In an effort to prevent county ordinances from overriding state regulations pertaining to farming and agricultural operations, the Missouri House of Representatives passed S.B. 391 on May 14 on a 103-44 vote. The vote was the final hurdle for the legislation in the 2019 legislative session, which concluded May 17. The legislation now moves to Missouri Gov. Mike Parson for his signature.
The legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Mike Bernskoetter and led in the House by state Rep. Mike Haffner, prevents county governments from passing rules and regulations on family farms and ranches that are more stringent than scientifically founded rules and regulations promulgated by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and other agencies. Proponents argue that a patchwork of county-by-county regulations creates regulatory uncertainty for farm and ranch families that prevents them from expanding and stops new operations from starting.
Supporters of the bill noted that the Department of Natural Resources heavily regulates agricultural operations based on science. “It’s no easy hurdle, but farm and ranch families understand why the rules are in place. The permitting process is rigorous, time consuming and includes public input and grassroots involvement through the Clean Water and Clean Air commissions,” according to a website encouraging voters to vote in favor of the bill. “Counties do not have the expertise, trained personnel or monetary resources to implement and manage such an ordinance. State agencies have engineers, scientists, health officials and the resources to successfully carry out such regulatory activities.”
The list of proponents includes nearly 30 organizations, with dairy, cattle, egg, pork, poultry and sheep industry groups among them.
The Missouri Cattlemen's Assn. was a driving force in moving the legislation forward, and its president, Bobby Simpson, wasted no time in calling the passage a "historic victory" for farm and ranch families.
"This victory was the product of leaders and staff of nearly 30 groups standing together, dedicated House and Senate leadership, unwavering bill sponsors and elected leaders willing to sort fact from fiction," Simpson said. "Above all else, dedicated farmers and ranchers made this happen. This is their win."
Opponents of the legislation include The Humane Society of the United States, Missouri Rural Crisis Center and Sierra Club. They argue that the legislation only benefits corporate farmers.
Simpson said the wild accusations are false and are a direct assault on farm and ranch families in the state. He said he is thankful that legislators were willing to think independently and see the facts.
"One real story from the next generation wanting a future in Missouri agriculture is more powerful than 1,000 emails with activist talking points," Simpson said. "One real story from a farmer wanting to expand and create more economic activity does more than fear-mongering. The opposition didn't have farmers and ranchers at the capitol every single week of legislative session. Our association's Cowboys at the Capitol program worked: No bogus talking points, just real people with real stories."