Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Texas Farm Bureau's Summer Commodity Conference

I spoke to several hundred members of the Texas Farm Bureau today in San Marcos as they gathered for the Summer Commodity Conference. The lack of meaningful eminent domain reform was very much on their minds, as was the “cap and trade” legislation that recently passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a 219-212 vote.

The Texas Farm Bureau’s members worked extremely hard during this last legislative interim to build a grassroots and legislative consensus on meaningful eminent domain reform. At issue is the need to compensate landowners for loss of access and ensure negotiations are held in good faith. While they are disappointed and want to continue to push for these critically needed items, Farm Bureau members are pleased about the passage of House Joint Resolution 14, which will amend our state’s constitution to prohibit the condemnation of land for private use.

HJR 14 is on the ballot for Texas voters this November, and until then, I will work diligently for its passage. I appreciate Rep. Frank Corte and Sen. Bob Duncan for their work on this constitutional amendment.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Lone Star State's Finest on Display at the Texas Restaurant Association's Southwest Foodservice Expo

Today, I had the opportunity to visit the Texas Restaurant Association’s Southwest Foodservice Expo and interact with some of the best restaurants and suppliers in Texas.

The expo is a great place for GO TEXAN members to demonstrate their products , and I also had the opportunity to promote the GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up and the benefits of GO TEXAN membership. I conveyed to the restaurateurs our message for promoting GO TEXAN restaurants: Go Out, Go Eat, GO TEXAN.

In 2008, the Texas restaurant industry produced direct sales of $34 billion and employed 1,016,300 Texans. The restaurant industry is a key component in promoting Texas as a destination and tourism state, and we thank these entrepreneurs for
their investment in the Lone Star State.

I even had the chance to chat with Dallas Cowboys football legend Herschel Walker. Herschel still lives in Dallas, started his own company and sure seems like the nice guy I always thought he is.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Waxman-Markey energy tax bill will hurt all Americans

This evening, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Waxman-Markey national energy tax bill. This legislation is bad for America, bad for consumers and bad for Texas farmers and ranchers. This bill is big government at its worst. The legislation is a massive energy tax that will cost our nation precious jobs during recessionary times and drive up energy costs for working families. I only hope the U.S. Senate does the right thing and votes this bill down before it delivers a staggering blow to our nation’s economy. Congratulations to the Texas delegation members who voted no and understand there are responsible methods to protect our environment without costing consumers trillions of dollars over the next decades.

I wrote an editorial on the Waxman-Markey bill and other proposed greenhouse gas regulations; it can be read by clicking here.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Visit to Some of Texas' Dynamic Rural Communities

There is nothing better than getting to experience the best of Texas by visiting our dynamic rural communities. Today was one of those great days.

We started out in Granbury where the Texas Department of Agriculture partnered with the Texas Travel Industry Association to host a Regional Tourism Workshop. At the workshop (click here for future dates and locations), communities were introduced to the many tools offered by state government entities to help promote their futures. TDA’s GO TEXAN marketing campaign and economic development tools were showcased.

State Rep. Jim Keffer and I have worked together for a long time to bring jobs to Texas. We were together today as Mineral Wells was awarded a Texas Capital Fund (TCF) loan in the amount of $750,000. The money will be used to expand an existing manufacturing company, and we are excited about the 30 additional jobs being created and the positive economic impact for the community.

 Mineral Wells Mayor Mike Allen was a great host who later drove us to Crazy Water, a GO TEXAN member that allowed us to sample some mineral water.

State Rep. David Farabee joined me to launch a new program at the Wichita Falls Farmers Market. I read about a northeastern state that had a Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program that awards vouchers to eligible seniors. The vouchers can be redeemed for fresh food at participating farmers markets. My thought: if another state can do this, Texas should do it bigger and better. We started this year with Wichita Falls and San Antonio and are looking forward to this program helping our seniors and farmers and potentially being expanded across the state. A big thanks to the food banks in both cities for their leadership in helping us distribute the vouchers.

