Georgia lawmakers seek to strengthen lawsuit protections for farmers

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FILE – Georgia State Senator Tyler Harper poses for a portrait on Capitol Hill Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021, in Atlanta. Harper was among supporters of a bill on Friday, April 1, 2022, that would increase protections for farmers from nuisance lawsuits. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

PA

Georgia lawmakers are seeking to bolster protections for farmers from lawsuits for nuisances such as noise, dust and odor, a move agriculture advocates touted Friday as a key vote for a healthy farming sector. difficulty, while environmentalists said it would open the door to bad neighbours.

The Senate voted 31 to 23 for House Bill 1150, sending it back to the House for final approval of amendments.

The most significant change in the Senate was an agreement to extend from one year to two years the time a person has to file a nuisance lawsuit after operations begin. Final passage would mark the end of a years-long campaign by nationwide and nationwide farmer groups seeking a new lawsuit protection measure to replace the one Georgia has had in place for decades.

Current Georgia law provides protections for a landlord when new people move in next door. But agriculture advocates say the framework has become legally shaky and encroaching development makes this provision almost meaningless anyway. Instead, they argue the law should make it clear that no farmer can be sued for nuisance after their farm has been in operation for more than two years.

“There’s hardly a farm that doesn’t have development or neighbors around it,” said Sen. Larry Walker, a Republican from Perry.

Environmentalists and some small farmers worry the bill could pave the way for farmers to make big changes that could harm the ability of longtime neighbors to enjoy their property. They say nuisance lawsuits are rare in Georgia, but the bill is being pushed by the meat industry to protect its farmers’ harmful activities.

“In real life, nuisance can take many years to show up,” said Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, a Republican from Dawson. “Whenever a new nuisance is created after the second year of operation, an affected neighbor has no recourse unless he can show that the nuisance was the result of a wrongful act, even if the neighbor affected was there first.

This issue of large-scale animal exploitation has suspended previous attempts to change the law. The new proposal contains a clause that says the one-year window for legal action would start again if an existing farm builds what federal officials classify as a medium- or large-scale concentrated feed operation for livestock or poultry or hog feed operation of any size.

The proposal continues to allow lawsuits against farms that break laws or operate negligently or improperly, as they do under current law. Several farmer-senators voted as a way to protect farmers who face other challenges, including foreign competition and struggles with large processors who have market power over farmers.

“Who benefits from this bill? This benefits our state’s farm families,” said Tyler Harper, a Republican from Ocilla who is the lone GOP nominee for agriculture commissioner. “We need to put policies in place that protect our #1 industry.”

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Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy.

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