Legal, Laws, and Regs Political

Missouri Dives into the Rabbit Hole with Amendments 1 and 5

person standing in doorway to castle ramparts

Photo by Stefano Corso, used without edits, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Missouri’s “Right to Farm” Amendment 1, and the gun support measure, Amendment 5, both won last night. The vote on Amendment 1 was so close that we’ll have an automatic recount, but I think the result will be the same: a win for Amendment 1 by a very narrow margin.

Both results are disappointing. Newspapers across the state noted before the election that our Constitution is already bloated beyond recognition, and all the amendments were either unnecessary, or should have been handled by an increasingly chaotic and under-performing state legislature. And Amendments 1 and 5 were the worst of a bad lot

Amendment 5 just creates confusion about enforcement of existing gun laws, and will take tax payer money for the court challenges the language will generate. But the court costs associated with Amendment 5 are nothing compared to the costs associated with Amendment 1. The very wording of the ballot measure is going to be used to challenge attempts to “enforce” this incredibly vague amendment. The proponents added the word “citizen” to the ballot, but the word “citizen” isn’t included in the amendment, leaving the protections open for foreign-owned farms and ranches. That Secretary of State Kander allowed this insertion was disturbing. That he eventually came out in support of the Amendment was a shocker—especially to the many people who supported him in the last election.

What helped pass both amendments was placement in a primary, rather than general election, and poor voter turn out in the cities. In addition, when Attorney General Koster decided that big agribusiness interests and the NRA benefited his personal ambitions more than environmental, animal, gun safety, or food safety interests, his actions in support of both amendments just added to the confusion about what they were really about.

So both Amendment 1 and Amendment 5 passed.

OK, the pity party is over. Now, it’s time to move on, and see these votes as a win, rather than a loss.

We have had a state legislature (and leadership) that is increasingly in the pockets of both the NRA and large agribusiness interests. Our cities are grossly underrepresented, real work isn’t being accomplished, and it seems every legislative session is focused either on undermining every single environmental, consumer, and animal welfare law related (even remotely) to farming, or to increasing gun interests. The legislature even tried to redefine deer as livestock in order to undermine the Department of Conservation’s efforts to add essential safety restrictions to captive deer hunt businesses.

Now the supporters of these two amendments have successfully embedded extreme and vague measures into the Constitution, and they’re probably indulging in a fit of self-congratulation. However, they haven’t realized that the aggressors have now become the defenders.

Take Amendment 1, the “Right to Farm” bill. Or as we’ve come to know it, the Right to Harm bill.

Previously, those who fought against this Amendment have also had to fight to defend our water, our air, our animals, and the safety of our food. We’ve always been in positions of being the defender, except when we pulled together enough people to pass Proposition B, the puppy mill bill. Even then, we had to defend the sanctity of our vote, and suffer disappointment when its necessary restrictions were undermined.

Now, we’re no longer in positions of defending against the bad laws, the bad laws have been passed. Now we can turn our attention to the fight. Now we can be the aggressors. We can be the challengers in the courts, the watchful eye on every state decision related to farms, the ones who scrutinize every back room deal. Now we can be the ones who chip away, day by day, year by year, at the platform on which those who would profit from these bad laws now stand.

AG Koster believes that two years from now when he runs for Governor, we’ll forget his actions, or no longer care about them. He assumes that most environmentalists, animal welfare folks, and food safety and sustainable agriculture people are Democrat, and Democrats will vote Democrat no matter what.

He is in error.

Every foolish act, and there will be many, resulting from the passage of Amendment 1 will be brought to light and documented in intimate detail. Every connection to elected politicians will be traced and exposed. We will follow the money down to the penny, and every drop of water contaminated, every fluffy puppy harmed, every person made sick by contaminated food, and every necessary law that is undermined, will be used against those who brought about such actions.

We’ll keep a tally of the costs to tax payers for every court case arising from the Amendment, and paint this tally in big, bold letters. We’ll read every court document, and make sure the best bits are disseminated in weblog and newspaper, and in Facebook, Twitter, and the other social media engines. By passing Amendment 1, the backers have forged disparate groups concerned about the environment, food safety and sustainability, public accountability, and animal welfare into one single, solid unified force with but one focus: stopping the “Right to Farm” supporters from causing harm.

