Protection against nuisance from farmers or “bad neighbor bill”? Ga. House gives OK

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ATLANTE (GA recorder) – A controversial bill that its supporters say aims to prevent farmers from going to court has again run into private property issues and fears the measure could give way to large-scale factory farms ladder.

A similar proposal, dubbed the “Right to Farm” law, was stalled a few years ago after donors deplored the changes made to the Senate.

A makeover version cleared the House on Thursday with a vote of 102 to 62 after an hour-long debate in which opponents touted their agricultural bona fide — including a rural Democrat who held up her Farm Bureau membership card — before launch into their objections.

Critics have asked why changes should be made to a decades-old law that seems to have served Georgian farmers well, even when housing estates and other developments have sprung up around them. Environmentalists have gone further, warning against large farms and calling them a “bad neighbor bill”.

“Where are the lawsuits? I can’t find them,” said Rep. Debbie Buckner, a Junction City Democrat. “Where are the nuisances? Where are the farmers who have been wronged? Whose property rights are we protecting if we remove this law? »

Proponents of the bill argued that the changes were intended to prevent a possible onslaught of nuisance claims from people who might move into the country and then object to the noise, dust and odors coming from the neighboring farms.

Lobbyists representing the state’s prized agriculture industry, including poultry producers, have championed the measure for years. Broilers are the state’s most valuable agricultural product.

The sponsor, Rep. Robert Dickey, a Musella Republican and peach farmer who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, championed the changes needed to keep newcomers from closing farms. Several supporters have expressed concern over the country’s dwindling farmland.

“I want to say publicly that this bill is not about big farming, it’s about the ability to keep our small family, rural and even urban farms going without having to worry about (harmful claims),” Dickey said.

Concerns that the bill is intended to protect large meat producers are in part due to the origin of the bill. The push for change here in Georgia started in 2019 in response to stark jury verdicts against North Carolina hog producers who stored smelly hog waste in ponds and spread it on fields as fertilizer.

This year’s version attempts to address these concerns by clarifying that hog-feeding operations of any size and producers with, for example, more than 300 cattle would not benefit from the expanded protections. This means that the one-year window for a nuisance claim would start again if a facility began one of these animal operations.

But the proposal would remove any mention of sprawl and “altered conditions” around the farm, which critics say makes the state’s current law clear and strong.

There are also differing interpretations as to how long someone should file a nuisance claim, with opponents saying the bill would limit it to one year and supporters saying there would still be four years to file a nuisance claim. an alleged nuisance that occurs in the first. year.

State Rep. Stacey Evans, an Atlanta Democrat and attorney for the plaintiff, predicted a “rush to the courthouse” if the measure becomes law, which she says is unconstitutional.

“We’re adding uncertainty, and in addition to adding uncertainty, we’re infringing on private property rights,” Evans said. “It’s not about who was there first anymore, it’s been there forever – which, by the way, I think is unconstitutional and will lead to a trial over it.

“I don’t think this bill says what it means or means what it says,” she added.

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