State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Bill changed to protect only agritourism that's free

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Nov 11, 2013 3:27 PM
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A plan to limit the liability of agritourism attractions in Pennsylvania has hit some brambles in the state House.

The proposal was originally drafted to help the corn mazes of Pennsylvania and other members of the "agritainment" family - haunted hay rides, pick-your-own apple orchards, cut-your-own Christmas tree fields. The intent was to keep insurance rates and lawsuits in check for farmers trying to make their land more profitable by hosting such attractions.

A Democratic amendment narrowly adopted on the House floor last month would only extend such protection to farmers whose attractions are totally free. Charge a fee for your farm tour, and you can kiss limited liability goodbye.

Pennsylvania Farm Bureau spokesman Mark O'Neill says it renders the legislation "useless."

"If it's only going to affect something where you can't have an admission fee, then the bill will do nothing for farmers," O'Neill said.

The amendment was offered by Rep. Bryan Barbin (D-Cambria), and adopted by a House vote of 97-96.

The Pennsylvania Association for Justice, which represents trial lawyers, generally opposes legal immunity legislation, and supports the amendment to keep liability protection out of reach for "agritainers" who charge fees for their attractions.

"If you profit from something," said spokesman Tom Previc, "you have a duty to care."

The Farm Bureau casts the amendment as a short-sighted move that ignores the lengths farmers are going to preserve their agricultural land.

"The whole idea of the bill is to have liability protection for farmers who operate agritourism," O'Neill added. "And agritourism enterprises generally charge an admission fee because the farmers have put these things in place, to begin with, in order to help generate more income to the farm so that they continue all forms of farming in the future."

The bill hasn't received a final vote in the House yet. O'Neill said his group just wants to see it passed and sent to the Senate, where he hopes the amendment "would be done away with."

This entry has been edited since its original posting.

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