We rounded out the day in Vernon. The city is the recipient of a $275,500 TCF grant that will be used to build a road to accommodate a new Hampton Inn. This will help as Mayor Jeff Bearden and the community work to capitalize on their western heritage.

It was a grand Texas day, and I thank all the Texans who I met with today for making our state a better place to live, work and raise a family.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Texas A&M research paves way for disease resistant citrus trees

One of the largest citrus operations in Florida has used research out of Texas to plant the first field of citrus trees that are said to be resistant to canker and greening disease.

According to GrowingProduce.com, Southern Gardens Citrus has planted the “first research field trials” of these disease resistant citrus trees that are “the result of research initiated in early 2007 with Texas A&M AgriLife Research.”

Citrus greening and canker are diseases that pose a serious threat to the viability of America’s citrus industry. The protection of this industry is critical to the physical and economic health of all Americans. I am proud research here in Texas is continuing to be used around the nation.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fruit and vegetable industries work for all Texans

Today was a big day for Texas agriculture from Houston to the Rio Grande Valley. I had the privilege of speaking to the Houston Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association as leaders of production, distribution and retail came together to focus on nutrition, and making fresh fruits and vegetables more accessible to more Texans. I appreciate the dedication and leadership of this organization and its members.

Later in the day, I traveled to Weslaco for the groundbreaking of the new Texas A&M University, Kingsville Citrus Center. This facility was made possible by tuition revenue bonds funded by the legislature in the 2006 session. The new center is key to research and training that will enable the Texas citrus industry to continue to have a powerful impact on the Texas economy, our export markets around the globe and on the diets of Texans. Congratulations to industry leaders who led a grassroots effort to achieve this funding, and a special thanks to the legislators for recognizing the value of the citrus industry in Texas.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Cap & Trade: Bad for America

I had the opportunity to address the Texas Ag Forum today here in Austin. The group covers a wide variety of agricultural leaders from all over Texas who are working together to discuss the major topics of our day.

Today's agenda covered climate change and the ongoing debate in Washington on the proposed Cap & Trade legislation. Depending on who is right, the cost for the proposed Cap & Trade bill is anywhere from a postage stamp per day for all Americans to nearly $5,000 a year for American families and increasing the cost of gasoline and diesel by 58% by the year 2035. In my opinion, the proposed legislation is bad for America, bad for consumers and bad for Texas farmers and ranchers.

But, you don't have to just take my word for it. Even a bi-partisan group of legislators is taking issue with the legislation. One thing I know, Americans don't like being dependent on foreign oil; I know they won’t like being dependent on foreign sources of food, which I believe this legislation will lead to if implemented.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day

Raising children is the highest honor and responsibility a person can have. Through challenges and struggles, skinned knees, gum in the hair, fender benders and lost basketball games, a parent’s job never ends.

On this Father's Day, I salute fathers across Texas for being involved in your kids’ lives, and I challenge you to become more involved. Take your kids to church, take them hunting or fishing, support them in the challenges of their young adult lives. And most importantly, cherish the responsibility and the honor of being their father by being involved.

Friday, June 19, 2009

EPA has no business regulating puddles on private land

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee approved the Clean Water Restoration Act by a 12 to 7 party-line vote. The new legislation removes the word “navigable” from the definition of water regulated by the Clean Water Act and if passed, would place a major burden on Texas farmers and ranchers.

By removing the word “navigable”, every puddle that appears in a pasture, bar ditch or anywhere else on a ranch or farm could have to be managed. This means our hardworking farmers and ranchers could have to obtain a permit from the EPA in order to continue operations. In the hearing, amendments were offered in an attempt to exempt agricultural operations. Unfortunately, these eight amendments were all defeated. Now the bill will be considered by the entire U.S. Senate, where it will face significant opposition.

