With the ceremonial toss of the papers in the Missouri House of Representative Chambers, the 97th General Assembly session ended. As an intern for the Missouri House Information office during my college years, I witnessed first-hand the roar of the legislators as the final gavel struck. Then simultaneously there was the throwing of papers filled with hand-written notes and proposed bills
From my balcony viewpoint, it was interesting to see their faces. Some were pleased, some angst, other just weary. As public servants, they are charged with the task of making decisions that will benefit the residents of the state. It can be a daunting mission. Sometimes the laws they pass work on the side of Missouri farmers, and other times against them. So, how did this year's legislative session fare for the state's agriculture industry? Here are a few bills that put farmers and ranchers at the forefront:
HJR 11 and 7,"Right to Farm"—Missouri became the second state behind North Dakota to pass a measure that would allow the voters to put the right to farm in the Missouri Constitution. The resolution protects the right of farmers and ranchers to do business in the state. It would be on the 2014 general election ballot. If approved, the state constitution will read, "That agriculture which provides, food, energy, health benefits, and security is the foundation and stabilizing force of Missouri's economy. To protect this vital sector of Missouri's economy, the right of farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state, subject to duly authorized powers, if any, conferred by article VI of the Constitution of Missouri.
In a statement from Missouri Farmers Care, the group acknowledged that the action by the legislature was a "huge victory for agriculture," but the real work will come in the campaign to pass the Right to Farm on the ballot. The question on the ballot, unless changed by the Missouri Secretary of State's office, would read, "Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure that the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices shall not be infringed?"
SB 19, Child Labor Laws--This bill secures the right of minors, under the age of 15, to work on family farms. For many farms, children are an integral part of the operation. Proponents said the measure teaches children responsibility and gives them a head start in the job market. The legislature agreed and passed a bill that exempts family farms from child labor laws. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon signed the measure into law.
SB 9, Omnibus Agriculture--This omnibus bill included several provisions related to agriculture, including the following.
Career & Technical Advisory Council: This council will ensure career and tech-ed remain an integral part of Missouri's education system. The council is designed to protect not only agriculture programs such as FFA, but also school organizations like DECA, FCCLA and FBLA. It is for all career and technical programs in high schools across the state.
Livestock Theft: The measure states that stealing any animal considered livestock by law results in a Class B misdemeanor if the value exceeds $10,000.
Crime of Animal Trespass: This provision deals with animal trespass cases. Before the bill, farmers could be charged with animal abuse if their livestock was found out roaming a neighbor's property. This provision states that individuals can only be found guilty he or she "knowingly fails to provide adequate control for a period equal to or exceeding 12 hours."