, if denied would have permitted Farm Bureau to fully litigate this case in the trial court.

"Instead, the majority of the court decided to make a far-reaching determination by declaring the right to collectively bargain as a “fundamental right,” on par with the freedoms of speech and religion. We believe that the majority’s conclusion is unsupportable and disregards decades of precedent.

"The court’s dissenting opinion exposed the flaws in the majority’s ruling and identified that the decision eliminates Farm Bureau’s right to defend the constitutionality of the statute in a trial court. 

"Speaking more broadly, if the legislature, and now the courts do not recognize the value of preserving a viable and economically sustainable food production system in the state, New York agriculture will continue to shrink under a mountain of mandates.

"Our rural economy and local job opportunities will suffer. And New Yorkers will find it harder to access New York grown food, instead, relying on food brought in from out of state, or worse yet, out of the country to feed their families. New York Farm Bureau fully intends to appeal the court’s ill-conceived ruling.”

Assemblyman Steve Hawley also criticized the ruling.

“The New York state Appellate Court got this wrong. I’m deeply disappointed, both in the substance of the ruling and in the judicial overreach which prevents the New York Farm Bureau from appropriately litigating this case in trial court. Make no mistake, if the Court of Appeals doesn’t overturn this decision, it will mark the end of family farms in New York state, wiping out hundreds of thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in economic impact and generations of time-honored tradition older than New York state itself. It’s imperative that the New York Farm Bureau’s appeal is successful,” said Hawley.

The issue is also part of a contentious dispute in the state Legislature over proposed changes in state labor law that, if passed as currently written, would give farmworkers the right to organize and also institute for farmworkers an eight-hour workday, and a 40-hour work week. These provisions, farmers, and farmworkers say would devastate the state's agriculture industry.

The ruling potentially takes away a bargaining chip from opponents of the bill by granting the bill sponsors one of the changes in law they are seeking.

State Senator Rob Ortt, the ranking minority party member of the Agriculture Committee was also unhappy with the ruling.

“After today’s ruling, the last thing we need to do is pass the Farmworkers Fair Labor Act, which goes far beyond today’s ruling, and adds even more regulations on the backs of those responsible for growing our food.”

The ruling, of course, was applauded by those who support labor unions for farmworkers.

“The court’s ruling today was unequivocal that denying farmworkers basic labor rights is flat-out unconstitutional, and farmworkers, like other workers, have the right to organize,” Donna Lieberman, executive director of NYCLU told the New York Law Journal. “The workers on whom we depend for the food on our tables have the right to be treated humanely and with dignity, like any other hardworking New Yorker.”

The Cuomo administration has recently openly supported the move to allow farmworkers to collectively bargain and Attorney General Letitia James said she supported the decision.

The state did not defend itself from the lawsuit filed three years ago by former farmworker Crispin Hernandez, leaving it to the Farm Bureau to represent farmers' interests.

The lawsuit challenged the State Labor Relations Act, passed in 1937, that granted broad rights for workers to organize but specifically excluded farmworkers.

Critics of the exclusion claim the exclusion has its roots in Jim Crow practices (not, at the time, unknown in New York, though generally thought of as practices in the early 20th century in the Deep South) that discriminated against blacks. That history factored into the plaintiff's arguments.

The case was heard by the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department.  The majority opinion as written by Justice Christine M. Clark.

The plaintiff's attorneys argued that the 1937 act denied their client equal protection under the law and infringed on a fundamental right to organize and collectively bargain and also violated New York's Constitution. A provision passed at a constitutional convention in 1938 afforded employees the right to organize.

Clark found that constitutional meaning of "employee" included farmworkers.

Indeed, there is nothing in the language of the constitutional provision to support the suggestion that the drafters intended for the term "employees" to be narrowed or limited in any way. Accordingly, when the term "employees" is given its natural and ordinary meaning, we think it clear that the constitutional right to organize and collectively bargain extends to individuals employed as farm laborers

In his lone dissent, Justice  Stan L. Pritzker noted that the constitutional convention was held a year after the labor act was passed so the framers certainly had a very clear understanding of the law as written and did not intend to include farmworkers in the constitutional provision allowing employees to organize.

He also did not include the right to organize in his list of fundamental rights even though the right to assembly (and by extension, according to prior Supreme Court cases, the right to free association) is part of the Bill of Rights. 

From his dissent:

Fundamental rights are those deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition. They include the right to marry; the right to have children; the right to decide how one's children will be educated; and the right to engage in private consensual sexual activity."

Fundamental rights also include the right to vote, the right to travel, the right of free speech and the right of a criminal defendant to appeal. One need only imagine and compare laws that would prevent farm laborers from exercising freedom of speech, voting, traveling, marrying, raising children or appealing criminal convictions to recognize the distinction and understand why a fundamental constitutional right is not implicated here.

Further, the inclusion of the right to organize and bargain collectively in the New York Bill of Rights does not, per se, confer upon it fundamental constitutional right status (citations omitted).

The dispute over whether the right to organize is a fundamental right is important because if it's a fundamental right, it would carry more weight than the 1937 law as passed by the Legislature.

The Farm Bureau will be able to appeal the ruling to the state's Court of Appeals.

May 19, 2019 - 6:04pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in farm labor, agriculture, news, notify, corfu, video.
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Sen. Rob Ortt visited Reyncrest Farms in Corfu on Friday as part, he said, of regular visits to farms in Upstate New York to learn more about the potential impact of the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act.

