MUSKOGEE — A growing number of organizations are lining up against legislation pending in the Oklahoma Senate that critics describe as a legislative scheme to strip the power from voters who derailed the so-called Right to Farm Act at the ballot box.
House Bill 2132 — model legislation backed by a Houston-based advocacy group pushing an overhaul of the U.S. Constitution — would create what supporters describe as prosperity districts. Compact for America representatives say a prosperity district, once created, would replace, “within its boundaries, all state laws above the baseline of the state constitution, common law, criminal law and existing compacts.”
State Rep. Lewis Moore, R-Arcadia, likened them as “pilot programs” that property owners could create “in the most destitute places we can find” in Oklahoma to “unleash economic freedom and prosperity.” During his recent presentation of the bill on the House floor, Moore said the 88-page bill would “start a grass fire of prosperity.”
Skeptics, who were unable to prevent its passage in the House of Representatives described it as “a Pandora’s box” that would usher in an era of “ultimate and utter deregulation of everything.” State Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, expressed concerns the measure, if allowed to become law, could be exploited by foreign corporations or nations and create a free-for-all atmosphere of deregulation and Third World conditions.
Denise Deason-Toyne, president of Save the Illinois River Inc., said the Tahlequah-based citizen coalition “is adamantly opposed” to HB 2132, which was introduced as a shell bill by House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka. It emerged from committee as a 92-page behemoth that reads more like a constitution than a bill.
“It is basically a slap in the face to voters who soundly voted ‘no’ on State Question 777 and an end run around what the people want,” Deason-Toyne said. “This is the creation of prosperity districts, which is as bad — or worse — than SQ 777.”
STIR, one of many organizations that lined up against SQ 777, opposed the legislative referendum rejected Nov. 8 by Oklahoma voters “because it would have interfered with our mission of protecting Oklahoma Scenic Rivers. Leaders of the clean-water advocacy group say the proposed Prosperity States Compact “looks a lot like SQ 777.” Former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson said, “HB 2132 is basically SQ 777 on steroids.”
“Under HB 2132, corporations can create so-called ‘prosperity districts’ which basically grant those who conduct business there the ability to operate with little to no regulation,” Edmondson said in a media release on behalf of the Oklahoma Stewardship Council. “This bill shifts governance within the designated zones away from elected city councils and state lawmakers and gives the power to a non-elected board that is not answerable to the citizens —that’s bad policy, plain and simple.”
Edmondson agreed with Deason-Toyne about this bill being “another brazen effort” by lawmakers “to ignore the voice of people.” He cited legislation introduced this year that would undermine voter intent with the passage of State Questions 780 and 781, two criminal justice reform measures that won widespread support of Oklahoma voters.
In addition to STIR and OSC, a handful of other organizations have come out against the bill. The Oklahoma Municipal League announced its opposition to the measure during the waning days of March, and the Oklahoma League of Women Voters issued an action alert with a warning about an “untested” and unproven concept.
Courtney Cullison, an analyst at the Oklahoma Policy Institute, wrote in a position paper this past week that passage of HB 2132 would “allow corporations and other special interests to create their own governments.” Cullison notes in her article that passage would result with “unfair competition for Oklahoma businesses” and “could be created by anyone” who has some land “for almost any purpose.”
Edmondson said “out-of-state corporate interests” are fueling the legislative push to propel this bill through the Oklahoma Legislature. Edmondson said he understands “why these huge corporations would want to operate with impunity, but I can’t fathom why our Legislature would want to let them.”
HB 2132 was referred the Senate Rules Committee, where it remains pending.