House Committee Approves Battery-Cage Ban with Exemption for Only R.I. Farm that Uses Them

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — As the General Assembly begins its final weeks of the 2015 session, bills are moving ahead and dying at a rapid pace. On June 4, five bills advanced out of the House Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources.

Chicken cages. A ban on wire crates, called “battery cages,” was approved with the caveat that exempts the state’s largest egg producer from compliance. House bill 5505A requires egg-laying hens be given access to at least 216 square inches of floor space.

Little Rhody egg farm in Foster, the largest egg producer in the state, was granted an exemption that allows it to continue using 85-square-inch wire cages that contain up to 10 hens for their 2-year life expectancy. It’s the state’s only farm that uses such cages.

Under the latest bill, the farm can only use battery cages until they break beyond repair, which is estimated at 15-20 years.

The bill passed 9-1, with opposition from Rep. Thomas Palangio, D-Providence, who is a proponent of animal protections. Rep. Jeremiah O’Grady, D-Lincoln, voted in favor of the bill, although he said he doesn’t buy Little Rhody eggs because the farm uses battery cages.

“I vote with my feet,” he said.

The bill heads to the House floor. If approved, the legislation moves to a Senate committee for a hearing. There is no Senate companion bill. The House and Senate must approve the bill before it heads to the governor for a signature.

Parrots in campgrounds. A bill advanced to the House floor that would allow a Warwick man to bring his pet parrot to state campgrounds. The sponsor of H6094, Rep. Joseph Trillo, R-Warwick, declined to give the name of the parrot owner but noted that the man has been kicked out of two state campgrounds over the years for having the parrot.

“There was an injustice being done for the last 20 years,” Trillo said.

Currently, only cats and dogs are permitted with their human owners at state campgrounds. Anyone with a parrot, there are about 372 species, would be allowed in state campgrounds provided there are no more than two “domesticated psittacine birds per camp site and the domesticated psittacine birds are confined at all times in a recreational vehicle or camper occupying a campsite.”

The state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) opposed an initial version of the bill over concerns of spreading avian influenza, known as bird flu, and other diseases.

The risk of contracting avian flu isn’t particularly high for captive, housebound birds in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, a battery-cage facility is more likely to spread an outbreak of avian influenza, as the disease moves quicker between stressed birds. DEM has testified against legislation that would ban battery cages.

The bill moves to the House floor. There is no Senate version of the bill.

Sea-level rise. “This is where the science hits the money,” said Rep. Lauren Carson, D-Newport, during a March 19 hearing for a bill she sponsored to study the economic impacts of flooding caused by sea-level rise.

“It brings the business community to the table,” Carson said.

The 11-member commission would include members of the House, along with business and maritime experts. The initial focus of the study would look at sea-level rise case studies of Newport, Providence and South County.

The committee approved the bill 9-1. Rep. Justin Price, R-Hopkinton, a climate-change skeptic, was the lone nay vote. The bill moves to the House for approval.  

Shark-fin ban. Although there is no evidence of shark-fin fishing occurring in Rhode Island waters, a ban on the act and trade is moving forward in hopes of disrupting the global shark-fin market. A Senate bill also is advancing.

Green incubator. The committee approved bill H5591, which creates a seven-member House study commission to look at using state-owned land for start-up, renewable-energy businesses. The bill moves to the House floor for approval.

Farm weddings. A bill to add weddings to the list of activities and uses for farms was pulled from the meeting agenda at the last minute. The bill was drafted after farms, such as Greenvale Vineyards in Portsmouth, were prohibited by their towns from hosting weddings. Opponents have raised concerns over traffic, noise and development.