Tuesday Roundup: Clock Ticks on Farm Bill
Current farm bill expires Monday • Nonprofit launches campaign aimed at rural, conservative areas • Utah says rural voters are key to blocking ballot reform • House forestry bill encourages privatization, more commercial logging • Timber company and environmentalists’ collaboration may save Oregon sawmill • Small town with fairness ordinance continues to attract attention • One argument for sustaining rural communities • Most Indiana representatives oppose hospital rule change
Farm Bill. Time is running out for the farm bill. Current authorization ends Monday at the close of the federal fiscal year. It’s unlikely the House and Senate will agree to any legislation by that time. The New York Times reports that most of the farm programs will continue through the “end of the crop year,” however. House and Senate versions of the bill are miles apart, primarily on continued support for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps.
“Sophisticated” Campaign Aimed at Rural Areas. A nonprofit group is launching a $1 million ad campaign to push passage of a waterways bill. The target of the campaign: “rural and conservative parts of the Southeast and Midwest,” according to Politico (paid subscription required).
America’s Infrastructure Alliance calls the effort a “sophisticated, integrated marketing campaign to support the passage of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) HR 3080.” The bill would pay for port and waterway maintenance and improvements.
The nonprofit’s CEO, Jeff Loveng, a former top aide to House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania, 9th), says the campaign will attempt to counter skepticism about the multi-billion dollar legislation.
“In part, the group hopes its efforts can counter any move by deep-pocketed conservative groups to sink the bills. “There’s a general distrust of the federal government doing things,” Loveng said, adding later: “There are definitely some very conservative groups that are opposed to any spending.” The campaign will consist mostly of online ads in South Carolina, Florida, Illinois, Indiana and other states, along with social media efforts and op-eds.”
Rural Holds the Key in Utah. The Republican Party’s efforts to oppose a ballot-reform initiative in Utah hinge on rural voters, according to the state’s GOP vice chairman, Willie Billings.
“The way we win this thing is rural Utah,” said Billings, referring to Republican desires to stop a reform campaign called Count My Vote. The campaign seeks to create a direct primary selection process, rather than relying on caucuses and conventions to select party candidates.
The effort will require 102,000 signatures to get on the November 2014 ballot for approval.
Billings said the party can stall signature-gathering in rural parts of the state, according to the Deseret News.
Republican Party leaders say losing power to control the candidate nomination process will hurt the party.
House Votes to Privatize Parts of National Forest. A U.S. House bill passed last week will privatize broad sections of national forests, mandate logging on public lands and cut education funding for some rural schools.
The bill passed by a vote of 244-172, with 17 Democrats joining 227 Republicans to approve it.
The bill was opposed by environmental groups and the National Education Association.
The creatively titled “Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act” would require most national forest land with at least 20 cubic feet of available timber — roughly one mid-sized tree — to be designated as available for logging. The land would be subject to aggressive annual logging quotas, except for territory in the National Wilderness Preservation System and where federal rules prohibit the removal of vegetation. The measure would require at least 200,000 additional acres of national forest to be opened for development to generate revenue for local governments.
Obama has threatened to veto the bill. Every major U.S. environmental group views the legislation as an ecological nightmare.
“It’s arguably one of the worst forestry bills our nation has seen in decades,” said Ani Kame’enui, a Washington Sierra Club representative. “It overrides essentially all laws and regulations of 100 years of professional forest management.”
Alex Taurel, deputy legislative director with the League of Conservation Voters, called the bill “extreme.”
The Last Mill in Grant County. In other forestry news, the U.S. Forest Service has announced a 10-year stewardship contract die a company working in Oregon’s Malheur National Forest. The contract could help keep open the sole remaining sawmill in Grant County, Oregon.
The development came out of a collaboration between a timber company and environmentalists, as Patrick Shannon of Sustainable Northwest reports in his blog post.
Why You Should Care about Rural Healthcare. Why should Americans care about rural places? Dale Quinney, director of the Alabama Rural Health Assocation, has one answer:
“Most tangible things are produced in a rural area or produced using resources from a rural area,” he said. “Our rural areas are critical to the survival of everyone, regardless of where you live.”
That’s one of several interesting points in a piece in Al.com about difficulties in the state’s rural health care system.
(The story’s headline [which, we all know, isn’t written by the columnist or reporter] implies there’s some link between declining rural healthcare resources in rural areas and the Affordable Care Act. The story doesn’t back up that linkage or even deal with the issue, however.)
Critical Access Hospitals. In Indiana, seven of the state’s nine U.S. House members are on record opposing a proposal from U.S. Health and Human Services to change the way the nation designates critical access hospitals, which are located in rural areas.
Vicco Stays in the News. Vicco, Kentucky, the smallest city in America to enact a fairness ordinance, is continuing to attract attention. The Washington Post reports this week on the coalfield town’s receipt of donations from near and far to support development projects there. The Vicco City Council voted in January to ban discrimination in city employment based on sexual orientation. Mayor Johnny Cummings said the city is also considering an offer for a reality TV show, which the mayor wants to focus on efforts to revitalize the town of 330 residents.