The legislative session for 2017 is over and on behalf of the Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma (the Coalition) member organizations and board of directors, we are pleased to present the legislative update.
Gwendolyn Caldwell with Caldwell and Associates did a great job representing our interests at the Capitol this session and we are glad to have her on board.
Thanks to the statewide network of organizations and individuals that came together in 2017 the Coalition was able to act on many different pieces of legislation. Because of our victory on State Question 777, our presence at the Capitol has been enhanced and we have worked hard to maintain a responsible, thoughtful influence.
Highlights from 2017 legislative session
Success – House Bill 2132 was a major concern for the Coalition and we worked hard against it. It would have established Prosperity Districts, where inside its boundaries, state laws, regulations, taxes, etc., would not apply unless they chose to adopt them. It did not pass, but is still alive and we will watch it very closely in 2018.
Loss – HB1537, creating the Water for 2060 Revolving Fund to promote efficient water use by municipalities. It failed to pass but is still alive and we will work to support it in next session.
Thanks to the Coalition member groups and individuals who supported and actively participated in the legislative session. We had a great year and are looking forward to the future!
Conservation Coalition Legislative Successes
Bills the Coalition supported and were signed by Governor Mary Fallin:
SB0668 – Sen. Wayne Shaw, Grove and Rep. Josh West, Grove: states the Legislature’s recognition that the primary purpose of the Scenic Rivers Act is to encourage the preservation of the areas designated as a scenic river area in their natural scenic state.
Bills the Conservation Coalition opposed and did not pass
HB1009 – Rep. Bobby Cleveland, Slaughterville: prohibits a game warden from entering private property for the purpose of enforcing the provisions of the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Code based solely on the discharge of a firearm. This hinders the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s (ODWC) ability to identify and apprehend poachers.
HB1356 – Rep. Steve Kouplen, Beggs: prohibits the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) from disseminating rules or instituting regulations more stringent than those provided by the Environmental Protection Agency or by federal laws. The state of Oklahoma should be allowed to make stronger laws than the federal government in order to offer greater protections to our land and water.
HB1852 – Rep. Leslie Osborn, Mustang: provides guidelines and an outline that would allow the state to sell, lease, or transfer Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA). The Scenic Rivers Commission (SRC) was moved to GRDA in 2016 so the sale of GRDA could potentially be harmful to ensuring the long term support and proper funding of the SRC.
HB2001 – Rep. Rick West, Heavener and Sen. Mark Allen, Spiro: would allow anyone who holds a lifetime hunting license from being required to purchase attach a tag to a killed bear. Oklahoma has a very small bear population and this would hinder the ability to manage the number of bears hunted each year.
HB2132 – Rep. Charles McCall, Atoka and Sen. Greg Treat, Oklahoma City: authorizes the governor to enter into prosperity compacts. These are “no regulation” zones that would allow businesses to pollute the air and water in the zone. Runoff from these areas could be devastating to the urban or rural areas adjacent to the zone impacting the water, air, wildlife habitat as well as the general health of neighboring individuals.
SB0634 – Sen. Josh Brecheen, Coalgate and Rep. JJ Humphrey, Lane: permits the Board of Agriculture to publicize rules and standards for the application, use, and sale of warfarin-based pesticides to be used for exterminating feral swine. Warfarin based products may have impacts on other, non-target species. The state needs to call for more science before using this chemical for feral hog control.
Conservation Coalition Legislative Losses
HB1537 – Rep. Jason Dunnington, Oklahoma City and Sen. J.J. Dossett, Sperry: This bill would have created the Water for 2060 Revolving Fund for the Oklahoma Water Resources Board in the State Treasury for the purpose of promoting efficient water use by municipalities and residents of municipalities. Water is our most precious natural resource and we must be take actions to conserve it for people and wildlife.
HB1304 – Rep. Casey Murdock, Felt and Sen. Darcy Jech, Kingfisher: This bill allows a municipality to vote to remove the setback limitations on Oklahoma Swine Feeding Operations Act. This would allow a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) to exist inside a three mile radius of a city or town. The bill does, however, offer a backstop – city/town councils must approve the close proximity.
Next year we will have the opportunity to push for HB1537. Having an opportunity to get a proactive meaningful water conservation bill will take all hands on deck and may take multiple attempts.
Working against any type of similar bill to a prosperity district bill like HB2132 will be a top priority. Often these bills take slightly changed form in following years and take a lot of effort to kill.
A special thanks to Trout Unlimited – without the engagement of this Coalition member group, Prosperity Districts might have been a reality.
