What’s the Dill with the Pickle Bill?

By David Manthos // May 6, 2017

It was a bill that would expand access to healthy, locally grown food. Co-sponsored by Senator Patricia Rucker (R-Jefferson), it was legislation that would help farmers preserve and add value to their produce. Senate Bill 27 passed the WV Senate unanimously and the House of Delegates 95-3, yet alcohol and politics killed the bill in the final hours of the 60th day of the Regular Session.

More commonly known as the “Pickle Bill,” SB 27 would have allowed for limited sales at farmers markets of “microprocessed” foods such as pickled vegetables, salsas, and sauces, without forcing small-scale producers to meet all the costly facility and inspection requirements expected of mass-producers. Coinciding with the farm-to-table and local food movements, states are slowly welcoming small-scale producers back into the marketplace with what are generally known as “cottage food” laws. At least 31 states, including West Virginia, have passed some form of cottage foods law, though not all extend to canned goods.

However, no principled debate about regulation or public health determined the fate of the Pickle Bill. After the House passed SB 27 with minor changes, it was returned to the Senate for final approval.  But instead of concurring in the House amendments, Senator Charles Trump (R-Morgan) amended the bill by adding Sunday sales of alcoholic liquors at distilleries located on farmland. None seeing a reason to challenge the powerful chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee or to oppose an amendment that would help West Virginia’s craft distillers, the amendment passed 31-0 and was sent back to the House with less than eight hours left in the session.

Unfortunately for distillers and proponents of the Pickle Bill, it is no secret to anyone in the legislature that the Speaker of the House of Delegates, Tim Armstead (R- Kanawha), does not care for any legislation that expands the sale of alcohol. Rather than give the bill a final up or down vote, House leadership simply refused to receive the message from the Senate.

SB 27 was not the only bill to be held hostage or grafted together with unrelated legislation in the last week of the session. An education bill sponsored by Delegates Espinosa and Upson (both Jefferson County republicans) was similarly amended by the Senate to include a massive tax increase and repeal of a tax exemption for wind energy, but on that issue, the House and Senate worked out their differences. But a bill that would aid farmers and improve access to healthy, locally grown food was killed by 11th-hour political brinksmanship.

However, there is still a chance that the Pickle Bill could be taken up again this year. If Governor Justice includes cottage foods in his call for the extraordinary session to fix the budget, or the legislature calls themselves back in, they could reintroduce the bill.

At the very least, we should be able to have West Virginia pickles on our nothing burgers and mayo sandwiches.

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