HELENA, Mont. — Montana’s governor has vetoed part of a contentious horse slaughter bill, sending it back to lawmakers after striking the key legal protections it allowed for slaughterhouses.
Citing the famous Greek story of the ‘Trojan Horse’ that held enemy soldiers in its belly, Gov. Brian Schweitzer said the horse slaughter bill hides “unintended consequences” for the right to challenge companies’ operating permits.
“The appeal rights we have as citizens for environmental protection” would be gone, Schweitzer said in a Friday news conference.
House Bill 418, sponsored by Rep. Ed Butcher, R-Winifred, aims to limit the kind of legal challenges that forced the country’s last slaughterhouses in Illinois and Texas to shut down in 2007.
But Democrat Schweitzer’s partial veto strikes the bill’s two key provisions for discouraging such lawsuits.
One would require challengers to post a bond worth 20 percent of the slaughter facility’s construction costs, and potentially saddles them with liability for damages incurred by the company due to the trial. The other prohibits courts from halting construction once a facility has been approved by the state.
Schweitzer said that as a livestock owner and horse owner he supports processing horses in a humane way to produce meat for human consumption. But he said Butcher’s bill enacts special legal protections without addressing any of the real bars to horse slaughter in the U.S.
“(The problem) is that Congress has passed legislation that disallows using the USDA stamp on the carcass of the horse,” Schweitzer said, referring to a federal spending restriction on inspections of horse slaughterhouses.
Without the U.S. Department of Agriculture stamp, horse meat could not be exported outside Montana borders to overseas markets that consider it a delicacy.
Butcher blasted the governor’s amendments, which he plans to lead a charge to reject.
“That’s the whole purpose of the bill,” Butcher said. “I mean otherwise it’s an empty shell because nobody’s going to invest five to six million in a business in Montana if they’re going to be harassed.”
If Butcher can win the support of the majority of the Legislature to reject the changes, the bill will go back to Schweitzer in its original form to await his action again. The governor said he will have to see what happens before he decides about a veto.
The governor’s office has been inundated with e-mails and phone messages from across the country about Butcher’s bill, as were state lawmakers. As of Wednesday, 746 of those calling supported the bill and 652 opposed it.
Calls from Montanans were about 2-to-1 in favor of Butcher’s bill.
“Obviously the governor caved into the environmentalists and the animal rights crowd,” Butcher said. “He’s following his East- and West Coast money rather than the ranchers of Montana.”
Schweitzer said he would support a horse slaughterhouse in the state, but that the bill would do nothing to bring one here.
“Not a single person has come forward from anywhere in the world to say they’d like to build a horse slaughter plant in Montana,” he said.
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