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story.lead_photo.caption Mike Bernskoetter Photo by News Tribune

Supporters of the Missouri Senate bill that limits how stringent county ordinances, rules and regulations for confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) may be said the bill helps promote the state's agricultural industry.

It creates a consistent statewide regulatory framework for CAFOs, allowing agriculture in Missouri to flourish, they contend.

It reflects positive controls by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the state Department of Natural Resources.

"Hogwash," said opponents to Senate Bill 391, sponsored by Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City.

The Missouri House on Tuesday voted mostly along party lines to pass the bill and send it on to Gov. Mike Parson for his signature.

Bernskoetter told the News Tribune Tuesday evening: "We had several hours of debate on the Senate side, and they talked it out on the House side.

"I think it will be good for agriculture family farms and farms, in general."

Among other things, the bill:

Prohibits any orders, ordinances, rules or regulations set by county commissions and county health center boards from being more strict than any provisions of law, rules or regulations relating to the state Natural Resources and Health and Senior Services departments, including environmental controls, air conservation and water pollution.

Creates the Joint Committee on Agriculture to study the economic impact of Missouri's agricultural industry in the state, as well as the industry's ongoing efforts to improve environmental stewardship and improve its economic sustainability; ways to create incentives that encourage members of the industry to adopt best practices, to address Missouri's carbon footprint scientifically; and to get Missouri residents' views on agricultural issues.

In a case of "things are upside down," Democrats argued for more local control and Republicans for state and federal control.

Democrats argued 20 counties already have implemented ordinances that regulate CAFOs. The legislation should be blocked because local officials know best how to represent local interests.

Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Pleasant Hill, who escorted the bill through the House, argued the bill does not preempt local laws.

"What it's doing is it's providing a consistent standard throughout the state," Haffner said. "If farmers want to be able to expand into different counties, they won't be able to operate because it's inconsistent from county to county."

What's inconsistent is local law, which would be preempted, Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, pressed Haffner on the House floor Tuesday morning. The give-and-take was part of more than 2 hours of debate over the bill.

The divide over the bill caused the Senate to work overnight one day late last month. At 7:30 a.m. April 30, the Senate completed discussions about the bill. It passed the bill in less than five minutes two days later.

Haffner refused to answer whether the state law would preempt local laws.

"Agriculture is very complex," Haffner replied to Merideth's question.

Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-St. Louis, offered an amendment to allow counties to set stricter rules, if they see fit.

But, Rep. Bryan Spencer, R-Wentzville, warned legislators a filibuster in the Senate was nearing 24 hours at the time. And any amendments to the legislation would cause it to go back to that chamber, where it likely would not be heard again before Friday's end of session.

"If we send it back to the Senate, the chances of it getting passed are slim to none," Spencer said. "It's important that we not only kill this amendment, but any amendment."

McCreery countered: "I'm just saying, let the people decide."

A substitute amendment eventually replaced hers, but was defeated.

Sarah Walsh, R-Ashland, said she had toured some potential sites for CAFOs in her district.

And she pointed out several things in the bill. She said in addition to establishing the Joint Committee on Agriculture, the bill sets consistent standards on agricultural activities.

"A count I have has 114 different counties have different regulations that regulate agriculture," Walsh told Haffner. "That's language that your bill will fix."

There had been a great deal of discussion about notification for neighbors on plans for CAFO, she said. The bill doubles the distance for which CAFO operations need to notify neighbors about the operations.

The operators have to go through a permitting process, she said.

"Protections for the people. They have to go through the process," Walsh said. "They have to get a permit before they begin."

The House often has had discussions about local control, Rep. Doug Clemens said.

Rep. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, broke with his party on the issue. He recognized that Haffner is a Christmas tree farmer. Moon said, on his farm, he grows grass and raises cattle. So, the two understand the importance of the issue.

Moon said he feels a duty to follow the state Constitution. He said the bill was originally written to deal with county health ordinances. It was generally changed to "Agricultural Purposes."

He said that because the bill's original purpose had changed, it is rife for being overturned by courts.

"We are teeing up this bill perfectly for someone who is opposed to the issues that we are considering today. I don't know whether they'll challenge it or not," Moon said. "Why did we get this far in the process knowing full well that bills have been challenged on these grounds?"

But Bernskoetter said he wasn't concerned.

"Anybody can challenge anything at any time," he said. "But I think the Department of Natural Resources is the right place for the regulation of (this kind of) agriculture."

The House has often had discussions about local control, said Rep. Doug Clemens. D-St. Ann. And the bill isn't about family farms — as some argued — he said. It is about corporate control industry of which half is foreign-owned.

The people in the industry aren't neighbors. The agricultural system isn't broken.

"I do beg the body's forgiveness," Clemens said, " and the opportunity comes around so rarely to just say, 'Hogwash.'"

EARLIER COVERAGE:

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Missouri lawmakers have passed a bill to block local officials from regulating industrial farms more strictly than the state does.

House lawmakers voted 103-44 Tuesday to send the measure to Gov. Mike Parson.

Industrial farms known as concentrated animal feeding operations allow for more efficient production of beef, pork, poultry, dairy and eggs. They've also stoked concerns about air and water pollution.

If enacted, the bill would ban counties from enacting rules on those farms that are "more stringent" than state regulations.

Backers of the change say consistent rules across the state will help family farms survive.

Critics raised concerns about loss of local control and questioned the need for change, arguing that large animal feeding operations have been successful in the state under current laws.

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