Posted By Gayla Fleming,
Monday, December 15, 2014
Updated: Monday, December 15, 2014
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Legislative and Policy News:
- Municipal Tax Law Bill Changes Pass House; Bill Goes to Governor for Signing - The long-debated and still controversial bill to add uniformity to municipal tax collections passed the House last week after it had approved a number of amendments. The House adopted the Senate amendments on a 57-31 vote, largely on party lines. In spite of several years of work and numerous attempts at compromise on many measures, the bill was essentially favored by business interests but opposed by cities and local jurisdictions. A key message from cities is that the bill destroys "home rule” and forces communities into following state mandates on tax collections procedures. Many believe the changes will also further erode tax collections for municipalities.
- HB 490, Agricultural MBR Does Not Get Out of the Senate - Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina) announced last week that in spite of a tremendous legislative effort in the House, HB 490 would not be moved before the end of this session and as a result, it ends with it. President Faber advised that he reluctantly decided to take this step knowing all the work that had gone into the bill, but felt that it was the right thing to do. He indicated a commitment to renewing the debate in the next General Assembly. The bill had general agreement on provisions intended to deal with toxic algae, but there was not the same general agreement with oil and gas measures as well as Lake Erie water withdrawal issues as environmental groups mounted push-back. Possibly the most significant measure to stall the bill was the inclusion of a telecommunications amendment that would allow phone companies to phase out line service throughout the state. The governor was against that provision and stated that he would veto the entire bill if it was not removed.
- Senate Approves Firearms Legislation - Last week, the Senate passed HB 234, Firearms which makes a number of changes to state firearms laws. One of those will allow hunters to use noise suppressors. Other changes were made to conceal carry requirements, one of which reduces the minimum training requirements to 8 hours with 2 hours of live range experience. The law will also allow out-of-state individuals who work in Ohio to obtain conceal-carry licenses.
- State Agencies Present Preliminary Budget Requests for the Next 2016-2017 Biennium - One of the major activities in the next legislative session will be passage of the state biennium budget. Last week, the Office of Budget and Management (OBM) made public key policy items included in agency budget requests. It appears one of the key items of most agencies is that their requests are for less funding than that in the current biennium. Some of the agencies requests of note:
- ODNR - Director Jim Zehringerfocuses on two key areas including increased oil and gas activities and toxic algae concerns.
- EPA - Director Craig Butlerrequests less money with proposed funding 8.2% less than the current biennium. Like ODNR, EPA will focus much of its attention on oil and gas activities and concerns with toxic algae in Ohio waterways.
- BWC - BWC Administrator Steve Buehrer request 4% less funding than the current biennium. The agency will move into the new prospective billing system as well as working to improve efficiencies throughout the system.
- Taxation - Tax Commissioner Joseph Testa will focus on developing a paperless system of tax collections. In this case, there is a for increased funding to address security and fraud concerns with tax collections.
- Medicaid - Medicaid funding is expected to grow to $25 billion in the FY n2017 budget year. In FY 14 it was $18.4 billion and in FY 15, $23 billion.
Timber Theft Legislation Discussion at the Southern Ohio Loggers Chapter (SOLC) Meeting
The SOLC held its bimonthly meeting last week during which the status of HB 515, timber theft legislation was discussed. John Dorka attended to discuss the latest on the bill and as importantly, future actions by OFA in response to the bill. Although the bill has died in committee with the completion of this legislative session, there remains concern that it could be resurrected in the future, in the same or some different format. The SOLC members learned that OFA will address this concern with task force discussions after the first of the year. In addition, the Logging Standards Council agreed that OFA should develop a Master Logger training segment on the legal purchase and harvest of timber. Training would be provided to loggers chapters at regularly scheduled meetings.
Ohio Tree Farm Committee Completes 2014 Required Inspections
Last week, the American Tree Farm System (ATFS) advised the Ohio Tree Farm Committee that it had completed 100% of its required Tree Farm inspections for 2014. It was one of only 3 states in the 10-state North Central Region to complete all of its required inspections. Of significance, Ohio was second behind only Minnesota for the total number of required inspections, with 55 required inspections. It had significantly more than more heavily forested states like Missouri (18); Wisconsin (21); and Michigan (33). Ohio does an outstanding job maintaining a corps of Tree Farm Inspectors who are diligent with completing required inspections. ATFS provides a stipend to OTFC for each completed inspection with funds used to train inspectors and complete other valuable Tree Farm outreach and education activities. The American Tree Farm System is a recognized third-party verified forest certification program and products harvested from Tree Farm woodlands may be recognized as coming from sustainably managed forests.
