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Court Voids Law Shielding Farmers

September 24, 1998

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ The Iowa Supreme Court struck down a state law giving some farmers blanket protection from lawsuits over issues such as manure odor.

In a strongly worded opinion Wednesday, the high court called the law ``flagrantly″ unconstitutional because neighbors were denied rights to sue.

The law had allowed property to be designated as an ``agricultural area″ and gave operations on that land broad protection from lawsuits.

``When all the varnish is removed, the (law) amounts to a commandeering of valuable property rights without compensating the owners, and sacrificing those rights for the economic advantage of a few,″ the court said.

The ruling came in a Kossuth County case, where local supervisors in 1995 had allowed a 960-acre tract of land to be designated a special agricultural area. The high court sided with neighbors who challenged the 1993 law.

The law was the Legislature’s first effort to struggle with the burgeoning development of giant hog feedlots, where thousands of animals are raised under a single roof and produce millions of gallons of manure stored in open pits.

The ruling came on a 7-0 decision (two justices abstained from voting) and raised questions about other state laws regulating the development of giant livestock operations.

``We recognize that political and economic fallout from our holding will be substantial,″ said the court, which rarely strikes down legislative actions. ``But we are convinced our responsibility is clear because the challenged scheme is plainly _ we think flagrantly _ unconstitutional.″

Andy Baumert, a spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council, said he wanted to study the decision before commenting.

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