Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee advances SB 585, limiting counties’ and public health officials’ authority over agricultural lands, operations

By Autumn Shelton, WV Press Association

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A bill that would amend sections of the West Virginia State Code relating to county commission authority over agricultural lands and clarify that public health officials may not seek a nuisance injunction against agricultural operations was advanced by the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources on Monday. 

The bill, Senate Bill (SB) 585, was introduced on Feb. 8 by lead sponsor and Committee Chairman Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur. 

Sen. Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur.

The current committee substitute of the bill would prohibit “county commissions from adopting any ordinance, rule, license requirement, or other authorization that exceeds state law” governing the establishment, expansion or continuation of agricultural operations. 

It would also revoke “any ordinance, rule, or regulation previously adopted by county commissions regarding agricultural operations.” 

Additionally, the bill would prohibit county commissions from adopting any law that “cancels or alters the purchase, use or application of any federal or state registered pesticide, herbicide, or insecticide product,” and would clarify language that county commissions may not adopt ordinances that would regulate dwellings or buildings on agricultural land or operations. 

Agricultural land is defined in the code as “any amount of land and the improvement thereupon, used or usable in the production of food, fiber or woodland products of an annual value of $1,000 or more.” 

Agricultural operation is defined as “any facility utilized for agriculture.” 

As the code is currently written, county commissions may adopt ordinances that regulate repairs, alterations, closings and demolitions of dwellings and buildings “except for buildings used for farm purposes on land actually being used for farming” that have unsuitable living conditions due to dilapidation, hazardous conditions or are “detrimental to the public safety.” 

SB 585 would require that at least one of the two at-large members of a county enforcement agency have “background or knowledge of agricultural operations,” and would clarify that public health officials may not seek a nuisance injunction against agricultural operations. 

Sen. Vince Deeds, R-Greenbrier.

In response to a question from Senator Vince Deeds, R-Greenbrier, about whether or not state code would prevail in conflicts between county commissions and planning commissions, counsel responded that the state code “always prevails.” 

The bill is now headed before the Senate Committee on Government Organization for consideration. 

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