House endorses livestock bill touted as compromise

Tuesday, September 11, 2001

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- In a compromise praised by some and criticized by others, the state House gave preliminary approval to legislation changing the state's one-of-a-kind price discrimination law for livestock sales.

The bill, endorsed by voice vote Monday night, is intended to entice meat packers to resume paying cash based on the live weight of cattle, hogs and sheep.

Packers pulled out of Missouri's cash markets in May after the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 1999 law prohibiting price discrimination. Since then, packers have been buying livestock only on a quality-of-meat formula that pays farmers after the slaughter.

Some farmers insist they have fared worse financially.

The House bill repeals the 1999 language and replaces it with fair-trade wording similar to that already used without controversy in the federal Packers and Stockyards Act.

The House bill also removes the ability of individuals to sue for alleged price discrimination -- one of the main reasons packers cited while pulling out of cash markets.

"It is a compromise, and I think we will bring our packers back into the cash markets," said state Rep. Merrill Townley, R-Chamois.

Rep. Gary Kelly, D-Richmond, called the bill "a compromise we can all live with," adding that one of the farmers who had challenged the original law in court now supports the House legislation.

But other legislators said the changes in the House bill would do little or nothing to attract packers back into the cash markets. The only thing that would, they said, is to drop all references to price discrimination from the state's statutes.

"I'm afraid that what we've done here is leave the message that buyers are not welcome in the state of Missouri," said Rep. Martin "Bubs" Hohulin, R-Lamar, who raises cattle. "I think we are going to say we've solved the problem when, in fact, we have not."

One of provisions of the bill extends the law's expiration date by one year, to Dec. 31, 2003 -- an element that House Speaker Jim Kreider, D-Nixa, had said was essential for the bill to have his support.

Kreider, however, has said he would have preferred to leave the 1999 law unchanged.

The Senate last week passed its own legislation changing the livestock pricing law. But Kreider, who sets the debate calendar for the House, has not supported that version.

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