Vetoed Pennsylvania agritourism liability bill gets new life

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A field of pumpkins stacked in hay.

A last-ditch effort to get agritourism liability protection passed before the Pennsylvania legislative session ended failed. But new life is being breathed into the bill.

State Rep. Barbara Gleim, R-Cumberland County, announced her intention, in a Dec. 2 memorandum, to reintroduce House Bill 1348, which sought to provide farmers offering agritourism activities on their properties limited liability protection.

House Bill 1348 passed the house in November but never made it out of the senate judiciary committee. At the last minute, the senate tacked the agritourism liability protection piece onto House Bill 1737, as it was going before the governor for a vote.

Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed that bill on Nov. 30, the last day of session. HB 1737 had a broader liability focus, extending temporary liability protection from COVID-related lawsuits to health care providers, schools, businesses and manufacturers of personal protection equipment that comply with health orders.

In Wolf’s veto message, he said the legislation would provide “broad, overreaching immunity” from civil liability, although he was not referring to the agritourism piece of the bill.

The Pennsylvania State Grange called Wolf out for putting litigation before the needs of those trying to do the right thing during a pandemic.

“Governor Tom Wolf’s veto means that farmers will still be hindered from utilizing a self help solution in these difficult times,” the grange said, in a statement. “Sadly, it still leaves a cloud of legal doubt over the work of businesses and health care providers trying to do the right thing.” 

Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, which supported HB 1348, said it’s disappointed the agritourism piece was shot down in HB 1737, but understands the veto was in response to the provisions related to COVID-19 liability.

The group is optimistic about the progress made on the legislation this year and hopes the momentum will carry it even further in the next legislative session.

“Pennsylvania farms are incredibly well positioned to harness exploding public interest in local agriculture to remain viable for generations to come, strengthen their communities, grow the state’s economy and help lead our recovery from the continued economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau said, in a statement. “But the threat of frivolous lawsuits over factors beyond farms’ control remains a significant barrier to inviting the public to experience local agriculture.”

HB 1348 would grant farms offering agritourism activities reasonable protection from lawsuits arising from circumstances beyond their control.

Agritourism was defined as a farm related tourism or entertainment that takes place on agricultural land and allows the general public to be involved. That does not include weddings, overnight stays, concerts or food and beverage services.

To receive protections, farms would have to warn visitors of potential risks by having them sign a waiver, printing a disclaimer on a ticket or other material given to visitors and/or having multiple signs warning visitors of risks.

The legislation would not protect farmers from gross negligence, but would protect them from risks that are part of visiting farms, like uneven ground or unpredictable animals. Gleim said the legislation is modeled after acts passed in 20 other states, including neighboring states Ohio and New York.

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or rachel@farmanddairy.com.)

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

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