WASHINGTON, Aug. 31, 2016 - Agricultural issues will be sparse on ballots across the country in November, but the conversation is being dominated by two states considering votes with far-reaching implications.
Oklahoma’s “right to farm” vote and an animal confinement measure in Massachusetts are the two main state-level issues to follow as local voters head to the polls. Just as the two states are polar opposites in culture and electoral makeup, the issues before voters come from very different perspectives.
In Oklahoma, voters will be asked to mark their ballots on State Question 777, which would add right-to-farm language to the state’s constitution. Oklahoma’s run at right-to-farm comes after a similar measure was passed in Missouri two years ago and in North Dakota the year before that.
If it is approved, Article II, Section 38 of the Oklahoma Constitution would be amended to state that “the right of citizens and lawful residents of Oklahoma to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed.” Under State Question 777, the state’s legislature is not to pass any 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.”
The measure has the backing of virtually every state agricultural organization, including the Farm Bureau and American Farmers and Ranchers, the state’s affiliate of the National Farmers Union.
In Massachusetts, an animal welfare measure looks likely to be approved, but it has a good chance of being challenged in court due to language regarding interstate commerce. The bill would not only phase out confinement in animal production in the state, but would also prohibit commerce in products produced through means of animal confinement.
In the event of a court challenge, Brad Mitchell, Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation’s deputy executive director, tells Agri-Pulse that even if the interstate commerce provisions are stricken down, the language on in-state production would stand. Even if that happens, he says it would only affect one operation in the state. MFBF stands opposed, but Mitchell says they’re “a little outgunned” by a host of animal rights groups and others in support. He says proponents plan to spend a seven-figure sum in support of the bill.
Here’s a breakdown of some other votes to watch:
- Eight states will be voting on some form of marijuana legalization. Three states (Arkansas, Florida, and Montana) are voting on language that would expand access to medical marijuana, and five states (Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada) are voting on legalization of the drug in their state. The language in each of the bills differs, although most cap production to amounts that may hinder an agricultural producer from switching over to marijuana cultivation.
- Indiana and Kansas will be considering right to hunt and fish amendments to their respective constitutions. Through differing language, both states are trying to maintain the right to hunt and fish as fundamental rights of their citizens. Indiana goes as far as to label hunting and fishing as “the preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.” Constitutions in 20 states currently contain right to hunt and fish language, and the California constitution addresses the right to fish.
- Three cities in California – San Francisco, Oakland and Albany – are slated to vote on a soda tax of a penny per ounce. Residents of Boulder, Colorado, will also be asked to vote on a tax targeting sugary drinks.
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