trainwreck2.jpgS. 510, the food safety bill that passed just yesterday after languishing in the Senate for nearly two years appears deadlocked because Senators violated a constitutional provision requiring that tax provisions originate in the House (“shall originate in the House of Representatives”). Section 107 of S. 510 included a set of fees that are classified as revenue raisers, which are technically taxes under the Constitution. Section 107 states:

Directs the Secretary to assess and collect fees related to: (1) food facility reinspection; (2) food recalls; (3) the voluntary qualified importer program; and (4) importer reinspection.

As you might also recall, in the House version of its food safety bill, H. R. 2749, lies Sec., 743. FACILITY REGISTRATION FEE.

(b) Fee Amounts-

(1) IN GENERAL- The registration fee under subsection (a) shall be–

(A) for fiscal year 2010, $500;

So, the key words are “shall originate in the House of Representatives.” This eliminates the possibility of concurrent action, e.g., like working the Senate Bill and House Bill differences out in a Conference Committee. The House needs a version of the Senate Bill adopted without a revenue raiser in it – (Section 107 needs to be deleted). Then the House can add it back in (I do not know, but assume that it will require a House vote) and send it back to the Senate for a vote – again. Then Senate must vote again. Of course, the House could send it back with H.R. Sec 743 ($500 Registration fee – which would raise about $225,000,000). However, it is uncertain if the Senate would agree to a vote on a revenue raiser (i.e., Taxes).

So, is there a way out? Perhaps the House Parlimentarian can be convinced that Section 107 is not a tax. I am reading “The Origination Clause of the U.S. Constitution: Interpretation and Enforcement,” on the way home on the ferry. Tune in Thursday on that.

And, then there is a brewing debate about the Senate’s addition of the Tester/Hagen Amendment (which if not added would have likely stalled the entire Senate bill). The final Senate bill included the amendment, authored by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. It exempts farms with sales of less than $500,000 a year from the new food safety requirements if they sell most of their food directly to in-state consumers, or to consumers within a 275-mile radius of the farm.

“It protects the jobs of family farmers and ranchers and processors,” Tester said during the Senate debate.

However, now, according to the Miami Herald, farm-region lawmakers and agricultural groups fear tainted food coming from one farm could cause a broader public health scare that chills the overall business.

“The agriculture industry is very concerned,” Rep. Dennis Cardoza said Wednesday.

Cardoza, a Democrat who represents California’s farm-rich San Joaquin Valley, denounced as an “abomination” a Senate amendment that exempts certain small farms from the new food safety standards. That exemption sparked objections from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the California-based Western Growers Association and United Fresh, which represents fresh produce growers.

“A small farm can devastate the industry as easily as a big farm,” Cardoza said.

1. Assuming these bills become law before the end of the year, AND it contains the Tester/Hagen Amendment – can we quantify who exactly is being excluded and from what? And, what is the likely outcome with respect to foodborne illness outbreaks? Frankly, I thought the original language in both S 510 and HB 2749 had enough to exclude small farm direct sales to consumers, restaurants and restaurants, but the Tester/Hagen Amendment simply got too much traction by the Senate waiting over a year to really move on the Bill. Compromise is not pretty, but it is better than living in “a democracy of one” in North Korea.

2. Assuming these bills become law before the end of the year, AND it contains the Tester/Hagen Amendment – what financial resources would the FDA need to perform all tasks? What would the provision regarding CDC and State HD’s cost? Basically, what is the real cost of giving the agencies the tools to do their job as presently defined and added to by this Bill?

So much more to discuss.  Aren’t ya glad I have a blog?