Thursday, March 7, 2013
Proponents of Rep. Sally Kern's Anti-UN Bill
Claim it is a Remedy for Many Ailments --
Actually, it Would Just Cause More Trouble
To Our Representatives in the Oklahoma Legislature:
There are two main problems with House Bill 1412.
One, it proposes to create a very broad-ranging addition to state law, and it does this without properly defining the key terms and concepts that are used in the bill. This is bound to create confusion if the bill should ever become law. So, the primary problem with HB 1412 is a lack of proper definitions. The bill has a definite purpose (protecting property rights), but it is vague about how this will be accomplished.
Two, the bill would prohibit political subdivisions -- including state universities, public libraries, cities, counties, state agencies, and any "public entity" in our state -- from purchasing knowledge resources from the United Nations. The ban would also apply to an unspecified list of non-governmental organizations (NGO's). This legal restriction on public commerce with the UN and NGO's would have a harmful impact on teaching, research, and intellectual freedom.
With regard to the vague nature of the law, the most prominent undefined term is "private property rights."
The omission of a definition of this term is probably intentional, for understandable reasons. Any attempt to define the term would have the inevitable effect of limiting its scope. Volumes have been written about the concept of private property rights, and it would be difficult to craft a perfect definition within a single legislated statute.
Even so, the lack of a precise definition means that political subdivisions in our state will have an immeasurable degree of difficulty in implementing HB 1412 if it should become law.
Some of this predictable difficulty stems from the manner in which HB 1412 has been presented for public debate. Proponents of the bill have asserted that HB 1412 would serve to protect landowners from a wide array of regulations -- such as legitimate public laws and ordinances having to do with land use zoning, building codes, nature conservancy laws, air quality, animal welfare, public health & safety, to name a few examples.
HB 1412 has been sold as a kind of snake oil -- a remedy for every ailment (including some that don't exist).
It is not at all clear what actual effect HB 1412 would have with regard to these types of public policies. The bill is not specific with regard to any of these subjects. But, it can be reliably predicted that well-meaning activists will attempt to use the proposed law to push back against any new state or local policies having any relationship at all to the broad topic of "sustainable development" (another term that is undefined in HB 1412).
In this regard, the legal consequences of HB 1412 are unclear -- but the political ramifications of the bill are plain to see. The proposed new law is designed to enhance the informal authority of local activists who claim to be opposed to "Agenda 21."
A second undefined concept in HB 1412 is the meaning of the phrase, "any nongovernmental or intergovernmental organizations accredited or enlisted by the United Nations."
Pursuant to the text of the bill, all political subdivisions in Oklahoma would be prohibited from any public commerce with this un-enumerated set of organizations. The scope of the prohibition is truly undefined.
We can guess that the prohibition would apply to UN organizations such as the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Meterological Organization, UNESCO, and so on. The author of the bill has also identified a short list of NGO's to which HB 1412 would apply. These organizations include:
<> ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability (aka, International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives);
<> International Code Council (ICC);
<> National Wildland Urban Interface Council.
Beyond this scant list (which is not included in the text of the bill), the author of the bill has suggested that the full scope and breadth of the prohibited NGO's can best be determined by consulting with local activists who claim to be against Agenda 21. She made this statement to the States' Rights Committee of the Oklahoma House of Representatives:
"I don't know, offhand, if they are actually listed," she said, referring to the prohibited organizations. "...But, you talk to anyone who has anything to do with fighting against this Agenda, and they can rattle off to you all kinds of organizations, NGO's, that are being used to filter this, bypassing state legislatures and going straight to city councils... to put in place the policies they want."
That's not exactly a model of legislative transparency, is it? In fact, it is further evidence of the political nature of HB 1412.
(According to testimony from Rep. Kern, her bill is designed to raise awareness and send a message to local cities and towns, etc.)
The second main problem with HB 1412 is the harmful effect it would have on teaching, research, and intellectual freedom in our state. This problem has been described in detail by the United Nations Association of the USA (Oklahoma City chapter) in the pages of our blog ... www.una-okc.blogspot.com.
The problem originates in Section 1, Paragraph C, of HB 1412:
"...The state and all political subdivisions of the state shall not enter into any agreement, expend any sum
of money, receive funds contracting services or give financial aid to or from any nongovernmental or
intergovernmental organizations accredited or enlisted by the United Nations."
The language of this prohibition is unconditional. It provides no exceptions. Potentially, it would prohibit all public libraries in Oklahoma from acquiring new books, journals, articles, data sets, etc., from UN agencies. It would have a chilling effect on research conducted by state colleges and universities.
For more information on the impact of HB 1412 on intellectual freedom, please see these reports on our blog:
There are other objections to HB 1412. For example, it is based on a false premise about the nature of Agenda 21 and the United Nations. It also undermines the authority of local cities, towns, counties, etc.; it trounces the concept of local control. It is unnecessary and provocative.
The main arguments against HB 1412, though, are the ones described above -- that is, the lack of clear definitions and the inevitable impact on intellectual freedom.
On behalf of the members and friends of the United Nations Association in Oklahoma, I encourage you to vote "No" on this measure.
President, OKC Chapter
United Nations Association of the USA