agriculture, Environment

Live blogging the House vote on hog bill, H467

Yet another of Rep. Jimmy Dixon’s Greatest Hits: “The plaintiffs suing the hog industry are being prostituted for money.” (Photo: NCGA)

T he prayer just started, followed by the pledge. The Speaker is recognizing Marcia Morey, the new representative from House 30 in Durham. She’s a former judge.

We’re warming up with a couple of other bills, 265 and 293, and there seems to be some question of whether Speaker Moore has a hearing problem during the voice votes. Thus, he’s called for a roll call vote on HB 293 — and it passes.

We’re one bill away from the main event. Will Speaker Moore actually read the title? Will lawmakers know what they’re voting on? Stay tuned!

Here we go … tah-dah! House Bill 467.

Rep. Jimmy Dixon is speaking: Colleagues this has been one of the bills that gives us some degree of anxiety. I think we have a good bill. The bill is simply trying to clarify the existing law. We think that we do that, as many of you know I use as few words as possible. This is not a courtroom. Most of us in this chamber are not lawyers. Most of us have knowledge of what’s right and good. My six years in the GA it’s been my experience to see that our good friends who are lawyers and very skilled at what they practice in their profession and for that I’m grateful.

It’s the smell of freedom. It’s the smell of food. God bless our farmers. — Rep. McElrath

For those of us not lawyers we have to rely on common sense and that’s a trait too often overlooked in the GA. If passed this bill will clarify and indicate an intent of the GA. I would propose there are occasions in the GA where the spirit of the law, the proposition is stronger than the letter of the law. Our hard working farm families who have labored diligently for generations to achieve the status they currently have. Occasionally in our world economy now there comes a time when entities are bought and sold. One of the focuses of attention on this issue revolves around whether or not this GA can craft legislation that has an affect on a pending case.

My children and grandchildren have walked gleefully through my hog and turkey houses. — Rep. Jimmy Dixon, bill sponsor

I’m 72 years old lived on a farm all my life. My children and granchildren have walked gleefully through my hog and turkey houses. I’ve been permitted to dispose of my waste in a specified matter. These allegations are at best exaggerations and at worst outright lies. Spraying effluent on people’s houses and cars, that does not exist. I’ve been down there. I’ve lived it. I’ve been involved. I beat Moses. He was in the wilderness 40 years, I’ve raised turkeys 41 years. When the final chapter is written on these cases. We’ll see the people being represented are being prostituted for money.

People get on their Lear jets in Texas and go around with people sitting on front porch and go up to my neighbor and saying are you’re tired of seeing the flies coming from Jimmy Dixon’s farm. My children and grandchildren have played near our lagoons we’ve sprayed our effluent responsibly. There are times, there are adversities. but when you get ready to cast your vote, we should get down on our knees and thank our heavenly father, people put up with production to enjoy the benefits of consumptions. the ability to supply a good safe economical product for us to consume. make no mistake there are entities out there getting people to sign contracts taking 40% upfront. there will be legal people in here saying that’s not the issue.

We should get down on our knees and thank our heavenly Father. People can put up with production to enjoy the benefits of consumption. — Rep. Dixon

If we talk about these as factory or industrial farms, we should talk about industry or factory law firms. There are enemies to livestock agriculture not friendly. animal rights people. extreme environmentalists have joined and become allies and taken advantage of those monetarily they claim to represent.

Read more

agriculture, Commentary, Courts & the Law, HB2, News

This week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. School officials preparing to fire thousands of specialty teachers in order to meet K-3 classroom mandate

Welborn, a Republican member of the Guilford County Board of Education, says her district—the third largest in the state—will need to find an additional $16.6 million and 242 new teaching positions to meet the state’s legislative mandate to cut class sizes for kindergarten through third grade beginning next school year.

“We would have to make such drastic cuts, we literally don’t know where we would come up with the money,” says Welborn. “You just don’t do that unless you have absolutely no choice but to do it.”

