News: Quick Takes

Cooper vetoes hog waste bill, citing property rights concerns

Gov. Roy Cooper on Friday vetoed House Bill 467, a measure limiting damages property owners can receive if they win nuisance lawsuits against nearby hog farms or other agricultural or forestry operations.

The bill passed in April. It capped the amount of compensatory damages in those lawsuits at the fair market value of the property harmed by the nuisance. The original measure would have allowed that cap to apply in a current lawsuit involving several hundred plaintiffs suing a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, and several other farmers.

After a contentious debate on the House floor, the bill was amended so that it would apply only to future lawsuits and not the Smithfield matter.

Several House members worried about the way the cap would affect property owners who lived near hog farms, along with the narrow focus of the bill, which limits damages farmers but not other business operators must pay in some tort lawsuits.

Cooper echoed those concerns in his veto message.

“The agriculture and forestry industries are vital to our economy and we should encourage them to thrive,” the governor said.

“But nuisance laws can be used to protect property rights and make changes for good,” he added. 

“Special protection for one industry opens the door to weakening our nuisance laws in other areas which can allow real harm to homeowners, the environment, and everyday North Carolinians.”

The bill was backed by 74 of the 116 House members and 30 of the 49 senators who voted, slightly more than the three-fifths majority needed to override the veto.