He said he feels obligated to do it because the supporters of the bill, who have no farms or farmworkers in their districts, aren't doing it and they're not holding hearings on the bill in Western New York.

"We know that the sponsor is not visiting farms," Ortt said "She doesn't have a farm in her district. So I'm trying to fill that void to push back on some of these narratives that are being justified as to why we need to have this legislation in New York."

Ortt is the ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee. He's also a potential candidate for the Republic primary race in the 27th Congressional District.

Sen. Jessica Ramos, chair of the Senate Labor Committee, and a first-term representative from Queens, is the Senate sponsor of the bill. She did visit Genesee County a few weeks ago and met with farmers and farmworkers and tried to prevent the press from covering her visit. She heard from many farmworkers who said they didn't support the legislation because it would mean they would make less money.

The bill, as written currently, would give farmworkers the right to join labor unions, as well as mandate an eight-hour workday and 40-hour work week. Both farmers and farmworkers say it is the cap on work hours that will do the most economic damage.

Earlier this month, Ortt lead a roundtable discussion of the bill and afterward indicated a willingness to negotiate on both of those main points. Friday he said that willingness is based on the feedback he's getting from farmers who tell him, he said, that if passage of such a bill is inevitable, then can it at least be made less draconian?

So far, he said, he's seen little willingness by the sponsors to negotiate.

Reyncrest is exactly the kind of family-owned dairy farm that stands to be most severely hurt by the legislation if it passes as is, he said.

"They have three farmers, (ages) 28, 26, and 25 -- a new generation, right? The next generation of farmers here to keep this going," Ortt said. "But they need to be able to sustain each of those individuals. This farm needs to be profitable for all three of those family members and if they can't make it a go, maybe they're unable to continue on and that impacts consumers.

"That impacts folks here in New York State who want to buy their products from New York State farmers, who want to buy their products from locally grown farms, locally grown here in New York. And so every time we add onto the burden here, and especially when it's being done by people who haven't stepped foot on a farm, who don't understand the dynamics of what they're doing, now I think that should be a real cause for concern for all New Yorkers."

May 3, 2019 - 4:41pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in farm labor, agriculture, news, notify, Sen. Jessica Ramos.

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As odd as it might seem to most Western New Yorkers, Sen. Rob Ortt told a group of farmers, farmworkers, and farm supporters gathered for a roundtable discussion at Batavia City Hall on Thursday, stopping the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act from destroying Upstate farms may come down to the reasonableness of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

"His signature will have to be on this bill and then it will be his bill," Ortt said. "He will be the one with the legacy of what this bill will do to the largest business sector in the state. I think that will give him pause. I know in the past not many of us have thought of him as the voice of reason in Albany but as unusual as it might be, that might just be the case (with the farm labor bill)."

Assemblyman Steve Hawley said the idea of Cuomo doing the right thing for Upstate residents isn't as far-fetched as it sounds. He pointed to the recent fight over providing college benefits to Gold Star families. When Assembly Democrats rejected the proposal, Cuomo found a way to shift funds and get it done, Hawley said.

"The guy who is purportedly governor of the entire state and represents all of us could just be the key to all of this," Hawley said.

Ortt convened the roundtable to discuss the farm labor bill, he said, because Western New York farmers are not being heard by members of the Legislature because there are no hearings being held in this part of the state.

The bill, if passed, would give farmworkers the right to join labor unions, establish an eight-hour workday and a 40-hour work week, establish regulations for housing, and establish rules for workers' compensation.

Area farmers say the changes to the law would devastate them. Area farmworkers say the bill would diminish their incomes. Both say a 40-hour work week, in particular, would mean H2A workers, who can work anywhere in the nation, would stop coming to New York.

The Senate sponsor of the bill is Sen. Jessica Ramos, a first-termer from Queens who now chairs the Senate Labor Committee. Ramos visited Genesee County a couple of weeks ago and met with farmers and farmworkers in a meeting room at Genesee Community College and then at a Torrey Farms facility in Elba, where 350 farmworkers were on hand to talk with her. Both events were supposed to be closed to the press but The Batavian was at the event at Torrey Farms (see story and video here).

Sen. Michael Ranzehofer, who hosted the visit, said that while most of the conversations were in Spanish, to an individual, old, young, men, women, there was a consistent theme: the workers don't want to be restricted to only 40 hours a week.

That's a message that didn't seem to sway Ramos, Ranzenhofer indicated.

In a recent article, Ramos (who canceled a scheduled interview with The Batavian and has not rescheduled it) told the Queens Eagle that arguments that New York farmers would not be able to compete in the global market place of commodities if the bill passes are unpersuasive. 

“Farmers understand that there’s merit in treating their workers well, but of course like everything else there are great employers and there are very poor employers,” Ramos told the Eagle. “This bill is really about codifying rights that exist for every other worker in New York.”

Ramos cited her own experience in her parents native country of Colombia for supporting the bill.

“Farming is not foreign to me. When I’d go to Colombia as a little girl, I spent a lot of time picking coffee,” she said, adding that she has long advocated for labor rights. “That’s the reason I’m there. I’m not trying to do this from a perch down in Queens. I really honestly care to understand everyone’s perspective.”