These new regulations continue an orchestrated effort to attack and weaken rural America. As rural Texans work tirelessly to provide American and the world with the most abundant, affordable and safest food and fiber supply, we cannot allow them to bear the burden of added costs and regulation. We must continue to maintain the land that several generations have tended to and we must be allowed to do so free of the ever-increasing burdens placed on our backs by the EPA and other federal bureaucracies.

Emancipation Day

According to the National Archives and Records Administration:

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of bloody civil war. The proclamation declared, “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”

Today, we celebrate this momentous event that forever changed the course of history. Embedded in the spirit of all Americans and Texans is the quest for freedom and the undying commitment to spread this fundamental right to all peoples of all countries.

As Texans, let us not forget that freedom and the unabridged right to pursue our dreams must continue to be the cornerstone of our society.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture (SASDA)

I am in Oklahoma City this week with agriculture commissioners and secretaries from 16 other states and U.S. territories for the Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture (SASDA) annual conference. SASDA meets prior to our national and international meetings, which follow later this year, to allow us to take a more focused look at the issues that affect our southern region.

We are sharing concepts and ideas on how to assist our farmers and ranchers in generating additional income through agritourism; how to create a strategy to ensure the voice of agriculture is not ignored in the negotiations over environmental issues; and how to receive updates directly from the new administration regarding key items.

One such item is the disaster payment program schedule. These payment programs, administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA), provide assistance for natural disaster losses resulting from drought, flood, fire, freeze, tornadoes, pest infestation and other calamities. FSA passed on great news that the new Livestock Indemnity Program will be announced any week now, allowing Texas livestock producers to be compensated for losses they have experienced since the 2008 Farm Bill was passed a little over a year ago. I advocated for this program and look forward to the results soon.

We also are on working with the Market Access Program (MAP) to maximize export opportunities. This program uses funds from USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation to help U.S. producers, exporters, private companies and other trade organizations finance promotional activities for U.S. agricultural products. The MAP encourages the development, maintenance and expansion of commercial export markets for agricultural commodities. The southern states are working together to ensure trading relationships are strengthened.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Special session should include eminent domain reform

Governor Perry has confirmed a need for a special session of the Texas Legislature to address unfinished business. There are five agencies that were not reauthorized and will expire if the legislature does not take action, including the Texas Department of Insurance and the Texas Department of Transportation.

While you could probably count on one hand the people who really want to see the legislature back in session, even among our representatives and senators, this is welcomed news for millions of Texans who are gravely concerned about the rights of property owners.

With a special session, the governor chooses what is on the “call” or agenda for the designated 30-day period. With the dangerous erosion of private property owners’ rights over the years, reforming our eminent domain laws must be added to the vital to-do list.

There was progress during the legislative session with the passage of HJR 14, a constitutional amendment that will be on the ballot this November. It will provide much-needed protection to ensure when government exercises condemnation power, it’s for a clear public purpose. This is a necessary bill, which was signed by the governor today, and I commend Governor Perry for his efforts in bringing the needs of private property owners' rights to the forefront. HJR 14 is critical, but greater steps are necessary to protect landowners.

The good news is most of the hard work to correct these deficiencies has already been done. Senate Bill 18, authored by Senator Craig Estes, had already passed the full Senate and a House committee, and was set for a vote on the Major State Calendar in the House when the clock ran out. This proposal had strong bi-partisan support in both chambers and was strongly backed by many trade organizations throughout the state.

Action by our state officials to pass this bill and protect our state’s property owners is essential. I have officially written Governor Perry a letter to ask him to add eminent domain reform to the call.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

International partnerships are key to economic success

I recently hosted a delegation of Brazilian ranchers and elected officials who were in Texas as guests of the TCU Institute of Ranch Management. Although our countries have had strong differences in recent years over agricultural programs, such as those that have made Texas a global powerhouse in cotton production, we also have a lot of room for partnership. Major exports from Texas to Brazil, which has a population of more than 195 million, include wheat, prepared foods, pecans, animal by-products and feeds. Texas genetics are also highly sought by many cattle producing countries, such as Brazil, making them important markets for our ranching industries.