Last week, House Bill 2132 failed to receive a hearing in the Senate Rules Committee and is now considered dormant!
HB2132 was considered by the Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma to be a bill that reflected the poor values of State Question 777, favoring large corporations over individual citizens, landowners and wildlife.
Had it passed, HB2132 would have created “prosperity districts” in which landowners could file a petition to create a district on their own land and in turn, create most of the rules of that so-called district.
According to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, once a district has been filed, landowners would “negotiate a revenue covenant with the state instead of paying state and local taxes, and the district would be governed by a governing board.”
More from OKPolicy.org:
Once created, a Prosperity District could be used to get around the wishes of local government and voters. For example, a factory farm could create a Prosperity District that allows them to ignore state and local rules about waste disposal and food safety. The idea that Oklahoma should shackle its ability to regulate industrial agriculture was clearly rejected by voters last fall, when SQ 777, the so called “Right to Farm” State Question, was defeated at the polls.
We’re grateful to have supporters like you who contacted your legislative officials to encourage them to go against House Bill 2132 and protect our land, our water and our rights. From the Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma board and staff, we thank you!
If you’d like more information on how to stay up to date on legislation that impacts you as a conservationist in our great state, join the Coalition as an individual or organizational member to receive updates direct from the Oklahoma State Capitol or donate today to support our programs and research to protect our natural resources.
On Nov. 8, Oklahomans rejected State Question 777, reinforcing their position that water resources and ability to govern themselves is more important than creating unnecessary changes to the state constitution.
Many groups came together to stand against this issue and without this strong and active coalition, the state of Oklahoma would have created an essentially unregulated industry.
“This was a hard fought effort by a great coalition and we were proud to have been a part of it,” said Pat Daly, Tulsa Chapter of Trout Unlimited board member. “We are extremely pleased that the people of this great state saw through the rhetoric to the heart of the issue and cast a no vote.”
“Now is the time for us to transition into working with Oklahoma farmers, ranchers and others to create opportunities to marry profitable agriculture and conservation,” said Ron Suttles, Board Chair of the Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma.
“The Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma will work to create a space to support farmers and ranchers and others to manage for wildlife and encourage the development of habitat through the Farm Bill Conservation title or other opportunities on a more local level. Farmers and ranchers, hunters and anglers and the tribes are some of the earliest and best conservationists and believe in the land and saving it for future generations. The Coalition will help with their efforts.”
During the coming months, the Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma will be launching a foundation dedicated to conservation education and outreach on conservation and agricultural issues. It is the intent to focus early efforts on creating partnerships between farmers, ranchers and others to support conservation, water quality, water quantity and wildlife while still encouraging profitability.
The Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma was just one of many partners that worked to stop State Question 777 from becoming a reality. To learn more about these groups visit Oklahomans for Food, Farm & Family’s website at www.okfoodfarmfamily.com.
Three Southeast Oklahoma Legislators Explain Why They Oppose SQ 777:
Proposal Fails to Define ‘Compelling State Interest,’ Contains Retroactive Provision, Concerns about Water Rights
Three members of the state House of Representatives came out against the so-called “right to farm” proposal Monday.
Reps. Brian Renegar and Donnie Condit, both McAlester Democrats, and Rep. James Lockhart, a Heavener Democrat, expressed multiple concerns about State Question 777.
“I have served on the Agriculture Committee in the House of Representatives for all 10 years I’ve been in the Legislature, and I consider myself ‘an ag guy’,” Renegar said.
“When people come to me and say they are voting this way or that on 777, their comments generally boil down to ‘the corporate farms are for 777’ or ‘the humane animal groups are against it’,” Renegar related. “I tell people to just set those notions aside and simply read the language” for State Question 777.
The proposed constitutional amendment is “seriously flawed,” Renegar asserted, because a “compelling state interest” is not only not defined in the original bill from which State Question 777 was derived, “It is not defined anywhere in state law. Even some of the 777 proponents admit this.”
Since “compelling state interest” is not defined, Renegar said, “We all know a judge will decide what that means. Will it be a judge from drought-stricken western Oklahoma or a judge from water-rich southeastern Oklahoma?” SQ 777 is “an invitation for litigation.”
Condit said one of the principal reasons he opposes SQ 777 is because it contains a wrinkle — an unusual date is embedded in the measure.
SQ 777 would add a Section 38 to Article II of the Oklahoma Constitution. Among its provisions, Section 38 would decree, “Nothing in this section shall be construed to modify or affect any statute or ordinance enacted by the Legislature or any subdivision prior to December 31, 2014.”
