In January 2015, state Rep. Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha, filed a bill that would amend the Oklahoma Constitution to protect farming and ranching practices in the state.
Commonly known as “Right-to-Farm,” the bill will appear on the ballot in November as State Question 777.
The proposed ballot question asks voters whether or not to add Section 38 to Article 2 of the State Constitution, which “protects the rights of farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices.”
The measure would also prohibit the Legislature from passing laws that would take away the right to employ agricultural technology and livestock production without a compelling state interest.
We consider State Question 777 to be a solution looking for a problem. And the proposed law is fraught with the potential for unintended consequences.
Kim Barker, a rancher in Woods County, has called “Right to Farm” the “most inappropriately named bill of recent memory.” Since the Land Run, hard-working Oklahomans have exercised the right to farm.
Opponents to 777 have argued the model legislation will accelerate corporate concentration in the agricultural industry and actually further the destruction of the family farm. Supporters have cried foul, claiming to be fighting animal-rights radicals.
The Oklahoma Stewardship Council, headed by former state Attorney General Drew Edmondson, has taken a stance against the right-to-farm bill, calling it a “right-to-harm” movement instead and citing pollution and animal abuse concerns.
“I think it would impact any future effort to protect the waters of the state from discharges by the industry,” Edmondson said. “Any new standards on surface application of wastes would be presumed to be unconstitutional, new standards of air pollution would be unconstitutional.”
Currently, if issues related to farming and ranching occur five, 10 or 20 years from now, the state Legislature can decide what is right and proper.
If SQ 777 passes, it is more likely that judges will decide what is right and proper in ag-related disputes far into the future. Attorneys would ask courts to determine what is a “compelling state interest” — and that seems like a recipe for disaster. We’d rather see legislators, not judges, making laws and public policy.
“Right to Farm” has broad, sweeping implications that will take out state regulation.
Adam Price, operations manager of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative, said 777 is a bailout for agribusiness akin to the bailout for the banker’s malfeasance, allowing agribusiness to pollute and degrade the land in Oklahoma with impunity.
Why would voters want to pass an amendment that would take power away from the state? We urge Oklahomans to vote “no” on SQ 777.