House Bill 467,
the controversial "Agriculture and Forestry Nuisance Remedies" bill, passed the Senate late Wednesday evening 30–19 and is on its way back to the House for concurrence. An amended version
of the bill cleared the House Tuesday afternoon.
As the INDY
has previously reported
, the bill would limit the financial damages people could collect in nuisance lawsuits filed against agricultural and forestry operations, including hog farms, and cap
the amount of money property owners could collect at the fair market value of their property, which critics say can be often made lower thanks to the presence of nearby commercial farms.
"If enacted, H467 would strip property rights away from North Carolinians who suffer odors, flies, and health harms from nearby industrial hog operations," Jamie Cole, a policy advocate the NC Conservation Network, said in a statement. "This pollution disproportionately affects low-income communities of color, many having had their property in their families for generations—long before any hog operations came into the area. This bill, which protects only agricultural and forestry operations, will deprive those communities the compensatory damages allowed in every other tort against every other class of defendants."
One particularly controversial part of the bill would have restricted the damages even for current lawsuits—essentially nullifying twenty-six federal lawsuits pending against Murphy-Brown, the hog division of Smithfield Foods. That provision was nixed
in the final versions that passed both the House and Senate.
"This bill just limits compensatory damages in nuisance lawsuits only to fair-market value," explained Republican Senator Brent Jackson, one of the sponsors of the bill's Senate companion and the recipient of more than $130,000
in campaign contributions from donors associated with the commercial hog farming industry. "We're not taking away anyone's rights. They can still sue for many other things."
During the late-evening debate, only Democratic Senator Erica Smith-Ingram (who previously expressed
concern about the bill) spoke up. She asked for clarification about previous remarks from Jackson that indicated that families seeking settlements for damages over property loss were being restored to "more than whole
." Smith-Ingram asked Jackson for an example; Jackson said she misunderstood what he said. She tried again.
"Are there any examples of cases where a family seeking settlement or damages have been restored to more than whole
Jackson said he was unable to answer the question. "I can't comment on any pending cases because I'm not aware of any,” he said. “And this bill would not pertain to them, so I've not spent time researching these questions."
A minute later, the bill passed the Senate's second and third reading.
Should the House concur, the legislation would be sent to Governor Roy Cooper's desk.
It's worth noting, since the INDY has identified hundreds of thousands of dollars donated by Big Pork to the campaigns of the Senate and House bill sponsors
, that Cooper has received $18,000 from Smithfield Foods and at least $4,000 from people with ties to Murphy-Brown.