Rep. Jimmy Dixon’s (R-Duplin) House Bill 467, “Agriculture and Forestry Nuisance Remedies” passed in the House on Monday, April 10. Opponents of the bill squealed loudly, alleging that the bill was a favor to hog farmers and pork producers such as Smithfield Foods. The vote was 68-47.
Dixon has been saying recently that the many farm families in North Carolina work and sacrifice and put up with attacks from extreme environmentalists and animal rights groups trying to take advantage of them monetarily. He said that this bill would provide certainty for farmers.
An overview provided by the NC General Assembly Research Division says, “House Bill 467 would limit the amount of compensatory damages that may be awarded in a private nuisance action against an agricultural or forestry operation to the fair market value or fair rental value of the plaintiff’s property.”
The most-talked-about example of such a scenario was the nuisance of odor from hog waste lagoons to residents nearby. Opponents to the bill pointed out that such residents typically tended to be poor and African-American.
Prior to Monday night’s vote on the bill, there was a lengthy debate on the floor of the House. Dixon said in his opening remarks advocating support for the bill, “This bill, if passed, would both clarify and indicate an intent of the General Assembly relative to the compensatory damages that can be gained in nuisance cases.”
Dixon reminded the House that he has been a hog farmer for many years, and in a serious tone said, “I have been permitted to dispose of my waste in a very specified manner, and I want to testify to every single one of you in this chamber, these allegations are at best exaggerations and at worst outright lies. When you talk about spraying a fluid in people’s houses and on their cars, that does not exist.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, when the final chapter is written on these kinds of cases, I will tell you that the very people who are pretending to be represented are being prostituted for money,” Dixon added. “That’s firm language, but guess what? One day we’ll know whether Jimmy Dixon was right.”
Dixon said, “Every single one of us in this chamber should on a regular basis get down on our knees and thank our Heavenly Father that there are people who are willing to put up with the circumstances of production, so that we can enjoy the benefits of consumption.”
Much of the opposition to the bill focused on the provision in the bill making it effective retroactively. There are currently 26 cases in currently on hold in federal court, and opponents do not want them to be limited by Dixon’s bill.
Rep. Ted Davis (R-New Hanover) told the House that the bill would actually give clarification to the Federal Judge Earl Britt, who put the case on hold, saying that North Carolina law on nuisance damages is unclear. Davis said the bill would help move those cases along.
Rep. John Blust (R-Guilford) offered an amendment to the bill so that it would not be effective retroactively. The debate on the House floor went on over the amendment for over an hour, but eventually it was voted on and passed by the slim margin of 59-56.
“For most of us who are not trained legally, we have to depend on an abundance of common sense. And that’s a trait that sometimes is overlooked in the General Assembly.”
The bill has been sent to the Senate.