Virginia farmers fight government overreach with Boneta Bill

Posted on January 8, 2013

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Farmers in Virginia have good reason to watch the progress of H.B. 1430, a new bill guaranteeing individual liberty and property rights for farmers. If passed, the so-called Boneta Bill will protect Virginia farmers from overreaching governmental policies that inhibit their way of life.

The bill is named for Martha Boneta, a Virginia woman who had a dispute with county officials last year for selling her crafts and produce, advertising pumpkin carving, and throwing a birthday party for eight 10-year-old girls.

Ms. Boneta showed officials that she had a license to operate the little shop on her farm–which was located on property zoned for agriculture. But she was informed that new county regulations required her to obtain permits to sell things like handspun yarn and birdhouses. And she was missing a separate permit needed to host the birthday party.

For these nefarious crimes, according to a press release from Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter–the bill’s sponsor–Ms. Boneta was fined as much as $15,000.

However, the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors claimed in a responding statement that they have not yet levied any fines, and that Ms. Boneta was actually cited for selling her produce and crafts off-site and for making her property available for events–not just for one birthday party. If she doesn’t observe the warning, the official press release concluded, she could be fined up to $5,000.

The case has already received a lot of press. Carrying pitchforks, one hundred of Ms. Boneta’s supporters protested the Board of Zoning Appeals last August, demanding to know why permits were required to host a small event on private property. These “Pitchfork Protests” were covered by national and local news outlets.

Ms. Boneta filed a lawsuit in Fauquier Circuit Court to challenge the fines, and Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter will introduce the Boneta Bill this term. The bill aims to give farmers better protection and add muscle to Virginia’s Right to Farm Act (VRFA).

The Boneta Bill certainly will reiterate the importance of farming to the Virginia government. It aims to help protect farmers in the state from overregulation and property rights violations. Of the bill, the Fauquier Free Citizen said,

H.B. 1430 amends the VRFA by clarifying that farming is not merely growing crops or raising livestock.  Farming is more than that.

But opponents of H.B. 1430 say it is over-broad and will adversely effect local government’s ability to enforce legitimate restrictions, according the Virginia newsblog Bacon’s Rebellion.

Either way, it’s clear this is an issue state residents feels strongly about: last November, 74 percent of Virginians voted to amend their state constitution to secure better protection for property rights. Tomorrow (Tuesday, Jan. 8), Mr. Lingamfelter will host a press conference to discuss H.B. 1430.

For Americans–particularly in Virginia–who care about farming and ranching, the Boneta Bill is one to watch.

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