This week marked the beginning of what’s called “the peaking season” for state lawmakers, and it’s seen some food-safety-related bills moving forward without producing any big trends. The “peaking season” refers to the fact that all but three of 50 state legislatures were in session this week, and that lawmaking will continue at this heighten pace for just a few weeks. From reports of organizations such as the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) based in Denver, various interest groups that follow their own statehouse issues, and faithful statehouse reporters, here’s just some of what those legislative bodies are up to that may be of interest to the food-safety community. OREGON — If for no other reason that it is different, Senate Bill 207, introduced at the behest of Gov. John Kitzhaber, is interesting because it would give the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) the authority to “separate the baby from the bath water.” To be fair, the bill is not getting much attention at the moment because Salem’s politicians are focused on the alleged ethical lapses of the governor’s girlfriend, but that’s another story. It would give ODA the power to separate biotech, conventional and organic crops from one another through establishment of “control areas.” That may sound a little weird to anyone outside Oregon, but ODA already sets “control areas” in the Willamette Valley to prevent canola from cross-pollinating seed crops. In 2013, Kitzhaber was successful with a bill that prevents local governments from regulating genetically engineered crops, and Oregon voters rejected labeling foods with genetically engineered ingredients last November by the narrowest of margins. SB 207 requires ODA to be “reasonable and just” by establishing control areas only after “careful investigation.” At this point, the bill has mild support from Friends of Family Farmers, which favors biotech regulation, and likely opposition from Oregonians for Food and Shelter, which represents the state’s agribusinesses. NORTH DAKOTA — Speaking of control areas, lawmakers in North Dakota have voted down a measure that would have established two-mile zones around homes, day-care centers, and schools where beehives could not be located. It seems that North Dakota has a problem with too many bees. House Bill 1236 failed to make it out of the House Agriculture Committee after beekeepers swarmed into Bismarck to oppose it. The sponsor said a half-mile bee exclusion zone might do and that his concern was the unlimited amount of bees in some areas. Bee populations are said to have “exploded” in the canola-growing northern areas of North Dakota. After harvest, the bees are said to go looking for food and water around farmsteads and oil wells. And it’s impossible to find out who is responsible because the state does not require registration for beekeepers. Beekeepers, however, said the set-backs would destroy their industry, which produced $67.6 million in honey in 2013. They said there are only a couple dozen complaints a year regarding the state’s 12,000 existing hive locations. While setbacks are out for now, the North Dakota Senate is reworking bee industry regulations to require hives to be registered with the state’s agriculture department with onsite identification that includes contact numbers. The setback issue could return as an amendment to this bill, which is SB 2025. Pollinators have been the subject of new laws in at least 14 states in recent years. Six have funded research into pollinator health and so-called colony collapse disorder. Other state laws are aimed at pesticides, habitat, and beekeeper bailouts. Loss of bee colonies resulting in bee shortages was pronounced from 2006-11, and NCSL says a “combination of stressors” contributed to the declining populations, including inadequate diets, natural habitat loss, mite infestations (such as the Varroa mite), diseases, loss of genetic diversity and exposure to potentially harmful pesticides. NCSL anticipates more states will be responding to bee shortages, but North Dakota’s action points in a different direction. MICHIGAN — Two bills assigned to the Michigan House Agriculture Committee have food-safety implications. The first is House Bill 4017, which provides a liability waiver to any food retailer, food-service provider, processor, farm or ranch that donates food to a nonprofit charity. The liability waiver should extend to both the donor and the charity itself, making both parties immune from any civil damages or criminal liability resulting from nature, age, condition or packaging of the food unless they had previous knowledge that the food was known to be adulterated or otherwise unfit for human consumption. The second is HB 5939, which would exempt portable toilets for farm workers from the existing law governing septic systems by instead requiring the Michigan Departments of Agriculture and Environmental Quality to promulgate “field sanitation, worker protection, and food safety regulations.” MONTANA — When compared to some recent legislative seasons, it seems like raw milk is not getting a lot of attention this year. Montana is an exception, where House Bill 245 is back from last year with improved prospects. HB 245 would allow farms with 15 or fewer cows, 30 or fewer goats, and 30 or fewer sheep to largely regulate themselves. Republican Rep. Nancy Ballance of Hamilton is the sponsor, and she says the 19-page small-herd bill does not permit retail sales and includes some safety measures. Ballance did get a hearing on her bill on Jan. 28, but it has yet to move out of committee. WISCONSIN — Expectations have been raised, but no lawmaker in Madison has yet delivered one of those agriculture trespass laws known as an “ag-gag” bill. So far, only Washington state has seen an “ag-gag” proposal during this legislative session. That one received a courtesy hearing, but it will go no further than that in Olympia this year. Utah’s and Idaho’s ag-gag laws, two of the four adopted since 2010, currently face challenges in federal courts. To the extent that marijuana-infused foods emerged as a food-safety issue in Colorado during 2014, one legislative trend might be worth noting. The Tenth Amendment Center, a nonprofit activist group, reports that bills to legalize marijuana for medical and/or recreational purposes have been introduced in another dozen or so states. About a dozen states have so far adopted laws to allow marijuana sales for medical reasons, and, in last November’s general election, Alaska and Oregon joined Colorado and Washington state by allowing recreational possession of marijuana, although legal pot sales from state-licensed retail outlets in Alaska and Oregon are still a ways off. After the November election, the states generally moved further under GOP control. Republicans occupy 31 governor’s mansions to 18 for the Democrats. Alaska’s chief executive is an independent. Republicans control legislatures in 30 states, Democrats in 11 states, and the major political parties share control in eight states. Nebraska has a nonpartisan unicameral.