Voting on Issue 2 In Ohio

I have long been pondering the case of Issue 2: a ballot initiative meant to make an amendment to the Ohio Constitution which would create a board of professionals appointed by the governor and the legislature, to make policy and oversee the humane treatment of animals in Ohio farms, as well as making and implementing Ohio agricultural policy in general.

This all came about because the representatives of the Humane Society of the United States came to the Ohio Legislature and stated their intention to put up a ballot initiative that would allow the state’s voters to decide on issues such as the size of battery cages for hens in large egg-laying operations and the use of small, confining gestation crates for pregnant sows in large pig farms.

So, in an attempt to forestall the possibility of a ballot initiative being placed before Ohio voters to change agricultural law by the HSUS, a proposal was made and passed by both the Ohio House and Senate and was supported by Governor Strickland, to create a board of 13 unelected bureaucrats who would wield a great deal of power in creating agriculture policy, but which would have seemingly very little legislative or executive branch oversight.

Here is the exact wording of Issue 2 as it will appear on the Ohio ballot on November 3, 2009:

This proposed amendment would:

1. Require the state to create the Livestock Care Standards Board to prescribe standards for
animal care and well-being that endeavor to maintain food safety, encourage locally
grown and raised food, and protect Ohio farms and families.

2. Authorize this bipartisan board of thirteen members to consider factors that include, but
are not limited to, agricultural best management practices for such care and well-being,
biosecurity, disease prevention, animal morbidity and mortality data, food safety
practices, and the protection of local, affordable food supplies for consumers when
establishing and implementing standards.

3. Provide that the board shall be comprised of thirteen Ohio residents including
representatives of Ohio family farms, farming organizations, food safety experts,
veterinarians, consumers, the dean of the agriculture department at an Ohio college or
university and a county humane society representative.

4. Authorize the Ohio department that regulates agriculture to administer and enforce the
standards established by the board, subject to the authority of the General Assembly.

This proposed amendment has been the subject of vigorous debate in both urban and rural communities throughout Ohio–which is a good thing. I believe that voters should -never- consider amending their state’s constitution without a lot of rigorous thought and healthy debate, because amending the constitution is NO SMALL MATTER. The Constitution is -the- guiding legal document for either a country or state, and changes to it should never, ever be taken lightly. Change should come only after thorough investigation of the matter at hand, because once a document such as a state constitution is amended, it is very difficult to change back.

If my Ohio readers don’t want to take my word for it, how about listening to one of our Ohio State Supreme Court Justices on the issue. Ohio Supreme Court Justice Maureen O’Connor went on the record to say that Issue 2 is an “inappropriate use” of the Ohio Constitution, and then went on to clarify her position by stating that “the state constitution is a ‘much bigger document’ that should not be amended to include policy decisions, such as livestock care, that are best left to lawmakers.”

The League of Women Voters of Ohio agrees with Justice O’Connor; they voted to not support the passage of Issue 2 on the following grounds: “Passage of Issue 2 would amend the Ohio Constitution to create the Ohio Livestock Standards Board and set forth its composition and duties. The LWV-Ohio board voted to OPPOSE passage of this issue because the amendment contains too much specificity to be in the Ohio Constitution. The League’s opposition is based on its state position that the Ohio Constitution should be a clearly stated body of fundamental principles.”

The Ohio Farmers Union also opposes passage of Issue 2 for similar reasons:

The “Livestock Care Standards Board” would set a dangerous precedent by creating a permanent place for special interests in the constitution. This Board would have unchecked power over all Ohio policies related to animals in agriculture, and could radically shift livestock standards in any direction. Agricultural policy should be determined through an open, democratic process, vested in the state-run department of agriculture, not through a politically appointed board heavily influenced by big industry. Ohioans should reject this proposal to keep integrity in Ohio’s constitution and to keep corporate agribusiness accountable.

The Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association also urges voting against Issue 2 on these grounds:

Issue 2 would create a Livestock Care Standards Board, stacked with Big Ag and factory farm supporters, which would have sweeping authority to make decisions related to farms and food in Ohio that would have the force of law. The Board would have largely unchecked power to override any act by the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the Ohio Assembly.

Issue 2 will create a Livestock Care Standards Board with no accountability to voters. Their decisions will be final. There is no further review or evaluation of the standard, no established forum for public comment, and no ability to appeal their decisions.

So, let me tell you what I think.

I agree with Ohio Supreme Court Justice Maureen O’Connor, the League of Women Voters, The Ohio Farmers Union and the Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association: farm policy, especially vaguely worded farm policy, should not be written into the Ohio State Constitution.

Policies governing agricultural practices–practices which are changing and evolving over time–should be legislated through the normal, democratic process that includes voter input, debate in both houses of our legislature, and then should be put before the governor to be signed into law and vetoed. That way, the voters, which includes farmers and every Ohioan who cares about the food they eat, the water they drink and the air they breathe, can have a say in what kind of agricultural practices we all find acceptable and healthy.

Issue 2, as written, goes against the principles of democratic lawmaking procedure, as as such, is a bad legal precedent to set.

So, I will be voting against it on November 3, and I ask those of you who care about how laws and policies are made in our state and our country, to do the same.


RSS feed for comments on this post.

  1. I am voting NO as well, for all the reasons you mentioned and one more. The proposed board is nearly entirely appointed by the governor. Every four years the appointees and direction of the board could change. Farming is difficult enough as it is without adding sweeping changes every four years.

    The proposed Livestock Standards Board is a bad idea.

    I posted a full rationale at my blog recently,

    Comment by Rachel — October 27, 2009 #

  2. Ack! I hit submit too early! Link to my post is here:

    Comment by Rachel — October 27, 2009 #

  3. Out here in California, we’ve been doing this for years (thanks for nothing mr Jarvis), and we now have effectively budget by referendum, which has made a huge problem.

    A good idea, and we know what road is paved with good ideas.

    Comment by The Bad Yogi — October 27, 2009 #

  4. I suppose it really depends on how your state works. I wish the Texas constitution was harder to fiddle with. Unfortunately, if I remember my freshman Texas government class correctly, it’s set up so you can hardly do anything WITHOUT amending the constitution. This results in the Texas constitution not being so much a “document” as a gigantic encyclopedia-like tome that contains pretty much all state laws ever.

    Basically, the people who set up how the Texas state government works didn’t understand what a “constitution” should be.

    Comment by Neohippie — October 27, 2009 #

  5. Thank you for this concise OP-ED. I knew I didn’t like something about this Issue. We amend our State Constitution by voting on things labeled “Issue 2”. That’s bad enough. I am totally against big Agri-business. With this kind of regulation, there will be egg farms in downtown Cleveland.

    Comment by Mike Elzey — October 27, 2009 #

  6. In California voting gets to be interesting because there are always a slew of propositions to fight our way through each time voting day comes around. However, very few of them change the constitution. I agree with Maureen O’Connor that the constitution is a bigger document.

    Comment by Maureen — October 27, 2009 #

  7. I’d go as far as to say I’m against ANYTHING proposed by the Humane Society of the United States. They’re just another PETA, and I can’t stand them.

    Comment by Chad — October 27, 2009 #

  8. HSUS did not propose Issue 2; it is the Farm Bureau and agricultural lobbyist’s proposal to deal with the HSUS’s “threat” of bringing ballot initiatives to ban gestational crates and to give battery caged hens more space.

    I disagree with the HSUS’s methods, and I agree with some Ohio farmers who are insulted that outside interests would come into our state and tell Ohio citizens how to run their farms–BUT!

    I do not believe in the use of a Constitution to set what should be legislative policy.

    It’s like this. I voted against the constitutional amendment that banned smoking in Ohio restaurants, even though I abhor eating in restaurants where people smoke cigarettes. Why did I vote against it–because it didn’t belong in the Constitution, but in the Ohio Revised Code.

