With Congress on summer recess, August will be a critical time for immigration and farm bill prospects. Here’s an overview of where the two issues stand.
By Charlie Garrison, legislative dairy consultant
(Editor’s note: Garrison’s comments are featured in the August 2013 edition of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association "Dairy Focus" newsletter.)
Congress has escaped the summertime heat and humidity in the nation’s capital for its annual "Summer District Work Period," often better known more simply as the "August recess." It’s a tradition that dates back to the time before modern conveniences like air conditioning and air travel made longer periods outside Washington, D.C. for members of Congress and key staff more of a necessity.
This August, however, is going to be a critical time for a couple of key issues for dairy producers. No doubt those who oppose immigration reform in any form other than "anyone who is here illegally must leave yesterday" will be out in full force trying to bully members of Congress into refusing to consider any policy that could actually be accomplished and would have a chance of becoming law.
Those of us who support common-sense, compassionate reform that makes good economic sense and improves our national security cannot let that message from a decided minority in our country stand.
The other issue hanging out there is the farm bill. What members of Congress hear from their constituents during the month of August will play a big role in whether we get a new farm bill before the extension of the current one expires on Sept. 30 or we get another extension. It is a possibility that we run all the way up to New Year’s Day before we know the answer, just like we did last year.
The Senate has completed its comprehensive immigration reform bill. It is S 744, "The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013." It includes the list of priorities for dairy producers submitted by the Idaho Dairymen’s Association (IDA) early in the process:
1) earned legalization for our current workforce;
2) access to year-round workers; and
3) an effective program for new workers when needed in the future.
Those priorities were incorporated into the key principles of the Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC), of which IDA is a member. The principles formed the basis of negotiations between the AWC and the United Farmworkers (UFW), aimed at forging a consensus agreement for agriculture labor provisions to be incorporated into the comprehensive immigration reform bill that was being written in the Senate.
The AWC and the UFW were able to come together on the terms of an agreement. That agreement was included when the Senate Judiciary Committee debated its bill back in the spring. The agreement proved so effective that, out of more than 300 amendments, the committee had to deal with only two that directly touched the provisions of the agreement between agricultural employers and the farmworkers. The same thing happened on the floor of the Senate. The agriculture agreement has found wide acceptance.