Right to Farm Supporters and Opponents Ramp Up Efforts For Their Side to Win Battle- The LatestTue, 14 Apr 2015 21:46:37 CDT
On the surface, HJR 1012 seems relatively straight forward- but several opponents of the proposed ballot initiative are throwing verbal "rocks" and raising a variety of issues that they say would result if the language of this "Right to Farm" measure became a part of the Oklahoma Constitution. At the same time, most Oklahoma Ag Groups are saying they want to see the measure that came out of the Senate Rules Committee last week move forward and be passed by the Senate before the April 23rd deadline- which is when action on the Senate floor must be complete in order for a bill to still be alive here for the 2015 part of this current session.
When the Senate Rules Committee offered a "do pass" of the measure by an eight to four vote about a week ago, it came with an amendment pertaining to mineral rights. So, if the Senate passes the proposal in its current form, the Oklahoma Farm Report has been told it is likely that the House Author, Scott Biggs, will request a Conference with the Senate over the amendment added by the Senate. The language that has been added to the measure comes in the second paragraph of Section 38- with the added words in bold- "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." Click here for the complete language of the measure that Senators will be voting on.
In-state supporters of Right to Farm have had an out of state "white knight" ride in and produce a TV commercial that calls for public support of Right to Farm, asking voters to contact their lawmakers and support the Right to Farm. In the case of this video- the White Knight is the group "Protect the Harvest." Farm Director Ron Hays talked with the founder of Protect the Harvest earler this spring- and you can click here to read our story and listen to our interview with Forrest Lucas of Lucas Oil.
You can click on the PLAY button in the video box below to see their commercial in support of Right to Farm.
Most vocal of the opponents of Right to Farm has been the HSUS- the Humane Society of the US. They have run television ads proclaiming Right to Farm as Right to Harm and HSUS President Wayne Pacelle has signed off on a customized email being sent to all supporters of the HSUS- listing their specific lawmakers that they need to contact to urge a NO vote in the Senate. The Pacelle email reads "Lobbyists for factory farming corporations and puppy mills are getting closer to rewriting your state constitution. If they're successful, it would be nearly impossible for Oklahoma voters to protect millions of dogs, chickens, pigs and cows from abuse.
"The misleadingly-named "Right to Farm" constitutional amendment has already passed the House of Representatives and was just approved by a committee in the Senate. Now it's just one step away from being placed on the ballot, where corporations will spend millions of dollars trying to dupe the public into voting for the measure.
"No one questions Oklahomans' right to farm. This bill is really about the factory farm operators' right to harm."
Another group that has been urging their supporters to call for a "no" vote is the Sierra Club. In the organization's most recent paper on their positions of Oklahoma legislation- they write about "Right to Farm" as "BAD FOR FAMILY FARMS AND RANCHES; This bill prevents ANY lawsuit from land owners affected by bad agricultural practices and allows ANY corporate agricultural practice conceivable, no matter how harmful they may be, by making a CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT without limits that BENEFITS CORPORATE AND OUT-OF-STATE AGRICULTURE."
Another opponent of Right to Farm is the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority. Their chairman is a lawyer in Tulsa, Lou Reynolds. Reynolds wrote in an "op-ed" article that was originally published in the Tulsa World "this measure would more likely have a negative impact on every Oklahoman. Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority (TMUA) has deep concerns about the potential impact this measure would have on water quality in Oklahoma.
"Oklahoma House Joint Resolution 1012 is part of a concerted nationwide effort led not by local Oklahoma farmers, but by international agribusiness and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). This effort seeks to remove corporate farming operations from local, state or federal regulation and oversight; shielding large industrial dairies, poultry farms, feedlots, and other confined animal feeding operations and slaughterhouses from environmental, health and food safety regulations."
Reynolds adds in his argument that this measure is a part of a giant conspiracy theory as "it also could also nullify regulations that require agribusinesses to clean up pollution contaminating local water sources. Those affected by the contamination would be forced to take legal action costing untold millions in legal fees and loss of water use if contaminated beyond a municipality's ability to treat the water for households."
Reynolds blames agriculture for water pollution- but is silent on the improvements that have been documented by the EPA and the Oklahoma Conservation Commission in reducing nutrients getting into several key waterways that are a part of the water supply for Tulsa. About the pollution- "Oklahoma water quality is already at risk because of agricultural pollution. For several years, the TMUA has spent over $1 million annually to remove agricultural contaminants from the Tulsa water system" adding that "These additional expenses will continue to be passed on to customers in their bills."
In addition, the Oklahoma Municipal League is also urging a "no" vote. The contend that "if placed in the Constitution, HJR 1012 could prohibit legislators from remedying future problems which are currently impossible to anticipate. It is "too broad", its impact unknown, with resulting unintended consequences adversely affecting economic development and protection of water supplies."
One other group that represents ecumenical interests in the state has also apparently raised their opposition. We have attempted to contact their Executive Director by phone and by email- and are waiting for his response about their concerns with HJR 1012.
Playing What If...
It is not a certainty that Oklahoma Agriculture can pull their resources together and overcome the differences in language between the House and the Senate, as well as the groups that have lined up to oppose "Right to Farm." However- if the Oklahoma Ag Community is successful in getting this measure approved and onto the general election ballot in the fall of 2016- that simply means a huge task will occupy most of Oklahoma agriculture over the next year and a half.
Veterans of previous statewide races that we have talked with believe that the timing might actually be positive for running this ballot initiative. They point out that the fall of 2016 will have only the Senate race that will likely feature Senator James Lankford running for a full six year term- along with a Corporation Commission race that will be a statewide race. That's good because it means that advertising rates in the two major TV markets in the state will not be pushed significantly higher than they normally are. They contend that Oklahoma is a relatively "cheap" media market- which keeps the costs for the proponents in check- but it could mean opponents with deep pockets from out of state may view this as an inexpensive place to defeat agricultural interests when it comes to Right to Farm.
Consultants that we have talked with about Right to Farm say that they believe that a significant cost for the grass root portion of the campaign can be minimized because the major groups that will favor this language, Oklahoma Farm Bureau, American Farmers & Ranchers, the Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association and others have good county organizations which should simplify the grass roots portion of the campaign.
Assuming costs for organization for an "on the ground" organization will be relatively small- we have been told a bare bones campaign where opposition is minimal could still cost up to a million dollars. If the opposition is more active and placing media buys in the last month before election day- that number could jump to $1.5 million, and if polling shows Right to Farm even or losing around Labor Day 2016- the cost could easily push to two million dollars to have a chance to win.
All of that is well out into the future- the immediate challenge for supporters of Right to Farm is to close ranks and urge a YES vote in the Oklahoma State Senate by next Thursday, April 23rd. One farm group lobbyist told me he thought the vote will be "close" and some more work needs to be done before a positive vote can be assured.
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