December 6, 2001
Rep. Berkowitz Named Chairman Of House Agriculture Committee
Local farmers may have felt they had a strong voice in state agriculture legislation with the late Rep. Gary Wiggins heading the House Ag Committee, but now they have a direct link to farm policy.
Speaker of the House Jim Kreider, D-Nixa, has named
veteran lawmaker Sam Berkowitz, D-Memphis, as the next head of the prominent House Agriculture Committee.
"Considering the importance of agriculture to the economic stability of our state, it is important for an experienced lawmaker to oversee the progress of agriculture-related legislation through the committee process," said Speaker Kreider. "Sam, being from a farm community and having assisted in the passage of several significant pieces of
agriculture legislation, represents the kind of leadership we need in
our efforts to help the agriculture community grow and prosper."
As chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Berkowitz will succeed Rep. Wiggins, D-Macon, who died in July.
Representative Berkowitz was first elected to the House in 1998. Currently he serves on the House Education - Elementary and Secondary; Environment and Energy; Transportation; and the Appropriations - Social Services committees.
He serves as vice chair of the House Social Services, Medicaid and the Elderly Committee, and is a member of the Joint Interim Committee on the Department of Social Services. Most recently,
he chaired the House Interim Committee on Nursing Home Caregiving.
As chairman, Rep. Berkowitz says he hopes to work with family farmers and the agribusiness community to boost the economic opportunities for
rural Missouri through the development of public-private partnerships, especially those that will allow producers of agriculture products to benefit from further processing and value added initiatives.
"Missouri was founded on a solid foundation of agriculture, and it continues to be the most important industry in our state," said Rep. Berkowitz. "If Missouri is to maintain its status as an economic leader in the Midwest, it will require a concerted effort to bring modern technology and business practices into the field of
"As chairman of the agriculture committee, it will be my goal to look for new and innovative ways to bolster the farms and ranches in our state, and create new opportunities wherever possible. I want to thank Speaker Kreider for his confidence, and the chance to make a difference."
The appointment marks the first time in recent history that the first district has received a committee chairmanship, let alone one of such importance to the state as the agriculture committee.
Berkowitz indicated he anticipates the committee will continue to work with the state's growing value-added farm programs while also attempting to forge a middle ground between big business and small family farms.
"If we are going to save the family farm we have to find a way to work with the large companies," he stated. Berkowitz added that he hoped this would include input on the state level for some form of federal legislation that would help regulate big business and its control on commodity markets. He pointed to the state's efforts in the meat industry and pointed out the importance of producing legislation that works for all parties involved.
The legislative committee process entails public hearings involving state directors, specialists and other effected parties providing input on ag issues to the committee. Committee members use the hearing sets to ask questions and gain input on issues.
Berkowitz indicated one of his first duties as chairman will be to contact ag representatives across the state and introduce himself while also laying the ground work for the first series of hearings to be held sometime in January once the legislative session convenes. He states the hearing process is imperative to the creation of farm legislation that will be taken to the full body of the House for consideration in 2002.
While the farm appointment will consume much of Berkowitz's time he assured his First District constituents that roads and bridges in the district will remain a top priority of his office. He indicated he plans to co-sponsor the transportation bill to be considered by the House in the upcoming session.
But it likely will be the agriculture committee where chairman Berkowitz makes his mark in 2002. He stated he felt prepared for the challenge mostly in part to his excellent predecessors. "I learned from two very good teachers in past chairmen Sam Leake and Gary Wiggins," Berkowitz said. "Two years ago I served on the ag interim committee and got to tour the state and learn about the needs of all producers and heard from all facets of the farm industry."