COLUMBUS — A bill that protects farmers from criminal lawsuits over farm animals getting loose beyond the farmer’s control was signed into law June 21.
Beth Vanderkooi, director of state policy for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, said situations can arise beyond the farmer’s control that lead to the animals getting loose.
They include traffic accidents that damage fences, mischief and vandalism, severe weather events and the reality that large animals — when spooked or excited — can sometimes push their way through their enclosures.
“Certainly, no Ohio livestock farmer wants to see an animal out of its appropriate enclosure, but opening a farmer to criminal charges when an animal escapes through no fault of the farmer was a harsh interpretation of a long-standing statute,” she said. “Such interpretation could force a farmer to rethink his or her decision/desire to raise livestock here in Ohio.”
The new law comes on the heals of a series of court events that charged farmers as criminals for animals getting loose outside of their knowledge or control. It was sponsored by Rep. Danny R. Bubp, R-West Union and is a priority issue for OFBF.
While protecting farmers, the bill also calls for responsible housing and confinement. Animal owners who “recklessly” or “negligently” cause their animals to run loose could still face criminal charges.
The law requires local law enforcement to confine loose animals and give proper notice to the owner. If the owner is unknown, the found animal is to be described in the local newspaper at least once.
If after 10 days the animal is not claimed, it may be sold at a public auction and the proceeds become part of the county’s general fund.
If an animal owner can prove the animal escaped without his knowledge or fault, then it will be returned upon payment of the costs required to keep and advertise its return.
Vanderkooi said the bill’s passage helps increase economic opportunity and job growth for Ohio, because it improves the business climate, while maintaining appropriate liability.