    The Constitution of a state or country is a foundational document meant to secure a basis for how the government is to be run. It is not a catch-all document for every pet project or law that comes up out of the blue. Constitutions should change infrequently and with some difficulty; regular laws and statutes should change with more ease as society changes and evolves.

    I am a conservative when it comes to constitutions, I guess.

    Comment by Barbara — October 28, 2009 #

  9. Nicely written. But – what are the ramifications if Issue 2 does not pass and the HSUS comes into our state and dictates to our family farmers how to run their farms?

    Comment by Hannah — October 28, 2009 #

  10. Hannah–they cannot dictate to Ohio citizens how to run our farms.

    They can put a ballot initiative up just as they did in California–and it would then be up to Ohio voters–just as it was then up to California voters–whether that initiative passes or not.

    If they do that, then farm lobbies need to do what they have always done, and the way any proponent or opponent of a given ballot initiative has always done, and fight the initiative through the media, through debate, through advertising and on the ground campaigning.

    Ohio is not California. It would not be as easy a sell here, I don’t think.

    Saying that this constitutional amendment is the -only- way to stop outsiders like HSUS and PETA from “dictating” our state agricultural laws is not only fallacious on its face, it is also fear-mongering and manipulative.

    It is also like swatting a fly with a nuclear bomb–remember, the HSUS never brought the initiative up–this is a “preemptive strike” cooked up by lobbyists and legislators that is not only sloppy, but is overkill.

    Comment by Barbara — October 28, 2009 #

  11. Funny, I literally just popped over here to ask you if you would use your gifts as a writer to express your thoughts about issue 2 and there it is!

    The wording of the ammendment drives me insane. Anyone who looked at that for the first time would assume the change would be for the benefit of animal welfare, when the reality is that it is a reaction to what happened in other states where voters genuinely did cast ballots to ask for more humane conditions for poultry. In spite of what the ammendment passes itself off as, it essentially ensures that animal welfare cannot be improved on farms by legal action.

    Unfortunately, the ammendment is so deceiving (and cleverly written) and Big Ag has such a huge budget for advertising, that I have little doubt that this will pass.

    I am once again outraged and let down by the system because government policy will have been sold to the highest bidder once again.

    Comment by sgt pepper — October 28, 2009 #

  12. “But – what are the ramifications if Issue 2 does not pass and the HSUS comes into our state and dictates to our family farmers how to run their farms?”

    That’s not what happened at all. Consumers really are interested in animal welfare. They VOTED for the improvements of farm animal conditions in those states. HSUS or PETA didn’t force anything on anyone. Just like they will vote to pass this ammendment, thinking it will improve animal welfare when really it is the opposite. Don’t believe me that voters are interested in animal welfare? Well, Big Ag is well aware that they are–just look at the pro-animal language that this ammendment uses for proof. This is an unbelievably cynical use of the political system and manipulation of voters.

    Comment by sgt pepper — October 28, 2009 #

  13. Fascinating post, thanks for covering it. I would agree with your position it they tried something like that in NC.

    There are a lot of hog farms and chicken processing places here. They have thus far resisted much regulation.

    Comment by Jumper — October 29, 2009 #

  14. This makes me so ill. Way to go, Ohio! You just voted to perpeuate animal cruelty in factory farming. If anybody really cares, they should go vegan. It is Ohians only option to avoid animal cruelty in farmed animals.

    Comment by KT — November 4, 2009 #

  15. People have got to know that something has to die for something to live! This didn’t just happen yesterday!

    Comment by Bob M — December 10, 2009 #

  16. Now I’m thoroughly confused. I like to eat eggs & chickens (& all the rest), but having grown up on my Grandpa’s farm in the 50’s & 60’s where animals had a great life of freedom until eaten, what I’m looking for is assurance of the same. That animals can be given the best, most humane life possible. How do we achieve this?

    Comment by Melody Spafford — April 26, 2010 #

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