All across North Carolina, districts like Guilford County say a statutory loss of flexibility over class size may soon yield massive job losses statewide among arts, music and physical education teachers, as well as teacher assistants. [Read more…]

2. Republican lawmaker presents inaccurate numbers at committee meeting to favor shrinking Court of Appeals

Republican lawmakers want to reduce the Court of Appeals and nothing’s going to stand in their way — not even their own inaccuracies.

House Bill 239 was debated at a Senate judiciary committee meeting Wednesday. Rep. Sarah Stevens, one of the bill sponsors, told committee members that in addition to reducing the court from 15 to 12 judges, it would also decrease the workload and add to the state Supreme Court’s workload.

She said she did not ask Chief Justice Mark Martin for an official stance on the bill, but she said he told her the state’s highest court could take on the bigger workload — almost 1,000 cases per year, according to Stevens.

Democrats were skeptical of her numbers, and Court of Appeals Judge Donna Stroud presented an entirely different set of numbers to Senators at the meeting during the public comments.

An NC Policy Watch public records request also found that Stevens’ numbers were wrong. [Read more…]


3. After partial HB2 repeal NC remains woefully behind on anti-discrimination protections

Now that HB2 has been partially repealed, enough for the NCAA and ACC anyway, a lot of folks in Raleigh are hoping the issue of discrimination in North Carolina goes away for a while, at least for the four years that local governments must now wait before protecting LGBTQ people from being fired or denied services because of their sexual orientation.

Most legislative leaders don’t want to talk about it and when they do they continue to mislead the public about their justification for allowing discrimination to remain in place until at least 2020.

House Speaker Tim Moore this week repeated a talking point he has used often in the last few months, that North Carolina’s anti-discrimination standard that does not include protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity is the same as the law in 30 other states. [Read more…]

4. Trump hypocrisy threatens again with massive proposed cuts to legal aid
The most litigious president in U.S. history says “no” to lawyers for poor people

No one ever accused Donald Trump of being consistent. If ever there was a politician for whom a gravitation toward blatant self-contradiction and 180 degree flip flops was embedded in the very fiber of his being, it would have to be the 45th president. Name an important issue of public policy and it seems a virtual lock that Trump will have staked out a position on all sides of it (and then probably contradicted each of them at one time or another with his own personal behavior).

As a “Fact Checker” article in the Washington Post recently observed: [Read more…]

5. Vote on hog “nuisance” lawsuits happened so fast, some lawmakers’ heads were spinning

In his next career, House Speaker Tim Moore should become a magician. On Thursday afternoon, a procedural sleight of hand wound up fast-tracking a controversial — and possibly unconstitutional — agriculture bill through its second reading.

House Bill 467 would limit the amount of damages plaintiffs could receive in litigation against hog farms. Under the measure, citizens could not sue over “quality of life” issues, such as odor. Payouts would be limited to the decrease in a property’s fair market or fair rental value. The bill would not only clamp down on future lawsuits but also the 26 that are pending against Murphy-Brown, which owns Smithfield Foods. It is being supported by several industry groups, including the NC Pork Council and the NC Farm Bureau.

During the regular House session, the first five bills slated for their second or third reading were being voted on in order. Suddenly, Moore broke with protocol and skipped over the next 11 bills, quickly calling for a vote on HB 467. As a result, several lawmakers were confused about the bill they were voting on. [Read more…]

***Upcoming event: Tuesday morning, April 18: NC Policy Watch presents a special Crucial Conversation breakfast ****

Immigration policy in the era of Trump: Where do things stand in North Carolina? What is the reality “on the ground”? How can caring and thinking people speak out and push back?

The presidency of Barack Obama was no picnic for American immigrants. Despite the incessant and inaccurate attacks of nativist voices (including the current inhabitant of the White House), the Obama administration actually brought about more deportations of unauthorized immigrants than occurred under any previous president – often with only the barest minimum of due process and devastating human carnage resulting.

Tragically, however, things have gone from badly flawed to dreadful under the administration of Donald Trump.

