STIR challenge to SQ 777 gets thrown out by judge

News

An Oklahoma County judge dismissed a legal challenge to the so-called Right to Farm Act filed by Tahlequah-based clean-water advocacy group, property owners and farmers.

The goal of Save the Illinois River and co-plaintiffs was to keep State Question 777 off the general election ballot in November. Plaintiffs challenged the measure as unconstitutional on its face, outlining four arguments in support of their petition for declaratory ruling and injunction.

District Court Judge Patricia Parrish, however, sided with the state defendants, who argued the lawsuit was filed outside a 10-day window allowed for challenges to legislative referendums such as SQ 777. Parrish said, on its face, she could find nothing to show the legislative referendum for SQ 777 is unconstitutional.

Parrish specifically referenced in an online entry in the case the state defendants’ reply brief as the grounds for her ruling. She did, however, acknowledge that a constitutional challenge would be proper if the controversial measure is approved by voters in November.

STIR President Denise Deason-Toyne said the citizen coalition and co-plaintiffs were “disappointed in the court’s decision to dismiss this case based on an issue that was not before the court.” She said it was unknown Friday about whether the decision would be appealed.

Deason-Toyne was referring to the fact that the motion before the court was brought by the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office and alleged the lawsuit was filed too late. Judge Parrish did not find that the suit missed any filing deadline and instead, she launched into a discussion with the lawyers about the state question’s constitutionality. Judge Parrish said she believed that SQ 777 apparently would benefit corporate farms and not family farms if passed.

STIR was joined as plaintiff by District 18 Rep. Jason Dunnington, an Oklahoma County Democrat, Ed Brocksmith, who owns property within the Illinois River watershed, and farmer John Leonard. The plaintiffs expressed concern that SQ 777, which is slated to be on the Nov. 8 general election ballot, would carve out constitutional rights for farmers and ranchers that are unavailable to those who engage in other occupations.

That fundamental right, they argue, would amend the state constitution and grant “fundamental rights” to the agricultural industry and constitutional protections to practices that harm animals, people and the environment. Lawmakers would be required to prove a compelling state interest exists before passing any laws that would interfere with agricultural practices.

SQ 777 proponents, which include the Oklahoma Farm Bureau and organizations that support corporate agricultural practices and concentrated animal feeding operations, say the measure would protect Oklahoma jobs and defend farmers and ranchers. They have said constitutional protections are needed from environmental and animal activists.

Critics expressed concern that the passage of SQ 777 would allow corporations and courts dictate state agricultural policies and take it out of the hands of Oklahoma citizens. They fear that option could undermine environmental safeguards.