Goodlatte discusses hemp legalization, foreign workers during farm visit

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ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) — Rep. Bob Goodlatte wrapped up a two-day tour visiting farmers and other agricultural producers in the Shenandoah Valley on Tuesday by discussing two legislative initiatives he's working on.

The first is a bi-partisan House bill co-sponsored by the congressman to legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp.

"There are lots of popular uses for it," said Goodlatte. "You can buy hemp products in stores here in the United States today, but all of it is grown outside of [the US], because there's no law allowing for commercial production."

Hemp is used for a wide range of products, including animal feed, textiles and paper. While the plant does contain THC, the psychotropic component of marijuana, it is found in smaller amounts.

In addition to his industrial hemp bill, Goodlatte spent his time at Lohr's Sweet Corn Farm talking about a new legislative push he plans to begin once the August recess concludes.

The congressman said he will introduce a bill to reform the H-2A visa program — which allows for foreign workers to find temporary jobs on farms.

"Because President Trump has now taken very seriously the enforcement of our immigration laws — both in terms of securing the border, illegal crossings are way way down, and enforcing it in the interior of the country — farmers have started to sign up for the program in greater numbers than in the past," said Goodlatte.

While border apprehensions have decreased since President Trump took office, there's been a general downward trend since the Great Recession.

Goodlatte said his proposed H-2C certification would transfer power from the Department of Labor to the Department of Agriculture.

"It's almost impossible to use the, utilize the, program in a way that is effective," he said, calling the current process too bureaucratic

The bill would also allow processing plants to hire temporary workers through the visa program.

"If you think about it, there are a thousand farms in this area that have poultry houses, but if they didn't have a plant — we have several plants in this area, to process the chickens and turkeys — they would be out of business," said Goodlatte.

The H-2C program would require employers pay workers 15 percent above the federal or state minimum wage, whichever is higher.

Foreign workers would be required to revisit their home country for at least 45 days during their stay in the United States, according to Goodlatte.

"This will make it easier for them to leave their families at home and go back and forth across the border," he said.

Goodlatte said he expects support from the White House for the proposal.