February 11, 2016

‘Right to Farm’ language stirs debate in Missouri House

The House has passed another omnibus bill with several agriculture provisions. The greatest amount of debate focused on what it means to have a “right to farm.”

A statute of Ceres, goddess of Agriculture tops the dome of the Missouri State Capital in Jefferson City. (Picture courtesy, Missouri House Communications)

The package includes a provision that would exempt farms from new state or local regulations that go into effect after they are in operation.

Some urban lawmakers, like Representative Tracy McCreery (I-St. Louis) say that gives an unfair advantage to established farmers. “It creates a tiered system where, depending on when your farm was incorporated, you would be able to follow different laws. I think a vote for this bill is a vote against the free market and against competition.”

Rural lawmakers say the protections are needed when new neighbors move in near a farm, and then try to force it to change how it operates through new local laws or lawsuits.

Representative John Cauthorn (R-Mexico) says his family has farmed the same land for 50 years. “(If) somebody moves in and starts complaining, if they’ve been there the same timeframe as I have, that’s fine. I don’t want to do anything not to be a good neighbor, but if we have someone move in that doesn’t like what I’m doing and is a new neighbor, I don’t think they have that right, or that freedom.”

Representative Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City) says the law could actually protect local governments from putting themselves in legal jeopardy under the Constitution. “If the government takes your property, they’ve got to give you money for it. If a government changes regulations so much that they could put somebody out of business … that’s called a ‘regulatory taking.’ So what your bill is doing is probably actually protecting municipalities and counties from themselves if they’re going to overreach and try to put farms out of business that are already in business.”

The same language was included in another agriculture omnibus bill that the House passed last week.  Both packages are now in the Senate.