A Florida Republican lawmaker is calling for a full assessment of the damage in Florida from Hurricane Ian, including extensive losses in the ag sector, before Congress considers a supplemental disaster bill.

“It's going to be a tremendous amount of effort to rebuild — really from start to finish in some areas,” Rep. Kat Cammack said on Agri-Pulse’s latest edition of Newsmakers, where she discussed the hurricane and her priorities for the farm bill. 

But Cammack said based on past experience, it will take some time to come up with an estimate of the full extent of the damage.

“I would like to see a full assessment before we see a supplemental come before Congress,” she said. “Some people are saying, ‘I can't believe you would say that,’” but Cammack said “from 10 years of experience in navigating Florida politics and disaster relief, we've seen where we've had numbers come up so woefully short that it really doesn't even begin to scratch the surface. Much of this damage, we're not going to really see until weeks and months down the road.”

Florida’s citrus industry was particularly hard hit. Cammack said 60% of fruit was on the ground and the injury to stems will lead to further losses. But she stressed that an eventual aid figure must include more than just crop losses.

“We've had tremendous flooding, standing water and salt water that has been absolutely devastating, but the wind damage to some of our groves [is] really pretty awful,” she said. “Some of the groves have been completely flooded out to where we're having to bring in fill dirt, really rebuilding these tracts, and so it's going to be a total infrastructure overhaul in some areas.”

“I think from the federal level, what we need to be cognizant of is that the FSA structure was already strained and a little bit frustrating is, I think, a polite way to put it for so many of our producers," she said. 

“I think when we're talking about the federal response, it’s going to be an all-encompassing number,” she said.

Cammack also said the farm bill, which Congress will take up next year, needs to be updated for the 21st century.

Some top priorities for her include strengthening young farmer programs and addressing the tax structure for buying and inheriting a farm, as well as oversight of nutrition programs, which she says have been susceptible to fraud. 

"We have seen absolutely just egregious waste, fraud and abuse within these programs. And that needs to be investigated,” Cammack said.

House Republicans targeted the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for cuts in the last farm bill, but were unsuccessful. SNAP funding and policy are expected to be major issues in next year’s debate.

Elizabeth Rumley with the National Agricultural Law Center, Travis Cushman with the American Farm Bureau Federation, and Brian Frazelle with the Constitutional Accountability Center also joined this week’s show to discuss the Supreme Court arguments on California’s Proposition 12. 

Cushman said AFBF is optimistic the justices understand the full implications of Proposition 12 if the law is allowed to remain in effect. “There's an infinite amount of different kinds of retaliatory legislation that can be passed across the country, and I think the justices seem to recognize that concern with Prop 12,” he said.

Frazelle said he believes there could be a "narrow victory for the pork producers that allows one of their claims to move forward but not the other claim." The justices could reject their claim that California is essentially regulating beyond its borders, an argument Frazelle said the justices were not sympathetic to, but still allow the case to be decided using the Pike balancing test.

Named for a 1970 Supreme Court decision, Frazelle said, “That essentially is a principle that says a law can be overturned if the burdens that it imposes on interstate commerce clearly outweigh the local benefits that it provides to the state. Essentially, this asks the court to kind of weigh the value of a law against its interference with interstate commerce.”

“I do think there's a possible result in which the court could say, well, it was a little bit premature to dismiss that claim,” which would allow the pork producers to try to prove their case about the effects of Proposition 12. “That would require them, of course, to come up with evidence before the court,” Frazelle said.

Rumley said that moving forward, she expects the justices to focus their discussion around the role morality should play in implementing Pike balancing.  

"I think there was a lot of questions about what level morality should or would be considered in applying this test. And I think that will be part of their discussions as they're moving forward," Rumley said.

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