Farm bill affecting property rights moves ahead

Bill rebalancing property rights of farmers versus other landowners moves ahead in Georgia Senate.

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Bill rebalancing property rights of farmers versus other landowners moves ahead in Georgia Senate.

The state Senate Agriculture Committee approved a piece of legislation that would rebalance property rights between farmers and their neighbors Monday.

The legislation will now go to the Senate floor for a vote and, if approved, return to the House, where it started, for representatives to greenlight changes made to the bill.

House Bill 1150, called the Freedom to Farm bill, would limit the ability of landowners who live near farms or agricultural-related processing facilities to sue those operations because of noises, smells or other impingements on their property.

Georgia’s current Right to Farm law has been held up as a national model that has worked for many years, and no one in the hearings on HB 1150 could cite any significant breach of the law. But sponsors say they fear that lawsuits could shut down or limit farms and hinder them from producing critical goods.

But some lawmakers and opponents question the need for the bill, saying there has been no discernable increase in lawsuits. Georgia law already says people who move close to an established farm cannot sue. And it limits to four years the time existing neighbors have to sue if farmers start doing something new that affects residents.

If the committee’s recommendations are accepted, the Freedom to Farm bill would reduce that period to two years.The bill’s detractors say it would leave neighbors with little recourse if a farm starts doing something that devalues their property.

The Senate Agriculture Committee approved the bill Monday in a split vote with some concessions. The bill also prohibits lawsuits by non-neighbors. That would prevent, for example, nonprofit environmental organizations from suing.