Sen. Chris Jacobs observed that Ramos, "seems very set in her ways."

For local farmers, who represent them, however, Ramos, and Cathy Nolan, who is carrying the bill in the Assembly, are two out-of-touch Downstate legislators who have no farms, farmers, or farmworkers in their districts and have no business crafting agriculture policy.

"We've got to realize that we're less than 1 percent of the population in New York," said Kim Zuber, representing Monroe County Farm Bureau. "People don't really understand what we do and they don't understand the cost of doing business."

A couple of the farmers pointed out that they already comply with some provisions of the bill, especially when it comes to housing. Most farmers provide housing, including paid utilities, for their migrant workers. If their workers have an H2A visa, the Health Department regularly inspects farmworker housing and the farmers are held to pretty high standards.

"I just took my son to his new apartment in Buffalo," said one farmer, "and as I looked at it, I found at least a half dozen violations. I'm not saying it was a bad place, but an H2A worker would never be allowed in that house and I'm not exaggerating."

Sen. Rich Funke was pretty blunt.

"This is the single greatest attack on Upstate New York by Downstate politicians since I’ve been in office," Funke said.

In an interview after the meeting, Ortt expanded on his thoughts about the potential role Cuomo might have in protecting farmers and farmworkers from this legislation. He noted that, whether you support the effort or not, Cuomo has invested heavily in Western New York economic development. He clearly wants economic development in Upstate to be his lasting legacy and this bill, with its potential to devastate the Upstate economy, could undo all of the governor's efforts to bring industry back to Upstate.

"If all of the prognostications are true, this bill will kill the Upstate economy," Ortt said. "Does he want, after all the money and all the press and all the trips Upstate, for that to be his legacy? You know how it goes, everybody remembers the governor. The senators and the assemblymen come and go, but the governor is the one people remember when it comes to these long-term impacts. Does he want people to remember that it was the Cuomo administration and Governor Cuomo who signed this bill into law?

We asked Ortt if Ramos, given her attempts to avoid the media on her trip here and her unwillingness to answer questions about her bill, is really an honest broker with this legislation?

"Well, anytime you say 'no press' on a bill this big, it begs the question, 'why?' " Ortt said. "Why the secrecy? I mean, truthfully, what is she afraid of? To me, that's a red flag right there. Why no press? But I think what's also interesting is that at the first hearing in Morrisville she was there two hours late and left an hour early. So how much is she really listening?

As for the bill itself, we asked about the right for farmworkers to collectively bargain, especially given Ortt's statement earlier in the evening suggesting some sort of compromise could be reached on the bill. The Constitution guarantees the right to assembly, the right to free association, so shouldn't workers have the right to form unions?

"No one actually objects to their right to organize or collectively bargain," Ortt said. "Now that's coming from farmers. They told me that is not their objection, it's (that) we're also setting the conditions that might be negotiable and we're setting them in state law. For the farmer, he's saying, 'Well, not only are you allowing them to collectively bargain but then you're also setting several parameters that might be negotiable and you're taking that off the table because you're putting it in state law."

The main objection farmers have to the bill, Ortt said, is the eight-hour workday and 40-hour work week.

"To be competitive, you can't limit yourself to an eight-hour day," Ortt said. "The overtime really affects your bottom line. So they're saying maybe 60 hours for the hourly, and anything over 60 or 65 then you could do time and a half, and don't set a daily limit. Maybe those are points of negotiation. I don't know and I hate to negotiate against myself.

"If Senator Ramos or Senator Metzger or whomever, if they're willing to make a movement that's great, we can have a conversation," Ortt added later. "I haven't seen as of yet a sign that they're willing to make any move. So, you know, as the old saying goes, you know, 'don't negotiate against yourself.' "

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April 11, 2019 - 8:00am
posted by Howard B. Owens in farm labor, news, agriculture, Le Roy, notify.

 

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Proposed changes to farm labor practices in New York would likely destroy the state's agriculture industry, with a spill-over effect on many other businesses in local communities, and ultimately lead to families getting out of farming, a group of local farms said Wednesday at a press conference at Stein Farms in Le Roy.

The farmers gathered to raise concerns about the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act now making its way through the New York State Legislature.

"We're at the point I think where this has the potential to be the single greatest economic devastating effect on agriculture in New York in my lifetime," said Dale Stein, senior partner at Stein Farms.

The bill's chief sponsor and supporter, Sen. Jessica Ramos, from Queens, is in Batavia today, as a guest of Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer, to meet with area farmers and listen to their concerns. The press conference was called in advance of that meeting so farmers could share their concerns with the broader public.

"We just aren't heard now very well by Downstate And it's not they're not good people and don't care. They do. Our people want to work. They don't want 40 hours a week. They don't want eight hours a day as my staff tell me. I don't want to sit home and watch TV. I'd rather come and work. We offer them extra hours if they want they come and work. They don't want us at home. They want to make all the money they can."

Stein, along with Jeff Toussaint, an Albion farmer, and Jim Starowitz, a farm employee in Byron, not only talked about the potential costs of the bill, which would institute new overtime rules, reduce weekly working hours, and other regulatory burdens for farms, but also how unnecessary the bill is because of laws already in place, the above-minimum-wage pay scales in place at farms now, and the desire of farm workers to work while there's money to be made.

The bill would also allow farm workers to join labor unions.

