With their lawsuit filed to keep the measure of the ballot, opponents of State Question 777 have received their first responses from the defendants in the case.
The defendants, the Oklahoma State Election Board and State Attorney General Scott Pruitt, do not believe the plaintiffs’ case has standing.
“They have filed a motion to dismiss,” said Denise Deason Toyne, president of Save the Illinois River Inc., a plaintiff in the suit. “We will actually be trying to reach their attorney [Thursday] to find out their expectations. A hearing date is set near the end of May, and that will be an opportunity for us to oppose the motion to dismiss.”
SQ 777, or “Right to Farm,” is a proposed amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution that is sowing discord between agricultural and environmental interests within the state.
Three bills, intended to allay concerns among water protection advocates, have been introduced during the current session of the Oklahoma Legislature.
House Bill 2446 passed the House of Representatives 59-36 with the “yes” votes of State Rep. Mike Brown, D-Tahlequah, and State Rep. Will Fourkiller, D-Stilwell. Introduced by State Rep. Terry O’Donnell, R-Catoosa, the measure is now with the Energy Committee in the Senate.
Two Senate bills, SB 1242 and SB 1332, were referred to the Senate Energy Committee on Feb. 1 and Feb. 2, respectively, and have not emerged. All three bills seek protection of state waters as a “compelling state interest.”
Deason Toyne said opponents of the SQ 777 are not impressed by any of the bills, and interpret them as vindication of their arguments that Right to Farm has gaping loopholes.
“My opinion is that they will be ineffective,” she said. “With any of this legislation, people will be trying to use statute to overcome constitutional provision, and that will set it up for court challenges. But these bills proposing to make water a compelling state interest - I think many legislators are realizing State Question 777 has unintended consequences, and they are trying to clean it up and not look so foolish.”
Introduced by Rep. Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha, SQ 777 is slated to appear on the Nov. 8 state ballot for consideration by the voters. It would add language to the Oklahoma Constitution, reading: “The legislature shall pass no law that abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology and livestock production and ranching practices without a compelling state interest.”
Those speaking against Right to Farm claim it permits leeway on dumping waste and abusing animals. There are also concerns that if state environmental regulation is curtailed, the federal government will step in to impose standards.
STIR is among the plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of SQ 777. Other plaintiffs are State Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, local landowner Ed Brocksmith, and farmer John Leonard.
The Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, Oklahoma Park Council, Oklahoma Wheat Growers Association and Oklahoma Cotton Council are among the organizations that have announced their support for SQ 777.
The opposing coalition, the Oklahoma Stewardship Council, includes STIR, the Oklahoma Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Humane Society, the Oklahoma Alliance for Animals and the Oklahoma Municipal League.
A second opposition coalition, Oklahoma Rising Inc., has in turn formed the coalition Oklahomans for Food, Farm and Family. All anti-SQ 777 coalitions have announced their intentions to inform voters of the potential drawbacks of passage.