A measure promoting privately-owned horse processing plant development in Montana became law last Friday. HB 418 insulates prospective plant developers from permit and licensing challenges on environmental and other grounds, and awards attorney and court fees to plaintiffs in cases District Courts deem harassing or without merit.
The measure automatically became law after Gov. Brian Schweitzer declined to sign or veto it 10 days after it reached his desk
But opponents say compliance and court challenges might discourage prospective investors from ever breaking ground on plant projects.
Nancy Perry, vice president of government affairs for the Humane Society of the U.S., says the legislation could be challenged because it removes Montana citizens' right to sue plant developers in state courts.
There are also some concerns with food safety compliance issues. All meat processing plants in the U.S. are subject to USDA regulation and product inspection, but Congress previously stripped the USDA's funding for horse processing plant inspections.
HB 418 sponsor Rep. Ed Butcher argued that since meat processed in Montana would be destined for European markets, plant owners could employ European Union personnel to regulate the plants and conduct product inspections.
"Then inspection challenges would go to the world trade court," Butcher explained.
He also disagrees that the law is unconstitutional.
"Courts have the right to offer an opinion about legislation--they do not have the right to make law. That's the legislature's job," he says.