Missouri lawmakers advanced two bills this week that would outlaw the government use of drones -- though they are rare in the state -- and the implementation of Agenda 21, the United Nation's program promoting sustainability, though it simply makes recommendations.
The drone ban advanced in the Republican-controlled state House on Tuesday, while the Republican-controlled Senate advanced the Agenda 21 ban Wednesday. Democrats immediately attacked Republicans for the legislation, saying the bills are ignoring real problems in the state, including the economy, healthcare and education. Both bills have to clear the other chamber before being able to advance to Gov. Jay Nixon (D).
"We have a got a bunch of actual real issues like unemployment that is too high and underfunded schools," state Rep. Stephen Webber (D-Columbia) told The Huffington Post. "These guys are making up things to be concerned about, that is paranoid-level stuff. They don't have any ideas to fix the actual problems and it's easier to come up with made-up solutions to made-up problems."
State Rep. Casey Guernsey (R-Bethany), the sponsor of the drone ban, told his colleagues that the bill was needed to prevent spying on property and people, stltoday.com reported, though drones are not exactly common in Missouri. Under the terms of the bill, law enforcement would need to get warrants to use drones. The bill does allow for colleges and universities to use drones for research and educational purposes, which has been an issue in other states.
State Rep. Stacey Newman (D-St. Louis) told HuffPost that she believes that Guernesey is pushing the bill in an effort to protect corporate farms in the state, noting that Guernesey, the House Agri-Business Committee chairman, has been active on corporate farming issues in the Legislature. Guernesey had said in the debate over the bill that the main reason he filed it was a report last year that the Environmental Protection Agency was using drones to spy on midwestern farms, according to the stltoday.com . The report he referenced was later proven untrue by The Washington Post.
Under the Agenda 21 ban, local governments in the state would not be able to adopt or support the international set of recommendations for sustainability that has been a favorite target for conservatives in state legislatures in recent years.
State Sen. Brian Nieves (R-Washington) told a Senate committee last month that the ban was needed to protect private property rights. He said the bill was filed after two Missouri residents claimed their property was rezoned by the federal government as part of Agenda 21.
Nieves' argument was similar to ones advanced by Republicans in other states. Agenda 21 was adopted in 1992 but was not ratified by the U.S. Senate and does not contain the force of law in the United States. The John Birch Society has led opposition to the program, saying the plan would lead to the end of private property and force people to move into urban centers and do more walking. The Missouri bill opposing the U.N. recommendations has been passed by the state House Tourism and Natural Resources Committee, were the House sponsor said it is not "tinfoil hat stuff."
Guernsey, a farmer, took issue with Webber and Newman, saying that the drone ban is an important economic issue for the state. He said that the future of the state’s agriculture industry is vital and that legislators from the urban parts of the state do not understand rural Missouri.
“It might not be education reform or health care funding, but it is not an issue any less important,” Guernsey told The Huffington Post. “It is a point that needs to be addressed. Considering agriculture is Missouri’s number one industry, anything we can do to protect it is important to the entire state. Legislators in Kansas City and St. Louis don’t understand that agriculture is paying the state’s bills.”
Nieves did not return messages left for comment.
Webber said that he believes that both bills have a strong shot of being passed in the GOP-controlled legislature but could be vetoed by Nixon.
"I think in this environment, a lot of this crazy stuff has a chance of passing," Webber said.