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Dairy Policy Review: Department of Justice increases Form I-9 violation fines

Progressive Dairyman Editor Dave Natzke Published on 02 August 2016

The U.S. Department of Justice published an interim final rule significantly increasing fines for Form I-9 violations. Members of Congress signed a letter seeking USDA assistance for dairy producers struggling with declining milk prices. Like its Republican counterpart, the Democratic’s platform was light on specifics for agriculture. This and other U.S. dairy policy news can be found here.

Department of Justice increases I-9 violation fines

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) published an interim final rule significantly increasing fines for Form I-9 violations. The rule went into effect Aug. 1, and adjusts fines retroactively to any violations that took place after Nov. 2, 2015.

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Read the DOJ final rule.

Violations include incorrect paperwork, unlawful employment of unauthorized workers and unfair immigration-related employment practices, according to Employment Screening Resources, a California-based employee screening firm.

“It’s definitely something dairy producers should be aware of,” said Kelly Fortier, immigration law attorney with Michael Best & Friedrich LLP.  “We saw penalties increase a few years ago, but not this dramatically. The paperwork violations are especially concerning, given how easy it is to overlook something or fill out the form incorrectly.”

Fortier urges dairy farmer clients to do internal I-9 audits if they have not done so recently.

“Having a third-party spot check or do a random I-9 audit is also useful,” she said.

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Under provisions allowing federal agencies to adjust fines based on inflation, the rule raises fines for first-offense Form I-9 paperwork violations from $110 to $216 per violation, with the maximum fine increasing from $1,100 to $2,156 per violation. Fines for second and third offenses will also increase.

For unlawful employment of unauthorized workers, the minimum fine for a first offense will increase from $375 to $539, while the maximum fine will increase from $3,200 to $4,313 per worker. Fines for second and third offenses will also increase.

For unfair-immigration-related employment practices, the minimum first-offense penalty will increase from $375 to $445, while the maximum penalty will increase from $3,200 to $3,563 per charge. Repeat offenders will face a new maximum penalty of $21,563.

DOJ is accepting comments on the interim final rule until Aug. 29. To comment, reference Docket No. OAG 148.

Lawmakers seek USDA Commodity Credit Corporation intervention on milk prices

Sixty members of Congress signed a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, seeking assistance for dairy producers struggling with declining milk prices. Specifically, the lawmakers – primarily Democrats, and Republicans representing northeast U.S. states – asked USDA to use its authority under the Commodity Credit Corporation to expand and maintain U.S. domestic markets.

Read the full Progressive Dairyman article.

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Democratic platform supports beginning farmers, local food

Like its Republican counterpart, the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) platform was light on specifics for agriculture. The 55-page DNC document dedicates about one-half page of text to agriculture, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC).

NSAC analyzed the DNC platform, along with a factsheet, “Plan for a Vibrant Rural America” released by Hillary Clinton in August of 2015.

The DNC platform supports beginning farmers and growth of local and regional food systems, but fails to get into specifics. Both the platform and factsheet call for reforms to, and increased support for, lending and credit programs that serve farmers and rural communities.

Both the platform and the factsheet include generalized statements of support for the “farm safety net.”

The Democratic platform pledges to promote “environmentally sustainable agricultural practices,” and to “provide assistance to producers who conserve and improve natural resources on their farms.”

Neither the DNC platform nor Clinton’s factsheet reference the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in relation to its historic attachment to the farm bill. The Republican platform called for separating the feeding program from the federal farm bill.

Although it does not address the agriculture’s specific role in addressing climate change, the DNC platform commits to convening a summit of scientists, policy experts and activists to chart a course.

Read: The Republican National Committee platform

Read also: Republican platform calls for dairy policy reform and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition critical of GOP platform

President Obama signs GMO labeling bill

President Barack Obama signed into law a bill designed to create a national labeling system for foods made with genetically modified (GMO) ingredients.

It creates a nationwide system in which processors can disclose GMO data through package labels, use of a USDA-developed symbol, or a barcode or quick response (QR) code on packages that would allow consumers to access more information on a website through a smartphone app.

Dairy products and other products derived from animals fed with GMO crops will be exempt from any labeling requirements.

USDA now has two years to establish a national labeling system and has developed a website to begin the process.

Read: GMO labeling bill sent to President Obama and Senate moves toward final vote on national GMO labeling bill

Proposal seeks checkoff program reforms

U.S. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) introduced the “Commodity Checkoff Program Improvement Act of 2016” (S. 3201), a bill they say will bring transparency and accountability to national commodity checkoff programs. The bill was referred to the Senate ag committee.

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service oversees about 20 checkoff programs, including National Dairy Promotion and Research Board and Fluid Milk Processors Promotion Board. Checkoff programs are funded by commodity-specific assessments on producers or processors.

According to the bill’s authors, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request last year uncovered emails with potential anticompetitive activity between the checkoff-funded American Egg Board and top executives in the egg industry. The American Egg Board chief executive officer subsequently resigned. Changes proposed by the legislation are designed to improve checkoff board behavior and avoid similar conduct in the future.

The Commodity Checkoff Program Improvement Act would:

  • Prohibit checkoff programs from contracting with any organization that lobbies on agricultural policy

  • Prohibit employees and agents of the checkoff boards from engaging in activities that may involve a conflict of interest

  • Prohibit checkoff programs from engaging in anticompetitive activity, unfair or deceptive acts or practices, or any act that may be disparaging to another agricultural commodity or product

  • Require transparency through publication of checkoff program budgets and expenditures

  • Require periodic audits by the USDA Inspector General for compliance with the Improvement Act; and

  • Require a GAO audit of checkoff program compliance and a report with further recommendations related to checkoff programs

Dairy organizations listed in support of the bill include: the American Grassfed Association, National Family Farm Coalition, National Farmers Organization and the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance.

Read the full text of the bill.

Dairy Margin Insurance Location Calculation Act adds co-sponsor

H.R. 4896, the Dairy Margin Insurance Location Calculation (MILC) Act of 2016, has added a co-sponsor, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-Louisiana).

H.R. 4896 was introduced in April by U.S. Reps. Chris Gibson (R-New York) and Joe Courtney (D-Connecticut). U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vermont) served as a co-sponsor.

The bill has not moved since it was assigned to the House Ag Committee’s livestock subcommittee in April. Gov.track.us gives the bill a 15 percent chance of making it past the committee and an 8 percent chance of being enacted.

The bill would modify the Margin Protection Program for Dairy (MPP-Dairy), requiring USDA to use monthly feed (corn, soybean meal and alfalfa hay) costs from each of the 50 states to calculate milk income over feed cost margins.

Currently, USDA uses national average milk, corn and alfalfa hay prices, along with a central soybean meal price, to calculate a monthly national MPP-Dairy income margin. That national average determines indemnity payments for dairy farmers who enrolled in the federal margin insurance program.

IDFA: New rules shouldn’t impact dairy foods sold in schools

Final USDA rules regarding the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act should not have a significant impact on the nutrition standards for dairy foods served in schools or through other federal feeding programs, according to the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA).

USDA announced four new rules covering competitive foods sold in schools, local wellness policies, eligibility of students to participate in school feeding programs and an administrative review.

For background, read ”USDA’s Smart Snacks Program Keeps Many Dairy Products in Schools.”  PD

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