By WES DUPLANTIER
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri livestock farmers wouldn't have to follow some new zoning, environmental and other laws under legislation endorsed Wednesday by the Missouri House.
The measure, given first-round approval in a voice vote, would declare that farmers have a "right to raise livestock." Under the bill, livestock farmers would not have to comply with local, state or federal laws enacted after the farm goes into business or Aug. 28, 2012, whichever is later.
Sponsoring Rep. Tom Loehner, R-Koeltztown, said the measure would give farm-related businesses more certainty about laws so that they can make long-term investments.
"We will grandfather in the operations that are already there so that we don't legislate someone out of business," he said. "We're going to have to protect that right that we have to raise livestock which, I think, is conferred on us as free Americans."
But critics of the bill said it would create confusion for state and local agencies trying to enforce laws and ordinances, because the agency would have to know if the farm existed when the law was created.
"We're basically creating a bureaucratic maze, with different tiers of laws applying to different businesses in the same industry," said Rep. Tracy McCreery, a Democrat who was elected as an independent candidate in St. Louis.
McCreery said the legislation could discourage people from starting an agricultural business in the future, because more laws and regulations would apply to that business than those already in operation.
Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said the legislation could make it more difficult for the state to enact and enforce agricultural regulations during farm-related emergencies, such as a disease outbreak, because some businesses would have to comply, while others would not.
The bill must be approved once more by the House before it goes to the Senate.
Loehner said Wednesday that he is worried lawmakers from urban areas might push through agriculture laws in the future that hurt livestock farmers. He said he thinks urban legislators might not understand that certain farming practices are humane and necessary, even if they appear unpleasant.
Loehner has proposed a similar constitutional amendment, which has also received House endorsement. If approved by the Legislature and the state's voters, that measure also would prevent voters from enacting new agriculture laws by initiative petition.
Livestock legislation is HB1324