General Assembly overrides governor on hog farm suits, early voting
The state’s early voting schedule will change and nuisance lawsuits against hog farms and other farming operations will be harder to bring in North Carolina under legislation the General Assembly gave final approval to Wednesday.
In less than an hour Wednesday morning, the House chewed through five of the the seven vetoes Gov. Roy Cooper issued late Monday, including measures on rolling back various state regulations, redrawing some judicial districts and making changes to insurance rules.
The Senate overrode the farm and elections bills Tuesday night and also overrode the regulatory reform bill on Wednesday afternoon.
The Farm Act vote was in doubt earlier in the week despite the Republican super-majority, in part because some members were concerned over property rights. An audible sigh of relief came after the 74-45 vote from beside the speaker’s dais, where House Majority Leader John Bell and various staff were gathered.
Bell, R-Wayne, was outside the chamber reviewing the names of members who voted for and against the bill moments later.
Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, called the measure “a fundamental crack in that bedrock private property rights.” Blust also complained that his party turned the issue into a binary choice: You’re either for the Farm Act, or you’re against family farmers.
Supporters pitched the bill as crucial to family farms in the wake of a $50 million judgment against hog giant Smithfield Foods in April. Odor, noise, pests and, in some cases, hog waste sprayed into the air for disposal sparked lawsuits that are now working their way through federal courts. The bill would limit new filings and allow punitive damages only if the farm in question has broken state law.
Those seeking to reform North Carolina’s hog industry argue that state regulations are too lax and don’t require new technologies that can limit smells from open waste lagoons. Bill supporters said farmers who follow the law shouldn’t be punished. Farmers packed the House and Senate galleries as the chambers voted on the bill in recent weeks, and farmers held a rally outside the statehouse earlier this week, on the same day Cooper vetoed the bill.
Bill supporters said the legislation won’t affect lawsuits already filed, but those on the other side predict it will. Smithfield’s legal team has argued before that similar legislation should be retroactive.
Cooper’s veto on the early voting bill was also overturned in the House on Wednesday, 74-45.
Under the new early voting rules, voters won’t be able to cast ballots on the last Saturday before an election. Instead the 17-day period will move forward a day. The bill also expands early voting on weekdays to 12 hours, an expansion of the total hours offered.
Some local election officials have said the change will make it hard to find enough staff, which will likely mean fewer early voting locations are opened.
The judicial districts and insurance rules bills still need a Senate override vote to become law, and neither chamber has taken up the vetoes on measures dealing with bail bond forfeitures and the state pension system.