In this AJC file photo, young broilers scatter in one of a dozen bird houses on a chicken farm in County. BOB ANDRES BANDRES@AJC.COM Bob Andres / AJC/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres / AJC/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres / AJC/bandres@ajc.com

The Jolt: A bill to shield industrial agriculture in Georgia

Legislatively speaking, North Carolina is often a trend-setter for efforts in Georgia’s state Capitol.

Last year, that state’s Republican law-making body and Democratic governor engaged in a brutal fight over pork factories, their rights, and the rights of their rural neighbors. From a June article in the Raleigh News & Observer:

North Carolina will place new limits on how and when neighbors of hog farms can sue the agriculture businesses next door.

The state legislature gave final approval on Wednesday to a bill that restricts nuisance lawsuits against farms and other livestock and forestry operations. The state House voted 74 to 45 in the morning to override a veto that Gov. Roy Cooper issued on Monday. The Senate voted on Tuesday to reverse the governor's action…

Lawmakers pushing for the curbs on nuisance lawsuits were upset by a jury’s decision in federal court in April to award $50 million to 10 neighbors of a hog farm operated by Murphy-Brown and Smithfield Foods.

Surrounding landowners focused on the use of pungent “lagoons” where hog waste was stored, then sprayed on to nearby fields.

Similar legislation has been filed in Georgia, but on behalf of this state’s poultry industry. House Bill 545 quietly passed the House on Crossover Day last week. Opponents have begun sounding the alarm. From the Georgia Water Coalition:

Georgia’s existing Right to Farm law reasonably protects existing agricultural land uses. The law, which dates to 1980, limits the ability of people who move into rural areas to make nuisance claims against long-standing agricultural operations.

HB 545 effectively eliminates those rights. HB 545 severely restricts the rights of individual property owners, businesses, and schools from protecting their rights against nuisances from industrial agricultural operations that move into their communities. 

The bill prevents nuisance suits from being filed against any agricultural operation if it has been in operation for at least a year, even if the nuisance-creating activity has not started yet.

Despite the opposition, given the attention economic development in rural Georgia has gotten this session, HB 545’s chances of passage are pretty strong.

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Here comes Kamala Harris: The California senator is visiting Atlanta on March 24 for a rally at a yet-to-be-disclosed location.

That makes the fourth visit to Georgia from a presidential contender this year, following trips from Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren, as well as former Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz.

You can find the details here.

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The fight against anti-abortion law in Georgia has already created some case law. 

A federal judge sided with the ACLU’s Georgia chapter late Thursday, saying state Capitol police can’t ban those protesting HB 481, the ‘heartbeat” bill, from wearing buttons that include profanity.

The suit was brought by two women who oppose the the anti-abortion measure and wore pink Planned Parenthood buttons with the offending words. They were blocked by state police officers, who said the buttons weren’t allowed because children could see them.

In the ruling, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones said the use of the buttons was likely protected by the First Amendment and ordered police not to ban them for now. 

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On Thursday, we told you that Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan would sponsor a proposed constitutional amendment to limit the lieutenant governor to two four-year terms – matching the limit placed on governors. Zell Miller holds the record for lieutenant governors. He held the job for 16 years.

That prompted a note from former House member Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, who retired from the Legislature last year. “You mention Zell Miller served four terms, but few recall Zell ran initially on the platform of doing away with the LG office, if elected, as not necessary and unneeded expense for state,” Willard wrote.

The fact that Miller was preceded by Lester Maddox in the job might have had something to do with Miller’s campaign promise. Maddox, barred from a second term as governor at the time, instead ran for lieutenant governor in 1970 – and won, complicating Gov. Jimmy Carter’s tenure in office.

Updated: Keith Mason, who would serve as Zell Miller’s chief of staff when he was governor, just sent us a note. Willard is misremembering, Mason said:

Zell did not run on abolishing the LG office. He pledged to stop the bickering with the governor ( i.e., Maddox and Carter). His Republican opponent, John Savage, a legislator from South Fulton, pledged to abolish the office if elected.

I first met Zell in that campaign as a young teenager in Gwinnett County where Zell and Shirley also lived at that time.

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Former state senator Josh McKoon of Columbus, once rumored to be a candidate for chairman of the Republican Party of Georgia, has endorsed former chamber colleague David Shafer for the job. The two have shared interests in social conservative issues. From McKoon’s Facebook page:

David Shafer is a candidate that all corners of our party can rally behind. We need a united GOP that is financially strong with a rebuilt grassroots network to do the hard work of re-electing our President and Senator David Perdue, while also taking back the 6th Congressional District and the seats we lost in 2018 in the Georgia General Assembly.

Both Shafer and McKoon lost primary bids for statewide office The election will take place at the party’s May statewide convention in Savannah.

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Another day, another transcript. U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, on Thursday released the testimony that former FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok gave before the House Judiciary Committee last year.

It's the third transcript the Republican has released over the past week from the GOP's old probe of FBI and Justice Department investigations into the Clinton and Trump campaigns. Collins said the public "deserve(s) to know what transpired in the highest echelons of the FBI during that tumultuous time for the bureau." 

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