Register here

.

agriculture, Environment, Legislature

Vote on hog “nuisance” lawsuits happened so fast, some lawmakers’ heads were spinning

He’s a magic man: House Speaker Tim Moore (Photo: NCGA)

I n his next career, House Speaker Tim Moore should become a magician. On Thursday afternoon, a procedural sleight of hand wound up fast-tracking a controversial — and possibly unconstitutional — agriculture bill through its second reading.

House Bill 467 would limit the amount of damages plaintiffs could receive in litigation against hog farms. Under the measure, citizens could not sue over “quality of life” issues, such as odor. Payouts would be limited to the decrease in a property’s fair market or fair rental value. The bill would not only clamp down on future lawsuits but also the 26 that are pending against Murphy-Brown, which owns Smithfield Foods. It is being supported by several industry groups, including the NC Pork Council and the NC Farm Bureau.

During the regular House session, the first five bills slated for their second or third reading were being voted on in order. Suddenly, Moore broke with protocol and skipped over the next 11 bills, quickly calling for a vote on HB 467. As a result, several lawmakers were confused about the bill they were voting on.

“Was there discussion or debate on the bill?” asked Rep. Garland Pierce, a Democrat, after the vote.

“There were no lights on,” replied Speaker Moore, meaning no lawmaker had signaled he or she would like to speak on the measure.

Even after several lawmakers dialed back their support, the bill passed 64-48. A third reading will be held on the bill, most likely on Monday. If it passes the full House, it will head to the Senate.

B ut even if HB 467 clears the General Assembly and Gov. Roy Cooper, its execution could be delayed by legal action. Two prominent Republicans, retired Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr and former House Majority Leader Paul Stam both wrote letters to lawmakers stating that the bill was unconstitutional and could be struck down by the courts.

The News & Observer reported on the existence of the letters yesterday. In that report, Orr and Stam told the newspaper they had not been paid to write the letters, which they filed on behalf of the legal firms representing neighbors of industrialized hog farms.

“I would submit that this proposed legislation would … violate the N.C. Constitution in that it is specifically targeted at benefiting a particular industry,” Orr wrote. “It would appear to attempt by legislative action to favor one litigant over another and deny the plaintiffs the remedies to which they are currently entitled under N.C. law.”

Stam, a conservative Republican, agreed. He has historically favored private property rights and opposed eminent domain.

In his opinion, Stam wrote that “if passed into law, it would amount to an inverse condemnation of these property rights, not for a public use, but for the private purposes of a corporation. No matter how well-intentioned, it is not constitutional.”

Most states, especially those with strong agribusiness interests, have passed or introduced similar “nuisance bills.” Some have even enshrined Right to Farm bills in their state constitutions. And in Michigan, environmental groups performed their own magic with that state’s nuisance bill: including wind farms in the class of uses that could not be sued over quality-of-life issues.

But most of the time, big agriculture is seeking the special treatment. The National Conference of State Legislatures cited a Reuters article that quoted an Oklahoma cattle lobbyist calling for “extra protection” for agriculture, “so our farmers and ranchers can continue to produce affordable, abundant food.”

The lobbyist, however, did not mention protection for people living near these large farms and their waste lagoons.

agriculture, Environment

State ag commissioner Troxler “pleased” with EPA’s ruling to allow brain-damaging pesticide on crops

Pass the strawberries, hold the pesticides. (Photo: Creative Commons)

W arhawk, Hatchet, Eraser and Vulcan: The pesticide chlorpyrifos is sold under many lurid, yet apt brand names. Known to harm a child’s developing brain, the chemical is nonetheless sprayed on golf courses, fruit trees and vegetable crops throughout the U.S. — including North Carolina..

Other than golfers, such as President Trump, farmworkers and children are especially at risk of exposure either through the air, dust or drinking water. Depending on the level of exposure, chlorpyrifos can lower IQ, harm memory and increase incidences of ADHD.

EPA chief Scott Pruitt last week swept aside the scientific concerns from his own agency and ruled that farmers can spray the chemical while more research is conducted. However, research on chlorpyrifos has been ongoing for at least the past 17 years. Under the Obama administration, the EPA’s own scientists recommended banning these products from agricultural use because of the health effects; these pesticides have been off-limits for most home applications since 2000.

