“Do Texans have the “right to farm?” Voters will decide with Proposition 1.” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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LUBBOCK — Early voting ends Friday. And if you’re still wondering about Proposition 1, often referred to as “the right to farm,” you wouldn’t be alone.
Texas already has a right to farm statute in the law, along with every state, as there is some variation of the law nationwide. These laws are in the books as a way to protect agricultural operations from nuisance lawsuits. The operations can be a typical farm or ranch, though the Texas statute includes viticulture, or grape growing, and growing trees, also known as silviculture.
With a quickly growing state, proponents of the amendment say it is needed as a way to update protections for farmers and ranchers. Texas voters will have the final say on if it becomes part of the state’s constitution or not.
What difference does this make when it’s already a statute?
The amendment mirrors the statute, and would raise the bar for local regulation over “generally accepted” farming and ranching practices. If approved by voters, municipalities would be required to provide “clear and convincing evidence” that regulation is needed to protect the public from danger.
The amendment would not affect the authority of state agencies to step in when regulation is needed to protect the public health and safety from imminent danger and to prevent danger to animal health or crop production. State authorities would also retain the authority to preserve or conserve the natural resources of the state.
The Texas Farm Bureau, which is in support of the amendment, gave this example: A city would be prevented from banning farming in an area for no specific reason, but it would allow for a government agency to require ranchers to properly maintain fences so livestock could not escape and cause an accident.
What did the legislature do?
Several state representatives, including Rep. DeWayne Burns, R-Cleburne, and Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, authored House Bill 1750, which limits the requirements a city government can place on an agricultural operation in the city boundaries. Again, this does not apply if there is clear evidence that certain requirements are needed to protect people who reside in the immediate vicinity of the operation.
The bill is closely related to the right to farm proposition. The legislature passed other agriculture-related bills too, not in connection with the proposition, such as House Bill 2308 which states no nuisance or other legal actions can be brought on to restrain an operation that has been lawfully running and “substantially unchanged” for a year.
Both bills passed earlier this year and have been signed by Gov. Greg Abbott.
Who opposes it?
Animal care groups, such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, have come out against the proposition. The nonprofit organization called it risky and said it would limit local government’s ability to regulate farm conditions.
“Bills like this can make it harder to hold corporations accountable for cruelly confining animals, endangering public health and damaging the environment,” the organization said in a statement.
Judith McGeary, executive director for Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, said there is a real problem with cities over regulating on big and small farms. But the amendment, she and her organization believe, is unnecessary and would give the agriculture business sector “immense” amounts of protection that would empower larger farms.
“They’re using a nuclear bomb instead of a pistol,” she said.
The alliance is a national organization that advocates for independent family farmers.
McGeary also said the “clear and convincing” evidence requirement in the proposition is an “absurd” standard to apply to an industry. She says that standard is used for fraud cases or removing someone from life support.
“I think there are a lot of regulations that don’t make sense and don’t take into consideration the vital importance of raising food in our state,” said McGeary, who is also a lawyer and farmer. “But, you can address those without going to this extreme and basically giving a blank check to bad actors.”
Who is in support of the proposition?
Farmers, ranchers and others involved in the Texas agriculture industry support it, as they say it’s a way to protect essential agricultural operations and keep the state’s food and fiber sources going.
Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller encouraged Texans to vote for the proposition in a recent statement, saying agriculture is crucial to the state’s economy. One study found that the industry brought in around $24.7 billion to Texas in 2021.
“I always say ‘No farmers, no food,’ and right now, we are fighting to keep our agriculture industry alive,” Miller said in a statement.
Russell Boening, president of Texas Farm Bureau who also farms on his ranch near San Antonio, said it’s needed as more farmland has been annexed into some cities in Texas and the farmers subsequently faced ordinance issues.
For example, Boening said a city ordinance would say grass can’t be taller than 12 inches. But a towering hay crop would easily exceed that rule, as they grow several feet taller.
“It’s those kinds of things that really don’t have anything to do with public health or public safety that farmers were facing,” Boening said.
Boening added, “If it’s somewhat of an inconvenience for folks for a short time, I think that’s something we should accept because it allows our farmers and ranchers to feed, clothe and provide fuel to this state and this country.”
The proposition would be very similar to the statute on the books, but unlike the statute, it would be written into the Texas Constitution. This means the right to farm would have longer staying power as the local municipalities continue adjusting to growing populations.
“Statutes can be changed by future legislatures,” Boening said. “So we think it’s important that it be in the Constitution.”
Disclosure: Texas Farm Bureau has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/11/03/proposition-1-constitutional-amendment-farming/.
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