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.”