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Editorial: Agritourism bill uproots local control

  • The Coos County Farm in Stewartstown. AP


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Republicans sure don’t like it when the federal government tells states what to do – in fact local control is one of the party’s core principles. But when it comes to Republican-dominated state houses telling local communities what to do, that’s a different story.

In Texas, for example, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in 2015 responded to the city of Denton’s ban on fracking by signing a bill that “pre-empts regulation of oil and gas operations by municipalities.”

Wisconsin Republicans have successfully blocked towns from banning sugary drinks, and Republicans in Arizona, Idaho, Michigan and Missouri have fought to make it illegal for communities to ban plastic shopping bags.

Now a bill sponsored by Republican state Sens. Bob Giuda, Kevin Avard, Andy Sanborn and William Gannon, and Republican Rep. Ken Weyler has become the latest example of the party of local control trying to wrest quality-of-life decisions from the hands of local voters.

As proposed, Senate Bill 169 seeks to alter the definition of “agritourism” by stripping communities of the ability to determine which kinds of activities are a fit and which are not, giving that authority instead to “state and federal regulations.” The bill would also eliminate language that limits agritourism to accessory uses, such as field trips, meals and berry-picking, for example, and replace it with shockingly broad language. Among the permitted types of agritourism under SB 169 are “weddings, family and organizational reunions, celebrations, memorial gatherings, and other social and family activities,” as well as “enjoyment of the farm environment itself.” We are hard-pressed to come up with an activity that wouldn’t be considered a “celebration,” and that means anything that draws paying customers would be acceptable under the proposed law.

Agriculture Commissioner Lorraine Merrill expressed those same concerns to the Monitor’s Elodie Reed, saying the bill would essentially clear the way for farm theme parks, which exist in other states.

Merrill raised another concern that we believe is equally predictive of the unintended consequences of SB 169: The relationship between farms and their communities wouldn’t improve, but would in fact become more strained than ever.

“They’ll wonder,” Merrill said of local communities, “what will that farm do or become next.”

It’s difficult to overstate just how precious farms – and farmers – are to the American story. Without this fertile land and those who have worked it for the benefit of all, who knows where this nation would be – or if it would “be” at all.

Sensible accessory uses, as determined by local communities, allow those farms to supplement their incomes and keep the land open and green. And, yes, perhaps there is room for the definition of “accessory uses” to be broadened. But SB 169 seeks to address the frustration of a very small number of farm owners with lazy legislation that relies on the obliteration of local control and self-determination.

We urge New Hampshire lawmakers to do the right thing for the towns and cities that elected them and send SB 169 out to pasture.