“Now, why would the proponents of a constitutional amendment choose a retroactive effective date?” Condit asked.
Perhaps because of House Bill 1514, which imposed some tougher licensing requirements on concentrated animal feeding operations, he said. HB 1514 was signed by the governor on April 21, 2015, and became effective Nov. 1, 2015.
The retroactive effective date of SQ 777 “doesn’t pass the smell test,” Condit said.
Similarly, Renegar recalled that in 2012 a Native American tribe in Oklahoma wanted to grow castor beans commercially. The Legislature passed an emergency bill to prohibit it because one of the by-products of the castor bean is a powder in the husk which is toxic to humans. “That substance is ricin,” Renegar said. “If the language of SQ 777 had been in place when the Legislature passed the castor bean bill, it would have hindered, if not prohibited, this vital piece of legislation.”
Advocates of SQ 777 have said the measure is needed because of pressure exerted by animal rights groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
Renegar said he, too, harbors “some ill feelings” toward animal rights groups “because of their treatment of me after I filed a bill to keep them from collecting money in Oklahoma from advertisements aired in the name of helping animals – only to ultimately spend a large amount of those donations on political agendas.”
Lockhart expressed similar feelings. Lockhart is a calf roper, his wife is a meat cutter, and they raise cattle, horses and goats. Both Lockharts said they dislike the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) “intensely”, yet both are “totally opposed” to SQ 777.
Animal rights groups “have been a thorn in the side of rodeo contestants and slaughter facilities for years,” Representative Lockhart said, “but the 149 members of the Legislature are very conservative and very friendly toward agriculture. So to say that animal rights groups can go to the State Capitol and get legislation passed is simply not true. HSUS, for one, is not well-thought-of” at the Capitol. “We don’t need State Question 777 to protect agriculture,” Lockhart said.
Renegar concurred. If one of the goals of SQ 777 is to keep animal rights groups out of Oklahoma, “It will fail,” he predicted. “These types of groups rarely achieve their goals via state legislatures. Instead, they do so through initiative petitions that, for example, produce the many propositions that California has on its ballot. This is further reason to keep trust and positive communication between consumers and ag producers.”
Lockhart also expressed his concerns about what effect SQ 777 might have on water rights, “particularly the never-ending proposals to transfer water out of southeastern Oklahoma.” The Five Civilized Tribes all oppose SQ 777 “due to environmental concerns, particularly about water,” Lockhart said.
Oklahomans for Responsible Water Policy, for example, opposes SQ 777. Large agricultural corporations, particularly foreign ones, support the measure because they “don’t want restrictions on what they do with our water,” ORWP contends on its Internet website.
Other opponents of SQ 777 are Best Friends of Pets, the Choctaw Nation, the HSUS, the Cherokee Nation, the Humane Society of Tulsa, the Chickasaw Nation, the Oklahoma Alliance for Animals, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, the Oklahoma Animal Welfare League, the Seminole Nation, the Sierra Club, the Intertribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the Tulsa SPCA, and the Humane Society Legislative Fund.
Renegar noted that the federal Environmental Protection Agency allows the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality to regulate the environment in this state, just as the U.S. Department of Agriculture allows the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture to regulate Oklahoma’s agricultural industries. With SQ 777 restricting ‘political subdivisions’ from adopting regulations pertaining to agriculture, “this is inviting the EPA, USDA and the federal Food and Drug Administration to have more of a presence in Oklahoma,” Renegar contended.
“Trust me: The state Ag Department and the DEQ are kinder and gentler agencies than the EPA, USDA and the FDA,” Renegar said. “State agencies are responsive to state legislators. I realize 777 is a push for less state regulation. I get this. But we need to be careful what we wish for…”
Finally, Renegar refuted a claim purportedly made by an ag industry executive, apparently in an attempt to scare farmers and ranchers into voting in favor of SQ 777.
An Oklahoma Farm Bureau official “claims there is legislation that would require a veterinarian to be present to anesthetize any farm animal that is to be castrated or dehorned,” Renegar said. “There is no such law on the books, and it’s highly doubtful that any such proposal could ever get through the Legislature,” the veteran lawmaker said.
Sue Selman is a third-generation rancher from Harper County, Oklahoma and runs Selman Ranch. The following appeared in the Woodward News regarding State Question 777:
My name is Sue Selman and I live on a centennial ranch in Harper County. I love Oklahoma and our western lifestyle, which includes farming and ranching. At the same time I am aware that our rural way of life has been challenged by radical groups like the Humane Society of the United States, PETA and others.
