A controversial hog-farm-protection bill that's quickly moving through the legislature passed its third House reading Monday 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 legal claims and cap the amount of damages property owners could collect at about $7,000. Perhaps most controversially, the bill would have also applied to any lawsuit pending at the time it went into effect, essentially nullifying twenty-six federal lawsuits currently pending against Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods.
That's where things got held up. That last, controversial provision didn't make it past the House Monday, 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.
"We don't need to rush in and bail out a defendant," Blust argued.
The bill's sponsor, Representative Jimmy Dixon, R-Wayne and Duplin, vigorously opposed Blust's proposal. "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, 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 many representatives who voted for the measure in the House have received sizeable campaign contributions from Big Pork. Chief among them is Dixon, who has received more than $115,000 over the course of his career from the pork industry, including more than $36,000 from donors associated with Murphy-Brown.
During the House debate, however, with no apparent sense of irony, Dixon claimed the bill's opponents "are being prostituted for money."
This article appeared in print with the headline "+SAUSAGE PARTY FOUL."