The Missouri House on Thursday protected farms in the state from the Attack of the Drones.
Rural lawmakers, most of them Republicans, fed the conspiracy theory that the federal government has a plan to unleash thousands of drones on unsuspecting farmers, sent by the Environmental Protection Agency to spy on fertilization methods, or by Homeland Security to confiscate guns, or that third agency that former Gov. Rick Perry, a former GOP candidate for president, said he wanted to eliminate.
What was that agency again?
This could be chalked up to the annual legislative silliness that goes on in Missouri’s Capitol. On the same day the House gave initial approval to the anti-drone bill, the Senate moved closer to passing a bill from Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, that would protect Missouri from another wild conspiracy, the United Nations' "Agenda 21," which the tin-foil-hat brigade has decided is a worldwide plot to take our property.
No doubt, the U.N. will be sending out drones to enforce its agenda.
But this is more than silliness. It’s dangerous lawmaking on behalf of conspiracy theorists.
Rep. Casey Guernsey's anti-drone bill, House Bill 46, could have serious negative consequences on a growing industry that is finding all sorts of commercial applications for drones. The drone industry is already a multibillion-dollar economic driver. The unmanned devices are being used by law enforcement, by journalists, by research institutions (including MU), by utility companies and by the sorts of entrepreneurial businesses that lawmakers claim to support.
Missouri lawmakers seem intent on erecting a sign at the state border that says, "Closed for drone business: Send your jobs elsewhere."
The real motivation behind the anti-drone law isn’t about protecting the right to privacy, but taking further steps to protect large, corporate farming interests that already have more protections in Missouri than most places in the country.
Mr. Guernsey’s law specifically carves out protection for property owned by farms or agricultural industry so that concentrated animal feeding operations, such as large hog farms, can go on polluting the air and water without any interference from government officials who might seek to protect the environment.
This is the same spirit behind an even more damaging piece of legislation that has already passed the House and is moving through the Senate: HJR 17, the so-called "right to farm" constitutional amendment.
On the floor of the House, state Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, called this resolution, which would ask voters to enact specific protections for farming in the constitution, a "back door repeal of the puppy mill law."
It is that and more.
First, let's state the obvious: Farming is not under attack in Missouri, not with a legislature that will protect the industry at all costs. Similarly, the EPA isn’t using drones to spy on farmers, and it never has. But that hasn’t stopped conspiracy theorists from trying to pull the wool over uninformed voters.
Second, messing with Missouri's Constitution is a dangerous proposition, the sort of thing that conservatives of old would frown upon. HJR 17, for instance, would take away a valued constitutional right in Missouri, the right to petition the government. If the amendment were to be passed by voters, it would no longer be legal to try to place via the petition process any initiative on the ballot that might be seen as an infringement on the rights of farmers to use "modern practices."
The change to the state's constitution would preserve the General Assembly as the only body that could pass such laws.
That would negate the ability of a rural county commission to respond to a massive hog farm destroying the property values of surrounding farms.
It would allow the legislature to gut the puppy mill law that instituted some basic protections for animals, and citizens would have no recourse whatsoever. Missouri once again would become the dog-abuse capital of the United States, and the citizens who voted for the puppy mill law would be left out in the cold.
Missouri Republicans need to back away from the black helicopters, er, drones, and focus on real problems, like health care, education, roads and, oh, yea, jobs.
Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.