2016 Oklahoma Ballot Questions: Know the Issues

2016 Oklahoma Ballot Questions:  Know the Issues

My dear brothers, sisters, readers of Reason Rest Stop and only friends, it is mid-October and we are in the home stretch of a marathon election cycle.  So much has been said about most of the candidates on the November ballot that there seems little remaining on which to comment.  Here in Oklahoma along the most conservative stretch of Old Route 66 we have seven state questions upon which we the voters are charged with making a choice.  Before going to the polls it is my recommendation to at very least be familiar with the gist of each of the seven questions on the ballot.

The first of these is State Question 776This question deals with capital punishment as it adds a constitutional amendment affirming the State of Oklahoma’s right to carry out death sentences.  This question has received very little publicity relative to the others on the ballot.  The text of the question is as follows:

“This measure adds a new section to the Oklahoma Constitution, Section 9A of Article 2. The new Section deals with the death penalty. The Section establishes State constitutional mandates relating to the death penalty and methods of execution. Under these constitutional requirements:

  • The Legislature is expressly empowered to designate any method of execution not prohibited by the United States Constitution.
  • Death sentences shall not be reduced because a method of execution is ruled to be invalid.
  • When an execution method is declared invalid, the death penalty imposed shall remain in force until it can be carried out using any valid execution method, and
  • The imposition of a death penalty under Oklahoma law—as distinguished from a method of execution—shall not be deemed to be or constitute the infliction of cruel or unusual punishment under Oklahoma’s Constitution, nor to contravene any provision of the Oklahoma Constitution.”

I don’t think it a secret for any of my regular readers that I am very anti-death penalty.  Until the proponents can figure out a way to grant clemency to an executed person found innocent after the fact then my stance on the issue is not going to change.  Moreover, in these lean times of revenue failure and budget crisis, the death penalty simply costs too much.  According to the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, the process from beginning to end to execute someone costs us taxpayers anywhere from double to five times more than it does to try and sentence someone to life in maximum security for 40 years.  I want anybody who considers themselves to be a “fiscal conservative” to at least be aware of the financial cost of this measure if it does pass.  My advice is a decided “NO” on 776.

syringes

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 State Question 777 has probably gotten the lion’s share of TV and radio ad time in the state.  A drive through town where all the “NO on 777” seem to be everywhere and a drive through the country where all the “YES on 777” seem to accompany all the other conservative leaning signage reveal how the battle lines are drawn:  urban vs rural.  The text of this question is as follows:

“This measure adds Section 38 to Article II of the Oklahoma Constitution.

The new Section creates state constitutional rights. It creates the following guaranteed rights to engage in farming and ranching:

  • The right to make use of agricultural technology,
  • The right to make use of livestock procedures, and
  • The right to make use of ranching practices.

These constitutional rights receive extra protection under this measure that not all constitutional rights receive. This extra protection is a limit on lawmakers’ ability to interfere with the exercise of these rights. Under this extra protection, no law can interfere with these rights, unless the law is justified by a compelling state interest—a clearly identified state interest of the highest order. Additionally, the law must be necessary to serve that compelling state interest.

The measure—and the protections identified above—do not apply to and do not impact state laws related to:

  • Trespass,
  • Eminent domain,
  • Dominance of mineral Interests,
  • Easements,
  • Right of way or other property rights, and
  • Any state statutes and political subdivision ordinances enacted before December 31, 2014.”

I have not seen any polling data on this issue but if negative ads are any indication, and they are usually effective, the “NO on 777” lobby has the edge.  Based on the arguments of the opponents, this measure stands to undermine democracy by prohibiting the legislature from establishing reasonable standards for food production, environmental protection and animal welfare.  For this reason alone it is my advice to vote “NO” on 777.

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Of all the seven referendums on the ballot, the one that has created the most internal conflict for just about every pro-education and progressive voter is State Question 779.  First off please understand that after six years of an all-Republican government ginning out policies that have made Oklahoma dead last in the nation in public education, this is the best our government can do to address what is now a genuine crisis.  This creates conflict for the conscientious voter because such a measure reflects the shortsightedness of our legislative leadership.  This issue is something that is going to ultimately require a more definitive legislative remedy.  At the same time, Oklahoma public education is in a full blown crisis.  After hearing a formal discussion pro and con by two principal parties close to the source, it turns out that the number of school districts cutting back to four-day weeks is closer to one third than the originally cited one quarter.  The text of the measure is as follows:

“This measure adds a new Article to the Oklahoma Constitution. The article creates a limited purpose fund to increase funding for public education. It increases State sales and use taxes by one cent per dollar to provide revenue for the fund. The revenue to be used for public education shall be allocated: 69.50% for common school districts, 19.25% for the institutions under the authority of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, 3.25% for the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education, and 8% for the State Department of Education. It requires teacher salary increases funded by this measure raise teacher salaries by at least $5,000 over the salaries paid in the year prior to adoption of this measure. It requires an annual audit of school districts’ use of monies. It prohibits school districts’ use of these funds for increasing superintendents’ salaries or adding superintendent positions. It requires that monies from the fund not supplant or replace other educational funding. If the Oklahoma Board of Equalization determines funding has been replaced, the Legislature may not make any appropriations until the amount of replaced funding is returned to the fund. The article takes effect on July 1 after its passage.”