These agricultural representatives are dealing with issues similar to those facing our ranchers in Texas – issues involving the environment, trade and certain government programs. They also understand that although we are competitors in one sense, we also are partners. We discussed the ever-expanding European Union and other agricultural producing countries that are growing in market share like China and India. We also discussed the need to have international trading standards based on sound science, rather than political science, and how we must work for sustainable, long-term policies that will benefit agriculture and our mutual consumers.

I look forward to continuing to develop these international relationships. As we look to the future, maintaining a sound and productive dialogue with other countries in Central and South America will be essential to our success.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

USA Today Article Highlights TDA's Effort to Increase Broadband Access in Rural Texas

A recent article in USA Today focused on broadband access to rural Texas. According to the information provided, “Currently, about 57% of urban households and 60% of suburban households subscribe to broadband. In rural areas, only 38% do, according to a report by the Communications Workers of America.”

You can see why we at the Texas Department of Agriculture have begun teaming with stakeholders and service providers to maximize federal stimulus funds for Texas. We recently partnered with the Public Utility Commission and are currently seeking proposals from telecommunications companies to map the state of Texas for broadband availability, which will help provide service to those areas lacking high-speed Internet connectivity.

Farm-to-Market is more than the name of a road. It is the lifeline that enables our state’s farmers and ranchers to provide us with the food, feed, fuel and fiber that is the cornerstone of our economy. They need access to the latest technology to move their quality goods to willing buyers and to compete in the global market.

It is essential our families, rural schools, hospitals and small businesses have fast access to the information superhighway if we are going to maintain a competitive advantage in Texas.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Coverage of Mayors' Challenge to Increase Awareness of Summer Nutrition Programs

Check out news coverage from Tuesday's Mayors' Challenge announcement:

News 8 Austin, June 9, 2009

Fox 7 News


Click here to read the press release by TDA on the Mayors' Challenge. You can also watch video of the event here.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Challenge for Texas Mayors to Feed More Hungry Children This Summer

Today, I challenged all mayors across Texas to do what it takes to feed Texas children in need this summer. A recent report found that Texas leads the nation in food insecurity for children under 18 and ranks third in the U.S. for food insecure households. All Texans must do their part to stop this disturbing trend of food insecurity in our great state.

As an editorial in today’s Austin American-Statesman points out, Texas needs to make some big changes. For a state known for its “super-sized wealth,” there are too many children who do not know where their next meal is coming from.

We need powerful partnerships to turn the tables and put healthy food on children’s plates. Free meals are served to children under 18 through the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Summer Nutrition Programs. To find the nearest summer feeding site, visit squaremeals.org.

The mayors of Texas are in a position to improve the lives of children in their cities by generating awareness and working with organizations to help feed hungry children. I hope today spurs a change.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

34th Annual Family Land Heritage Ceremony

Thursday was a great day in Texas agriculture. I was honored to host the 34th Annual Family Land Heritage Ceremony. The Texas Department of Agriculture inducted 78 Texas farms and ranches in 60 counties across the Lone Star State into the Family Land Heritage Program. This annual event is one of my favorite and most coveted of the year. It is truly a blessing to interact with these families who have held their farms and ranches together for 100, 150 and even 200 years.

Land ownership is synonymous with independence and freedom, things we hold dear in Texas. Our ancestors dreamed of owning land and building a life better than the one they’d left behind. They survived frontier life and hardships with courage and ingenuity. The families we honor in the program are the living proof their ancestors succeeded.

True to its past, agriculture is largely a family endeavor. At the Texas Department of Agriculture, we want to make sure the promise and potential of this great industry are passed on to our sons and daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Texas farmers and ranchers have a history of conducting their business with integrity and honesty, and have consistently demonstrated a willingness to fight to improve the lives of all Texans.

