A hot-button issue being debated before Nov. 8 is State Question 777, the Right to Farm proposal. Passed by the Legislature last year, the measure calls for a statewide vote on whether the right to farm and ranch in Oklahoma shall be "forever guaranteed

Note: An in-depth look at how State Question 777, a “Right to Farm” proposal on the Nov. 8 ballot, is a controversial issue in the state.

A hot-button issue being debated before Nov. 8 is State Question 777, the Right to Farm proposal.

Passed by the Legislature last year, the measure calls for a statewide vote on whether the right to farm and ranch in Oklahoma shall be "forever guaranteed." Supporters say the proposed constitutional amendment was prompted in part by a California proposal that placed restrictions on the size of cages housing egg-laying hens and that the measure would prevent animal rights groups from changing agriculture practices in Oklahoma.

Fellow farming and ranching states like North Dakota and Missouri have already passed Right to Farm constitutional amendments in 2012 and 2014, respectively.

On the Oklahoma Agricultural Cooperative Association website, okagcoop.org, the group's stance states that, “farmers and ranchers will have additional constitutional protections that they currently lack and need. Right to Farm will be another tool in the toolbox for Oklahoma farmers and ranchers to defend themselves against future laws that could directly jeopardize their ability to farm. While the courts will ultimately decide the scope of Amendment 1, past attacks on agriculture have proven that Oklahoma agriculture needs Right to Farm as a first line of defense.”

According to the Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association (OCA) website, at okcattlemen.org, the group also supports the proposal, appearing to have little concern with the state's ability to regulate.

“We intentionally included language in the state question to preserve existing regulation. The State Question would not give farmers and ranchers a blank check, but ensures reasonable regulations,” said Michael Kelsey, executive vice president of the OCA.

Opponents allege the measure could allow large farming corporations to set state agricultural policy instead of voters and lawmakers. Among other things, the proposal would prohibit the Legislature from passing laws that would take away the right to "employ agricultural technology and livestock production and ranching practices" without a compelling state interest.

State Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, said SQ 777 prevents the federal and/or state government(s) from placing what is considered by its supporters restrictive measures on Oklahoma farming.

“This is especially directed at the poultry and hog businesses,” he said. “However, it could also be considered an attempt to prevent an over reach of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in restrictive water issues.”

Sharp said municipalities are concerned that if SQ777 is approved in November it would prevent them from enacting ordinances for the protection of its citizens. It would also prevent Oklahoma from enacting any such future statutes, he said.

“Even at the Oklahoma capitol there is a concern that if SQ 777 is approved it would place a rope around the powers of the state on agricultural issues that might arise,” he said.

According to Sharp, this is not the first time the state has found its hands tied because of similar proposals.

“Previously approved State Questions have placed the Oklahoma legislature in a powerless position to address the problems of the budget and apportionment that yet another area such as agricultural would be disastrous,” he said.

“Interesting fact that years from now if SQ777 is approved,” Sharp said, “the public would be frustrated when the Oklahoma legislature could not resolve a problem in the area of agriculture –– such as it can not resolve the current problem of the state budget because of the approval of State Questions by the people during the 1990s.”

However, in 2016, he said, there has been an attack by the federal agencies on Oklahoma agriculture and this is the State's response to today's problem.

A group of concerned Oklahomans got together June 30 in Shawnee to air their opposition to the state question ––they believe it will alter Oklahoma’s constitution and take away the ability of local governments to regulate corporate agriculture in the state.

The problem, opponents say, is the proposal’s language is so expansive and the protections so complete that it virtually prohibits local, county and state officials from enacting necessary and reasonable regulation, including protecting surface and groundwater from pollution.

“We are very concerned about the negative impact State Question 777 could have on Oklahoma waters,” said Tyler Keen, outreach coordinator for the Vote No on 777 campaign. “Foreign-owned agricultural operations should not have a constitutional shield to operate as they see fit. We must protect our streams, rivers and lakes from pollution.”

The proposal gives the highest level of legal protections to a broad range of agricultural activities.

“Don’t be fooled into thinking State Question 777 is intended to protect family farms,” said Keen. “The purpose of State Question 777 is to protect large-scale agricultural companies from reasonable regulation.”

To view SQ 777, visit ok.gov.

You can reach Vicky O. Misa at (405) 214-3962.