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.
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