Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem has approved a temporary restraining order to keep a new state law dealing with meat inspection from going into effect Tuesday.
The order came following a Monday afternoon hearing on the Missouri Conservation Commission's and the Department of Conservation's lawsuit seeking to prevent Attorney General Josh Hawley and Agriculture Director Chris Chinn from enforcing the legal changes.
Beetem's order is in effect for 15 days, until Sept. 11.
A hearing on the lawsuit's request to make the injunction permanent is set for 11 a.m. Sept. 10.
Beetem noted his order makes "no determination as to the validity and/or constitutionality" of the new sections of state law challenged by the lawsuit.
His order blocks the enforcement of only some of the new provisions, while allowing the rest of the new law to go into effect Tuesday.
The commission and Conservation Director Sara Pauley sued over language in Senate Bill 627 that added meat from "captive cervids" — that is, members of the deer family, including white-tailed deer and mule deer (but also including elk, moose and caribou) — to the list of meats requiring inspection by the state Department of Agriculture.
The commission believes the new law conflicts with its constitutional authority over wildlife.
Court documents argue the current version of the state's meat inspection statute defines meat as "any edible portion of livestock or poultry carcass" and defines a commercial plant as one where livestock or poultry are slaughtered.
On June 1, then-Gov. Eric Greitens signed SB 627 into law — which the Senate passed March 8 and the House approved May 17.
Attorney William Price Jr. — a former Missouri Supreme Court chief justice — argued for the Conservation Commission and Pauley, telling Beetem the state Department of Agriculture already has authority over poultry and livestock and would have authority over deer, too, if the law was allowed to go into effect.
Assistant Attorney General Emily Dodge said the way their office interpreted the term "captive cervids" meant all but white-tailed deer and mule deer.
Beetem asked, if that was the case, why that was even in the legislation.
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The lawsuit argues the Legislature may not pass — and the Department of Agriculture may not enforce — laws that are inconsistent with the Conservation Commission's constitutional authority to regulate game and wildlife.
The commission already prohibits the commercial sale of meat from white-tailed deer and mule deer to prevent illegal processing of free-range deer meat.
The commission argues when the Senate bill was filed in December, its content was totally "relating to agriculture." They also said it did not mention anything regarding captive white-tailed deer and mule deer as it does now. There are more than 200 captive breeding facilities and 46 big game hunting preserves in Missouri, which collectively hold more than 10,000 white-tailed deer.
Missouri's Constitution gives the Conservation Commission the authority to regulate the captive deer facilities, and the Missouri Supreme Court issued a ruling July 3 affirming "captive cervids are 'game' and 'wildlife' within the meaning" of that constitutional authority.
Conservation officials said there is a clear conflict between the commission's authority and the potential new state law, as statutes cannot trump the Constitution, which they said expressly forbids laws inconsistent with the commission's authority.