"I'm here to tell you that apples are a perishable crop and I can't emphasize that enough," Toussaint said. "They have to be harvested on time. If apples are left in the orchard too long they become soft and we're unable to store them. In just a matter of a few days of becoming overripe, they can lose 50 to 75 percent of their original value. A strike during harvest season would ultimately be catastrophic."

Starowitz said the increased costs associated with the bill would eventually put a lot of farm workers out of work.

"The costs are an additional $200,000 a year," Starowtiz said. "That equates to an extra $32 a tonne (aka metric ton), or almost a thousand dollars an acre. If all states where there are growers are on the same level, we could pass our cost along like every other business.

"But this is a state law that puts us in a noncompetitive position with other states. It increases labor cost and over time we will be no longer able to raise our vegetables. We'll have to move to a row-crop-only business or close our doors."

Maureen Torrey, co-owner of Torrey Farms, joined the conversation and said besides making it harder for her to compete nationally, the proposed changes will also make it harder to attract farm labor to New York.

"We have a limited pool even of visa workers," Torrey said. "They're going to go work where they can get a minimum of 60 hours or more."

February 11, 2019 - 2:37pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in michael ranzenhofer, farm labor, Business, agriculture.

Press release:

Senator Michael H. Ranzenhofer has shared his concerns with recently reintroduced legislation, the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act (S2837), in a letter to the bill’s Senate sponsor, Senator Jessica Ramos.

Senator Ranzenhofer is requesting that the bill’s sponsor garner feedback from the agriculture industry.

“For years, many local farmers have shared their fears regarding serious unintended consequences of this legislation,” said Ranzenhofer in the letter. “Agriculture is the largest industry in the state, and I believe it is critically important that local farmer concerns and the concerns of the greater agriculture community be heard.”

Senator Ranzenhofer believes that the proposal could have a devastating impact on local jobs and family farms.

“Simply put, the stakes have never been higher for farmers across New York State and additional employer mandates could have catastrophic consequences for many rural Upstate communities and consumers,” Ranzenhofer said.

December 13, 2018 - 9:33am
posted by Howard B. Owens in farm labor, agriculture, NY-27, chris collins, Business.

Press release:

Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) celebrated the passage of H.R 2, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. H.R. 2, which includes critically important dairy policy reforms that will strengthen and grow the Western New York dairy economy that in recent years has faced significant challenges.
 
H.R. 2 provides greater coverage to dairy farmers through the Margin Protection Program (MPP), and will allow farmers to participate in both the livestock and dairy protection programs. Additionally, the program will be rebranded as the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) Program.
 
"I am extremely proud to see the 2018 Farm Bill make it to President Trump's desk," Collins said. “For too long, dairy farmers in Western New York have struggled to keep the agricultural industry alive because of inefficiencies in past programs and the overall decline in the dairy market. The reforms passed in H.R. 2 will provide a significant boost to farmers right here in Western New York by allowing them to better utilize this program.”
 
This legislation will also help strengthen trade enforcement, promote the research and development of specialty crops, ensure funding to help farmers locate new global markets, significantly increase investment in organic research, and offers cost-sharing assistance to help farmers transition into organics.
 
Collins added: “The agriculture industry is the backbone of New York’s 27th district. Protecting Western New York farmers will always be a priority of mine, and I’m committed to doing what is best to help them succeed. While we still have a lot of work to do to turn this industry around, H.R. 2 is a huge step in the right direction, and I’m pleased to see it pass today.”

Also, a press release from the New York Farm Bureau:

Today’s final vote for the 2018 Farm Bill is a major victory for New York’s farmers, rural communities and consumers. Farmers needed stronger risk management tools in place moving into next year where there are signs that the economic stress will continue in the farming community.

In particular, the new Farm Bill enhances the dairy safety net for farms of every size, including increasing the margin that qualifies for federal insurance programs. New York Farm Bureau also appreciates the research and support programs in the bill that will benefit New York’s specialty crop producers. Having some certainty moving forward in challenging times is a relief for farmers.

In addition, the Farm Bill supports critical conservation programs, rural development projects, and marketing and research programs to expand market opportunities for farmers. It legalizes industrial hemp, which will benefit farms interested in diversification. And the legislation provides permanent funding to help veterans and a new generation of beginning farmers. The biggest portion of the Farm Bill also guarantees Americans, who can least afford to eat, the ability to access the food farmers produce.

New York Farm Bureau is appreciative of New York’s lawmakers in the Senate and House of Representatives who supported the Farm Bill during this long process, resulting in the bipartisan legislation that their constituents expect. We encourage the President to sign the Farm Bill.”

December 12, 2018 - 11:55am
posted by Howard B. Owens in farm labor, agriculture, Business, Charles Schumer.

Press release:

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today revealed the details of the newly released 2018 Farm Bill, Conference Report, which passed the Senate by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 87-13 yesterday.

Schumer said the bill will benefit key Upstate New York agricultural communities. Senator Schumer detailed several major areas in which the Farm Bill will be a major boost to Upstate farmers, growers, food-needy families and producers, as well as other New York businesses.

Schumer said the newly announced bill reflects a variety of different priorities he pushed for on behalf of the New York agricultural community. Schumer explained the bill will give New York's agricultural industry a shot in the arm.

