A controversial hog-farm-protection bill that’s quickly moving through the legislature passed its third House reading this evening after more than an hour of debate and is now headed to the Senate—with one important change.
As the INDY previously reported, HB 467 would protect hog farmers from lawsuits filed by their neighbors. It would shield agricultural operations—including hog farms—from myriad kinds of legal claims, and would cap the amount of damages property owners could collect at an estimated $7,000. Perhaps most controversially, the bill would have also applied to any lawsuit that was pending at the time it went into effect, essentially nullifying twenty-six federal lawsuits currently pending against Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of the powerful Smithfield Foods corporation.
That’s where things got held up. That last, controversial provision didn’t make it past the House this evening, thanks in part to Guilford Republican John Blust. Citing concerns about the pending lawsuits, Blust proposed a last-minute amendment to make the bill “prospective”—meaning it would not affect the current lawsuits against Murphy-Brown.
“These damages are available have been adjudicated,” Blust argued. “We don’t need to rush in and bail out a defendant.”
The bill’s sponsor, Representative Jimmy Dixon, R-Wayne and Duplin, vigorously opposed Blust’s proposal, which was not altogether surprising given that he has received more than $115,000 in campaign contributions over the course of his career from the pork industry, including more than $36,000 from donors associated with Murphy-Brown.
“Vote no on the amendment,” Dixon pleaded. “The NC Farm Families, N.C. Pork Council, Farm Bureau, poultry farmers support this bill. If you support the bill, you must oppose the amendment. Let’s give a little bit of love to folks who feed us on a daily basis.”
Unfortunately for Dixon, a former farmer, Blust’s amendment passed 59–56. Shortly thereafter, the bill cleared the House 68–47. Opponents of the legislation had mixed feelings.
“I’m glad our cases won’t be affected,” said Elsie Herring, a Duplin resident involved in litigation against Murphy-Brown. “But it’s still a bad bill, and we have to fight it.”
It’s unclear how HB 467 will fare in the Senate. But, as the INDY reported this morning, almost every representative who voted for the measure in the House’s second reading last week has received campaign contributions from Big Pork, including bill cosponsors John Bell and David Lewis. Bell, the House majority leader, has received $5,000 from the N.C. Pork Council, $1,000 from Smithfield Foods, $5,000 from Dixon, and $1,850 from people with ties to Goldsboro Milling, the tenth-largest hog producer in the nation. And Lewis received $15,500 from the Pork Council, $4,750 from Murphy-Brown stakeholders, $9,500 from Prestage Farms, and $7,000 from Smithfield, according to campaign finance records.
Dixon, meanwhile, has received $9,500 from the N.C. Pork Council; more than $20,000 from the Maxwell family, which owns the Goldsboro Milling; $9,000 from Walter Pelletier and $3,000 from John Pike, both of whom also have ties to Goldsboro Milling; $37,500 from Prestage Farms; and $36,250 from donors associated with Murphy-Brown.