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Senate passes bill to protect agricultural rights

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The Senate passed a bill 40-8 Thursday that would guide state policy on agriculture and farmers’ rights.

Senate Bill 186 provides that it is the responsibility of the state to conserve, protect, and encourage the development and improvement of agriculture. The goal is to guide the courts to interpret state laws to be sympathetic toward farmers.

Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, authored the bill after an amended hunting and fishing proposal by Sen. Brent Steele’s, R-Bedford, was passed in 2011 without language for farm protections.

“This is a bill that is friendly to our farmers moving forward,” Yoder said. “It’s important to show them the respect and the commitment to maintain their ability to farm and raise crops and food for us.”

Sens. Timothy Lanane, D-Anderson, and Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington, said the state already has language along this line in the Freedom to Farm Act, making this bill unnecessary.

“Farmers already have the right in our federal and state constitutions to engage in farming and choose their farming practices as long as they’re legal, just like all the other Hoosiers have the right to engage in their chosen professions, trades or businesses,” Stoops said. “So not only is there no need for this legislation, agribusiness already enjoys enhanced legal protection and privileges in Indiana.”

Stoops said one of his constituents had to leave their lifelong home because a factory hog farm was built next door. He said the stench could be smelled in the constituent’s home and decreased the house’s property value. The family told Stoops they had to leave because they “didn’t know what else to do.”

“SB 186, if it becomes a law, will only make matters worse,” Stoops said.

Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, echoed those concerns since there already are right-to-farm laws, but she also called the policy a “trump card” in the courts.

“(The Freedom to Farm Act) goes a very long way to protecting farms,” Tallian said. “This bill is one step farther than that. It is a direction to the courts on how to interpret the law in the case where there may be some conflicting interests.”

Steele, who supported the bill, said comparing the proposal to a “trump card” is inaccurate because a trump card wins regardless of facts. He said a judge would still rule fairly if one party violates the law. SB 186 would only come into play if “the scales are balanced.”

“If the scales are balanced, the judge needs to come down on the side of the farmer because that is state policy,” Steele said.

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