Enjoy your day of victory, Amendment 1 supporters. Tomorrow is a new day, and you’re no longer the ones setting the rules of the fight.

HTML5 Specs

The HTML5 longdesc attribute is finally home again

My HTML5 logo

I found out that the W3C had transitioned the HTML5 attribute @longdesc to Candidate Recommendation (CR) status from a tweet by John Foliot:

Yes, I believe I do owe John a beer. I owe a beer to all of those who fought to ensure @longdesc made it to CR—especially Laura Carlson, who worked so diligently on behalf of this attribute, and other HTML5 accessibility features.

Years ago I was heavily involved in the W3C HTML5 effort, though I was frequently at odds with Ian Hickson, HTML5’s sole editor at the time, and some of the Working Group’s management. Since then, the W3C has transitioned the care and management of HTML back into a group effort, leading to decisions such as giving @longdesc CR status.

I don’t agree with all W3C decisions, but my main concern has always been that the decisions reflect a representation of those who support or depend on the web—not just an elite few. The transition of @longdesc to CR status demonstrates that the HTML5 working process has, indeed, grown up.

Well done.


The right to drink water

Don’t think what happens in the farmland impacts you in the city? Not interested in taking the time away from Starbucks to go vote on Amendment 1 this coming Tuesday because of it?

Then think on this:

Toledo, Ohio, has had to put out an alert that toxins are present in the water and it can’t be drunk or boiled for use. Yes, not even boiling will make it safe, and will make the situation worse.

What causes this type of toxin? Typically fertilizer runoff from factory farms, or manure runoff from large CAFOs. In this incident, they’re suspected of contributing to a harmful algal bloom (HAB) in Lake Erie.

From the Toledo News Now:

Consuming water containing algal toxins may result in abnormal liver function, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, numbness or dizziness. Seek medical attention if you feel you have been exposed to algal toxins and are having adverse health effects. Skin contact with contaminated water can cause irritation or rashes. Contact a veterinarian immediately if pets or livestock show signs of illness.

What happened? What is being done?

Lake Erie, which is a source of drinking water for the Toledo water system may have been impacted by a harmful algal bloom (HAB). These organisms are capable of producing a number of toxins that may pose a risk to human and animal health. HABs occur when excess nitrogen and phosphorus are present in lakes and streams. Such nutrients can come from runoff of over-fertilized fields and lawns, from malfunctioning septic systems and from livestock pens.

If Amendment 1 was part of the Constitution after next Tuesday, and an incident like this happened in Missouri, the state could have very little authority to do much of anything about the problem. It is the Missouri DNR that enforces clean water laws related to agricultural runoff in our state.

So think about switching your Starbucks coffee for a nice drink of clean, cool water on Tuesday, and use the extra time to go vote against Amendment 1.


Koster’s Right to…collect large campaign contributions from big Agribusiness Interests

I was not surprised to read that Missouri’s Attorney General, Chris Koster, has come out in support of Amendment 1, the so-called Right to Farm Amendment. He used Missouri tax payer money to sue the state of California on behalf of a few large egg producers in the state. It’s pretty obvious that Mr. Koster is regretting that whole “I’m now a Democrat” thing, especially among the rural, large agribusiness types.

It must also sadden Mr. Koster to realize that the egg lawsuit isn’t doing all that well. California and other intervenor defendants moved to dismiss the lawsuit under the reasonable claim that Missouri can’t sue because it doesn’t have standing. States can sue, but only if a significant percentage of the population of the state is impacted by the lawsuit. I don’t work in the chicken or egg industry, and I have a strong suspicion neither does a significant number of other Missourians.

I strongly doubt the lawsuit will survive, and I believe Koster knows this, which is why he claims the costs will be less than $10,000. But it doesn’t matter in the end, because it makes Koster look real good to large agribusiness interests in the state. Large agribusiness interests that are known to donate big bucks to election campaigns.