The families we honored this year are the patriots of Texas. And I thank them for the work they all do to make our state great.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Eminent Domain Reform Demands A Special Session

I recently wrote the commentary below on the need for meaningful eminent domain reform. If you agree with the commentary, please forward the following link to others who share our commitment to duty. www.commissionertoddstaples.blogspot.com.

The editorial was published in the Austin American-Statesman on June 4, 2009.

Eminent Domain Reform Demands A Special Session

Of all the important issues facing our great state, eminent domain reform demands immediate legislative action.

The passage of HJR 14, a constitutional amendment that will be sent to the voters this November, provides much needed protection to ensure that in the unfortunate instance that government must exercise condemnation powers, that it is for a clear public use and purpose.

Painfully absent from our laws in Texas – the land of Houston, Bowie and Crockett – are fundamental protections to the owners of private property. A series of loopholes in the law and court decisions have eroded our basic structure of what distinguishes us from other countries. It was no accident our founding fathers placed the defense of property right in line with life and liberty, where it belongs.

Now, we the people must continue this legacy for the next generation of Texans.

The recently concluded legislative session yielded a vehicle to right some terrible wrongs that cast a shadow over an otherwise shining Lone Star. Delay tactics by a few house members prevented final passage of SB 18, a bill unanimously passed by the senate. The bill would have established stricter penalties for not negotiating in good faith; demanded adequate compensation for loss of access; and clarified eminent domain must only be exercised for public use.

Fortunately, the writers of our Texas Constitution allowed for the Governor to call a special session of the legislature to address unfinished and urgent business of the people of Texas. We know there are several matters that were casualties of the regular session that need to be tackled – eminent domain reform is without a question or doubt one of these essential topics.

Surely the descendants of those who defended the Alamo and the heirs of those who tamed a vast and wild land will not rest until Texas once again rightly provides for the protection of life, liberty and property. Doing so is more than a reason to call for special session; it is a call to duty.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Better Than Fiction

Lots-o-drama unfolded last night as the Texas Legislature adjourned Sine Die. Key bills to continue the operations of several agencies such as the Texas Department of Transportation and the Texas Department of Insurance failed to pass. Further, Senate Finance Chair Steve Ogden says TxDOT’s budget is “wrecked” as a result of the House not passing enabling legislation to allow the agency to issue $2 billion in bonds for critically needed road construction.

What does all this mean to Texans? Well, the jury is still out for some of these matters, but legislative leaders say there are mechanisms to handle most of these issues, and government will continue to function. Others say a special session will be needed to pull it all together.

Will Governor Perry call a special session? Only the governor can call a special and he probably can’t make that decision until the veto period is over, the fog clears, the guns cool down and a full picture of the legislative landscape comes into focus.

One thing is certain: Eminent domain reform is especially needed and a special session is the way to get it done.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Sine Die - the end of the regular legislative session

Today marks the 140th day of the 81st Regular Session of the Texas Legislature; our legislators will be adjourning Sine Die. No doubt, there have been many long days and short nights hammering out the final details of surviving legislation, particularly over this past weekend.

It is extremely regrettable SB 18, the session's landmark eminent domain reform bill, died as a result of chubbing at the end of session. This badly needed legislation would have significantly bolstered the rights of private property owners to require bona fide offers in negotiations and adequate compensation for loss of access.

Fortunately, HJR 14 was passed by both chambers and will be headed to the voters this November. This amendment will ensure in our state's constitution that a person's property cannot be taken for anything but a true public use, and would forbid the use of eminent domain for economic development purposes.

You probably remember the famous Kelo decision by the United States Supreme Court that said it was okay to take private property from an individual and give it to another in the name of economic development. Hopefully, the voters of Texas will say "YES" to HJR 14, and a big "NO" to the government stomping on the fundamentals that built our great state.

Stay tuned. I will try to highlight some key legislation that will soon be signed into law.