Schumer lauded the months-long bipartisan process to craft the Farm Bill and congratulated committee leaders Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Republican Chair Pat Roberts, as well as Committee Member Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand for their assiduous work.

“The Farm Bill is a major victory for Upstate New York and its large and vital agricultural community,” Schumer said. “Ensuring the passage of a Farm Bill is vital for New York’s agricultural community and our economy as a whole.

"The bill makes further investments to help Upstate New York dairy farmers, boosts the rapidly growing organic sector, builds on New York’s burgeoning industrial hemp industry, expands rural broadband, strengthens crop insurance, and protects our most vulnerable hungry families and seniors from harmful cuts.

"While the bill does not contain everything that we fought for, it is ultimately a win for the farmers that are the heart of Upstate New York."

Dairy

The newly introduced Farm Bill includes major victories for Upstate New York dairy farmers and producers. The newly introduced Farm Bill invests in programs to help give much-needed relief to Upstate New York dairy farmers and producers. The Farm Bill includes a variety of helpful reforms including, an investment of $100 million to help improve the Federal dairy insurance program to help make the program work better for small to medium dairy farms, a provision waiving administrative fees for beginning, veteran, and underserved farmers, a provision continuing the vital changes made in the Omnibus Budget bill that allowed for the creation of new dairy insurance tools in the future, and a program that would provide funding to dairy organizations who chose to donate their products.

Rural Communities

This Farm Bill focused on investing in our small rural communities across New York State and nationwide. One example of this was the establishment of a new grant program that will target high-need, rural areas seeking to undertake broadband internet projects. These projects will help connect our most in need areas and upgrade to more modern internet access. Additionally, the Farm Bill made important investments in programs that help grow our rural small businesses, as well as those that help to fight the opioid crisis.

Agriculture and Farming/Growing

Organic Farming

The newly introduced Farm Bill establishes mandatory funding of $24 million over FY19-23 for the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program (NOCCSP), which helps support farmers who want to become involved in the organic market by providing reimbursements of some of their annual fees for United States Department of Agriculture organic certification -- it includes an increase in critical funding for organic research through the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative from its current level of $20 million to $50 million by FY2023. Finally, the Farm Bill increases the authorization for the National Organic Program (NOP). Schumer has been a major supporter of this program that helps USDA protect farmers from having to unfairly compete against fraudulent organic imports while also helping to maintain consumer confidence in the USDA certified organic brand. This bill increases the authorization for the NOP to $16.5 million in FY2019, $18 million in FY2020, $20 million in FY2021, $22 million in FY2022, and $24 million in FY2023.

Specialty Crops

The Farm Bill contained a number of provisions beneficial to Upstate farmers, but especially to farmers of specialty crops. New York produces a wide range of specialty crops (fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops, herbs and spices, maple syrup, Christmas trees, etc.) that rank highly nationwide in terms of both production and economic value. The Senate Farm Bill, according to Schumer, provides vital funding to key programs that aid specialty crop producers, such as the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program and the Specialty Crop Research Initiative. These programs help provide support to New York's specialty crop industry in the form of robust research funding.

Maple

The Farm Bill reauthorizes Schumer’s original legislation known as The Maple Tap Act, which Schumer said is now officially called the Acer Access and Development Program. This provision will continue to help maple producers in the Hudson Valley and across Upstate New York boost their production and become more competitive with places like Canada, which produces 85 percent of the world's maple product. Schumer said, specifically, this provision provides an authorization for USDA grants to states that create programs to encourage individual and private landowners to open up their trees to maple tapping. Schumer's legislation would also provide grants to states to support market promotion, maple industry research and development, and education through leading institutions, like Cornell.

Hemp

Another important provision Schumer fought to include was the Hemp Farming Act of 2018. Schumer, a cosponsor of the Hemp Farming Act, said the provision could help unlock industrial hemp’s full potential as an agricultural commodity across Upstate New York by removing hemp from a federal list of controlled substances. Schumer said the bill will do four important things for farmers nationwide including in New York State:

  • Remove industrial hemp from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act;
  • Empower states to be the principal regulators of hemp;
  • Allow hemp researchers to apply for competitive federal grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture;
  • Make hemp farmers eligible to apply for crop insurance;
  • Most importantly, Schumer said this important provision would allow for New York’s agricultural community to grow industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity if they so choose, allowing New York growers more flexibility.

Barley

The Farm Bill requires the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service to record all barley production in New York State. By ensuring that this critical information is accessible for barley farmers, they will be able to better determine any future plantings. Additionally, the provision would give crop insurance providers access to this essential information, which could spur them to expand coverage and potentially even offer a malting barley endorsement.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP)

Schumer explained that he fought tooth and nail to protect SNAP from any cuts in the Farm Bill. Schumer said that he also was able to push for other provisions to help those most in need. First, the Farm Bill creates opportunities for job training for some of the most in-need New Yorkers who participate in SNAP, to help them find and keep good-paying jobs. Second, the Farm Bill simplifies paperwork for New York seniors who participate in SNAP to ensure they get the nutritional assistance they need and deserve as quickly as possible. And lastly, the Farm Bill creates the “Farm to Food Bank” initiative, which will help provide New Yorkers using SNAP with locally grown, New York produce and other food.

Conservation

Schumer said the Farm Bill funds key environmental programs that are essential to farmers, like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). These programs are voluntary conservation initiatives that farmers can utilize through the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to help them continue to be good stewards of the land.

