Oklahoma SQ 777: "Right to farm"

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Oklahoma State Question 777 proposes an amendment to the Constitution of Oklahoma. It would add a new Section 38 to Article 2, which would read:

Section 38. To protect agriculture as a vital sector of Oklahoma's economy, which provides food, energy, health benefits, and security and is the foundation and stabilizing force of Oklahoma's economy, the rights of farmers and ranchers citizens and lawful residents of Oklahoma to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state. The Legislature shall pass no law which abridges the right of citizens and lawful residents of Oklahoma to employ agricultural technology and livestock production and ranching practices without a compelling state interest.

Nothing in this section shall be construed to modify any provision of common law or statutes relating to trespass, eminent domain, dominance of mineral interests, easements, rights of way or any other property rights. Nothing in this section shall be construed to modify or affect any statute or ordinance enacted by the Legislature or any political subdivision prior to December 31, 2014.

shallwegather-webimage2.jpgThis proposed amendment began life as HJR 1012 during the 2015 legislative session. The House approved it 90-6; the Senate approved a different version 39-6; then the House adopted the Senate version by an 85-7 vote.

The markup above shows the changes from the original House version to the version finally approved by both Senate and House. The original House version said "farmers and ranchers" instead of "citizens and lawful residents of Oklahoma"; the change was made on the House floor. The Senate version added "dominance of mineral interests, easements, rights of way" before "or any other property rights." The Senate version also added the final sentence grandfathering any laws enacted in 2014 (the session prior to passage of this resolution) or earlier.

There are active, evidently well-funded campaigns on each side of the issue. The "yes" website is http://www.oklahomarighttofarm.com/, the "no" website is http://www.votenoon777.com/.

There seems to be a good deal of propaganda on each side of the issue, aiming to provoke an emotional response rather than argue the pros and cons.

While SQ 776 aims to disarm judicial activists, SQ 777 hands them a loaded howitzer. On the Oklahoma Right to Farm FAQ page, the vote yes folks say, "Oklahoma's courts will ultimately determine the scope of Right to Farm." How about we determine the scope before we approve it?

Two other states have approved a similar constitutional provision. North Dakota passed such a bill by a 2-to-1 margin in 2012; Missouri by a very slim margin in 2014. On the other hand, this year, North Dakota voters reaffirmed the state's ban on corporate farming.

This is a bit of a tangent, but I've seen some people claim that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is behind SQ 777. Today I even saw the claim that "ALEC runs Oklahoma." That's like saying Ree Drummond runs my kitchen because we use some of her recipes. ALEC is an organization where limited-government, free-market legislators can exchange ideas and share solutions. (It's analogous to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), which serves legislators who are looking for solutions involving bigger government. The main difference is that ALEC is privately funded, and NCSL receives tax dollars.) Some of those solutions involve model legislation, providing a starting point which legislators can adapt to their specific goals and the unique circumstances of each state.

In the case of "Right to Farm," SQ 777 shares a name with ALEC's model right-to-farm legislation, but little else. The ALEC model bill is statutory, not constitutional, and it includes specific definitions that SQ 777 lacks. The ALEC model bill provides a process for handling complaints against farmers; SQ 777 has nothing of the sort.

While I appreciate the concerns of groups like the Oklahoma Farm Bureau and the Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association, I don't believe that a constitutional amendment like that proposed in SQ 777 is the right solution. I will be voting NO -- AGAINST SQ 777.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on October 15, 2016 6:45 PM.

Oklahoma SQ 776: Death penalty was the previous entry in this blog.

Oklahoma SQ 779: Boren sales tax for schools and colleges is the next entry in this blog.

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