Wisconsin Lawmakers Moo-ve on Raw Milk Sales Bill

Published February 17, 2016

Wisconsin lawmakers are proposing a new bill, Assembly Bill 697, that would remove state restrictions on dairy farmers, allowing local farmers to sell raw milk directly to consumers.

Assembly Bill 697 (AB 697) would also exempt direct-to-consumer dairy farmers from state licensing regulations.

Helping Consumers

Pete Kennedy, an attorney with the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, says the bill would help farmers and consumers alike.

“This bill is a chance to help a number of businesses and a chance for consumers to get a product they want,” Kennedy said. “This bill also increases the dairy farmers’ bottom line, because they can sell more milk. There are no sales caps. There isn’t a limit to the amount of milk they can sell from their farm straight to consumers.”

State Rep. David Murphy (R-Greenville), the bill’s sponsor, says getting government out of the way of consumers and producers is the key to economic success.

“Running a standard small farm has become very difficult, but if you can make a market niche for yourself there are some possibilities for you to have a different business model going forward that can allow you to succeed on a small farm.”

Removing Economic Herd-les

Murphy says the real issue here is freedom of choice. 

“It’s not about what I believe about the benefits of raw milk; it’s about the freedom of people to make that choice,” Murphy said.

Murphy says special-interest groups are working against their best interests by opposing the bill.

“Special interests here are fighting this,” Murphy said. “I personally think Big Dairy is making a mistake trying to fight this. I don’t think that’s really in their best interest. I think it’s protectionism, and I think sometimes protectionism is misguided. It’s not helping you that much or as much as you think, and in some ways it’s hurting you.”

Murphy says criminalizing voluntary exchanges is an example of significant government overreach.

“What kind of penalty would you like me to give a person who sold a person a gallon of raw milk, or who really wanted to buy a gallon of raw milk?” Murphy said. “How harsh do we want to be on these things? Do we really want to stick our nose into those situations?”  

‘A Huge Benefit’

Wayne Craig, a Wisconsin dairy farmer and owner of a small business, says the bill would help people like him and would also help consumers.

“AB 697 would be a huge benefit to our operation, because we do direct marketing through a members-only, on-farm store, which has morphed into an organic grocery store,” Craig said. “We have a customer base of 500 families, even though we are 30 minutes away from many larger cities. The store is the profit center for our farm. The farm, as presently structured, would not survive without the store.

“For small farms or young farmers starting out, raw milk sales could easily make the difference between success and failure,” Craig said.

A Georgia county judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging the state’s education-expense tax credit program after determining the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the program’s constitutionality.

The decision left the reform program in place, allowing students to receive privately funded scholarships to attend the school of their family’s choice.

In February, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Esmond Adams dismissed the lawsuit, filed in 2014 by representatives of the Southern Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization promoting the interests of government schools. The plaintiffs claimed offering tax credits for private school scholarship expenses and tuition gave the program’s donors illegal benefits and allowed government schools to be commandeered by private organizations donating to the program.


Reformers ‘Very Pleased’

Kelly McCutchen, president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, says Georgia’s children will benefit from the lawsuit’s dismissal.

“We are, of course, very pleased the court struck down this spurious lawsuit,” McCutchen said. “We think low- and middle-income children deserve access to the education that best fits their needs.”

Currently, the fund is limited to $58 million per year, or about $63 per Georgia child between the ages of 5 and 18. McCutchen says the program should be expanded so more children can benefit.

“The cap for this program has been [reached] on the very first day it was opened for contributions for the last two years,” McCutchen said. “Now that all legal challenges have been clearly overcome, it is time for the Georgia General Assembly to raise the cap.”


Efficient Use of Money Cited

Jim Kelly, general counsel for Georgia Greater Opportunities for Access to Learning (GOAL) Scholarship, Inc., one of the nonprofit organizations tasked with awarding scholarships under the tax credit program, says the program gives taxpayers more bang for their buck than government schools can provide.

“The average adjusted gross income of GOAL scholarship families has been $25,496,” Kelly said. “Yet, GOAL is able to offer scholarships to both low- and middle-income families while keeping its average scholarship award to around $3,682, which is significantly less than the $4,500 average per-pupil amount the state spends to educate a student in public school.”


Calls for Expansion

Kelly says the cap on the tax credit program keeps far too many children in substandard schools.

“Of course, low-income families who cannot access financial aid to send their children to better schools face the tragic reality of having to keep their children in substandard public schools,” Kelly said. “But an underappreciated reality is that so many middle-income families who desire to send their children to safe and character-forming private schools are not able to [meet the required costs].”

Jenni White ([email protected]) writes from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Internet Info:

Barry Friedman and Genevieve Lakier, “‘To Regulate,’ Not ‘To Prohibit’: Limiting the Commerce Power,” Supreme Court Review: https://heartland.org/policy-documents/regulate-not-prohibit-limiting-commerce-power/