Constitutional Amendments: Why We Care

Testimony of Grant R. Gulibon, Environmental Specialist
Pennsylvania Farm Bureau
Pennsylvania House Republican Policy Committee

January 23, 2023

Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, and members of the committee. On behalf of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and our more than 30,000 member families across the Commonwealth, thank you for the opportunity to offer comments on state regulatory policy and the proposed constitutional amendment affecting regulatory veto reform, and share some of the principles that our members believe are necessary for creating a regulatory climate that safeguards essential public health and safety—without encroaching on the inherent freedom of individual Pennsylvanians to better their lives and the lives of their families and neighbors.

Farm Bureau, like a number of business organizations, has been and continues to be concerned about the regulatory climate at the national, state, and local level. We believe that a business climate that promotes innovation and entrepreneurship is critical to encourage the next generation of potential agriculture professionals to choose farming. At the same time, we encourage Pennsylvania to promote itself as—and truly become—a business-friendly state that welcomes new agriculture-related businesses and processors to open in the Keystone State, and we appreciate the good work of so many in the General Assembly who share those goals.

Farmers appreciate the need for some common-sense regulations. We know that our food must meet safety guidelines to create and maintain consumer confidence in our food supply. Likewise, Pennsylvania farmers have always taken pride in caring for the land that is their legacy and the foundation of all they do. They have invested their own funds to install best management practices (BMPs) that protect the soil, air and water, and this work ultimately improves the quality of life for every Pennsylvanian—by protecting the waterways we all enjoy and depend upon, and by ensuring a reliable, safe, and affordable food, fuel and fiber supply in an increasingly competitive, growing, and expensive global marketplace. We do all of this under federal, state, and local regulatory regimes that are too often confusing, contradictory, and certainly costly and time-consuming to navigate with any degree of success.

There is much discussion of regulatory “horror stories” in settings like these, and with good reason, because a business or individual’s negative experience with a government agency often has effects far beyond the particulars of that case, in terms of influencing the perception of the Commonwealth’s business-friendliness that I referenced earlier. What is just as destructive, but much less visible, is the relentless accumulation of regulatory requirements that Pennsylvania’s farmers—and other job creators and economic generators—must comply with daily, with the specter of potentially crippling penalties a constant presence looming over their operations. Often, today’s regulatory “horror story” was years, or even decades, in the making.

Many of our members, in addition to the steadily rising costs of farm inputs, also regularly shoulder the cost of engaging with technical professionals to make sure they do not run afoul of obscure, but still critical, regulatory requirements. This in turn reduces the financial resources available to make investments in conservation practices or other enhancements to their operations. Farmers have an ingrained conservation ethic and take active and voluntary measures to protect the soil and water on their farms. In those areas, farmers justifiably view themselves as part of the solution, not the problem.

To ensure that state regulations are truly in the public interest and that scarce public and private resources are used most effectively and efficiently, the people’s representatives must take a more active role in overseeing the actions of regulatory agencies. This would be the intended outcome of adopting a constitutional amendment no longer requiring presentation of a regulatory disapproval resolution to the governor for his signature or veto.

Much as with the constitutional amendment approved by Pennsylvania voters in May 2021 rebalancing the exercise of emergency declaration authority, the effect of such an amendment should be to promote greater cooperation between the executive and legislative branches of state government and allow more direct public input from Pennsylvanians in the regulatory process through the branch of government closest to them. The expanded oversight I spoke of earlier should also foster more thoughtful consideration of whether a new regulation or regulatory change is necessary in the first place. (On a related note, Farm Bureau supports the Regulation Freedom Amendment to the United States Constitution.)

In conclusion, Pennsylvania’s farm families understand the need for practical regulations, particularly those that protect food security, consumer confidence, and the land, air, and water that make the other benefits of agriculture possible. However, we see the need for a few basic standards when looking at new or existing regulations. In the interest of helping to craft regulatory policies that can command broad public support, respect the inherent property rights of Pennsylvanians that our state and federal constitutions were created to defend, and protect public health and safety, we offer the following principles for your consideration:

  • The purpose of regulation should be limited.
  • Agencies should enforce existing regulations prior to promulgating additional regulations on related matters.
  • Agencies should also provide notice of proposed rules, regulatory changes, or other significant actions directly to targeted stakeholders, stakeholder communities as well as organizations representing affected parties.
  • Government must recognize that property rights are the foundation for resource production and must be protected.
  • Regulations should be based on sound scientific data that can be replicated and peer reviewed, with more transparency and communication regarding rule development and interpretation.
  • Risk assessment analysis should be conducted prior to final action, along with an estimate of the costs and benefits associated with public and private sector compliance action.
  • Actions must allow for flexibility to suit varying local conditions.
  • Actions should be subject to independent analysis and public scrutiny.
  • Alternatives to the action must be thoroughly and publicly considered, especially market-based incentives.
  • Actions must properly acknowledge and provide for the reality, practicality, and limitations of doing business in the affected sector.

We believe that adherence to these and other common-sense principles is the best way to ensure that Pennsylvania creates and maintains a regulatory climate that allows the Commonwealth’s farmers to farm more and better and protects their inherent, natural rights. When we do that, every Pennsylvanian benefits.

Thank you for providing Pennsylvania Farm Bureau the opportunity to offer input on this vital issue. I would be happy to entertain your questions.