ST. PAUL -- The House overwhelmingly approved a bill Wednesday that would allow the state to act swiftly if an animal disease such as foot-and-mouth made its way into Minnesota.
The proposal, prompted by the recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth in parts of Europe, would give the governor new powers to declare an emergency in certain cases of highly contagious animal diseases.
The state would control the movement of people in and out of quarantine zones and have new power to condemn property to dispose of animal carcasses.
"God help us that we never have to use this bill," said the measure's sponsor, Rep. Tim Finseth, R-Angus.
But, he added: "Should this disease sneak into the United States, we need to be prepared. ... I know this bill is a serious bill and it's one we need to take serious."
The state already has the power to seal off an infected farm's area and seize its products. It can also seal the Minnesota border to imports from neighboring states or send sharpshooters into an infected area to kill deer, which can carry the virus.
Rep. Mike Osskopp, R-Lake City, unsuccessfully offered an amendment that would have ensured farmers a court hearing before animals or property could be seized.
The problem, he said, is that the bill would allow government officials to take property or kill animals within a three-mile area of an outbreak.
"There's going to be bloodshed in rural Minnesota," he said. "There are farmers in the state who will not allow the government to take their land without a confirmed case of the disease."
He said the bill might allow violations of farmers' civil rights.
"All I'm asking for, for God sakes, is a lousy telephone appeal to somebody," Osskopp said. "I want somebody to hear their plea."
The highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease is harmless to humans, but has devastated livestock in Britain, where herds are destroyed to prevent its spread. The disease, common in much of the world, has not been found in the United States since 1929.
While U.S. farmers could expect to be compensated at market value by the government for the loss of their animals, a long quarantine that prevents livestock sales could be devastating.
Finseth said he was sympathetic to farmers' concerns, but discouraged members from supporting Osskopp's proposed amendment, saying any delay could allow the disease to spread.
"It is so time-sensitive," Finseth said. "This disease can literally spread from one farm to another in hours. We need to strike fast and we need to strike hard."
The amendment was defeated 43-87.
Another minor amendment, however, was added to the bill. It would prohibit creditors from trying to collect on a debt until the farmer had been compensated for property or livestock that was destroyed.
A similar bill is awaiting floor action in the Senate.
On the Net:
House File 2514 at http://www.leg.state.mn.us
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