By Wally Kennedy
In a 32-1 vote late Wednesday, the Missouri Senate endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment that would guarantee what backers are calling “the right to farm.”
But the Senate changed the original language in the proposal, found in House joint resolutions 7 and 11, that would have barred voters from passing initiatives that would infringe on farmers’ rights.
Critics of the amendment said that provision would infringe on local control by denying voters the ability to pass regulations connected to agricultural practices.
The portion of the legislation barring voters from passing initiatives was removed after opposition from senators concerned about blocking the initiative petition steps.
The Senate version of the proposed amendment returns to the House, where a compromise version will be sought, said state Rep. Bill Reiboldt, R-Neosho, chairman of the House Agriculture Policy Committee.
But Reiboldt, in a telephone interview Thursday, said he was not optimistic about the outcome for the amendment.
“All we wanted to do was not be pressured by outside groups who would try to take that right away from us,” he said. “I’m talking about animal-rights groups. This was an obstacle in the way of farmers we wanted to remove.
“The language we passed out of the House is the language we wanted. It’s not the language they (the Senate) passed. This will now go to conference. It will be very difficult to work this out in conference.
“We will try to work out some kind of compromise if at all possible. If we can’t, it will die. That’s the way things work here.”
If compromise language can be found, the amendment would go before Missouri voters in 2014.
Tim Gibbons, spokesman for the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, which opposes the amendment, said the Senate recognized that it was not out of the realm of possibility that farmers themselves might want to participate in the initiative petition procedure, but would be barred from doing so by the amendment endorsed by the House.
“Our main concern with the amendment was the loss of local control,” Gibbons said. “There is nothing in the Senate version of the amendment that would abrogate the authority of political subdivisions to exercise local control. That has been preserved by the Senate.”
Under the original amendment proposal, no law could prevent farmers and ranchers from employing agricultural technology or “modern livestock production” practices.
The amendment, already endorsed by the House, was debated briefly Wednesday on the floor of the Senate before it was laid over. It was picked up later Wednesday when amendments to change the language were offered.
Supporters of the amendment have said it was proposed in reaction to Proposition B, dubbed the “Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act,” that was supported by the Humane Society of the United States to regulate the state’s 1,300 puppy mills. The amendment, which set operating standards for dog-breeding operations, was endorsed by 51 percent of the state’s voters in November 2010.
Supporters of the right-to-farm amendment say it was logical to assume that agriculture and livestock production in Missouri would be the next target of the national Humane Society and what supporters of the amendment are calling “other radical and subversive special interests.”
Opponents of the amendment have said it would expand the power of corporate agribusiness to exploit future “agricultural technologies” at the expense of family farmers, property rights and local economies.
For and against
THE ORIGINAL AMENDMENT had the support of several agricultural groups, including the Missouri Farm Bureau and a new umbrella organization called Missouri Farmers Care.
THE AMENDMENT was opposed by the Missouri Environmental Defense Alliance and the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation. The groups have said the measure’s language is unclear and could cause problems in terms of implementation.