A public campaign is ramping up against an Oklahoma ballot proposal that would make it harder to create new regulations on the agriculture industry, and the proposal's author claims they're using "scare tactics."
The Oklahoma Stewardship Council chairman Drew Edmondson in a Friday press conference condemned State Question 777, billed by its supporters as a "right to farm" initiative. The constitutional amendment would require state and local governments to meet a "compelling state interest" standard to issue new regulations on agriculture, livestock production and ranching.
"I'm telling you, as a matter I believe almost of total fact, those new legislations, those new ordinances, those new rules will not survive that kind of scrutiny," said Edmondson, a former Oklahoma attorney general and Democrat. "And certainly, it will be at great expense to the taxpayers to try to defend them (in court)."
State Rep. Scott Biggs, a Republican from Chickasha, introduced the proposal, saying the ballot measure is needed because the Oklahoma agriculture industry has come under attack from environmental and animal-rights groups.
"It's kind of the ultimate safeguard," Biggs said of the proposed amendment. "Why shouldn't we be able to protect that as much as possible?"
The Legislature this year passed a companion bill labeling protection of the state water supply as a compelling state interest, Biggs said. But opponents of State Question 777 say it's not clear the statutory definition would offer any constitutional guarantees in court.
Biggs took issue with that claim, calling it a misleading scare tactic.
"Compelling state interest has time and time again been defined as anything that is necessary for the health, safety and welfare of the public," Biggs said. "If somebody says water is not a compelling state interest, they need to take a second look."
Under the proposal, existing agriculture regulations enacted prior to Dec. 31, 2014, would remain in effect. The new standard would apply to future regulations, something Edmondson's group believes would be bad policy.
"We don't know what chemicals are going to be added to the feed, seed or fertilizer in 2017, 2018 or down the road," Edmondson said. "We don't know what kind of growth hormones, antibiotics or other chemicals are going to be added to our poultry or our pork after (State Question) 777 becomes the law."
Oklahoma voters will consider State Question 777 on the November ballot.