OK Pork Council Anticipates Gov Stitt will Sign Bill that Restricts Nuisance Lawsuits on Ag OperationsFri, 29 Mar 2019 11:43:18 CDT
The Oklahoma Legislature wrapped up its second week of cross committee work this Thursday, as Senate committees review bills that originated in the House and vice versa. Lawmakers have two weeks left to finish their committee work before the next major deadline on April 11. Following that, all bills must be heard and approved by the full opposite body. Radio Oklahoma Ag Network Associate Farm Director Carson Horn caught up with Roy Lee Lindsey, executive director of the Oklahoma Pork Council, this week to discuss the recent activities of legislators at the State Capitol as they move toward those upcoming deadlines in the 2019 Legislative Session. You can listen to their complete conversation by clicking or tapping the LISTEN BAR below at the bottom of the page.
“Lots going on right now,” Lindsey remarked. “The ag committees didn’t really meet this week or last week either - so, Monday is going to be a big day. We’ve got House and Senate ag committees meeting Monday. Lots of stuff still pending, still working its way through the system… and we’ll be watching. But, a lot of that is just clean up language on issues that maybe don’t pertain to us (pork industry stakeholders) so much but to some of our other friends in agriculture.”
One issue that is of particular interest to Lindsey and his team, though, is H.B. 2373, which he says is important to all of agriculture but specifically hog producers. Until now, Lindsey has kept the bill’s progress through the session quiet as it has managed to fly under the radar some with relatively no opposition.
“H.B. 2373 will create caps on non-economic damages and ag nuisance lawsuits. It sets the caps at $250,000 or three times the actual damages that are awarded in any nuisance case - whichever is greater,” he explained. “This is really kind of a response on our part to what we’re seeing in North Carolina with the lawsuits against major integrators.”
The situation there of course, involving well-established farms that have remained compliant within the letter of the law and suddenly find nuisance or damage claims levied against them. Lindsey says it is not the farms themselves being targeted but rather the larger corporations behind them - Smithfield Foods for example. He says the people behind these suits have found this to be an easy way to acquire large payouts for personal profit taking.
“This idea of nuisance lawsuits is not new. Some of the cases in North Carolina - the actual damages awarded were relatively small, maybe $65,000. Then, the jury turned around and awarded $12.5 million in punitive damages,” Lindsey explained. “I just don’t know how you get from $65,000 and suddenly not only are you entitled to that, you’re also entitled to $12.5 million… That’s what this law will prevent is those kinds of verdicts.”
The bill passed through the House of Representatives several weeks ago 88 - 7 and last week out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. This week, H.B. 2373 was heard on the Senate Floor and passed 9 - 7. Lindsey says several procedural matters must be attended to before the bill lands on the Governor’s desk next week, at which point he will have 10 days to sign the bill into law. Lindsey is optimistic Governor Stitt will move forward to approve the bill.
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