Pa. Supreme Court ACRE law ruling is good news for state’s agriculture

CAMP HILL, Pa. — A new Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling enables the state attorney general to challenge local ordinances that illegally restrict agriculture, regardless of when they were adopted.

Pennsylvania Farm Bureau praised the ruling, saying it will help preserve the future of agriculture in the state.

“It sends a clear message that the attorney general has the authority to invalidate ordinances that some municipalities may try to prevent the court from reviewing through a technicality,” said state Farm Bureau Governmental Affairs Counsel John Bell.

ACRE law. Farm Bureau asserted that Act 38, also known as the ACRE law, was intended to address illegal ordinances that were in place prior to the legislation becoming law.

Commonwealth Court disagreed and dismissed a lawsuit by the attorney general against Locust Township, Columbia County, in 2007, ruling that ordinances adopted before the ACRE law took effect could not be challenged until municipalities attempted to enforce them.

In overturning Commonwealth Court’s ruling, the Supreme Court noted that such a narrow interpretation of ACRE undermines the act’s purpose.

The state’s highest court specifically noted that if the attorney general is prevented from challenging an illegal ordinance, farmers in townships with illegal ordinances on the books would still face a serious and unsatisfactory decision. Those farmers would either have to bear the costs of complying with the illegal ordinance or ignore the illegal ordinance and risk it being enforced against them in the future.

“The Supreme Court ruling eliminates any distinction between illegal local ordinances enacted before or after ACRE. The decision is welcome news for Pennsylvania farm families,” added Bell.

The ACRE law took effect on July 6, 2005, giving farmers the right to ask the attorney general’s office to review local ordinances that they feel unlawfully restrict normal agricultural operations or ownership.

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