WOOSTER, Ohio — Farmers whose livestock get loose should soon have a clearer set of standards for any civil or criminal liability.
House Bill 22, better known as the animals at large legislation, was approved by a unanimous House vote March 1, and was approved unanimously by the Senate Agriculture Committee March 9.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Danny R. Bubp, R-West Union. It’s a priority issue for Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and “ensures that farmers whose animals escape fences and buildings through no fault of the owner do not face criminal charges,” according to an OFBF statement.
The bill 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.
Beth Vanderkooi, director of state policy for OFBF, said there are many ways an animal can escape without the farmer knowing or being at fault.
“Ohio’s livestock farmers have a strong interest in keeping their animals contained by their fences and other enclosures,” she said. “However, sometimes situations out of their control can sometimes lead to an animal getting out.”
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.
Animal owners who “recklessly” or “negligently” cause their animals to run loose could still face criminal charges.
According to the bill, “An owner of livestock who negligently permits the livestock to run at large out of the livestock’s enclosure is liable for all damages resulting from injury, death, or loss to person or property caused by the livestock on the premises of another.”
The bill 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 full Senate could act on the bill as early as this week. It’s a small piece of legislation, she said, but one that makes a real difference for farmers who raise livestock.
“We’re just trying to improve the business climate for farmers,” she said, while maintaining liability where it’s due.