Fauquier County farm birthday partyWhere was VACo when Fauquier County charged Martha Boneta for hosting a birthday party for eight little girls?

The Virginia Association of Counties (VACo) is quietly opposing H.B. 1430, the Boneta Bill, out of the public’s sight. VACo’s anti-property rights agenda was on display when it opposed Proposition 1, the eminent domain amendment that passed with 75% approval.

Fauquier Free Citizen has obtained VACo’s talking points against the Boneta Bill. Once again, VACo is wrong. This addresses and refutes their talking points about the Boneta Bill.

1. HB 1430 weakens the authority of counties to plan and regulate land use. Counties are in the most suitable position to reconcile claims among their residents over conflicting rights pertaining to land use.

False. HB 1430 does nothing to impede the zoning or enforcement authority of counties. It merely protects traditional, centuries-old forms of farming commerce and constitutional rights on farm lands. In response to the Boneta Bill and the egregious actions of Fauquier County, there have been suggestions that the legislature should actually write an agricultural zoning law for all counties. HB 1430 does not do that. It leaves county zoning authority intact, but simply protects rights of farmers.

2. HB 1430 creates a more permissive zoning scheme in agricultural areas that may lead to land use conflicts with neighboring properties. By increasing the potential for such conflicts, HB 1430 undermines the original intent of the Right to Farm Act, which was to protect and preserve bona fide agricultural operations from the encroachment of more intense land uses.

False. Protecting rights does not impede agricultural zoning, and to suggest otherwise indicates a major flaw with the goals of VACo. HB 1430 protects farmers and agricultural operations from unlawful encroachments by counties. Counties are still free to prohibit trespasses by farmers on their neighbors’ rights of quiet enjoyment, and HB 1430 does nothing to increase potential conflicts.

3. HB 1430 allows any farm to sell items not produced on the property. Those items could be from a neighboring locality, a nearby state or even a foreign county.

So? The wife of one of Fauquier County supervisor advertises and runs a massage therapy business out of his farm, and sells oils made in Europe. Farmers often run into periods where their produce is sold out, or is affected by winter, drought and other conditions beyond their control. Historically, farmers have been resourceful, but government regulation supported by VACo harms farmers and their economic ability to survive and actually preserve farm lands.

4. HB 1430 increases the likelihood that items, such as artifacts, furniture, food beverages, will be manufactured or processed in an agricultural district, further increasing the potential for land use conflicts.

Huh? Does VACo know that farms already use tractors and other large, loud equipment? HB 1430 caps the sale of items incidental to farming such as art (which farm families or local artists may create), books and pamphlets on farming that farmers may even author themselves, hand-painted furniture, and old farm artifacts. The United States Department of Agriculture goes even further than the Boneta Bill in its recommendations of goods and services that small farmers should sell as part of their agricultural operations.

5. By imposing very strong penalties on local officials enforcing ordinances and regulations developed by consensus with residents, HB 1430 undermines the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which results in a chilling effect for local government employees endeavoring to perform their duties in good faith.

Strong penalties? HB 1430 is expressly limited to violations of the Virginia Right to Farm Act — nothing more — and limits the fines to exactly what counties may impose on farmers plus attorney’s fees.

Counties already have litigation insurance. Frivolous lawsuits will be quickly dismissed, unlike county administrative actions against farmers that are not subject to rules of evidence and often violate due process rights, and can close down agricultural operations as happened to Martha Boneta.

Sovereign immunity. This is the doctrine that “the King can do no wrong.” Is VACo saying that county officials can do no wrong? Ask Martha Boneta.

Sovereign immunity is itself limited to good faith violations of law and mistakes, not intentional acts, and may be limited by the legislature at any time. Not long ago the Virginia legislature limited sovereign immunity under the Virginia Tort Claims Act, § 8.01-195.3.

Police departments are subject to lawsuits, damages and attorney’s fees under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and 1988 for violating constitutional rights under color of state law, yet this does nothing to impede legal enforcement of the law. Clerks of Virginia county courts have personal liability for certain acts. Counties already have insurance for their good faith mistakes in law.

This provision of the Boneta Bill may be the most popular of all. County officials should be required to do what is expected of all citizens, which is to respect and follow the law. In fact, Boneta Bill supporters would welcome VACo to a very high-profile public debate about its opposition to the Boneta Bill instead of hiding in dark corners of Richmond.

Boneta Bill supporters, which include county officials, stand with all county officials who are our friends, neighbors, church members, etc. who respect and follow the law, and who do not overreach and bully their communities. They are safe under the Boneta Bill, and we will ensure that.

We are aware that many county employees are disgusted with what some of their superiors order them to do, sometimes under threat of losing their jobs.