Officials consider farm law

December 07, 1993|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

All Carroll County's Agricultural Commission wanted was to help create a local "right-to-farm" ordinance.

What it got was an open can of worms.

Meeting with Agricultural Commission members and Carroll County commissioners yesterday, County Attorney Charles W. "Chuck" Thompson Jr. suggested that a state law passed by the General Assembly might be preferable to the county obtaining permission to write a Carroll "right-to-farm" ordinance.

A "right-to-farm" ordinance is designed to protect farmers from nuisance suits.

State law requires Carroll County officials to receive permission from the General Assembly before writing ordinances.

Howard County, which passed a similar right-to-farm law four years ago, did not need permission because it has a charter form of government.

"A state law would carry more weight, particularly when you're talking about real estate disclosure," Mr. Thompson said, adding that it would be harder to change.

The draft proposal, which includes a provision informing home buyers they are moving into an agricultural area, would protect only farmers who were using accepted agricultural practices.

Those violating sediment control, water quality and other health laws would not be protected, commission members said.

That, in itself, might open the door for more lawsuits, Mr. Thompson said.

"If a farmer is not using best management practices, does that automatically become a nuisance?" Mr. Thompson asked.

"Nuisance suits are the most difficult tort to prove. This [a right-to-farm law] might make it easier [for someone filing a nuisance suit to win the case.]

"If you're going to draft an ordinance, you have to consider the potential evil as well as the potential good."

Agricultural commission members said they were concerned that a state law might encounter more resistance from state agencies or other jurisdictions than a request to draft a Carroll ordinance.

County officials encountered similar resistance when trying to pass a water quality bill, said Carroll County Administrative Assistant Robert A. "Max" Bair.

But state agencies might also balk at an ordinance request because they would want to know exactly what power and authority they were giving the county commissioners, Mr. Thompson said.

The Agricultural Commission's subcommittee working on right-to-farm legislation is expected to meet with Mr. Thompson to determine a course of action by the middle of next week.

Group members have written a draft law drawn from other right-to-farm legislation from across the nation.

They expect to have either the legislation or the request to write a local ordinance ready for the General Assembly by the end of the year.

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