The RIFPC Bill Tracker followed 215 pieces of legislation with potential impacts on our food system during the 2022 General Assembly session. Grouping them by their primary areas of impact, there were:
- 114 focused on climate change/environmental protection
- 44 focused on food businesses
- 11 on access to healthy food
- 14 on fisheries and aquaculture
- 7 on agriculture
- 15 on equity/justice
- 10 on recycling and wasted food
CLIMATE CHANGE / ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION
This year there was an unprecedented number of bills (74 in total) focused on climate change. This burst of legislative activity, following last year’s passage of the 2021 Act on Climate, resulted in 12 new bills/resolutions being signed into law. The year’s biggest win was the mandate for 100% of electricity to be from renewable sources by 2033.
The additional bills/resolutions that were passed will affect a wide range of climate change activities, including:
- Mandating climate literacy in schools
- Expanding the reach of the Green Buildings Act
- Establishing labor standards for renewable energy projects
- Requiring the PUC to study electricity storage and solar development activities
- Mandating the purchase of at least 600MW from offshore wind producers
- Mandating preferential municipal tax treatment for renewable energy assets
- In the area of environmental protection (40 bills in total), several long-standing advocacy efforts were finally passed into law, including:
- Authorization for RI’s Dept of Health and Dept of Environmental Management to establish standards for PFAs in drinking/ground/surface waters
- Prohibiting the use of PFAs in packaging
- Restrictions on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides
- A Plastic Waste Reduction Act targeted at reducing the use of plastic bags in retailers
Food businesses (44 bills in total) received support from several bills this year, including bills that:
- Extended COVID-related activities like permission to sell ‘to go’ alcoholic beverages with food takeout
- A moratorium on the enforcement of municipal and zoning regulations on facility alterations made in compliance with COVID safety
- An extension on the amount of part-time earnings allowed for employees seeking to collect unemployment benefits
- An expansion of permissible cottage food activities was included in the final budget legislation, allowing growth in cottage food businesses up to a revenue cap of $50,000/yr
>The General Assembly also passed a law providing tip protection for employees working in hospitality and other sectors.
FISHERIES & AQUACULTURE
For the state’s farm, fish and aquaculture businesses, there was a significant increase in funding (to $750K) for the Local Agriculture and Seafood Act (LASA) grant program, which has established a strong track record of supporting new product/market/capacity growth for small food businesses over the last seven years.
ACCESS TO HEALTHY FOOD
In the food access area, there was progress in increasing the effectiveness of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for Rhode Islanders. As a result of advocacy led by the RI Public Health Institute and Sen. Lawson and Rep. Barros, the FY2022/23 budget will include $12 million to provide new financial incentives for SNAP users to buy fruits and vegetables in grocery stores. In addition, bills by Sen. Sosnowski and Rep. Fogarty that require the RI Dept. of Human Services to streamline the application, certification and recertification process for SNAP beneficiaries aged sixty years and older became law.
Unfortunately, Rep. Ranglin-Vassell’s bill to establish universal free lunches in public elementary and secondary schools did not move out of committee this year (as in previous years).
Of the 7 bills that were focused on agriculture and farm operations, the only one that passed was Sen. Euer’s bill authorizing the RI Dept. of Environmental Management to establish and examine quarantine zones for animals (this bill was in response to the threat of avian flu in this year’s poultry flocks).
Unfortunately, funding for agricultural land conservation, a state priority since 1981, was omitted from the state’s green bond funding proposal for the first time in many years, which will make it harder to conserve the state’s dwindling supply of farmland.
Similarly, advocates for state funding and resources to support increased urban agriculture in the state’s urban core were not successful in securing investment dollars this year. Urban farms and gardens have become an important access route to affordable healthy food and food sovereignty in many RI neighborhoods.
EQUITY AND JUSTICE
Only one of the 15 bills focused on equity and justice was passed into law this year, a bill by
Rep. Lauren Carson establishing an equity and environmental justice advisory board to the
state’s Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council.
The other bills, none of which made it out of committee hearings, covered a range of efforts including establishing environmental justice zones, ensuring that residents of front-line communities participate in environmental management decisions, recognizing Native American tribe petitions for state action, and other activities.
FY 2022/23 BUDGET
The FY2022/23 budget includes some significant new investments in the food system, made possible by the influx of federal ARPA money:
- Infrastructure for fishing businesses in Pt. Judith and other landing areas will receive $46 million in much-needed funding
- A fund of $16 million to support municipal efforts to build resiliency to climate change impacts, including food system resiliency, has been included in the proposed green bond
- A fund of $20 million to support community-based organizations providing emergency food and housing services has been created, to be managed jointly by the RI Foundation and state agency personnel
In addition, the RI Dept. of Environmental Management will receive funding to add 16 new FTE’s, building out their staff capacity to meet climate change and environmental protection mandates.
SAVE THE DATE! Join us for a virtual discussion of the 2022 Legislative Session on Tuesday, September 20 @ 12:30-1:30pm. Contact [email protected] with questions.