Today in the House chamber the opening act upstaged the headliner.
Before the House got down to its business of overriding Gov. Cooper’s veto of controversial House Bill 467, its members, per tradition, invoked several ceremonial items. Today House members recognized podiatrists and Cheerwine. Then, in a moment of cognitive dissonance, the House also honored the Confederacy and the 150th anniversary of the historically black college, St. Augustine University.
In the House gallery, a crew of people dressed in period Confederate Army uniforms, while others, who had serious, professional business to tend to, discreetly sported Confederate flag pins on their lapels. (Outside the legislative building, several older men added a “Make America Great Again” ballcap to their ensemble.)
The House, in honoring the Confederacy on “Heritage Day,” asked the men in gray to stand, as well as a couple of women dressed in hoop skirts and bonnets. People applauded, except for one African-American man sitting beside me.
Yvonne Holley, a Wake County Democrat who is African-American, fortunately eased the bewilderment of the Northerners in the crowd by naming all of the St. Aug’s faculty and staff in the gallery, as well as recognizing 10 African-American students. But by then, the folks in the Confederate uniforms had left.
Then down to nitty-gritty: On the House floor, bill sponsor Rep. Jimmy Dixon, a Republican and a farmer from Duplin County, soft-peddled the essence of the legislation. “It’s a very good bill that is geared specifically toward promoting agriculture, particularly livestock,” Dixon said.
What Dixon didn’t say is that the bill favors livestock over the people who are stuck living next to these gigantic farms. The measure caps the amount of compensatory damages land owners can be awarded in a nuisance lawsuit to the fair value of their property. Yes, they can sue for other types of relief, but the compensatory damages in general, can cover not only property value decreases, but medical bills and emotional distress.
Considering that bacteria from hog feces was found last fall on more than a dozen homes near these farms, medical bills are certainly a possibility. But they would not be covered under HB 467.
As NCPW has reported, the legislation will likely discriminate against communities of color, who are more likely to live near these industrialized operations. The Environmental Working Group recently analyzed tax records and determined that 60,000 people in North Carolina live within a half-mile of an industrialized livestock farm. An estimated 270,000 live within three miles.
The bill also undercuts the enjoyment of private property rights. It’s also important to note that these nuisance lawsuits aren’t frivolous. A judge or jury has determined that the farms, through their odor and spraying and drifting of fecal matter onto nearby properties, have indeed damaged the landowners’ quality of life.
The House needed a three-fifths majority to override the governor’s veto, or 72 votes. The House squeaked it out: 74–40. Had three of the seven Democrats who voted for the override pushed the red button, the override would have failed. That’s because three Republicans voted to sustain the veto: John Blust, Hugh Blackwell and Cody Henson. The seven Dems were William Brisson, Charles Graham, George Graham, Ed Hanes Jr., Howard Hunter III and Michael Wray.
The bill now heads to the Senate.