Oklahoma City asks citizens to “carefully study” Right to Farm, consider “adverse effects”

OKLAHOMA CITY - Leaders in Oklahoma's largest city are asking voters to consider the dangers of approving a contentious state question at the polls in November.

The Oklahoma City Council unanimously approved a delicately-worded resolution at its meeting last week, "urging all registered voters within Oklahoma City to carefully study and consider all the potential adverse effects of State Question 777 on the health, safety and welfare of Oklahoma City residents."

"It’s bad timing. It’s bad law," said Ward 4 Councilman Pete White. "This is an effort on the part of big corporations to not have to follow regulations. I mean, there’s no question in my mind about it."

State Question 777 is better known as "Right to Farm," which supporters said gives the agriculture industry extra protections.

Advocates said it will prevent lawmakers from interfering with certain guaranteed rights.

Similar measures have been implemented in South Dakota and Missouri and are being pushed across the country by the conservative lobbying group the American Legislative Exchange Council.

"The big corporations are the ones that are paying for it. And, where it came from, it came from ALEC, which is a tool of the big corporations," said White, who is most concerned about the city's water quality if agriculture becomes exempt from restriction. "To give up your right to regulate, that just seems, to me, ridiculous."

Supporters of the ballot question, though, said new laws to protect water quality would certainly take effect, because they pass muster as a "compelling state interest."

"If clean water doesn't rise to the level of being in the best interest of the public, I don't know what does," said Roy Lee Lindsey, executive director of the Oklahoma Pork Council. "And, so, for arguments to be made that this will restrict the ability to regulate clean water, I think those are just scare tactics raised by those that are opposed."

The Pork Council is one of at least nine local groups that have voiced their support for SQ 777.

Lindsey sees a change to the state constitution as a sort of insurance for the future.

"We’ve got to do something to limit the influence of outside activist groups, outside groups that want to come in to Oklahoma and tell us how we should raise food, what choices we should have at the supermarket," he said. "And, that’s what 777 is all about, is limiting that influence from outside the state."

But, city leaders and opponents fear the constitutional amendment would take power away from the people and their elected officials, handing it instead to judges, lawyers and the courts.

"This is a bad measure," said opponent and former Attorney General Drew Edmondson. "It needs to be defeated. It affects your ability to zone. It affects your ability to regulate animal operations inside the city limits. It affects your ability to have priority on water resources."

Lawyers for the City of Oklahoma City originally said they cannot pass a resolution specifically against a state question.

But, after doing more research, Councilman White said Tuesday he will now push for a more straightforward resolution that asks voters not to support SQ 777.

Municipal governments in Choctaw, The Village and Edmond have already adopted resolutions opposing the state question.