In a blow to environmentalists and critics of the commercial hog farming industry, the N.C. Senate voted 30–18 Thursday to override Governor Cooper's veto of House Bill 467. The day before, the House did the same, also voting largely along party lines.
HB 467 restricts the amount of money property owners can collect in nuisance lawsuits filed against agricultural operations, including hog farms. It will essentially cap the damages property owners can collect in nuisance lawsuits at the fair market value of their property—which critics point out is often reduced by the presence of those commercial farms.
Cooper vetoed the bill on May 5, shortly after lawyers representing hundreds of plaintiffs involved in twenty-six federal lawsuits against Murphy-Brown LLC, the hog division of Smithfield Foods, submitted new evidence showing that fecal matter from the hog operations has wound up outside of homes and has likely ended up in their homes and even on their food.
Senator Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, the sponsor of the Senate companion bill, who has received more than $130,000 in campaign contributions from the hog farming industry, reacted to the override by saying that he is "incredibly pleased that this bill ... is now law. This is a victory for farmworkers and our rural communities."
The N.C. Pork Council struck a similarly celebratory tone: "Farmers across our state are grateful that the Senate has acted to override the Gov. Cooper veto to provide them more certainty and protection from predatory lawyers."
Supporters of HB 467, including House sponsor Representative Jimmy Dixon (who has received more than $115,000 in campaign contributions from Big Pork), have consistently argued that the legislation is intended to protect rural family farmers from greedy "out of state" attorneys. However, it's worth noting that the federal lawsuits at the heart of the debate were filed by a North Carolina-based law firm against a $14 billion Chinese-owned multinational corporation, on behalf of mostly low-income African-American plaintiffs.
+EVERY INTELLIGENT STATEMENT
U.S. Senator Richard Burr, the North Carolina Republican who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, joined a full house of influential North Carolina GOP leaders when he arrived in Raleigh Friday evening. The visit came at a time when Burr's profile was mushrooming as leader of the Senate investigation of ties between President Trump and Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election.
After the meeting, he told the INDY that his panel's probe will follow up on "every intelligent statement," but he won't allow the probe to turn into a witch hunt. Read into that what you will.
"We are in the interview stage right now, so it's pretty extensive," Burr said. "I think we've finished about thirty interviews so far." Burr said the ongoing investigation has not yet given him "a good feel for what the full extent of it is."
Burr, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, and U.S. Senator Thom Tillis were among the featured speakers for the Jesse Helms Center Foundation Thirtieth Anniversary Lecture Dinner. Those in attendance included a who's who of Republican bigs: political kingpin Art Pope, U.S. representatives Mark Walker and Richard Hudson, former U.S. ambassador to Denmark James Cain, former assistant secretary of defense Robert Wilkie, former Raleigh mayor and Wake County commission chairman Paul Coble, fundraiser Louis DeJoy, and former Helms aide Jimmy Broughton.
Outside the Sheraton Raleigh Hotel, about fifteen demonstrators gathered at noon, before Tillis was scheduled to speak, to urge the appointment of a special prosecutor into suspected links between Trump and Russia. Said demonstrator Mandy Hitchcock of Carrboro: "I am here because I am really disturbed about the firing of [former FBI director] Jim Comey. I think the senators need to think more about the state of our democracy and less about their own futures."
A group of about seventy-five showed up at four p.m. in hopes of catching Burr, chanting and carrying signs as news cameras gathered. But the senator didn't make an appearance until about seven forty-five, and the protesters were long gone.
This article appeared in print with the headline "+HOG WILD."