PAWS

The newly introduced Farm Bill also includes a vital provision called the Pet and Women Safety Act (PAWS) Act, which Schumer is currently a cosponsor of. This bill would help give victims of domestic violence and their pets greater access to safe sheltering options, as well as provide stronger legal protections to pets. According to the Humane Society, up to one-third of domestic violence victims delay leaving a dangerous situation, because they fear for the safety of their pets, and up to one-fourth return to an abuser due to concern for their pets.

Local food programs

The Farm Bill creates a new Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) by combining the Value Added Producer Grants Program and the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program. The value-added producers grant program helps dairy farmers that start producing artisanal cheese or apple growers that enter the hard cider industry. The grants administered through the new LAMP program will continue to support strengthening our local food systems from rural farmers to urban consumers.

Water, Waste Disposal, and Wastewater Facility grants

The Farm Bill provides funding to support and strengthen rural water infrastructure. Funding to Rural Development programs like the Water, Waste Disposal, and Wastewater Facility Grant program will help families and businesses across Upstate New York and nationwide continue to have access to clean drinking water.

Community facility investments

The Farm Bill supports Community Facility investments to continue to help provide resources to construct hospitals, improve schools, while also improving fire and police stations across small towns in New York State.

January 28, 2014 - 9:11pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Business, agriculture, NY-27, chris collins, farm labor.

It's a compromise that many thought a contemporary version of Congress could never pass, but Rep. Chris Collins said that even if he wishes some things were different, he plans to vote on a new farm bill that's ready for consideration by the full House.

The compromise bill was announced today and Collins held a telephone press conference to discuss his support of the measure.

"It's a very good bill, but there's something in it that pretty much everyone doesn't like," said Collins, who sits on the Agriculture Committee.

The 1,000-page bill ends decades of direct subsidies to farmers that paid out roughly $5 billion annually and replaces it with a crop insurance program designed to provide the same measure of financial management against disastrous weather or substantial price fluctuations. 

Several "outdated and ineffective dairy programs," according to an ag committee statement, are eliminated. Dairy producers will be able to voluntarily enter into a margin protection program that will not have government mandated supply controls.

Speaker John Boehner opposed the former programs as "Soviet-style" market manipulation.

The other major reforms in the farm bill deal with SNAP, better known as food stamps. The reforms are expected to eliminate $9 billion in fraud and abuse.

In all, supporters of the bill are claiming it will save taxpayers $23 billion.

Collins said it will particularly provide local dairy farmers a range of certainty around which they can plan production.

"Now they can plan farm activity around a new crop insurance program and they know what it's going to look like for the next five years," Collins said. "It's a big relief to have this move forward and come to a vote."

Those who wanted the regulation of catfish to be handled by the FDA instead of the USDA won't be happy with the bill, Collins said, which is an example of how the legislation won't make everybody happy.

There were some provisions that dairy farmer associations initially opposed.

But even the industry groups eventually came around and supported the bill.

A statement from Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation:

"That process is now complete. Despite its limitations, we believe the revised program will help address the volatility in farmers’ milk prices, as well as feed costs, and provide appropriate signals to help address supply and demand.

"The program that we have worked to develop establishes a reasonable and responsible national risk management tool that will give farmers the opportunity to insure against catastrophic economic conditions, when milk prices drop, feed prices soar, or the combination. By limiting how much future milk production growth can be insured, the measure creates a disincentive to produce excess milk. The mechanism used is not what we would have preferred, but it will be better than just a stand-alone margin insurance program that lacks any means to disincentivize more milk production during periods of over-supply.

Also unhappy, Collins said, will be those who think food stamps should never be touched.

"Let's be clear, no one who deserves food stamps is getting cuts," Collins said.

As an example, Collins noted that under the old regime anybody who received federal heating assistance, even if it was just $1 per month, was eligible to receive food stamps, even without any income or asset test. That ends with the new program, Collins said.

"It was a backdoor way for people to get food stamps who didn't deserve them," Collins said. "It's good government in this day of deficit spending that the money is going to go to the people who truly deserve it."

Asked if Democrats might to used the changes to SNAP as a campaign issue against those "heartless Republicans," Collins said, his message to them is go ahead and try.

"One thing for sure is that distortion of truth is what politics and commercials are all about more than substance," Collins said. "I'm sure there are those who will try to claim that this is a cut in food stamps for those who deserve it and if they do make that claim, it's a lie.

"Anyone who is opposed to this bill is somebody who is very partisan in nature and not interested in saving taxpayers money," Collins added. "I'd turn that back on anyone who wanted that debate and I'd turn it back in about two seconds."

May 16, 2013 - 8:36pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in agriculture, NY-27, chris collins, farm labor.

Press release:

Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) voted yesterday to approve the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act of 2013 and move it out of the House Agriculture Committee. The bill was passed by a large, bipartisan vote of 36-10.

“I am proud the committee was able to come together and pass a farm bill that will give American farmers the certainty they need to plan for the future,” Congressman Collins said. “Agriculture is critical to the economy of Western New York, and I am proud to have been able to represent the farmers of my district on this important issue.”

