Override prospects unclear on Mo. agriculture bill

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Vetoed Missouri agriculture legislation that includes an increased penalty for stealing livestock, changes to the state’s animal abuse and neglect law and an allowance for foreign ownership of farmland has divided some agriculture groups.

The legislation is among 29 non-budgetary bills vetoed by Nixon this summer. Lawmakers are returning to Jefferson City on Wednesday to consider veto overrides.

Several farm groups want lawmakers to override the veto because it would lengthen the maximum prison sentence for stealing livestock and change Missouri’s animal abuse and neglect law. But the Missouri Farm Bureau opposes an override because enacting the legislation also would mean ending the state’s long-standing prohibition on foreign ownership of farmland. Instead, there would be a 1 percent cap.

Currently, animal owners can be charged with abuse or neglect if they fail to provide adequate care or control. Under the measure approved by legislators and eventually vetoed by the governor, people who knowingly lose control of their animal for at least 12 hours could instead be charged with the newly created offense of animal trespass — an infraction for the first violation.

And under the legislation, stealing livestock worth more than $10,000 would carry up to a 15-year prison term.

Bill supporters contend Missouri’s current land restriction has not prevented foreign investment and that the changes to the animal abuse and neglect law are a needed correction. They say tougher punishment for stealing livestock could help combat cattle rustling, and the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association has set a veto override as a priority.

The association said in a letter to lawmakers that farmers currently can get a significant fine if an animal gets out, regardless of whether it’s for 12 hours or 10 minutes, and that a potential cattle rustler who risks a longer prison sentence “might think twice.”

As for the foreign ownership provision, the letter said the legislation would cap it at 1 percent, “which is a drop in the bucket and certainly not a concern that warrants abandoning a permanent fix to the animal abuse and neglect law and a bold response to cattle theft.”

A half-dozen other agriculture commodity groups also signed the letter.

Yet, the foreign land ownership portion is prompting the Missouri Farm Bureau to oppose an override. The Farm Bureau’s members have approved a policy supporting current state law prohibiting foreign ownership of agricultural land. Missouri is one of several Midwestern states with laws passed during the 1970s amid concerns of Japanese investment that prohibit or restrict foreign farmland ownership.

An override would require a two-thirds majority, and it exceeded those margins earlier this year — passing the Senate 32-1 and the House 133-21. Sen. David Pearce, who sponsored the underlying legislation, said he has not decided whether to attempt an override.

“I’m still doing some research on that,” said Pearce, R-Warrensburg. “I’m getting a lot of emails on both sides on that. I haven’t made up my mind on it yet.”

Nixon announced his veto in early July and objected to the foreign ownership and animal trespass portions. He said whether Missouri farmland should be foreign-owned requires more vetting. Nixon said the animal trespass provision would not require demonstrating that an animal actually wandered onto another’s land and could be applied to animals such as dogs and cats.

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