Republican calls for bipartisan support to create a Select Committee on Agriculture fell on deaf ears Thursday.
Sen. John Kissel, R – Enfield, and Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, R – Somers, were joined by several industry advocates and a cadre of Republican lawmakers to extol the benefits of the would-be committee – which they see as a low-cost way to address the needs of Connecticut’s evolving agriculture industry.
Democrats have roundly criticized the proposal, equating the inability of the select committee to report bills directly to the legislature with adding an unnecessary extra step to the legislative process.
House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey called the measure unnecessary and cited recent state initiatives to support the agriculture industry, including $10 million to support dairy farmers and grants to farmers under the Community Investment Act.
“How can the Republicans with a straight face call for more cuts to state government when they are proposing unnecessary and costly ideas like adding another committee to the legislature,” Sharkey said.
Republicans made repeated attempts to coax their Democratic colleagues into joining them at the press conference, Bacchiochi said, but their calls and emails went unanswered.
“I’m not going to cast aspersions on my Democratic colleagues but… we’ve heard that some Democrats have a strong interest in this but may not have gotten the green light from the leadership,” Kissel said.
Kissel said that the inclusion of $5 million in the bipartisan jobs bill for farmland restoration was a tacit acknowledgment of the evolving needs of the state’s agriculture industry.
“In the past, we’ve had money for farmland preservation,” Kissel said. “It’s a signal: there’s a recognition in Connecticut now that agriculture means jobs.”
“To the extent you can bolster this part of the economy, you can keep jobs in your state,” Kissel said.
Bacchiochi said that the committee could be formed at low or no cost by having the Office of Legislative Management group administrative duties with the other two select committees – the Select Committees on Aging and Children.
“It is not our intention that this select committee would add a penny,” Bacchiochi said. “When I have a new client…the last thing I think about is hiring more staff.”
Kissel said that the impact of the select committee could elevate agriculture as a legislative priority. He praised Democratic Sen. Edith Prague’s early support of the formation for the Select Committee on Aging as influential in addressing the needs of the state’s senior citizen population.
Bonnie Burr, assistant director of the University of Connecticut’s Cooperative Extension System, said that the research conducted by the university’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources would inform the efforts of the committee.
But with Democrats holding a majority of the seats in the legislature it’s likely to happen.