Oklahoma’s “prosperity districts” are not OK

By on April 10, 2017 with 5 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Last November, Oklahoma voters crushed a State Question 777, a proposed constitutional amendment in Oklahoma to create a “right to farm” — a measure to deregulate agriculture in the state on a go-forward basis. Despite a multi-million dollar campaign to pass it, more than 60 percent of voters rejected it, with rural and urban counties saying that no business or sector of the economy should be exempt from democratic decision-making and reasonable restrictions on its conduct. The coalition that led the opposition campaign consisted of family farmers, animal welfare advocates, clean water advocates, local governments, all of the state’s leading newspapers, and so many others.

But some lawmakers don’t seem to understand that “no” means “no.”

They’ve given “right to farm” a facelift. Now they’re calling for the creation of “prosperity districts,” which would allow for vast parts of the state to be exempt from many state regulations. That’s “right to farm” by a different means, with deregulation happening parcel by parcel and zone by zone.

Despite its dubious status under the U.S. Constitution, House Bill 2132 passed the Oklahoma House last week by a vote of 60-26 (a far narrower margin than the House took of the original “right to farm” measure).

A group called Compact for America appears to have come up with the concept of a “prosperity district,” which once created would replace “within its boundaries, all state laws above the baseline of the state constitution, common law, criminal law and existing compacts.”

The people of Oklahoma want local governments and state government to be able to establish some reasonable standards to regulate agriculture, and that’s why they rejected SQ 777. While the 88-page House Bill 2132 is enormously complex, arcane and opaque, one thing isn’t in doubt: legal protections for animals, family farmers, workers, and the environment would be put at risk.

“This bill shifts governance within the designated zones away from elected city councils and state lawmakers and gives the power to a non-elected board that is not answerable to the citizens,” says former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who led the very successful fight against SQ 777.

According to the Muskogee Phoenix, which did reporting on the bill today, it’s something of an attempt to disempower both local and state government in Oklahoma. According to the Oklahoma Policy Institute’s Courtney Cullison, the passage of HB 2132 would “allow corporations and other special interests to create their own governments.”

The Oklahoma Senate should heed the will of the voters and put out to pasture the phony construct of “prosperity districts.”

Farm Animals, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. nmosset says:

    Unbelievably scary concept! How could anyone vote for something like this.

  2. Nick Dranias says:

    Please stop misrepresenting the facts. The Prosperity States effort has nothing to do with the Oklahoma Right to Farm effort. Our coalition spanning Compact for America, Federalism in Action, Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs, NeWAY Foundation, Mississippi Center for Public Policy and many others have developed this effort independently for the past 20 months. The effort gives Oklahomans the option to establish the state-of-the-art in free market and limited government regulatory policy developed with the vetting and input of over 22 national experts in every relevant field, including constitutional experts like Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute, among others.

    If anything, any opposition to the Prosperity States effort is aimed at suppressing freedom of choice for Oklahomans. Why? Because the Prosperity States effort is entirely about local control and consent of the governed. It takes 100% consent of affected landowners and voters to form a prosperity district. Counties are free to completely opt-out if they wish. Cities are unaffected anywhere within their territorial or planning jurisdictions unless they opt in. Landowners who form a district can later opt-out. There is no reason for anyone to fear the choice offered by the Prosperity States effort. Nothing is forced on anyone ever.

    As explained by Dr. Adrian Moore of Reason Foundation, prosperity districts would leapfrog communities that choose to form them to the state-of-the-art in regulation. They would require any regulation to address a real identifiable problem, to actually work to solve that problem, to be the least burdensome regulation needed to solve the problem, and to favor free market competition. Not only that, but HB2132 makes its managing board literal fiduciaries for the public in exercising this regulatory authority and deprives them of any sovereign immunity. The government of a prosperity district would be a public trust in a true sense and the folks running the government would have their own necks on the line if they abuse that trust.

    Much like the Reedy Creek Improvement District did for Walt Disney World, all prosperity districts do is give Oklahomans a safe harbor from special interest driven politics by prohibiting future bad regulation from being imposed on them. All law enforcement, national security and state of emergency agencies have the same jurisdiction in prosperity districts as before they were formed. All outside state, county and local agencies have jurisdiction in prosperity districts to prevent anything occurring in the district from violating outside regulations or causing any outside harm. State and federal courts have jurisdiction inside prosperity districts to protect individual rights.

    The only real difference between the typical special district or town and a prosperity district is that prosperity districts are 100% voluntary and shielded from bad public policy. Indeed, to suggest that your opposition vindicates voters is pure propaganda. Your insistence on only two flavors of local government-big and bigger local government-does not enhance voter choice. It denies it.

  3. Mina Yindra says:

    As has happened so many times recently, lawmakers on the state and federal levels have made these types of decisions- if they don’t get what they want, they simply manipulate and override our most fundamental laws. It is not just this episode (although it should bring a healthy dose of fear to the citizens of OK), it is an ever-increasing disregard of democratic principles. If the citizens, who resoundingly expressed their constitutional right to reject legislation, are now to be disregarded… well, the horrible impact on animals, humans, our environment, and the core concepts of our country are obvious.

  4. Ruth Tarbell says:

    To Nick Draniass–your last comment using the buzzword “big government” belies your true motives: you think corporations should be able to do whatever they want to bring in more revenue without the “hassle” of regulation from “big brother.” Interestingly, your argument for self-regulation falls flat when it’s revealed that your coalition is formed of entities not even rooted in Oklahoma, such as Compact America, which is based in Houston. Didn’t we learn our lesson from the unregulated mortgage industry bankers who caused the collapse of our entire economy, with global repercussions, that drove people into bankruptcy and poverty with their greedy ways? No, I’m sorry, corporations can’t be trusted to self-regulate, particularly when they’re in an industry that is already rampant with horrific cruelties inflicted upon defenseless animals who live out their lives in misery just so they can make more money. They need MORE regulation from people outside the industry who have feel compassion and care about the environment and aren’t governed by a soulless drive to increase revenues at any cost.

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