A Republican legislator in New Mexico wants to bail out the state’s school lunch program by using tax money to purchase $1.4 million in locally grown fruits and vegetables, which would then be provided to the schools without charge. State Rep. Jimmie C. Hall of Albuquerque, who is also executive director of the 4-H Development Foundation and Farm and Ranch Operation, came up with the idea. Many school lunch programs have been financially struggling since new federal standards have required menus with more fresh fruit and vegetable offerings. Hall pre-filed the bill for the 2015 session of the New Mexico Legislature, which begins next Tuesday and is scheduled to last until March 21. Local fruits and vegetables purchased by the new state program would be available for use by meal programs in school districts, charter schools, and juvenile detention centers throughout New Mexico. The bill also funds a full-time administrator for local produce and allows unspent money to be retained by the program rather than returned to the general fund at the end of the fiscal year. By the third week of January, 41 state legislatures are in session, according to the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures. That number will increase to 44 by the end of the month when, in addition to New Mexico, legislative sessions in Hawaii and Utah will get underway. New Mexico may not be the only state where there could be interest in bailing out cash-strapped local school lunch programs with infusions from state taxpayers. School lunch program directors around the country have said that since federal standards were changed, many local school lunch program budgets have been upside down. Some local school districts have even withdrawn from the National School Lunch Program because of regulations they deemed too onerous. Meanwhile, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, an amendment to the state constitution was pre-filed last Dec. 10 that would add language to that state’s Bill of Rights making it a right of the people “to acquire for their own consumption, farm-produced food directly at the farm with the agreement of the farmer who produced it.” The proposed amendment, House Joint Resolution No. 519, was introduced by Republican Delegate Rick Morris of Carrollton, who represents District 64. The Committee on Privileges and Elections is reviewing the proposal. The Virginia House of Delegates also is reviewing Housing Bill 1591, assigned to the Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and National Resources. It would require “genetically engineered food” to be labeled in a “conspicuous manner.” The bill’s “patron by request” is Delegate Bill DeSteph, a Virginia Beach Republican. One state — Montana — may be seeing a new approach to outside interest in animal agriculture. “We’re going to step up now and figure out how to address the issue within our own community rather than relying on legislation to block information,” says Ryan Goodman, spokesman for the Montana Stockgrowers Association. “We do want to be open and transparent with the public and not come across as if we’re trying to hide something because we’re not. We’re just trying to protect our own families and businesses,” he adds. Goodman says Montana ranchers are focused on communicating their message. While several well-known individuals involved in animal agriculture, such as animal-welfare expert Temple Grandin and Meat Industry Hall of Fame President Chuck Jolley, have argued for transparency, the Montana Stockgrowers may be the first major ag group to pick up on such advice. “Ag-gag” laws adopted by Utah and Idaho are currently facing constitutional challenges in separate federal courts. The outcomes of the federal litigation likely won’t be known until next year. Some legislative observers have predicted that state legislatures would wait until the federal courts rule before taking additional action on the subject. The Democrat-controlled Washington State House of Representatives, however, will consider an “ag-gag” bill in its 2015 session. It may get a hearing out of courtesy to the state’s large agricultural industry in eastern Washington. But even if the bill gets through the GOP-held Senate, it is still likely to face the veto pen of Washington’s liberal Democrat governor, Jay Inslee.