Last week, I found myself all over the state at various meetings. I kicked things off in Ft. Worth, where I spoke on agricultural law at Annie’s Project. Next up, I discussed wildlife leases at a program sponsored by the Texas Parks and Wildlife in Bonham. Finally, I wrapped things up speaking at a Landowner Rights Seminar in College Station. To those of you new to the blog from these presentations, welcome!
Here are some of the ag law stories recently in the news.
* Groundwater Continues in Bastrop County. This week the Statesman ran an article outlining an ongoing water battle in Bastrop County. The battle involves Bastrop’s request to pump 2,000 acre-feet of water per year by drilling a well on the XS Ranch, a planned development just north of the city. Nearby landowners claim that allowing this project to go forward will jeopardize their water interests. Leading the charge is the owner of a neighboring ranch, who says she wants the city to fund an aquifer model to determine the potential impact of the City’s pumping project and include protections for local landowners if they are damaged. The City argues these requests are unnecessary and expensive. That neighboring landowner was found to have standing to challenge the City’s request before an administrative law judge at the State Office of Administrative Hearings. Also challenging the City’s request is water developer Forestar, whose own petition to drill a well field was granted only in part last year based on the GCD’s claim that allowing more production could harm the area’s future water supply. After the administrative hearing, the administrative law judge will issue proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law, which will then be considered by the City. [Read article here.]
* Vermont GMO Labeling Law Scores Court Victory. The Vermont GMO labeling law, discussed in this prior post, recently received a victory in court when challengers were denied a preliminary injunction in the case and portions of the State’s motion to dismiss were granted. Read 84-page opinion here. Specifically, the court found that the plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed on their First Amendment claim as there was evidence sufficient to satisfy the “reasonable relationship” test between the state’s interest and the GMO labeling requirements. Next, the court dismissed the Commerce Clause claim, reasoning that there are no other conflicting state labeling laws at this time. Additionally, the court found that the labeling law was not pre-empted by federal regulations. The bright spot for plaintiffs came with regard to the prohibition on labeling products containing GMOs as “natural.” Here, the court allowed the plaintiffs challenge to go forward on this issue based on First Amendment and Commerce Clause grounds. [Read articles here and here.]
* Idaho “Ag Gag” Law Argued in Court. As we discussed in this prior blog, Idaho passed its Interference with Agricultural Production act last year, which criminalizes certain actions, including entry onto an agricultural operation and recording video thereof. Last week, the judge conducted a summary judgment hearing on the constitutionality of this statute. Specifically, challengers argue the statute violates the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech and the Equal Protection Clause. It is expected the judge will issue a written ruling in the coming weeks. [Read article here.]
* Basic Primer on Estate Planning for Farmers. The Delta Farm Press recently ran a great piece providing information for farm families to consider when drafting estate plans. These are issues that face all operations and this article does a good job of laying out some of the most important considerations. [Read article here.]
* State Bar of Texas Agricultural Law Course Coming Up Soon. In two weeks, I will be attending the 9th annual John Huffaker Agricultural Law Course in Lubbock. This course offers nearly 14 hours of CLE credits for attorneys and will cover a wide variety of topics including crop insurance, drones on the farm, conservation easements, water law, livestock production in the public eye, labor and employment, and a legislative update. For more information or to register, click here. I hope to see some of you at the event and plan to be Tweeting from the course for those of you who follow me (@TiffDowell) on Twitter.