Ahead of standing for election later this year, lawmakers in most states are getting down to business again. Another 20 state legislatures will convene this week. When added to the dozen that got underway last week, it means that legislative business will be conducted in a majority of the states for the first time since last spring or early summer. These election year sessions are usually shorter affairs than those held during the odd years. Some states—Nevada and Montana come to mind—don’t even bother meeting during election years. But most will conduct some legislative business, at least for awhile, and food safety will be impacted mostly by budget decisions involving support for such activities as surveillance and restaurant inspections. But while those kinds of food safety decisions are not always popular with state lawmakers, it appears that when it comes to food policy, state lawmakers are lately inclined to go along with what might be called the latest in food trends. A new report by the National Conference of State Legislatures, funded by Johns Hopkins Center for Livable Futures, shows that since 2012 the states have supported what NCSL calls “local food systems.” These do not include food safety, but rather trendy local food system approaches, farmer’s markets, community gardens and urban agriculture, healthy retail groceries, and food policy councils. Highlights of the report includes:
- Between 2012 and 2014, Connecticut, Maine, and New Hampshire have enacted legislation to provide a statewide approach to local food.
- New farm-to-school programs were subject of legislation in Missouri, South Carolina and West Virginia between 2012 and 2014.
- Nine states—Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Vermont, and West Virginia have appropriated funding to farmer’s markets.
- Four states – New Jersey, New York, Tennessee and West Virginia – focused on the benefits of community gardens for financially or socially vulnerable populations. California and Missouri allowed local governments to establish urban agricultural zones and encourage these initiatives with tax incentives.
- Three states—Maryland, Massachusetts and Mississippi— passed legislation that attempts to make financial assistance available to promote healthy grocery retailing. Only the Maryland legislation included funding, however. New Jersey passed legislation to help consumers purchase healthy foods by expanding the locations where SNAP (food stamps) benefits can be used.
- Rhode Island and the District of Columbia created food policy councils. Two states— Colorado and North Carolina—extended the lives of existing councils. Three states— Colorado, New York and North Carolina—modified the membership of policy councils since 2012.
The complete package of reports on how states have strengthen local food options can be found here.