Legislation will fix glitch in state's wheat harvest permits

Oklahoma City - Two state lawmakers intend to file legislation in 2006 to eliminate several glitches that caused confusion and anger among wheat harvesters during the summer.

State Representatives Ryan McMullen and James Covey presented their proposal Thursday during an interim study before the House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee intended to discover why out-of-state wheat harvesters incurred fines amid confusion over Oklahoma 's permit process.

Many of the state's wheat farmers hire out-of-state custom harvesters, who have the necessary trucks, combines and equipment to harvest their wheat and transport it to market. State law requires a permit for out-of-state commercial contractors to perform services in Oklahoma .

Earlier this year, enforcement of the state law requiring harvesters to show proof of equipment insurance and a permit to operate in Oklahoma changed hands from the Oklahoma Tax Commission to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, leading to many out-of-state custom harvesters being fined for not having proper permits.

The problem, according to Rep. Covey, is that the Corporation Commission was not given the authorization to issue permits when the enforcement of the law was transferred between agencies.

Instead, enforcement officers, who were previously employees of the Tax Commission and had the ability to sell permits to harvesters in the field, now only have the authority to issue fines to harvesters.

“The biggest problem with the issuance of these heavy fines is they do not directly affect the harvester, but are passed on to the farmer who has hired the harvester,” said McMullen, D-Burns Flat. “They are eating into the farmer's bottom line and, in turn, hurting our rural economies.”

Many harvesters also complained of delays due to being forced to make needless trips to Oklahoma City . The Corporation Commission initially required a trip to Oklahoma City to make in-person application for a temporary license showing proof of insurance. Later, the commission allowed applications to be faxed, taking much less of the precious harvest time.

“The Corporation Commission made several unprecedented attempts to help alleviate the confusion and allow the harvesters to operate,” said Covey, D-Custer City . “However, we cannot allow this confusion to continue. We need to act now so that this nightmare is not repeated next year.”

McMullen also suggested legislation may be needed to specify when and where enforcement officers are allowed to conduct inspections of harvesters' equipment.

Co-op managers and harvesters say the commission set up inspection sites near co-ops and grain elevators, creating congestion and causing harvesters to be out of the fields longer than necessary. On a good day, a crew will run several trucks of grain from the field and return as quickly as possible to avoid delaying the cutting process.

“Farmers already have enough to deal with, such as rain and equipment failure that slow down harvest” said McMullen. “The last thing they need is complicated and confusing government regulation.”

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