JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson vowed Tuesday an “aggressive legal response” to defend a controversial law designed to encourage giant farming operations to invest in Missouri.
Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce on Monday temporarily blocked the law, which will ban counties from enforcing regulations stricter than state rules.
The order came in response to a lawsuit filed Monday by the Cedar County Commission, the Cooper County Public Health Center, two property owners and the nonprofit Friends of Responsible Agriculture. In addition to the state, defendants in the lawsuit are the Missouri Farm Bureau, the Missouri Pork Association and the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association.
Representatives of Cedar and Cooper counties said they had enacted ordinances exceeding state law, and that the Farm Bureau, pork and cattlemen’s associations had threatened to sue once the new law took effect on Aug. 28.
Joyce set a hearing on the matter for 9 a.m. on Sept. 16 in Cole County.
On Tuesday, Kelli Jones, a spokeswoman for Parson, said the administration is working with the Missouri attorney general’s office on “an aggressive legal response to this unfounded temporary restraining order.”
Chesterfield environmental attorney Stephen Jeffery is representing the counties, residents and Friends of Responsible Agriculture.
Cedar County, in western Missouri, is located in Parson’s old state Senate district. Cooper County is about 150 miles west of St. Louis.
The counties argue the law is unconstitutional and say it does not affect the roughly two dozen counties that had enacted health ordinances prior to passage of the new state law.
They argue it violates Missouri’s “Right to Farm” constitutional amendment, approved by voters in 2014. The amendment guarantees the right to farm, subject to the authority of counties, which at the time had the power to regulate concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.
The law “plainly affronts and abrogates the intent of the voters who adopted the Right-to-Farm Amendment,” the lawsuit says.
Marlon Collins, Cedar County presiding commissioner, said in a statement his county protects Stockton Lake, which provides water to the city of Springfield.
“We had overwhelming support from local farmers and ranchers when we adopted our county health ordinance,” he said. “We believe this is an important fight because we, as local elected officials, are in the best position to address local health concerns.”
The legislation is Senate Bill 391.