Recognition, Finally, for a Long, Slow Slog to a New Ag Law

4/20/2013 7:00 AM
By Dick Wanner Reporter

LANCASTER, Pa. — The wheels of democracy can turn very slowly at times. Dave Hickernell was a brand new Lancaster County member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 2004 when he got a call from a constituent who needed help with a problem involving the transport of farm implements.

Farmers in Hickernell’s district and throughout the state were being fined for moving farm equipment more than 8 feet wide at night.

One of them was Luke Brubaker, a prominent dairy farmer from East Donegal Township. Brubaker had paid some fines and had discussions with local police and his district magistrate about moving oversize equipment after dark.

The magistrate suggested to Brubaker that he work to change the law. Which is what he did.

He contacted Hickernell, enlisted the support of others in the Legislature and the farm community, and eight years later, Gov. Tom Corbett signed a law that increased the width of farm implements allowed on the road at night to 14 feet.

The law was signed last Oct. 15, eight years after Hickernell took up his constituent’s cause.

On April 11, Hickernell, who’s now in his fifth term as a state representative, asked Brubaker to step to the front of the room during the regular breakfast meeting of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce Ag Issues Forum at the Lancaster Farm and Home Center to be presented with a plaque bearing a copy of the House bill that became law and a picture of the governor signing the amendment to Act 75 while a group of happy witnesses looked on. The plaque also holds the pen the governor used in the signing.

There was lots of good humor about the length of time it took to get the law changed, and Brubaker extended his thanks to practically everybody in the room for their support in keeping the legislation, ever so slowly, moving.

The breakfast meeting also provided a forum for Hickernell and two of his General Assembly colleagues to discuss issues that concern the ag community.

Touching on a number of topics that relate to the agriculture, Hickernell — who is a member of the House Ag Committee — said the state Department of Agriculture’s place in the state budget now being developed is better than it looks.

“My first reaction was that it was a decrease from last year,” he said.

But in reality there are a number of transfers — some from the Race Horse Development Fund — that would help make up for some of the line item losses, he said.

Hickernell also pointed out that the state budget is a work in progress.

Mindy Fee, another Lancaster County state representative on the Ag Committee, is in her first term. She talked about the solidarity she’s seen with her county colleagues and said she’s hopeful about the way things are going in Harrisburg, citing the cooperative spirit she saw when the House passed its version of the liquor privatization bill that was sent to the Senate.

State Sen. Mike Brubaker said he likes the idea of privatization. He said his first question about liquor is, “Should your state be in the sale, distribution and promotion of liquor?”

“I can’t get past the answer to that first question,” he said. “The answer is, No.’ ”

As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Brubaker’s viewpoint is certain to carry some weight. But if the system is privatized, Brubaker said it won’t be with the exact language that’s in the House bill.

Brubaker, who is also a member of the Senate Ag Committee and a number of other committees, said the privatization effort will not be on a fast track and there will be at least three public hearings on the subject — the first one scheduled for April 30 in the state Capitol.

Brubaker said he wasn’t so keen on the idea of taking money from the Race Horse Development Fund and transferring it to another use.

Money that’s put into a special fund — he called it a lockbox — should be used only for that purpose, he said. If legislators and citizens want the money to go elsewhere, then the Legislature should go back and rework the legislation.

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