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Georgia Right to Grow Act stalls in House

Bill would bar local governments from limiting residential agriculture

POSTED: February 20, 2012 12:34 a.m.

A bill that seeks to ensure Georgians' freedom to grow their own food seems to have stalled.

House Bill 853, dubbed the Georgia Right to Grow Act, made it out of the state House committee on agriculture and consumer affairs on Feb. 9.

It's seen little action since then.

Clint Mueller, legislative director for Association County Commissioners of Georgia, said he would be surprised if the bill makes it past the powerful House rules committee, which sets the calendar for the full chamber.

"If this were to pass, many recognize it would trigger additional bills to continue expanding the pre-emption," Mueller said in an email.

Similar bills, introduced by the late Rep. Bobby Franklin, saw the same fate, dying on Crossover Day, the day in which a bill has to pass at least one chamber to make it through the legislative session.

Advocates say the bill is about their right to grow their own food. Critics call it a bill that allows residential barnyards.

Local government lobbying groups are among the bill's biggest critics.

Their opposition comes from the bill's desire to limit local governing authority. Local zoning decisions are what local officials were elected to make, they say.

"Those decisions should be left up to the local governments," said Mueller, who lobbies on behalf of county governments.

Amy Henderson, spokeswoman for the Georgia Municipal Association, said the bill not only infringes on local governments' ability to create their own codes and zoning rules, but would bar any restrictions on livestock for personal consumption. If the bill passes, Henderson said even the extreme would be possible, and you could "turn your guest room into a chicken coop."

"You should never underestimate the ridiculousness," Henderson said.

But for the advocates, the bill limits excessive codes.

At the moment, there are few limits on the reach of local governments when it comes to regulating personal food production.

The bill, at the least, provides some consistency for Georgians who want to grow their own food, said Jennifer Owens, advocacy director of Georgia Organics, a nonprofit organization promoting local food systems and organic farmers statewide.

Keeping backyard chicken coops has been outlawed in Gainesville since at least 1958. County ordinances allow residents of unincorporated areas to keep animals as long as the animals are "adequately contained."

Owens said there are more restrictive codes in other counties.

"I live in DeKalb County and DeKalb County doesn't allow me to have a vegetable garden in my backyard..." said Owens at a recent event at Gainesville State College. "If my neighbor got mad that my tomatoes had gone awry and they had become an eyesore and they called the county, I am potentially participating in illegal activity growing tomatoes for my family."

 



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