March 7, 2014 Weekly Round Up

*This article is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney.*

Here are a look at some of the ag law stories making news this first week of March.

*United States Sides with Texas in Water Dispute against New Mexico, Seeks to Join Suit.  Last week, the Solicitor General, on behalf of the United States, filed a Motion for Leave to Intervene as a Plaintiff in the Supreme Court case pitting Texas against New Mexico in a battle over water in the Rio Grande.  The Solicitor General echoed the arguments made by the State of Texas.  Specifically, the brief explained the United States’ position that “[w]hen water is extracted from the surface or the ground at places below Elephant Butte Reservoir, it affects surface water deliveries downstream.  The Project may have to release additional water from storage to offset such extractions in order to maintain delivery of any given quantity of water to downstream users.  Consequently, extraction of water that is hydrologically connected to the Rio Grande below Elephant Butte Reservoir has an effect on the amount of water stored in the Project that is available for delivery to [the project beneficiaries.]”  [Read Motion here.]

* OSHA Dismisses Case Against Small Farm.  Following pressure from Congress, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) moved to dismiss its case against a small Nebraska farm involving grain bins.  OSHA had fined the farm, which employs only one person, $132,000 for permitting violations.  Senator Mike Johanns became involved and argued that OSHA funds could not be used to regulate farms with fewer than 10 employees.  “OSHA had no business regulating this family farm to begin with.”  I’m pleased they are doing the right thing by correctly dropping the case.  Producers shouldn’t have to worry about the government placing undue and illegal burdens on their operations.  The law clearly exempts small farms from OSHA regulations, and I’m glad the agency took this step to get back in line with the law,” said Johanns.  [Read article here.]

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*  Idaho Governor Signs “Ag Gag” Bill Into Law.  The controversial “ag gag” bill has now become law in Idaho, making unauthorized filming of agricultural facilities a misdemeanor.  [Read text of bill here.] So-called “ag gag” bills have been passed in 7 states and generally prohibit undercover filming at agricultural facilities.  In signing the bill over the objection of thousands including game show host Bob Barker and Chiobani Yogurt executives, Governor Otter stated that Idaho agricultural producers must be “secure in their property and their livelihood.”  Under the Idaho law, anyone caught knowingly making secret recordings of agricultural operations could face up to 1 year in jail, a $5,000 fine, and will be required to make restitution to the facility.  This includes people who enter the facilities without permission, who enter by  means of threat, force, misrepresentation or trespass, and those who obtain employment with an agricultural facility with the intent to cause economic injury to the facility.  [Read article here.]

*  Proposed 2015 Budget Would Continue Horse Slaughter Ban.  The proposed 2015 budget unveiled by President Obama this week would continue the effectual ban on horse slaughter in the United States by withholding federal funding for inspections of horse slaughter facilities.  At the end of last year, Congress passed a similar measure preventing inspections and thereby essentially banning horse slaughter, through February 2014.  President Obama’s proposed budget would continue this practice for another year.  [Read article here.]

*  Tips for Keeping Landlord Tenant Relationships Strong.  Farm Futures recently published an article discussing proactive steps that tenants can take to strengthen and maintain their relationships with landlords.  [Read article here.]

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