A farmer harvests corn. (Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)
A bill to make it more difficult to sue agricultural operations earned the unanimous support of the state House Ag and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday.
Some opponents called the legislation a move to eliminate nuisance lawsuits all but entirely.
House Bill 1090, introduced by Rep. James Wangsness, R-Miller, restricts the right to file nuisance lawsuits against ag operations to landowners – not organizations or other individuals – who live within one mile of the alleged nuisance. Payouts in successful lawsuits could be no higher than the amount the landowner has lost in property value as a result of the ag operation’s activities.
“It is vital we ensure proper protections from frivolous nuisance claims by protecting our producers and their way of life,” Wangsness said.
The bill also restricts the kinds of nuisance complaints eligible for a legal remedy. If the bill becomes law, “the plaintiff would need to have clear and convincing evidence the nuisance was caused by conduct that did not comply with county, municipal, state, or federal environmental laws or regulations,” according to the state Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources (DANR). The bill only restricts nuisance complaints, however, “so civil liability may still apply for strict liability, contracts, negligence, and other civil suits.”
DANR Secretary Hunter Roberts testified in favor of the legislation, as did lobbyists for the South Dakota Farm Bureau and South Dakota Farmers Union.
“We want to keep our farmers on the land, and keep them doing what they do so well, instead of ending up with these frivolous lawsuits in court that slow everything down and cost everyone money,” Roberts said.
The bill is substantially similar to a proposal in Nebraska.
What about ‘over a mile?’
A speaker from the advocacy group Dakota Rural Action was not allowed to testify remotely before the committee because the group hadn’t asked to do so within 24 hours of the hearing. After the hearing, spokesperson Chase Jensen said the organization has concerns about the one-mile provision.
“There are smells and noises that can potentially travel more than one mile, so we’re wondering how that decision was made,” Jensen said.
Pesticides sprayed on croplands and agricultural waste in waters also travel over a mile, Jensen said.
Rep. Roger Chase, R-Huron, chairs the committee. After the hearing, he told South Dakota Searchlight that the bill would likely stop such complaints if the operator in question isn’t breaking a law.
“If everything is being done the proper way, and nothing’s being done illegally, or not the way it’s supposed to be, that would protect the farmer producer on the nuisance side,” Chase said.
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