By Douglas Karlson
The Barnstable Patriot
March 18, 2016
On Wednesday, the proposed Barnstable County Bill of Rights failed to garner the two-thirds of weighted votes needed to pass, but the measure’s champion, Brian O’Malley, of Provincetown, looked on the bright side. While the bill didn’t pass, the message got through.
O’Malley commented afterwards that there was a significant level of support from the community, as well as major concern for the health of our local environment. He called it a “great community effort.”
The proposed bill, an amendment to the Home Rule Charter, engaged the public, attracting more supporters to the Assembly chamber than O’Malley had ever seen.
“If that speaks to a greater engagement in the work of county government, then we have been altogether successful in this work,” he said. “The big deal about this proposal was the outpouring of a diverse representation of the community, sending an unmistakable message to all of us in county government, that these rights of nature and a healthy environment are matters that we must be ready to defend,” O’Malley wrote afterwards.
The Bill of Rights asserted the rights of local towns to enact laws protecting health, safety and welfare. That includes the right to control and limit toxins, pollutants, fertilizers and radiation. It also included the right to clean drinking water and the right to grow and distribute locally produced non-toxic food.
The proposed measure attracted a large audience of community members and environmental activists who supported the measure when a public hearing was held two weeks ago.
At Wednesday’s meeting, O’Malley urged fellow delegates to vote “yes” for the Bill of Rights, saying it was years in the making. “The time has come,” he said.
Ron Bergstrom, the speaker of the assembly, supported the bill. “It gives us a little more stature when we oppose companies or anything that might harm our environment.”
Most of the members agreed. But the measure failed to reach the required two-thirds majority. The weighted vote was 57 percent in favor, 36 percent against. The actual head count was 10 to 4 in favor.
Those who voted against it, like Linda Zuern of Bourne and Suzanne McAuliffe of Yarmouth, expressed concern that it would expose the county to lawsuits. “I’m concerned about placing the county in litigious situations. … it’s not something that the county can afford to take on,” said McAuliffe.
She added that the assembly had not had adequate time to fully understand and unintended consequences of the bill. Zuern argued that the bill fell beyond the purview of the assembly, and that concerns such as herbicide spraying should be addressed on an individual basis.
Reflecting on the outcome, O’Malley drew a comparison to activism evident with a certain politician currently running for president, and suggested the fight is far from over.
“I’d like to think that Bernie Sanders’ call for a “democratic revolution” has been energizing many of us engaged in the process to work for policies that can help move us toward a sustainable and healthy future. And I know we haven’t heard the last of this effort.”
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