Congressman Collins also helped secure additional funding for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI), which provides funding to land grant universities, such as Cornell University, to conduct research on specialty crops. Last year’s Farm Bill, which was not passed on the House floor, included $450 million in funding for the SCRI over 10 years. The FARRM Act of 2013 includes $600 million in mandatory funding for the program, which had expired under the current nine-month extension.

Securing funding for the SCRI was important to Congressman Collins as specialty crops farmers across Western New York have consistently cited how critical the ability to conduct research is to their enterprise and industry as it will pioneer new technologies, advanced plant varieties, and help New York farmers generate higher profits.

“New York Farm Bureau is very appreciative of Congressman Chris Collins’ commitment to New York’s farmers. His support in committee of the 2013 Farm Bill sets the stage to provide a stronger safety net for our dairy and specialty crop farmers who help support their local economies,” said Dean Norton, president of New York Farm Bureau.

The legislation also contained major reforms to current U.S. dairy policy. The Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program and Dairy Product Price Support Program have been replaced with a new margin protection program that will better reflect a dairy farmer’s real costs by now equating the cost of feed. This program will ensure Western New York dairy farmers get the support they need to meet the market demands.

The program known as the Dairy Market Stabilization Plan or “supply management,” which would dictate how much a dairy farmer could produce, was also included in the bill. Congressman Collins supported an amendment that would strike this program after hearing near unanimous opinion from his Agriculture Advisory Board that “supply management” would inflate prices for consumers, restrict dairy industry growth, and burden farmers with additional government intervention.

Similar legislation was completed on Tuesday in the Senate Committee on Agriculture. The Farm Bill will now need to be debated on the House floor.

"I am proud of the Committee's effort to advance a farm bill with significant savings and reforms. We achieve nearly $40 billion in savings by eliminating outdated government programs and reforming others. No other committee in Congress is voluntarily cutting money, in a bipartisan way, from its jurisdiction to reduce the size and scope of the federal government. I appreciate the efforts of my colleagues and the bipartisan nature in which this legislation was written and approved. I look forward to debating the bill on the House floor this summer," said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (OK-3).

Highlights include:

-- FARRM saves nearly $40 billion in mandatory funds, including the immediate sequestration of $6 billion;
-- FARRM repeals or consolidates more than 100 programs;
-- FARRM eliminates direct payments, which farmers received regardless of market conditions;
-- FARRM streamlines and reforms commodity policy while also giving producers a choice in how best to manage risk;
-- FARRM includes the first reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) since the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, saving more than $20 billion;
-- FARRM consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13, improving program delivery to producers and saving more than $6 billion;
-- FARRM builds on previous investments to fruit and vegetable production, farmers markets, and local food systems;
-- FARRM includes several regulatory relief measures to help mitigate burdens farmers, ranchers, and rural communities face;

May 14, 2013 - 3:16pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in agriculture, NY Farm Bureau, farm labor.

Like a bad dream that keeps recurring, New York farmers are once again fighting legislation that could put many of them out of business, or radically change the way they do business.

Assembly Democrats yesterday pushed through a farm labor bill similar to one defeated two years ago that would require overtime pay, require at least 24 consecutive hours off each week and allow for collective bargaining.

The bill passed the Assembly 82-53 and moves to the GOP-controlled Senate, where it was defeated two years ago, but the fight isn't over, said Dean Norton, president of the NY Farm Bureau.

"Anytime a law this bad for us is passed in one house with the closeness of the leadership in the Senate, we're concerned," Norton said. "We still need our farmers to contact their senators and let them know how they feel about it."

Many of the arguments being made in support of the bill are disingenuous, Norton said. Farmers already pay minimum wage or higher, provide housing and are covered by workers compensation.

"What we have now is Downstate legislators who have no experience with farms telling us how to run our farms and trying to put in protections that are already in place," Norton said.

New York is ranked 27th in farm production in the nation, but number two in labor costs. New York's labor costs are 56 percent higher than the national average.

New York farmers pay an average of $26 per acre in property taxes compared to a national average of $6 per acre.

Supporters of the bill like to compare New York to California, Norton noted, but California is the number one agriculture state in the nation and has a 10-month growing season. New York's season is five months at best.

As Assemblyman Steve Hawley said during yesterday's floor debate, "There's an old adage -- when sun shines you have to make the hay."

In New York, crops don't wait for the next eight-hour shift to ripen; Harvest time is harvest time.

But neither do workers work all year long. There's a short period of time for them to make the most money they can.

If New York institutes a 40-hour work week for farm labor, Norton said, many labors won't work fewer hours, they'll just get a second job because they know harvest time is the time to make money.

Hawley also argued that if working conditions are bad on a farm, a farmer will have a hard time finding and retaining workers. 

Below is a five-minute video produced by the Farm Bureau about the legislation.

Two years ago it was the work of North Country Democrat Darrel J. Aubertine, who used his power as chair of the agriculture committee to keep the bill from a floor vote. Aubertine was repaid by the GOP with a campaign to win his Senate seat. 

Without Aubertine, Norton still believes farmers have enough powerful friends in the Senate to defeat the bill, but it won't go down without a fight.

UPDATE: Here's Hawley's floor speech.

May 12, 2010 - 9:02pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in agriculture, new york, farm labor.

Sen. George Onorato, a Democrat from Queens, represents no farmers and probably no farm workers, but he has reintroduced legislation that New Yorker's farmers have spent close to two years fighting and thought they had defended.

