Ohio Senate Introduces Agritourism Legislation

By:Peggy Kirk Hall, , Associate Professor, Agricultural & Resource Law , Associate Professor, Agricultural & Resource Law Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

A new bill in the Ohio Senate addresses several legal issues for Ohio agritourism operators.  Senators Jones (R-Springboro) and Peterson (R-Sabina) introduced S.B. 334 on May 7.  The bill would impact Ohio agritourism operators in regards to civil liability, property taxation, zoning regulation and amusement ride standards.

Civil Liability Protection

Following a similar trend in other states, the Ohio legislation would grant agritourism operators civil liability protection from claims for injuries that occur during agritourism activities.   An operator would not be liable for harm that an observer or participant sustains during an agritourism activity if the harm is a result of the following conditions, which the law defines as "risks inherent in an agritourism activity":

(a) The surface and subsurface conditions of land;

(b) The behavior of wild or domestic animals;

(c) The ordinary dangers associated with structures or equipment ordinarily used in farming or ranching operations;

(d) The possibility of contracting illness resulting from physical contact with animals, animal feed, animal waste, or surfaces contaminated by animal waste;

(e) The possibility that a participant may act in a negligent manner, including by failing to follow instructions given by the agritourism provider or by failing to exercise reasonable caution while engaging in the agritourism activity that may contribute to injury to that participant or another participant.

The law does not extend civil liability immunity if an agritourism operator purposefully causes harm or if the provider's willful or wanton disregard for the safety of an observer or participant proximately causes harm to the person.

Real Property Taxation
 
The proposal aims to ensure that agritourism land can qualify for Ohio's Current Agricultural Use Valuation (CAUV) real roperty taxation program.  The CAUV differential tax assessment formula would apply to agritourism property in two situations:
 
(1) Tracts, lots, or parcels of land of ten acres or more devoted exclusively to agritourism during the three years prior to a CAUV application, if the land on which the agritourism is located is contiguous to or part of a parcel of land under common ownership that is otherwise devoted exclusively to agricultural use according to ORC 5713.30.
 
(2) Tracts, lots, or parcels of land less than ten acres that were devoted exclusively to agritourism and produced an average yearly gross income of at least $2,500 during the three years prior to the CAUV application, or where there is evidence of an anticipated gross income of such amount during the tax year in which the applicant applies for CAUV.
 
Zoning Authority
 
The bill also contends with the issue of whether agritourism activities are subject to local zoning regulations, a question we often receive at Ohio State.  According to the proposal, counties and townships would not have any authority to utilize zoning to prohibit the use of land for agritourism in any district, whether zoned for agricultural, industrial, residential, or commercial uses.
 
Amusement Ride Standards and Inspections
 
In response to emerging questions about permits and safety standards for activities such as zip lines on agritourism operations, the bill grants authority to the director of agriculture (ODA) to adopt rules to establish standards for amusement rides at agritourism locations that are consistent with standards adopted by the American Camp Association.  If the ODA adopts such rules, the bill states that other regulations pertaining to permits, inspections and duties would not apply to agritourism amusement rides.
 
Definition of Agritourism
 
An important component of the bill is its definition of "agritourism," but the bill raises as many questions as answers in its attempt to clarify the activities and operations that would be subject to the proposed legislation.  For purposes of the above provisions, the proposal defines "agritourism" as:
 
"An educational, entertainment, or recreational activity that takes place on a working farm or agricultural or horticultural operation and that allows or invites members of the general public to observe, participate in, or enjoy that activity.  "Agritourism" includes historic and cultural agriculture activities, self-pick farms or farmer's markets when they are conducted in conjunction with farm operations." 
 
The Senate referred S.B. 334 to the Civil Justice committee on May 14.   Learn more about the bill here
 

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