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Legislatively Speaking
A successful Legislative year

By Gordon Gibson, State Legislative Director

  NOVEMBER 2008 --

The Legislative Committee has continued to carry forward the work determined upon by the delegate body, often working in close coordination with our Grange counterparts in nearby states and also with organizations not affiliated with the Grange.  I have received many compliments on our articles in The Connecticut Granger where we try to keep the membership informed of everything that is happening in both Hartford and Washington.  

Our major accomplishment this year was the passage of the Face of Connecticut Act which creates a fund for local and regional open space programs, farmland conservation and stewardship, affordable housing, revitalization of urban parks, historic preservation and clean up of contaminated properties.  It encourages both the preservation of our rural lands and the redevelopment of our decaying industrial areas, thus reducing the demand for industrial sprawl.  At first glance these programs appear to be quite diverse, but they all contribute to preserving our heritage and the quality of life in Connecticut as we know it.  Although no funds were appropriated for the Face of Connecticut program this year, this is not a major problem.  Even if money was available now, the steering committee has to get itself and the programs organized before it is ready to move forward with any of the programs authorized in this act.  This all takes time, so most likely the General Assembly will be working on the 2009-2010 budget by the time the committee is ready to move forward with its programs.
Another important act was passed to help the dairy farmers by promoting the use of milk and milk products.  Like the Face of Connecticut bill, no money was appropriated for this milk promotion, but we at least have the legislation in place when the funds are available.  Two bills the Grange supported did not pass, mostly because they would have resulted in a net loss of tax revenues to the State.  One bill would have allowed people to take a credit on their state income tax return for the value of land or easements donated for conservation purposes.  The other would have exempted the donation of farmland preservation easements from the “look-back” period when a person applies for medicaid and similar programs.
Now that the New York State Grange has joined with the six New England State Granges for most programs, we have reorganized our regional program into the Northeast Legislative Alliance to achieve our common goals at both the state and national level.  Our new alliance has had four meetings so far and hopes to have our web site up and running in the near future.  Our September meeting was devoted to this year’s session of the National Grange. 

The National Grange held a legislative workshop during each national session, but this was dropped several years ago due to limited participation.  The Northeast Alliance decided we were going to hold a legislative workshop this year, even if we had to do everything ourselves.  I am pleased to report that National Grange recognized the interest we had and has included the workshop in the official program.  I am also pleased to announce, and this is news even to our Connecticut Hosting Committee, our speaker will be Bonnie Burr, Connecticut Director of the USDA Farm service Agency, who will speak on the new 2008 Farm Bill and what it will mean to farmers across the country. 

We were saddened this year by the death of Brother Art Hanlon approximately three weeks after his wife Arlyn passed on.  Art was a member of the Legislative Committee for eighteen years, serving as Legislative Director for eight years.  The Committee thanks Art for his dedication, leadership and, perhaps most important, his understanding of Medicare. 

Our committee now consists of Brothers George Ward, Charles Dimmick, Dick Healy and Bob Charbonneau.  The members of the Executive Committee are also ex-officio members of the Legislative Committee, and Brother Ruel Miller has attended and actively participated in every meeting of the Legislative Committee this year.  As I have said in previous years, each has their special area of interest and expertise, which makes it quite easy to stay abreast of all current issues.  It is only through their dedication, time and effort that we accomplish everything we do.  They are a great group to work with.
Worth Master, we again want to thank you for the opportunity you have given us to continue serving the Connecticut State Grange as we work to improve the quality of life for everyone in Connecticut.
Connecticut Farmland Trust has had another successful year, thanks to the many generous donors who make it financially possible to preserve our rapidly diminishing farmland base.  Connecticut Farmland Trust recently closed on an easement on Cato Corner Farm in Colchester, bringing our total preserved land to 1195 acres on 15 farms across the state.  We plan to close on two additional farms by December 31, 2008 which will preserve another 250 acres of farmland. 

During the year we have also made more than 200 consultations with towns, local land trusts and individual land owners to assist them in preserving farmland.  Assisting farm families in planning the smooth transfer of their land from one generation to the next is becoming an important part of our work.  In too many cases a family has been forced to sell some or all of their land to raise the cash needed to settle an estate and pay the inheritance taxes.
We were asked to serve on the panel to select recipients of grants to evaluate barns and outbuildings for structural integrity, historic significance and feasible reñuses.  I am pleased to report that one of the barns selected is owned by a very active family in my own Grange. Recognizing the importance of farmland across the nation, Henry Talmage, our Executive Director, will be one of the featured speakers at the Salute to Agriculture breakfast as part of the National Grange session on November 12, 2008. 

On behalf of the Board of Directors of Connecticut Farmland Trust I want to thank the Connecticut State Grange, the Pomona and Subordinate Granges and the many individual Grange members who support our work with both time and money.  Thanks to all of you, we are able to meet our goals of preserving Connecticut’s farmland before it is irretrievably lost to development.


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