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Posted on Apr. 18, 2007
By Chris Blank
Associated Press

Senate Approves Gutted Animal Farm Bill

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Backed into an intense political debate about how to regulate livestock feeding operations, the Senate on Thursday stripped most of a measure that would have made it more difficult for counties to impose restrictive ordinances.

Senators instead voted to create a committee to study the issue after the legislative session ends next month.

The Senate had considered a bill that would have pre-empted all local health and zoning restrictions on animal farms in favor of tighter state regulations. Farmers were split over the issue, while local control advocates condemned the bill. The issue prompted hundreds of farmers on both sides of the issue to lobby at the Capitol throughout the session.

It was debated for only one morning before Senate leaders pulled the plug.

Senate Majority Leader Charlie Shields, who offered the amendment to gut the bill, said he believes a study group is the only way the issue can be resolved.

"This issue needs to move forward, and I don't see that happening without a joint interim committee," said Shields, R-St. Joseph.

The study group would have 10 members - half each from the House and Senate - to review the issue and submit a report with its recommendations. The bill would also require that the Department of Agriculture create an education program for concentrated animal feeding operation managers.

Unable to agree about where local and state regulations should fall, senators on both sides of the issue agreed that lawmakers should take more time to study the issue.

"This issue is white hot - it's white hot on both sides," said Sen. Wes Shoemyer, D-Clarence. He had previously pledged to talk to death any bill that attempted to overturn local health ordinances.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Dan Clemens said he believes his proposed compromise would have worked but accepted that the issue could only be resolved by spending more time to study it.

"We've been at a stalemate on this issue for a long, long time, and I hope we can go forward on this," said Clemens, R-Marshfield. "Any movement is better than a stalemate."

But the original sponsor of the bill, Sen. Chris Koster, doubted the interim committee or the extra time would do any good.

"The people at the negotiating table understand this issue inside and out already," he said. "We don't need to study it more to understand it. We know all the issues surrounding this matter. What is needed is a solution not a committee report."

Koster, R-Harrisonville, said his attempt to replace local regulations with state restrictions "is stalled."

House Speaker Pro Tem Carl Bearden, R-St. Charles, also dismissed the legislative study committee as unnecessary.

"A study is just talk - and it has to be more than that," Bearden said.

More than 30 local governments have enacted health or zoning restrictions on agriculture, and some lawmakers have worked to pre-empt them. Two years ago, a bill cleared the Senate but died in the House. And last year, agricultural leaders decided to hold off for a year to allow odor-reduction techniques to develop.

This year, 19 farm commodity groups and agriculture-related businesses formed a coalition to push for the curbing of local restrictions on agriculture. Gov. Matt Blunt during his State of the State speech in January endorsed a bill that would have eliminated local restrictions in favor of stepped-up state regulations.

The coalition said in a written statement members are "disappointed the compromise agreement" was not voted on but pledged to work with the House.

A spokeswoman for the governor said Blunt believes farming regulations should be the same throughout the state and is happy the bill is moving forward - even though the bill has been largely stripped.

"It addresses CAFOs and these important agricultural issues and allows for that conversation to continue going forward," spokeswoman Jessica Robinson said.

Missourians for Local Control was one of the leading critics of the bill, arguing that it would reduce property values, hurt independent farmers and replace local rules that are often more stringent.

The group's program director, Rhonda Perry, described the decision to instead create a study group as a victory but, added: "It's second best to having a vote and winning."

Perry said she believes the interim committee could find an acceptable compromise if it allows everyone to the negotiating table.

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