March 26, 2019

As introduced, House Bill 545 is troubling

(Note: As this is posted, Rep. Tom McCall (R-Elberton) is working with constituents and other elected officials to find compromising language for his House Bill 545. The 2019 General Assembly is in its final days.)

             This is a confession:
I am always nervous when the General Assembly is in session. How nervous? How about as nervous as a naked man climbing a barbed-wire fence?     There are so many ideas, good and bad, colliding under the Gold Dome that you never know the consequences—intended or unintended.
A friend suggested how we could more easily predict the motives of legislators. He says, “Require politicians to wear suits—just as the NASCAR drivers do—displaying sponsor logos.”
Here’s another confession:
While ink’s in my veins, I am proud to dig dirt out from under my fingernails. For more than 100 years, farming has run deep in mine and my wife’s families. I can’t wait to shuck a starched shirt and tie to climb onto my tractor. Farming isn’t my primary income, but it’s a significant and satisfying part of my life.
Here’s another confession:
I like to eat. Nothing tastes better than food which comes from a seed you planted. We insist our eight grandchildren know:
§  Farmers stock the shelves of grocery stores.
§  Our family’s farming legacy goes back to mule-plowing days. That’s why we have a mule on our farm today.
§  When we bow our heads to say grace, we remember the men and women who help to feed us.
Here’s another confession:
I love peas, butterbeans, okra, corn, squash and such, but I am not a vegetarian. I enjoy a piece of fried chicken, a pork chop or a slice of roast beef on my plate. Eggs and bacon are mighty fine, too. And, oh, my, pork barbecue. Thank you, farmers.
Here’s another confession:
As it was introduced, I am opposed to Rep. Tom McCall’s House Bill 545. In fact, I am very nervous about the unintended consequences of this measure. As chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. McCall believes he is helping farmers, but his proposal waters down the rights of others.
Proponents say HB 545 is a mirror of North Carolina’s law that—among other things—protects massive hog and other types of industrial operations from nuisance lawsuits. They believe Georgia needs such legislation. McCall has some strong backers, including the Georgia Poultry Federation, the Georgia Urban Ag Council, the Georgia Farm Bureau, the Georgia Forestry Association and the Georgia Agribusiness Council.
Here’s another confession:
Traditionally, I am a member of the Forestry Association and the Farm Bureau. As I write this, a crew is harvesting some of our timber. Chicken litter (manure) makes our hay fields lush. Our animals are grateful, as I am. But I don’t understand why this bill has to pit farmers against other landowners, especially their neighbors.
Many—probably most—of Georgia’s rural counties have no zoning guidelines. Neighbors can easily be turned into modern-day Hatfields and McCoys, feuding over stinking and/or possible pollution issues related to agricultural practices. Farmers, including me, have basic rights to farm. However, farmers shouldn’t have the right to be reckless or disrespectful to others and the environment.
The original HB 545 raises too many concerns. One example, among the complexities in the language, is the 12-month statute of limitations for legal redress. That is wrong. Neighbors deserve more respect than this legislation would allow.
So, I therefore confess:
I believe HB 545—unless it is significantly altered—will do more harm than good. It makes me as nervous as a naked man climbing a barbed-wire fence.