In recognition of the tremendous contributions of Pennsylvania’s agriculture community to the state’s economy and heritage, the Senate passed five bills recently to ensure farming operations remain an important part of the state’s future.
The bills in the “Farming First” package are focused on helping Pennsylvania agricultural operations remain competitive and profitable for current and future generations of farmers. Bills in the package that were passed by the Senate include:
• A tax credit program for landowners to lease or sell farmland to future generations of farmers.
• The creation of the Pennsylvania Dairy Future Commission to bring together all stakeholders in the industry.
• Exempting milk haulers from weather-related travel bans.
• Easing restrictions on the use of farmland for farm-related tourism and entertainment activities.
• Setting commonsense safety standards and removing costly requirements for barn weddings and other social events on farms.
Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, supported passage of a package of bills that would help Pennsylvania agricultural operations remain competitive and profitable for current and future generations of farmers.
Senate Bill 478, sponsored by Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee Chairman Elder Vogel (R-47), would provide a personal income tax credit for landowners who lease or sell their land, buildings and equipment to beginning farmers. The one-time credit – which is patterned after a successful program in Minnesota – would provide a strong incentive for landowners to work with beginning farmers to ensure farmland remains in productive use for future generations.
Senate Bill 585, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-34), would call for the creation of the Pennsylvania Dairy Future Commission to review the status of the dairy industry in the Commonwealth and make recommendations to support the industry’s future in Pennsylvania. The Commission will bring together experts in the industry with leaders in state government and the legislature to explore potential solutions to the challenging market conditions facing dairy farmers.
Senate Bill 588, sponsored by Sen. Judy Ward (R-30) and Sen. Gene Yaw (R-23), would exempt milk haulers from travel bans imposed during a declaration of disaster emergency. The measure would address the unique needs of the dairy industry during weather-related commercial vehicle travel bans. Travel bans have caused many dairy producers and processors to dispose of milk that cannot be legally transported.
Senate Bill 583, sponsored by Sen. Ryan Aument (R-36), would set uniform standards allowing agri-tourism on farms protected by the state farmland preservation program. Under current law, each individual farmland preservation board sets its own standards for defining or allowing agri-tourism activity; some boards prevent farm owners from hosting these events altogether.
Senate Bill 453, sponsored by Sen. Judy Ward, would allow farmers to apply for an annual exemption to certain costly requirements that are included in the state’s Uniform Construction Code for buildings that host weddings, receptions and similar events. The measure would make it easier for farms to host these events by relaxing requirements for some of the most costly and onerous safety features, including sprinkler systems and other features that could cost tens of thousands of dollars to install.
The “Farming First” package is designed to build on the longstanding efforts of Senate Republicans to support Pennsylvania’s farm families and maintain agriculture’s status as the state’s top industry.
Pennsylvania’s 59,000 farm families manage more than 7.7 million acres of farmland. The agriculture industry generates more than $7.5 billion in cash receipts annually.
The first five bills in the “Farming First” package were sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Insurance Commissioner discusses
importance of flood insurance options
Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman joined state agencies and hurricane experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on an East Coast tour recently to raise awareness of the impacts from tropical cyclone threats and the danger of being caught without a natural disaster preparedness plan.
Altman highlighted flood insurance options and the importance of shopping around in the increasingly competitive market.
Altman emphasized most standard homeowners’ and renters’ insurance policies do not cover flood damage. While many mortgage lenders, including those making home loans backed by the federal government, require flood insurance for properties in what are known as Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHAs), Altman urged homeowners outside of these areas to consider this additional coverage.
“In Pennsylvania, we see a lot of flooding outside of SFHAs every year, and hear stories from homeowners and renters who suffered significant losses that were not covered because they did not have flood insurance,” Altman said.
Approximately one in four flood insurance claims are paid on policies in low-to-moderate-risk areas. One of the main factors the department wants consumers to understand, is it doesn’t take a major body of water, or even a major storm, to cause a flood. Anything from a broken sewer line to a slow-moving rainstorm can cause flooding.
“There is also a misconception that federal disaster assistance will automatically cover damages to a home or business in the event of a natural disaster,” Altman said. “However, flooding is not always declared a federal disaster, and even when there is a disaster declaration, the federal government’s Individual Assistance Program pays a maximum of $33,000 per property owner, with the average payout for Hurricane Michael in 2018 being just $7,000.”
“Many may not understand how hurricanes affect Pennsylvania directly,” National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said. “It’s important to recognize and highlight the severe impact inland flooding and other hazards can cause to homes, businesses and properties.”
Obtaining flood insurance is the best way for homeowners to ensure their property will be protected if flooding does occur. Flood insurance is available through private sector insurance, or the federal government-run National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which almost exclusively provided this coverage prior to changes implemented in Congress in 2014. The number of private flood insurance policies increased from 5,200 in February of last year to 8,950 this February, a 72 percent increase.
Some 20 Pennsylvania-licensed insurance companies now sell private flood insurance, in addition to 59 individual producers who sell this coverage through what is called the surplus lines market. Surplus lines insurance is sold through companies licensed outside of Pennsylvania. However, the producers selling this coverage are licensed in Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Insurance Department monitors the financial condition of the companies selling this coverage. She said 47 percent of private market flood policies are now sold through Pennsylvania-licensed companies, as compared to only 26 percent two years ago.
“NFIP policies and some private coverage have a 30-day waiting period following purchase before coverage begins,” Altman said. “While flooding happens throughout the year, hurricane season is around the corner, so I urge consumers to consider this coverage now.”
Sen. Toomey looks to lower
taxes on Gold Star families
U.S. Senator Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, recently introduced bipartisan legislation to provide tax relief for children who have lost a parent while serving in the military.
“Gold Star families have all endured a terrible tragedy – the loss of a loved one in service to our nation – and deserve the gratitude of all Americans,” Toomey said. “The Department of Defense has long provided for the economic well-being of children who have lost a parent in military service through survivor benefits. Unfortunately, these benefits are currently being subjected to a higher tax rate than intended. Our bipartisan measure will correct this problem. I appreciate the work of Gold Star families who have led the fight to have Congress address this issue.”
Children of Gold Star families are eligible to receive Survivor Benefit Plan payments, an annuity administered by the Department of Defense that gives survivors an inflation-adjusted monthly income.
Prior to 2018, these benefits were subject to the parent’s tax rate, but as an unintended result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, survivor benefits administered to children of fallen service members are being taxed at a rate typically used for investment income and high income families.
Toomey’s bipartisan measure would fix this problem by taxing the child’s benefits at the child’s individual tax rate, rather than the estate and trust rate or their parent’s rate. This bill is retroactive for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017.