Judge Rules Louisiana Rice Referendum Unconstitutional
A 19th Judicial District Court Judge in Baton Rouge ruled that sections of the Louisiana Rice Research and Louisiana Rice Promotion Statutes taking away rice producers’ rights to a refund of check-off assessments is unconstitutional
On Friday March 15, 2013, a 19th Judicial District Court Judge in Baton Rouge signed a Judgment in a Partial Summary Judgment ruling of February 14, 2013, ruling that the sections of the Louisiana Rice Research and Louisiana Rice Promotion Statutes that allowed the Louisiana Rice Research and Promotion Boards to conduct a private referendum in 1992 to take away the rice producers’ rights to a refund of check-off assessments is unconstitutional.
In a suit filed by a group of rice producers against the Louisiana Rice Promotion Board, Louisiana Rice Research Board, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and the State of Louisiana, the plaintiffs alleged that the levy of assessments under the statutes was an improper delegation of legislative power and facially unconstitutional. One of the lead plaintiffs, Carl Krielow said “We are all supportive of Rice Promotion and Research but the present boards are operating illegally and not in the best interest of the Rice Producers who are paying the assessments.”
In addition to the facial challenge, the plaintiffs allege in their suit that the Rice Promotion and Research Boards conducted the referendums without any safeguards to the identity and locations of all rice producers who are Qualified Voters, conducted referendums without notification to all rice producers, and made no provision for absentee or mail-out votes for producers living outside of board designated polling places. In addition, the Plaintiffs alleged that names of voters were arbitrarily deleted from mailing list in designated mail out parishes, ballots were placed in unlocked, and unsecured locations and counted by the members of the Rice Boards who are in control of the assessments if the referendum passes. Plaintiffs have asked for 10 years of past assessments as part of the damages in the suit.
In September of last year the same group of Plaintiffs won a motion on Writ of Mandamus in a separate suit requiring the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry to cease making monthly and interim payments of collected assessments to the Rice Research and Promotion Boards and to annually make payments on July 1 of each year as required by the law.
Phillip Watkins, President of Louisiana Independent Rice Producers, who is closely following the litigation, said, “While LIRPA is not involved with the lawsuit;
Our organization has supported the right of choice when it comes to check-off assessment from the producers. It’s the producer’s money, he or she should have a choice of where their money is sent to or should be entitled to a right of refund as the original law was intended.” While Mr. Watkins said the case now proceeds to the Louisiana State Supreme Court, he is optimistic that the rights of the producers for a choice with their money will be upheld and the boards will then have to be accountable and responsive to the producers.
“Prior to this, check-off money was taken from the producer’s rice sale, but there was always a right to a refund. Since 1992 there has never been another referendum on the refund and many farming now were not farming then,” said Watkins. Watkins went on to say, “LIRPA has always supported the farmers’ right to have a choice of how and where their money is spent. Currently no promotion money is being spent with the organization that only represents the rice farmers.”
Watkins is President of the Louisiana Independent Rice Producers Association (LIRPA). LIRPA is an affiliate of the US Rice Producers Association, which is the only federally recognized rice promotion organization that represents only the rice producers as members.
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