Heather Overton, a spokeswoman for the NC Department of Agriculture, told NCPW that Commissioner Steve Troxler, a Republican stance is that this is an important pesticide for many crops and he is pleased with the EPA ruling.”

It’s unknown how much chlorpyrifos is used in North Carolina because the state pesticide board does not require reporting on its use — or any other insecticide. (Commercial pesticide users must be licensed and that all pesticides be registered and legal in North Carolina.) However, chlorpyrifos would likely be used on row crops such as strawberries, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and corn. It can be used on apple trees and grapevines — although in 2000, the EPA restricted its use on fruit-bearing plants.

The North Carolina Nursery and Landscape Association also supports chlorpyrifos for controlling Japanese beetles and imported fire ants, and allowing plants to be shipped across state lines. Fire ants and Japanese beetles are both invasive species, which arrived in the U.S. — wait for it — by hitchhiking on international shipments.

Dow Agrosciences is a primary manufacturer of chlorpyrifos, which has been used in the U.S. for 52 years. (The chemical manufacturer hosts a website “Chlorpyrifos Protects” that extols its magical powers.) But over time, the EPA has chipped away at the pesticide. In 2000, the agency banned the pesticide for indoor use except in child-resistant bait containers and fire ant mound treatments. That same year, the EPA prohibited its use on tomatoes and further restricted applications on grapes and apples, citrus and tree nuts.

In 2012, the EPA significantly lowered application rates for chlorpyrifos and created no-spray buffer zones around public spaces, such as parks, and near homes. Had Pruitt abided by the Obama-era rule

agriculture, Environment

House Bill 467 would shield industrial hog industry from many legal claims

 

 

Not a nuisance: hog manure spraying (Photo: John Hopkins University)

Nuisance (noun): A person, thing, or circumstance causing inconvenience or annoyance

Examples of nuisances: Pollen. A mosquito bite. A car alarm that goes off at midnight.

But industrialized hog farms, the subtext of  House Bill 467, entitled “Agriculture and Forestry Nuisance Remedies,” are more than mere irritants for the people who live next to them. They are life-altering, making it difficult to breathe and ruining the quality of life.

Yet the bill would prevent plaintiffs from recovering damages unrelated to property value, including compensation for health effects, lost income, and pain and suffering.

The House Judiciary III committee will hear the bill today at 12:30 in Room 421. It is co-sponsored by Republican Reps. Jimmy Dixon, John Bell, David Lewis and Ted Davis Jr.

It’s not coincidental that bill has been introduced while North Carolina’s hog industry, in particular Smithfield,  is the subject of legal complaints by nonprofit environmental groups; the EPA is also investigating allegations that the swine industry has intimidated residents, most of them minorities, living near the farms.

Dan Crawford, director of governmental relations for the NC League of Conservation Voters, issued the following statement in response to HB467:

“Unfortunately, residents of eastern North Carolina know this smell well: this time it’s the stink of foreign corporate profit at the expense of our natural resources and communities. House Bill 467 is nothing more than lawmakers putting a Chinese-owned company ahead of the long-term health and safety of the very communities who have been forced to endure the harms of hog waste for decades. Residents have a right to defend and protect their families through democratic legal channels. It’s despicable that the bill sponsors attempt to equate the long-term suffering of their constituents to a ‘nuisance’ that can be silenced by a foreign entity.”

Andy Curliss, NC Pork Council CEO, released this statement:

The N.C. Pork Council supports House Bill 467 and the reasonable protections it offers to all North Carolina farmers. The bill provides clarity about damages that could be recovered in nuisance lawsuits.

We are proud to stand with the N.C. Farm Bureau in encouraging the legislature to pass this bill for the benefit of North Carolina’s entire agriculture industry.

Agriculture is our state’s number one industry and largest economic driver. We have more than 50,000 farmers who care deeply about their communities and being a good neighbor. We would rather work with our neighbors to address problems instead of defending ourselves against frivolous nuisance complaints.