Calling it an issue of “economic freedom,” a House panel voted Tuesday to force cities to allow residents to have poultry, a move one foe said means the state will “shove it down the throats” of nearby residents who don't want them.
SB 1151 would overrule existing or future city ordinances that prohibit poultry outright or impose most other restrictions on single-family lots.
Gone would be how large a lot is necessary to raise not only chickens but also geese and turkeys, and cities would not be able to tell someone how far a coop must be kept from a neighbor's property.
That would leave cities only an ability to set a cap on the number of fowl and a ban on roosters and other males.
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who said he raised chickens on a 10-acre farm when he lived in New Jersey, said there will be issues of noise and odor.
“This is not just about the right of people to have hens,” he said.
“This is about the right of their neighbors to enjoy the suburban or urban lifestyle which they've chosen,” Kavanagh continued. “This is not the Beverly Hillbillies.”
Rep. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, who was a former city councilman, said there's no reason for legislators to impose their will over what is decided locally by each community.
He said some public safety issues should be decided at a state level. For example, he cited laws which prohibit bars within a certain distance from public schools.
“Something like this, I think it's wrong to shove it down their throats and say, ‘You cannot do this,’” he said.
Many Arizona cities have restrictions of some form.
In general they keep fowl sufficiently far from any fence line to keep them from becoming a nuisance to neighbors. That sometimes means residents of smaller lots do not get to have birds at all.
Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa, sponsor of the legislation, said that's a shame.
He said there are people with allergies who cannot use most store-bought eggs because of what commercially raised chickens are fed. Farnsworth also said it would benefit poor people, especially those who may not want to accept food stamps.
But Farnsworth, raised on a farm, said he had the “privilege” of going out to the henhouse when his mother needed eggs to bake a cake. Sometimes there were none.
“So I would wait until I heard the friendly cackle of the eggs and stick my hand under the hen,” he said. “And there was that nice warm egg.”
Rep. Demion Clinco, D-Tucson, said the legislation supports “a new model of urban farming and urban sustainability.”
Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, said the legislation “is about a lot more than chickens.”
“The United States has now fallen out of the Top 10 in the world for economic freedom,” he said. “And one of the biggest reasons is for the loss of property rights.”
But Borrelli said none of that provides a reason to overrule decisions made by locally elected council members.
“Every community is unique,” he said. “They know their area better than we do here.”
The 5-3 vote by the House Government Committee sends the measure, which already has been approved by the Senate, to the full House.