A bill being fast-tracked through the legislature that would shield the hog industry from nuisance lawsuits cleared the House Judiciary Committee this afternoon and could get a vote in the full House as early as tomorrow.
As the INDY reported last week, HB 467 is moving quickly despite concerns that it would affect pending litigation filed by hundreds of landowners against commercial hog farmers. The “Agriculture and Forestry Nuisance Remedies” bill would prevent those plaintiffs from recovering damages that aren’t property-value-related, including health and nuisance damages resulting from hog waste. Under the bill, property owners would most likely only be able to collect a $7,000 cap in damages over a three-year period, and the bill would apply to any lawsuit pending at the time it goes into effect.
There are currently twenty-six pending federal lawsuits filled against Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods. As we reported last week, the bill’s sponsors, including Representative Jimmy Dixon, R-Wayne and Duplin, have gotten serious contributions from the pork industry over the years. According to campaign finance records, Dixon has received more than $115,000 in contributions from Big Pork over the course of his career, including $36,250 from donors associated with Murphy-Brown, the company facing more than two dozen federal lawsuits that the bill in question would essentially nullify.
These issues didn’t go unnoticed at the hearing. Democratic Representative Robert T. Reives sought to add an amendment stating that the bill would not affect pending litigation. “I’m extremely uncomfortable with the legislature initiating something once a lawsuit has begun,” Reives explained.
Unfortunately for Reives and the dozens of farmers suing Murphy-Brown, the amendment failed. And after a series of furious public comments from landowners who would be impacted by the legislation, HB 467 passed.
Don Webb, a former hog farmer from eastern North Carolina, was livid as he addressed the room.
“When I found out what I was doing to my neighbors, I got out of the hog industry,” he fumed. “It was a feces and urine factory, and not a waste factory. I’m a human being. I’m an American. And an American should not have to smell someone else’s feces and urine. And that’s what they want to force with this bill. You want to play with my constitutional rights to not be able to sue. You want to take away because I’m not a millionaire. You want to take that right away from me, and other people. You’ve got no right to do it, and you know it. I’m telling the truth! You know you’re wrong.”
Meanwhile, just like last week’s deliberation, the meeting was held in a small room with no streaming audio.