ECOFA Helping to Promote Truth About Trees/Latest ECOFA Newsletter
Last week, Division of Forestry Service Forester Jeremy Scherf reported that the Truth About Treeseducation kit provided to the East Central Ohio Forestry Association (ECOFA) was in turn loaned to the St. Clairsville Library in Belmont County. Library staff will use it for elementary to middle school youth programs in that area. The Truth About Treesvideo and educational kits were developed by the Hardwood Forest Foundation, the education component of NHLA. OFA President Rob McCarthy made established one of his goals in 2014 to promote youth education through Truth About Trees.Education kits have been distributed to regional forest landowner associations and loggers chapters for use in local areas. OFA will also be working with Project Learning Tree to see what opportunities are available to promote Truth About Trees. Also, Here isthe January 2015 Newsletter from the East Central Ohio Forestry Association.
EPA Biogenic CO2Emissions Framework
OFA participated in a webinar with the AF&PA last week to discuss the review of EPA’s policy on Biogenic CO2 and how woody biomass will fit into the accounting framework. The review is preliminary with no conclusive policy from EPA at the moment. The ultimate question relates to the "carbon neutrality” of woody biomass, and specifically which products among the many qualify as carbon neutral and whether or not they are tracked within the energy supply system. Preliminarily, EPA agrees woody biomass is carbon neutral, but it does not believe all woody biomass products should qualify. It appears that "forest derived” feedstocks including roundwood and logging residue will be acceptable in the accounting framework, so long as the wood is "sustainably-derived.” At the moment, EPA does not know how to define "sustainably-derived.” Some of the framework accounting questions for the feedstocks relate to existing markets for the materials. If markets exist, then it appears that they could not be included as eligible woody biomass feedstocks.
Forestry Items of Interest in Appropriations Omnibus
Deb Hawkinson, Executive Director of the Forest Resource Association (FRA) passed along an Issue Update on the Appropriations Omnibus bill that would fund the federal government thought 2015. FRA identified a number of forestry items:
- Northern Long Eared Bat (NLEB) -There is funding in the bill dedicated to survival of the NLEB including surveillance and monitoring ($3 million); disease research ($2.5 million); and $1.05 for USGS data collection on the white nose syndrome. The bill also directs the US Forest Service to make research of the disease a priority.
- GVW Allowances - Three states including Mississippi, Wisconsin, and Kentucky are provide allowances to "grandfather” stretches of state highways to federal GVW limits when those sections of highway are shifted to the federal interstate system.
- Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) - The FIA program will be funded at $70 million per year, a very good amount which recognizes the value of the program for forest industry and environmental concerns.
- Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule - The bill directs EPA to withdraw its "interpretive rule” redefining water bodies included in the Clean Water Act rules. The bill also reinforces that neither the US EPA nor the Corps of Engineers may require permits for normal silviculture and forest roads in wetlands.
- Tax Extenders - This was not included in the omnibus bill. The Senate is yet to take action on the House-passed Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014 (HR 5771) which would reauthorize the Section 179 business expensing credit. Under this section, business can deduct the full purchase price of qualifying equipment and software. It also revives the bonus depreciation tax deduction which allows businesses to claim an additional first-year depreciation tax deduction of 50% of the value of qualifying machinery and equipment.
Forest America Encourages Comments Opposing Endangered Listing of the NLEB
The national group Forest America which promotes America’s working forests, is encouraging people to submit comments against the listing of NLEB as an endangered species. To make it as easy as possible, Forest America has created a web page where people can file comments electronically. If you want to comment, simply click on the link and provide your comments on the page, filling out specific information on yourself. If information is included for OFA already, simply take that out and put in your own.
Invasive Species Not So Serious?
Do you get tired of hearing the endless litany of invasive species affecting America’s forests? According to one scientist, the concern may be overblown. Professor Thompson, a senior research fellow in the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield in England, has a different take on invasives. Whether you agree with him or not, it’s helpful for once not getting an opinion other than gloom and doom.
|Trees With Character|
Mike Gaus, forester with Glatfelter, forwarded some pictures of trees that are truly amazing. The email was title "Trees with Character.” They really fit the bill. Thought you would enjoy looking at them.
Recognize OFA Members with an OFA Award at the Annual Meeting
The 2015 OFA Annual Meeting will be on February 11-12, 2015 at the Embassy Suites Columbus-Dublin. Annual Award winners will be recognized at the Awards luncheon on Thursday, February 12, 2015. A number of people among us do outstanding jobs promoting forestry and accomplishing valuable forestry work. If you know of an OFA member or others who have made significant contributions to forestry and the forest industry this past year, take a moment to make a nomination on this form.
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