OKFB's Ron Justice Monitors Progress of Concerning Water Bills as Important Deadline ApproachesFri, 19 Apr 2019 12:49:49 CDT
Next week is the final deadline in the 2019 Oklahoma Legislative Session for state legislators to have their bills heard and through their respective committees in the opposite chambers. This is a very important stage in the session, according to Ron Justice, Director of Public Policy at Oklahoma Farm Bureau. In an interview this week with Radio Oklahoma Ag Network Associate Farm Director Carson Horn, he explained that those bills that do not make it through the process will essentially go away for this particular session.
“So, there’s going to be legislators scrambling and it’s going to get pretty crazy over there as they try to get their bills through committee,” Justice said. “It becomes very interesting to see that happen and there’s a lot of excitement. You hear people talk about ‘making the sausage’… this is where it gets pretty complicated.”
As that deadline approaches, Justice and his team at Farm Bureau will be watching closely to see how several bills move through that process - two in particular regarding water issues. One is H.B. 1403 which deals with in-stream flow. Despite the good intentions of the bill’s author, Justice says OKFB has some concerns that this bill could present some unintended consequences if passed the way in which it is currently written. In addition, the bill would involve some costly studies that would come at the taxpayers’ expense. Justice believes there are cheaper ways to conduct these studies that would be just as effective if done during the interim session. At present, he is pushing for this bill to be tabled until more work can be done to build a consensus on how it should proceed.
The other water issue that has manifested in H.B. 1048, has to do with landowners’ entitlement to retain a property’s water rights when eminent domain is enacted on the land. While certain cases of eminent domain are justifiable, Justice claims that there is no situation in which the landowner that it is affecting, should be forcibly divorced from his or her water rights.
“Those are still moving through the process… how far they go this year, I don’t know,” Justice said, “because anytime you’re talking about water issues, there’s always a large concern.”
Federally, when it comes to water issues, the OKFB recently submitted comments to the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Army Corps of Engineers to offer input on the proposed revisions to the 2015 Waters of the United States rule enacted by the Obama Administration. While OKFB was fairly complimentary of the agencies’ work to fix the confusing and controversial rule - it also offered some suggestions to further improve the rule from an agricultural perspective. Justice applauded the agencies for their attention to this matter and their attentiveness in gathering input from producers and stakeholders.
“The main thing is making sure producers have an opportunity to have input. We understand the importance of keeping up the water quality - and I can tell you there’s probably been more done in Oklahoma than any other state as far as water quality goes, because that’s what we live by in agriculture,” he said. “We are concerned. We want to protect the water we have, but we don’t want overregulation on every little farm pond or mud puddle.”
Justice also made mention that a bill that we have been following, H.B. 2373, was signed by Governor Kevin Stitt. This bill, now law, caps nuisance suits at $250,000. With a growing culture of sue and settle cases frivolously levied against agribusinesses in this country for easy profiting on the pretense of nuisance, Justice says this bill will prevent those unfounded cases from happening and protects farmers and ranchers from being such an easy target. Justice clarifies, though, that this does not mean someone with substantial claims can’t come forward and take proper action in seeking appropriate compensation for real economic damages or losses. But, it does give farmers and ranchers greater protection. He says, thus far, Oklahoma has not seen many of these abusive cases - but more and more we have seen them in other states targeting agriculture.
“This is really to get a step ahead if you will,” he said.
In addition, OKFB is always mindful of any threats to the existing tax structure, especially when it comes to the state’s ag sales tax exemption. Just says that while there were some initial concerns early on in the session - it seems as though those threats have been put to rest for now. He says Farm Bureau is steadfast to point out in these situations that ag producers operate in much different way than other businesses and that changing or removing this critical tool could be detrimental to the ag industry - which he assures no legislator would ever intentionally mean to do. Which he says reiterates the importance of educating lawmakers on the unintended consequences of well-intended policies.
Listen to Horn’s full conversation with Justice for his complete legislative update for this week, by clicking or tapping the LISTEN BAR below.
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