Just on its face, a bill passed by the state House is preposterous: a single group is singled out by lawmakers for protection from lawsuits, by severely limiting damages, even as 26 lawsuits are pending in federal court.
Amateur hour is a long-running series on Jones Street these days, where the Republicans in charge seem to legislate on whims.
But in the case of a state House bill, lawmakers know the consequences: protecting the hog industry from lawsuits coming from people who say big hog farms that spray fields with liquified swine waste ruin their lives with horrendous odors, flies and other problems.
There are those 26 lawsuits, and they could be very expensive indeed if the 541 residents of Eastern North Carolina who are suing prevail. Hog farmers are fighting the suits, of course, as is their right.
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But thanks to a Duplin County farmer who is in the legislature, Rep. Jimmy Dixon, the farmers could get a little help from their friends in the General Assembly, who know the political influence of the well-heeled hog industry. Or, they will if the Senate concurs, which it should not.
A bill passed by the House would actually limit the liability of hog farmers when it comes to suits, capping financial damages that could be awarded at what likely would be thousands of dollars instead of potentially hundreds of thousands or more.
Astonishingly, before the bill passed, some House members wanted to apply the law to pending lawsuits. In other words, the bill would have intervened in cases now in progress. That in itself was evidence of just how powerful this industry is.
A little more than 20 years ago, The News & Observer’s Pulitzer prize-winning series on the hog industry showed it to be woefully short on regulation. Heavy flooding that sent millions of gallons of farm waste over the banks of “waste lagoons” was stark evidence of the impact that lack of regulation can have.
Some changes came, but the industry still is fighting, and in the state House, winning in its campaign to do as it pleases without regard to the impact of actions on its neighbors.
In the House bill, the legislature would seem to be infringing on the rights of people to take their grievances to court. How can this not also be a separation of powers issue?
It’s one thing for Republican lawmakers to curb the regulatory power of state agencies, itself a questionable move when it comes to respecting the independence of the executive branch, but it’s quite another issue for legislators to take aim at legal action involving a specific self-interest group, in this case hog farmers.
Once again, Republicans serve a special interest group against the interests, and rights, of average people.