A measure dubbed by its critics as “the right to harm” law would leave it up to voters to decide if farms and ranches in Oklahoma would go virtually unregulated, which could lead to an increase in pollution and animal abuse here.
House Joint Resolution 1012, which has overwhelmingly passed the House in a 90-6 vote, would let voters decide to amend the state’s constitution to make farming and ranching “forever guaranteed” in the state. The bill is sponsored by state Rep. Scott Biggs of Chickasha and state Sen. Jason Smalley of Stroud, both Republicans.
Here’s the key language in the measure, which would appear as a ballot measure in the November 2016 general election:
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 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.
The resolution creating the ballot question and measures like it across the country-one such law has been approved in Missouri, for example-are called “right to farm” bills and their supporters frame their case in the typical conservative, sloganeering language of “freedom” and “fighting government encroachment.” But this resolution is so open and sweeping it opens the door for farmers and ranchers to indiscriminately pollute groundwater and treat animals abusively. The possibilities for water pollution near urban areas and less-regulated puppy mills could increase enormously if the measure can withstand legal scrutiny.
Oklahoma is already dealing with the environmental problems created by the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process, which critics say leads to water pollution and scientists have tied to the huge surge in earthquakes here.
Now the legislature seems ready to pass a bill that could eventually make Oklahoma an even more unsafe place to live. The measure does allow for “a compelling state interest” to enable the legislature to pass laws related to farming and ranching, but the language is so nebulous and contradictory it doesn’t even make sense. If lawmakers can actually pass laws because of the state’s “compelling interest” that abridge “the right of citizens and lawful residents of Oklahoma to employ agricultural technology and livestock production and ranching practices,” then what’s the point of the measure anyway? What’s a “compelling interest”? How do we even define farming and ranching as we consider the growing popularity of locally grown food by small operations? Wouldn’t this bill further help large corporate farming operations to escape regulation and erode the number of family farms even more?
The measure, according to ThinkProgress, is part of an overall political initiative by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is a conservative group noted for its support for corporate interests. Obviously, some family farms can be large operations, but common sense dictates this bill would only encourage corporate farming here.
The Oklahoma Farm Bureau adamantly supports the bill. Groups such as The Humane Society and Sierra Club oppose it.
State Sen. Kay Floyd, an Oklahoma City Democrat, has offered an amendment to the bill that would make the “right to farm” ballot a county-by-county special election, arguing a statewide amendment could interfere with local municipality laws.
The amendment, if passed, like other sweeping measures and amendments passed in recent years by the legislature and Oklahoma, could also conflict with federal laws. This would once again lead to a costly lawsuit for the state.
Let’s be clear: Farmers and ranchers here already have the right to grow crops and raise livestock. Nuisance and zoning laws help mediate issues that can arise when urban and rural interests collide. This measure is simply a way to supposedly get around basic and needed regulations when it comes to the environment. I write “supposedly” because I sincerely doubt the amendment would render any federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) law or requirement obsolete.
If this amendment question makes it to the ballot in its current form, no one here is really going to know what she or he is voting for in all reality. The Oklahoma Senate should reject HJR 1012.