Oklahoma is home to 78,000 farming operations that cover 34.2 million acres, more than three-fourths of the total area. Those farms produce more than $7.1 billion of products each year, more than $5.2 billion of that in livestock and poultry, making Oklahoma the 11th-largest livestock producing state and 23rd-largest ag-producing state.
Most farmers will support State Question 777 in November. The measure would add a new section to Article II of the Oklahoma Constitution. It would be four sentences long.
The first sentence says the intent is to protect farmers and ranchers and ensure that they can keep farming and ranching forever. The third and fourth sentences talk about what the amendment does not do: modify laws relating to trespass, eminent domain, the dominance of mineral rights, and so forth. There is little in those three sentences with which one might take issue.
The devil is the second sentence, which reads: “The Legislature shall pass no law which abridges the right of citizens and lawful residents of Oklahoma to employ agricultural technology and livestock production and ranching practices without a compelling state interest.”
According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Law, a compelling state interest is, “a governmental interest (as in educating children or protecting the public) which is so important that it outweighs individual rights.”
A compelling state interest is an extraordinarily high standard to meet that requires the strict scrutiny test. If the state were to adopt a law regulating agriculture and it was challenged, the state would have to prove that the policy was necessary and narrowly tailored to accomplish the specific task. It’s the same standard that was applied in Roe v. Wade when the court found a person’s privacy rights could not be quashed by laws outlawing abortions.
The law was not written by local farmers; ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, approved the model legislation in 1996 and again in 2013.
The state has a model; the Legislature can add, subtract and update laws as the world changes. In 1776, no one imagined a need for laws governing self-driving cars, but the public certainly can imagine the value of those today. No one knows how the agriculture industry will grow and change in Oklahoma, but the public representatives at the Capitol must be allowed to help the law adapt to whatever might surface.
We must not cede governance of an industry to the industry. Voters must defeat State Question 777 in November.