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Nixon: Deer farmers, they aren’t livestock

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Governor Jay Nixon announced he has vetoed House Bill 1326 and Senate Bill 506, also known as the Missouri Dairy Revitalization Act of 2014, during a meeting of the Missouri Conservation Commission on Tuesday.

“This is the first time to my knowledge that a governor has taken his time to appear before the commission,” said Don Bedell, chair of the commission. “In the five years that I have served this is the largest attendance that we have had. So I think that indicates the importance (of the meeting).”

Nixon started his announcement with saying it was fitting to be in the same room of the Tiger Hotel in Columbia that the conservation department was created in nearly 80 years ago. He continued to mention how the commission was formed with an amendment to the state constitution that was approved by 70 percent of the voters, and the later amendment that created a sales tax to fund the department.

After his retailing of the department’s history and the reasons it exists, he began to get to the heart of the matter, which was the vetoing of House Bill 1326 and Senate Bill 506 and the numerous “special breaks” for sales tax exemptions passed in the final hours of the last legislative session.

“Tucked into these agriculture omnibus bills is a provision that strikes at the very heart that everything that the people in this room and previous generations have fought for, all to appease a single special narrow interest,” Nixon said about the Senate and House bills. “These bills redefine the term livestock in Missouri statutes to include captive cervids, or deer, and put them in the same classification as cattle and other domesticated animals. There are many ways this seemingly small change would have a significant and far reaching impact.”

Nixon outlined three reasons for his actions that he shared in his message to the General Assembly. The first of these reasons was that deer are not livestock.

“It is obvious that deer are not livestock … bottom line a deer is not a cow, just try to milk one,” Nixon said.

The second reason he gave was that shifting the responsibility of Missouri’s deer from the Department of Conservation and to the Department of Agriculture would violate the state’s constitution and reverse the hard fought progress of the commission. Early on he mentioned this progress included taking deer populations from approximately 2,000 in 1935 to around an estimated 1.3 million now.

“Short-sighted and cynical assaults like this are the very reason why the Conservation Commission must and shall remain a strong and independent custodian of our state’s time honored traditions and precious resources,” Nixon said. “We can’t say to these commissioners we hold you to a higher standard and let the day-to-day drubbings of day-to-day politics mess with them. If they are going to make long term decisions they should not have to deal with term-limited short-term mindsets.”

His third and final reason was that the two bills would “thwart the effective efforts … to protect Missouri’s deer herd form Chronic Waste Disease (CWD).”

CWD is a transmissible neurological disease of deer and elk that produces small lesions in brains of infected animals. It is characterized by loss of body condition, behavioral abnormalities and death, according to cwd-info.org.

The Conservation Commission started to monitor the deer population in 2002 for the disease. The first cases were detected between 2010 and 2011 in Linn and Macon counties within deer inside and nearby private big game ranches, Nixon said.

During his defense of the vetoes for the sales tax exemptions for fast food restaurants, power companies, dry cleaners and more, he said the cuts would reduce the Conservation Department’s annual revenue by $12.3 million.

“This misguided set of last minute give aways could have real consequences. Money that could be going to habitat restoration for quail would instead go to dry cleaners,” Nixon said. “If you are wondering why you missed the committee hearings on these bills it’s because in many cases there weren’t any, nor were there fiscal ones. This is demonstrating a stunning lack of fiscal restraint and a complete disregard for the legislative process.”

His decision to veto all of these legislative actions were met with applause from the crowd and approval of the commission.

“We are 100 percent behind the governor on this issue,” said Commissioner Marilyn Bradford. “I feel very strongly about them (the bills and sales tax exemptions). We have a mandate that we’re trying to stand behind, and that mandate is to protect the deer herd for the future generations of this state.”

But not everyone enjoyed the news from the governor. Shortly after the meeting was adjourned, the office of Rep. Casey Guernsey sent out a press release that called the governor’s actions an “unconstitutional power grab.”

“This goes far beyond that of deer,” the release quoted Guernsey as saying. “He’s made a deliberate choice of elevating unelected bureaucrats over Missouri farmers and empowering them with the ability to make a blatant grab of private property. … He has literally turned his back on these employees, businesses and family farms.”

The release also quotes Guernsey asking if the “unaccountable conservation commission” will be regulating the cattle industry next, and that the governor’s decision was to favor lobbyist and attorneys in Jefferson City. He also added that 13 Missouri agriculture groups, along with both political parties from the House, supported the bill, so he is confident he will see a lot of support to override the veto, according to the release.

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