The farm labor bill is now S.7787 and Watertown-area Democratic Senator Dean Aurbertine, who successfully lobbied Senate leadership to have the previous farm labor bill moved into his agriculture committee, where it died last month, said the new bill makes only cosmetic changes to the previously defeated legislation.

In a news release, Aubertine said:

“It’s disheartening that advocates for this legislation after suffering a defeat refuse to accept the fact that this bill went through an open process, was considered and defeated by a majority of senators. Up to now a majority of Senators who have voted on this bill, voted against this bill. The process was set up by the Senate to deal with these bills and the process worked. There really is no substantive change between this legislation and the legislation that went down to defeat.”

The bill allows farm workers to form unions, receive workers compensation and unemployment benefits and provides for 24-consecutive hours of off time each week and mandates an eight-hour work day.

Farmers say the provisions would drive up farm labor costs by hundreds of millions of dollars and put many of New York's farms out of business.

April 22, 2010 - 4:21pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in agriculture, Mike Ranzenhofer, Dean Norton, farm labor.

farmbillpc01.jpg

From left, Dale Stein, Sen. Mike Ranzenhofer and Dean Norton.

Following the defeat of a farm labor bill in the Senate Agriculture Committee this week, New York Farm Bureau President Dean Norton said agriculture leaders are more than willing to sit down with farm labor advocates and discuss compromise legislation.

He said while proponents of the recently defeated bill said they agreed to compromise on changes, that isn't really how it worked.

"There was no compromise," Norton said. "They came in and said, ‘OK, we tweaked it a little bit. Take it or leave it.’ In my world, that’s not a compromise."

Now that the bill is dead, Norton said maybe the farm-labor advocates will realize they tried to take too big a bite out of the apple, and will be willing to sit down and really talk.

"I think with 2247B being defeated, perhaps we have the opportunity to go back and have that open dialogue," Norton said. "I hope the other side really takes the opportunity to do that."

Norton's remarks came at the end of a press conference with Sen. Mike Ranzenhofer to discuss the bill's defeat.

Ranzenhofer thanked Norton and Genesee County farmers, with dairyman Dale Stein at his side, for their efforts to help defeat the bill, which he said would have killed agriculture in New York.

Getting the bill out of the labor committee -- where he said it was just rubber-stamped -- and into the agriculture committee was key to giving the bill a fair hearing and have it publicly weighed on its merits.

The hearings, he said, brought in both opponents and proponents of the bill.

Ranzenhofer once again praised the work of Daily News staff writer Tom Rivers for his series on farm labor, which he said opened eyes in Albany to what farm labor is really like, and made it harder for bill supporters to spread misinformation about farm-labor practices.

Stein said the misinformation spread by bill supporters really made him unhappy.

"Where can you make $34,000 or $35,000 a year in Genesee County without a high school diploma, without a driver's license?" Stein asked rhetorically. "On a farm. You can’t do it anywhere else. They’re not telling the truth about what the farm workers are making. And that’s my real disagreement with them."

A key factor in getting the bill defeated, Ranzenhofer acknowledged, was the willingness of  Sen. Darrel Aubertine, a Democrat from the Watertown area, to buck his party and get the bill moved into the ag committee, which he chairs.

Aubertine is the first Democrat in 100 years to represent that area of New York in the Senate. His district still leans Republican, but based on comments from Ranzenhofer today (in response to a reporter's question), it doesn't sound like the GOP will cut Aubertine any slack in November's election.

Asked if Ranzenhofer would endorse Aubertine, Ranzenhofer said flatly, "No."

"At the end of the day," Ranzenhofer said, "when you vote for a budget, like he did last year, that increases taxes $8.5 billion, increases spending over $12 billion, I mean that to me is a non-starter. When you take a position like that, which continues to kill the whole economy in the State of New York, I mean, I didn’t vote that way. I don’t support that point of view and I can’t support senators who advocate for increasing taxes and increasing spending."

April 20, 2010 - 2:40pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Business, agriculture, farm labor.

A bill that would have instituted new overtime rules, unemployment benefits and allowed farm workers to organize into collective-bargaining units died in the New York Senate's Agriculture Committee today.

On a 6-3 vote, the committee voted down the measure, known by opponents as the "Farm Death Bill."

Opponents said the bill would have increased costs for New York's farmers by $200 million per year.

"It would have killed agriculture in New York State, and that's the state's number one industry," said Sen. Mike Ranzenhofer, who sits on the committee and voted against the bill.

After passage in the Assembly last year, the bill was looking like it would make it to a floor vote in the Senate when Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine, a Democrat who chairs the agriculture committee, lobbied to have the bill reviewed by his committee before letting the full Senate vote on it.

In a statement today, Aubertine said:

"The committee came to its conclusion following a lengthy, open process which included participation from all sides of the issue. The committee worked diligently to cut through the rhetoric, and aggressively pursued the facts of this matter. Toward that end, the committee voted based on the merits of this bill and its impact on farm workers, farmers and consumers; not partisan attacks, half-truths, rhetoric or political polling."

Ranzenhofer said that articles by Batavia Daily News staff writer Tom Rivers, which he collected in a book, helped educate legislative leaders about farm labor and dispel a lot of misinformation being spread by supporters of the bill.

"Tom was  able to bring reality check to what some of the more sensational special interest people were saying," Ranzenhofer said.

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