Testimony Before House Agriculture Committee on Senate Bill 2355

To: House Agriculture Committee
From: Christopher T. Dodson, Executive Director
Subject: Senate Bill 2355 (Zoning Districts and Regulations Affecting Farming
and Ranching)
Date: March 11, 1999

Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, I am Christopher Dodson, the executive director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference.

The North Dakota Catholic Conference is concerned about the future of farming and rural communities in North Dakota. This is why last November the North Dakota Catholic bishops issued a joint statement on the rural crisis. In that statement, the bishops drew upon fundamental principles in Catholic social teaching and called for policies consistent with the principles of subsidiarity and the
common good.

The first principle, subsidiarity, recognizes that human dignity requires that communities possess the ability to exercise responsible self-governance. Subsidiarity means that while larger governments have a role and sometimes a duty to involve themselves in local affairs, they should give deference and due respect to local communities. It is the option for local control.

The second principle, the common good, recognizes that the life and dignity of the human person is best respected and protected in community. This is what keeps the preference for local control from deteriorating into individualism.

Specifically applying these principles to rural issues, the bishops called for strengthening "rural communities by helping them shape their own environment and allowing them to enact land use ordinances consistent with the principles of subsidiarity and the common good." Senate Bill 2355 violates that principle by stripping communities (counties and townships) of their rightful position to enact ordinances for the common good.

Senate Bill 2355 is flawed for several other reasons. For example, it embraces a mistaken view of property. Property rights are important, but they are not absolute. All property is held in what the Pope John Paul II has called a "social mortgage." That means that no one, including a farmer or rancher, has a right to do whatever he wants with his property. All exercise over property is subject to the common good, the need to respect human life and dignity, and the proper stewardship of creation. Civil authorities, especially local authorities, have a duty to regulate the use of property for the common good and all citizens have a moral obligation to comply with proper regulations. Stripping local communities of their ability to even pass regulations upsets the proper relationship between property rights and the common

We realize that sometimes regulations have gone too far and have not duly respected a farmer or rancher's proper role as the primary steward of his property. However, forever punishing all counties and townships because of the bad acts of some is extreme.

Another problem is that, while intended to help rural communities, Senate Bill 2355 actually disrespects rural communities and treats rural residents as second class citizens. The common good preserved and fostered by the regulations and restrictions curtailed or prohibited by SB 2355 is the common good of the local community. Every local community should have the right to determine their own environment through the use of local regulations. Senate Bill 2355, however, says that urban communities (cities) can have that right, but rural communities (counties and townships) cannot. Certainly, this is a problem with the existing law, but Senate Bill 2355 would exacerbate this unequal treatment.

Finally, Senate Bill 2355 reflects a flawed approach to the current farm crisis. The North Dakota Catholic Conference believes that much of the current farm crisis has resulted from a lack of understanding and respect among non-farm and urban communities about rural life and farm practices. I think the supporters of this bill would agree with the bishops in that assessment. However, the answer to that problem is not to further remove farmers and ranchers from the community by exempting them from the rules and restrictions applicable to everyone else. That can only lead to a greater lack of understanding, disrespect, and a possible backlash against farmers and ranchers.

We urge a Do Not Pass recommendation.