Oklahoma Supreme Court Lets Stand 'Right to Farm' Initiative

August 9, 2016 02:14 PM

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Monday that voters can consider the so-called "Right to Farm" ballot initiative during the general election this fall, but some members of the state's highest court said state lawmakers should require that challenges to ballot measures be filed earlier.

A coalition known as Save the Illinois River, Inc., filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the proposal in March, more than eight months after Gov. Mary Fallin issued an order placing the matter on the Nov. 8 ballot. In a unanimous ruling, the nine-member court let stand a decision by Oklahoma County District Judge Patricia Parrish in May to dismiss the lawsuit.

But in a concurring opinion, Justices Douglas Combs and Yvonne Kauger said legislators should consider imposing deadlines for challenges of legislative ballot initiatives.

"The Legislature has not provided any statutory timeframe for a pre-election constitutional challenge to legislative referendums," the opinion states. "This court has previously stressed the important of timeliness in election and ballot-related measures."

The decision says that the lengthy time between Fallin's June 2015 proclamation that placed the measure on the ballot and the time the lawsuit was filed "prejudices the courts."

"This court cannot permit potential challengers to bide their time until the ballot printing and election deadlines loom, in an attempt to force an adjudication quickly," the concurring opinion says. "We cannot permit a flood of late-filed suits that must be resolved before ballot printing lest the state be forced to reprint the ballots at significant expense."

Passed by the Legislature last year, the measure calls for a statewide vote on whether the right to farm and ranch in Oklahoma shall be "forever guaranteed." Supporters say the proposed constitutional amendment was prompted in part by a California proposal that placed restrictions on the size of cages housing egg-laying hens and that the measure would prevent animal rights groups from changing agriculture practices in Oklahoma.

In addition to the nonprofit Save the Illinois River, Inc., the proposal was challenged by state Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, and two private citizens. Dunnington did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.

Opponents allege the measure could allow large farming corporations to set state agricultural policy instead of voters and lawmakers. Among other things, the proposal would prohibit the Legislature from passing laws that would take away the right to "employ agricultural technology and livestock production and ranching practices" without a compelling state interest.

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