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Oklahoma law encourages livestock shows

published in McAfee & Taft AgLINC | Spring 2015

By Patrick L. Stein

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Oklahoma City junior livestock show. The Youth Expo, as it’s currently called, is billed as the World’s Largest Junior Livestock Show. Each spring, thousands of Oklahoma youths (and their parents, ag teachers, and extension agents) spend countless hours preparing for and competing at the Youth Expo. As a former participant, I can say the Youth Expo is a great event and something I looked forward to each year in junior high and high school—despite the 5:00am trips to the wash rack to get cattle fit in time for 8:00am classes.

This spring, in addition to celebrating 100 years of supporting our state’s youth, the Youth Expo is celebrating a recent court victory. For the past several years, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry has supported and continues to support Oklahoma Youth Exposition, Inc. (OYE), the Oklahoma non-profit corporation that currently hosts the Youth Expo. The Department’s contributions help cover the operating costs of the show and fund scholarships for participants to attend Oklahoma colleges and universities. In 2013, then-State Representative Mike Reynolds filed a lawsuit alleging it was unlawful for the Department to support the Youth Expo with public funds. Jeff Todd, the co-chair of the McAfee & Taft Agriculture and Equine Industry Group, and Michael Avery, another lawyer at our firm, represented OYE in that lawsuit.

As Michael explained in last year’s AgLINC newsletter, the trial judge, Judge Bryan Dixon, granted summary judgment in favor of OYE and found that the Department’s contributions to OYE were proper expenditures of public funds. Representative Reynolds appealed that ruling arguing, among other things, that OYE could not receive public funds because the Youth Expo did not advance any public purpose. The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals disagreed. In an opinion issued on February 19, 2015, a three-judge panel unanimously held “the Youth Expo promotes rural and agricultural development in Oklahoma, while providing educational, vocational and cultural benefits to youth exhibitors” and those benefits “constitute a valid public purpose.” As a result, the state funds invested in the Youth Expo were lawful expenditures for the public good.

This recent court decision reinforces Oklahoma’s long-standing public support of livestock shows and fairs. Since 1915, Oklahoma statutes have authorized county governments to organize local and county “free fairs,” where admission to the grounds and exhibit buildings is free to the public. County commissioners or fair boards can use taxpayer dollars to pay for the expenses of hosting these fairs, including the premiums paid to participants. These laws recognize that promoting and encouraging agricultural education and outreach is an important public interest in our state.

On behalf of McAfee & Taft’s Ag & Equine Industry Group, I would like to extend our congratulations to the Oklahoma Youth Expo for 100 years of supporting Oklahoma’s youth and agricultural traditions. We look forward to supporting the Youth Expo and Oklahoma agriculture into the next 100 years.

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