U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., has reintroduced a bill that would place a moratorium on large-scale agricultural acquisitions and mergers until U.S. lawmakers can consider reforming antitrust law to cover them.

This is a slight alteration to a similar bill he introduced in September, which called for an 18-month moratorium. This new bill would make the halt indefinite.

The bill sets up a commission to study how to address the problem of market concentration in agriculture.

“Today, corporate profits are soaring, but many middle-class families, farmers and food workers continue to struggle,” Pocan said in a release. “Establishing a moratorium on ag mergers will not only strengthen our antitrust laws, but it will also expand economic security and opportunity to more of our communities.”

Peter Winch, president of the Grant County (Wis.) Farm Bureau, said area farmers keep an eye on these corporate mergers, but have little recourse.

“Part of it is just how things are going,” he said. “It’s more efficient the bigger the operation. But at what point do they have too much control? We don’t know that and the government is supposed to monitor that somewhat.”

Winch said regulation could keep the corporations from completely taking over the market.

“Farmers tend to be price-takers,” he said. “We have to take what price we get. If some corporations get too much control they can set the price. That’s what any worry is, if anyone gets too big, they’ll get too much control. Some competition is somewhat helpful.”

The House bill has a companion in the U.S. Senate co-sponsored by fellow Democratic Sens. Cory Booker, of New Jersey, and Jon Tester, of Montana.

REYNOLDS EXPLAINS SIGNING SPORTS BETTING BILL

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a marquee bill from the 2019 state legislative session without ceremony earlier this month.

The bill allows betting on college and professional sports in casinos in Iowa. It passed both legislative houses late in the session, but with a unique vote breakdown — splitting both Republicans and Democrats.

Last week, while signing another bill at Kendrick Forest Products in Edgewood, Reynolds revealed a bit of her thinking on the sports gambling bill.

“It’s not a big revenue generator,” she said. “That didn’t play a lot into the decision. But it’s happening. This lets us have some oversight and put in some regulatory requirements. I think it’s about bringing oversight to what was already taking place.”

ERNST CO-SPONSORS VETERAN BLAST STUDY

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, introduced legislation last week with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., to expand their 2018 bill that required the Department of Defense to study further the impacts of blast exposure on veterans.

The Blast Pressure Exposure Study Improvement Act requires more frequent progress reports from the department regarding an ongoing longitudinal study and adds two feasibility assessments to the study.

The act requires the DOD to decide if the Defense Occupation and Environmental Health Readiness would be a good home for the study’s results and if the Department of Veterans Affairs could have access.

“During combat and in training, many of our men and women in uniform are exposed to blasts which can lead to conditions like traumatic brain injury,” Ernst said in a release. “Last year, Sen. Warren and I asked DOD to take a hard look at the effects of blast pressure exposure. And today, we’re building on our effort to ensure we have the necessary information to better care for our service members and help mitigate these types of injuries.”

BUSTOS RECEIVES AWARD FOR DOWN SYNDROME SUPPORT

The Global Down Syndrome Foundation presented U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., with the Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award at the group’s annual AcceptAbility Gala last week.

Bustos is a founding and continuing co-chairwoman of the Congressional Task Force on Down Syndrome. She accepted the award alongside Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, of Missouri.

WISCONSIN LAWMAKERS DIFFER ON BUDGET

Wisconsin Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, championed the state’s Joint Finance Committee’s approval of its public education budget last week.

“I have talked to leadership in many of the 35 school districts I represent and their priorities were to increase per pupil and special education spending,” he said in a statement. “I confirmed with several of them ... that our plan is in line with their priorities and they heartily agreed.”

The budget increases funding for schools by $500 million, Marklein said, bringing the total to $12.3 billion in the next two years. That includes a $100 million boost to special education funding.

“By 2021, we will cover 30% of special education costs, which is exactly what Gov. (Tony) Evers asked for in the last budget (when he served as) state superintendent of schools,” he said.

That is not, however, what Evers asked for this year.

“Republicans rejected Gov. Evers’ proposal to invest a total of $1.4 billion more into local classrooms,” said Wisconsin Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling, of La Crosse, in a statement. “For the past 10 years, special education funding has remained stagnant while the costs for these services have skyrocketed. Unfortunately, Republicans cut over $500 million in special education funding from Gov. Evers’ budget, despite 74% of Wisconsin voters supporting the Democratic proposal.”

Marklein called those requests unrealistic.

“Our education budget spends a lot more on our kids while respecting taxpayer dollars,” he said. “Those who criticize our plan are focused on an unrealistic, blue-sky wish list of spending that raises taxes and sacrifices other priorities. Our plan is a compromise that most school districts strongly support and I hope that the governor will listen to the school district leaders who are applauding this plan.”

CALENDAR

  • 5:15 p.m. today, Smokestack, 62 E. Seventh St. — Democratic presidential candidate Booker will host a campaign event. Doors open at 4:30 p.m.
  • 6 p.m. Sunday, June 2, Charles and Romona Myers Center, University of Dubuque — U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., will participate in a presidential campaign town hall hosted by Fox News.
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