Pa. farm bill’s future still uncertain

SALEM, Ohio – Republican leaders filed a lawsuit in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania last month over Gov. Edward Rendell’s controversial veto of a right-to-farm bill.

The lawsuit alleges Rendell’s administration did not file the veto before the deadline, and therefore the bill became law Jan. 1.

The Democratic governor, however, maintains the veto stands, meaning local governments continue to have authority over farms.

Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer and Speaker of the House John Perzel asked the court to order the Department of State to take the proper steps to make the bill a law.

The state department has until June 15 to file an answer, said spokesperson Brian McDonald.

The department has not filed it yet, but is planning to do so, McDonald said.

Legal? Even before the veto disagreement, the bill was controversial.

The bill would limit local government’s authority over farms, making opponents like PennFuture fear citizens will lose their protection from pollution and “factory farms.”

“Current state law on industrial farming does not regulate odor, air emissions or use of antibiotics,” the group said in a release after Rendell’s veto.

However, the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau says local governments’ ordinances are already illegal because they go beyond state law.

According to Farm Bureau, approximately 60 of Pennsylvania’s more than 1,450 townships have already enacted such ordinances.

President Guy Donaldson said it would be a “calamity for farmers” and it would give local officials “unlimited new powers.”

After Rendell’s Dec. 31 decision, Donaldson said the veto “says to farmers that they are on their own so far as dealing with illegal local farm ordinances.”

Still supports. But in his veto statement, Rendell said he supports the legislation’s goals and would sign a bill that addressed a more comprehensive nutrient management plan and addressed manure export loopholes.

Rendell agreed with part of the bill allowing farmers to recoup court costs from cases when townships knowingly or recklessly violate state law when adopting an ordinance.

The bill would also require farmers to pay court costs if the case against a township was found to be frivolous.

Adjournment. After passing the House and Senate by an overwhelming majority vote, the bill landed on Rendell’s desk Dec. 22. He had 10 days to submit his veto to the House.

Because the office was closed for the holiday, the veto was filed with the secretary of state at 5:58 p.m. Dec. 31.

The House did not receive the veto message until Jan. 5.

The constitution allows a veto to be filed with the secretary of state only if the House is adjourned, and this adjournment issue at the center of the debate.

Republican leaders interpret “adjourned” to mean the adjournment at the end of a legislative session, but the state department construed it to include recess adjournments, which was the case Dec. 31.

In the case filed by Jubelirer and Perzel, they say historically the governor’s office contacts the House or Senate if the offices are closed and a bill is being returned with a veto notice. Arrangements are then made for the veto’s filing.

Rendell’s office did not contact the House, according to the petition.

(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at

Previous articles about Pennsylvania’s right-to-farm bill include:

* Veto squabbles make controversial Pa. farm bill’s future uncertain

* Pennsylvania updates right to farm

* Pa. bill amends state’s right-to-farm law


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