With this in mind, I want to address the issue of State Question 777, which will supposedly protect us from these groups. I feel the need to discuss this because I am adamantly opposed to SQ777. I have farming and ranching friends and neighbors that I love and respect and I want them to understand my position on this very important state question.
First, let’s look at the wording of SQ777. It says “to protect agriculture as a vital sector of Oklahoma’s economy, which provides food, energy, health benefits and security and is the foundation and stabilizing force of Oklahoma’s economy, the rights of citizens and lawful residents of Oklahoma to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state.”
All of us who farm or ranch love such strong, emotional language. My son and I raise cattle, so obviously we want farming and ranching to flourish for years to come. This is cleverly written and definitely appealing to people of the soil.
It’s a heart-warming sentiment, and there’s nothing wrong with any of what’s been said thus far. It’s the last sentence that’s the real problem. The concluding sentence changes a positive message into something that I feel could become a long-term nightmare for rural Oklahomans.
The conclusion says “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.” This grants protection to not only small farming and ranching interests, but also to huge international corporations that rarely play fair when it comes to protecting Oklahoma’s soil, air and water. Essentially, why should we give any industry freedom from the laws needed to regulate it?
There is a great deal of controversy concerning who actually wrote SQ777, because there is similar language in bills introduced in other states. Many suspect all these similar bills were authored by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group funded by big corporations including Monsanto. At this point, what’s most important is the consequences our state could suffer if 777 should pass.
It’s my belief that SQ777 is cleverly written, and that only lawyers will be able to ascertain the potential consequences. Among the most controversial language in 777 is the phrase “compelling state interest.” Gary Buckner, senior vice-president at the Oklahoma Farm Bureau has said publicly that he wishes that language was not in the legislation. To quote Ron Suttles, formerly of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife and now board chair of the Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma, “777 would prohibit the people of Oklahoma from regulating a single industry: corporate agriculture. No other industry has a constitutional exemption from legislative oversight.“
I’ve seen the power of international corporations and felt the wrath of lawyers with seemingly limitless budgets. We’re a rural state, a place where blue-collar folks still work the land much like their parents and grandparents did. In the eyes of corporate agriculture, that makes us naive, susceptible to gimmicky language and open to self-serving laws — or the lack thereof — a vacuum that allow corporations to operate with impunity.
Remember: SQ777 isn’t just a new law! This is an amendment to our state constitution, another maneuver that displays the deviousness of the authors. Once embedded in the constitution, it will be almost impossible to change. The “compelling state interest” clause would give the agricultural industry the constitutional freedom to operate as they please, regulated only if they are found in violations of someone’s constitutional rights. If an individual has an issue with a problematic agriculture operation, they would be forced to plead their case before the Oklahoma Supreme Court, most likely at great expense. In addition, if the defendant is a big corporation with millions of dollars to spend, then an average citizen of this state would not stand a chance.
If you follow the money to determine who stands to benefit the most from SQ777, the answer is always big corporate agriculture. International corporate interests have the funds to lobby both locally and in Washington, D.C., so just because a state senator promotes 777 doesn’t mean it is actually good for small ranchers and farmers.
I personally want family agricultural operations protected from radical legislation introduced by groups that can’t comprehend what we do or why we do it. And I deplore the fact that ranching and farming comes under attack from simple-minded radicals who can’t understand that sound agricultural practices result in a stronger nation; therefore, please give me better, more specific legislation and I will fight for it.
In Oklahoma, our rural areas still maintain a quality of life that other states have lost forever. We have beautiful sunsets and breathable air, creeks with clean water and fish for grandkids to catch. Our cows eat good grass and our ponds can double as old-fashioned swimming holes. We can drink coffee on the back porch and listen to quail whistle or watch deer make their way through the dew.
If somebody tries to destroy that quality of life, we can still fight to block their efforts, either legislatively or in court. But if 777 passes, all we’ll be able to do is watch. Watch the creeks turn to poison. Watch the birds die off. That’s not the Oklahoma I want to leave to my grandchildren.
Let’s continue to farm and ranch with a conscience, be good neighbors and leave something sustainable for the future. Farming and ranching tends to look a lot different from a corporate boardroom than it does from a pickup truck or a tractor. Those folks live for their quarterly dividends. Those of us with roots in Oklahoma still live for the land and the blessings it bestows.