Koster’s support for Amendment 1 is more of the same. You’d think a state Attorney General would know the costly, negative impacts from such a vaguely worded piece of legislation. Legal analysis has demonstrated that the Right to Farm Amendment is an awful piece of drivel that will clutter up an already cluttered up state Constitution and costs millions to defend in court. At best. At worst it can mire critical decisions in uncertainty and contentiousness.

But there you go, Koster supports Amendment 1, and he supports his ill-considered lawsuit against California. So does a new libertarian legal entity in Missouri called the Missouri Liberty Project. They filed an Amicus Curiae brief in opposition to California’s motion to dismiss. The group was founded by Joshua Hawley, and if you don’t recognize that name, he’s one of the lawyers who represented Hobby Lobby in its successful drive to get the Supreme Court to recognize that corporations can go to church on Sunday.

Josh Hawley’s name might also be familiar to those interested in the Amendment 1 vote, because Hawley wrote a piece in favor of the amendment, just before Nixon decided to put it to the vote in August instead of November. The piece contains the usual references to farming and how it hasn’t changed all that much since Jefferson’s time (just ignore those CAFOs with rivers of pink manure, and genetically altered corn implanted with some kind of bug DNA). According to him, all this innocent little Amendment will do is ensure that farmers can continue doing what farmers have been doing since the dawn of time.

But then he slips a little and writes:

Unfortunately, Missouri agriculture is under attack from government bureaucrats and outside interest groups that want to tie down farmers with burdensome regulations.

But, but…don’t all industries have to conform to one regulation or another? After all, we don’t allow oil companies to drill anywhere they want, nor can coal-fired utilities dump their waste into waters, putting wildlife, livestock, and people at risk—not without suffering consequences. Car makers have to ensure air bags inflate when they’re supposed to, planes really do need to stay in the air, and most of us just hate it when banks—or cable companies—rip us off.

Come to think of it, we’re not all that happy when we find out that rare beef hamburger we just ate comes with a generous dose of E.coli, or that the cow that supplies the milk the little ones drink can glow in the dark. And yeah, I don’t really want to eat the meat of a animal that’s so sick, some idiot in a fork lift has to lift her up to get her ready to be killed. It’s that whole, not wanting to die because I lost the luck of the draw in the food safety game, thing.

Then there’s that whole issue of clean water. I’ve seen some creeks and streams in Missouri that are so clear, you can see the fins on the tiny fish that inhabit them. I’d really hate to see these streams turned pink and murky, and all those cute little fish killed off before they have a chance to develop into nice big trout.

Though I live in the city, I’m also sympathetic to the small, organic farmer, fighting to keep pesticide off his or her field, and the country home dweller who once lived next to a corn field, only to wake up to 5,000 hogs the next day. Right next door.

And yeah, I like puppies. I like dogs, cats, horses, elephants, bats, bees, deer, and whole host of critters. I hate to think of any of them suffering or dying unnecessarily because of greed, stupidity, and cruelty. True, some animals we make into pets, some we eat, and some we leave alone, but that doesn’t mean any of them deserve abuse. I’d like to think we humans are better than that.

Regulations may sound scary, but they ensure we all have at least a fighting chance for a decent life. And a fighting chance to be decent human beings.

Amendment 1 isn’t about outside interest groups—it’s about people who live here, in Missouri. It’s about our interests, our concerns, and our responsibilities. Right to Farm sounds innocent, but it’s a backdoor method to undermine every county, city, and state-based regulation that impacts on anything even remotely related to agriculture. And it’s a way of making it almost impossible to adapt our laws to new information, new concerns, and new discoveries. It permanently enshrines the worst of behavior into the State Constitution for one single industry.

I’m thankful that Josh Hawley at least had the decency to come out and say that Amendment 1 is about undermining state and other regulations. That’s more than you’ll get from Chris Koster.

After reading all this, do you still think it’s all about the farmers? How’s this then: Go move a mile down river from a CAFO with 5,000 hogs and then tell me you’re going to vote for Amendment 1. Just be careful not to step in the pink stuff on your way to the poll.