“A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

That, from “Macbeth,” one of William Shakespeare’s most well-known plays, could easily be applied to Senate Bill 391, which was signed by the governor at the end of May.

In summary, the new law stipulates that county ordinances about agriculture can be no more strict than that of the state. Maybe it was a “tale told by an idiot,” but, unfortunately, it does signify something.

While it is probably desirable from a corporate agribusiness perspective to have a “one size fits all” set of standards for the entire state and not need to deal with a mix of ordinances and regulations specific to the topography of the county in question, that viewpoint overlooks the concerns of local residents, health boards and county commissioners.

It is fairly easy to see the vast difference between Putnam County in the far north of this state and Shannon County in the far south. What is needed for protection of citizen’s health in Putnam County is not at all protective of citizens in Shannon County, and vice versa.

Or to take another example, what is needed in Mississippi County (mostly a flood plain) is not at all what is needed in Boone County (where flooding is limited to acreage adjacent to the Missouri River).

While there are other flaws in the new law — which were pointed out by many in the legislative hearings — what the sponsor of this legislation did not do was make the bill retroactive.

There is no language in the bill that would look backward. Indeed, a legal opinion afforded to the Missouri Rural Crisis Center declares that the bill only affects counties that try to adopt a health ordinance AFTER Aug. 28, the effective date of the law.

In short, in legal language, the law is prospective, not retroactive. It can look forward but not back.

This comes as somewhat of a surprise, as most opponents of the legislation assumed that local control of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations would be no more and that state rules would take precedent.

That is true, but only after the effective date of the law. If a county has adopted a health ordinance prior to Aug. 28, the ordinance is not subject to state rules (which are minimal). So the 20 or so counties with a health ordinance in place can rest easy.

That is not to say that counties that do not adopt a health ordinance prior to Aug. 28 are protected.

They are not. The longtime mantra of the ruling party that the government that is best is the one closest to the people has been turned on its head.

In this instance, the party that governs is the one that is farthest from the people.

It appears as if the ruling party passed this legislation in spite of widespread and considerable opposition. Apparently, the sponsor of this bill was not representing his constituents but was instead representing the interest of corporate agribusinesses.

About opinions in the Missourian: The Missourian’s Opinion section is a public forum for the discussion of ideas. The views presented in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Missourian or the University of Missouri. If you would like to contribute to the Opinion page with a response or an original topic of your own, visit our submission form.

Ken Midkiff, formerly the director of the Sierra Club Clean Water Campaign, is now chair the city’s Environment and Energy Commission and serves on the board of directors of the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center.

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