Amid silence from county officials and Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Virginia’s small farmers are hailing new legislation that protects their property rights.
Senate Bill 51, signed by McAuliffe on Wednesday without ceremony or announcement, cuts local regulatory red tape that has snared landowners.
The so-called “Boneta Bill,” named for Fauquier County farmer Martha Boneta, takes effects July 1.
“SB 51 will help serve as an economic driver for agriculture by promoting new enterprises and allowing producers to diversify their operations,” Boneta told Watchdog.org.
State Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, said, “I’m very pleased to see that the governor signed SB 51. … This will guarantee that farmers can continue to use their farms and sell their wares without unnecessary state interference.”
Trey Davis, assistant director of government relations for Virginia Farm Bureau, said in a statement:
“We appreciate Gov. McAuliffe quickly signing SB 51 and the work by the General Assembly to get the legislation in its proper format. It strikes the appropriate balance between property rights and local government control.”
Davis agreed with Boneta about the law’s fiscal impact, noting, “I bet we will see a boom in agritourism operations in the years to come.”
Mark Fitzgibbons, who organized “pitchfork protests” with tea parties and other activists on behalf of Boneta in 2012, said the Fauquier fracas showed “local government can be just as contemptuous about the rule of law … as larger state and federal bureaucracies.”
He praised media outlet Watchdog.org, saying, “This whole process could not have been done without [their] dogged and excellent reporting.”
But Fitzgibbons predicted the battle is far from over.
“This is an important first step, and more must be done to protect small farmers from officious abuse,” the constitutional lawyer said.
Neither the Virginia Association of Counties nor McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy responded to Watchdog’s request for comment. Fauquier County spokeswoman Katie Heritage could not be reached.
– Kenric Ward