As much as I like to think of myself as a pro-education Democrat, I must say I am truly conflicted over this measure.  Given this is a regressive sales tax I believe the wrong segment of the population is going to be footing the bill.  At the same time, if this is the best we can hope for under the current regime to help our state’s teachers and schools then it is better than nothing.  It is for that reason that I recommend voting “YES” on 779 although I will not blame anyone for following their progressive conscience and voting the other way or leaving it blank.

A Penny for Teachers

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I actually attended a town hall meeting a few weeks ago on State Questions 780 and 781 which was held at the University of Tulsa School of Law.  As I understood it then, SQ 781 is contingent upon the passage of SQ 780.  Both questions deal with criminal justice reform.  SQ 780 amends existing Oklahoma law to reclassify possession of certain drug substances from felony to misdemeanor and increase the amount of stolen property value to be deemed a felony from $500 to $1000.  The text of the measure is as follows:

“This measure amends existing Oklahoma laws and would change the classification of certain drug possession and property crimes from felony to misdemeanor. It would make possession of a limited quantity of drugs a misdemeanor. The amendment also changes the classification of certain drug possession crimes which are currently considered felonies and cases where the defendant has a prior drug possession conviction. The proposed amendment would reclassify these drug possession cases as misdemeanors. The amendment would increase the threshold dollar amount used for determining whether certain property crimes are considered a felony or misdemeanor. Currently, the threshold is $500. The amendment would increase the amount to $1000. Property crimes covered by this change include; false declaration of a pawn ticket, embezzlement, larceny, grand larceny, theft, receiving or concealing stolen property, taking domesticated fish or game, fraud, forgery, counterfeiting, or issuing bogus checks. This measure would become effective July 1, 2017.”

Here is the full text of the measure:  SQ 780 full text

Here is the text of SQ 781:

“This measure creates the County Community Safety Investment Fund, only if voters approve State Question 780, the Oklahoma Smart Justice Reform Act. This measure would create a fund, consisting of any calculated savings or averted costs that accrued to the State from the implementation of the Oklahoma Smart Justice Reform Act in reclassifying certain property crimes and drug possession as misdemeanors. The measure requires the Office of Management and Enterprise Services to use either actual data or its best estimate to determine how much money was saved on a yearly basis. The amount determined to be saved must be deposited into the Fund and distributed to counties in proportion to their population to provide community rehabilitative programs, such as mental health and substance abuse services. This measure will not become effective if State Question 780, the Oklahoma Smart Justice Reform Act, is not approved by the people. The measure will become effective on July 1 immediately following its passage.”

The full text of the measure can be found here:  SQ 781

My former Republican state house representative from Shawnee, Kris Steele, was the facilitator of the town hall meeting I attended and one of the chief proponents of both these measures.  Prison overcrowding is an ongoing problem in Oklahoma and while neither of these measures are an end-all to the that problem, these are steps in the right direction.  It is therefore my advice to support both  780 and 781 with a “YES” vote.

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State Question 790 is the result of a majority vote of the entire legislature after the Oklahoma Supreme Court had the unmitigated gall to rule that The Ten Commandments monument on State Capitol grounds was an unconstitutional use of public resources based on Article 2, Section 5 of the state constitution.  So, if you don’t get what you want through playing by the rules then change the rules so you do?  This measure has the potential to open a can of worms and perhaps lend to some unintended consequences.  The text of the measure is as follows:

“This measure would remove Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution, which prohibits the government from using public money or property for the direct or indirect benefit of any religion or religious institution. Article 2, Section 5 has been interpreted by the Oklahoma courts as requiring the removal of a Ten Commandments monument from the grounds of the State Capitol. If this measure repealing Article 2, Section 5 is passed, the government would still be required to comply with the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution, which is a similar constitutional provision that prevents the government from endorsing a religion or becoming overly involved with religion.”

Of all the state questions on the 2016, this one for me required the least amount of thought and soul searching.  It is my considered advisory that for anyone who values living in a secular republic, a “NO” vote on 790 is the only viable option.

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State Question 792 deals with modernizing Oklahoma’s liquor law.  Admittedly, Oklahoma had some of the most some of the most regressive laws on liquor and high point beer in the nation.  I vividly remember when Liquor by the Drink finally was passed by a ballot measure in 1984 and liquor stores could then have big neon signs instead of small print ones.  Of all the questions on the 2016 ballot, this one is likely to have the least impact on my life and lifestyle.  I believe good arguments have been made pro and con on this issue and at the end of the day for me it comes down to the money trail as to who stands to gain the most, and it is the big boys.  Here is the text of the measure:

“This measure enacts Article 28A and repeals Article 28 of the Oklahoma Constitution. Beverages that contain alcohol are governed by the new Article and other laws. It requires the Legislature to enact laws to regulate alcoholic beverages. Common ownership between tiers of the alcoholic beverage business is prohibited, with some exceptions. Some restrictions apply to manufacturers, brewers, winemakers and wholesalers. Direct shipments to consumers are prohibited unless direct shipments of wine are authorized by law, subject to limitations. Licenses to sell wine, beer and spirits at retail locations are required. The Legislature could prescribe other licenses. Sales of wine and beer are permitted at certain licensed retail locations. Licensees may sell refrigerated or non-refrigerated products, and Retail Spirits Licensees may sell products other than alcoholic beverages in a limited amount. Certain persons are prohibited from being licensed. Certain acts are made unlawful. The Legislature could by law, designate days and hours during which alcoholic beverages could be sold, and impose taxes on sales. Certain restrictions relating to the involvement of the state and political subdivisions and public employees are specified. Municipalities could also levy an occupation tax. The amendment will be effective October 1, 2018, with one provision becoming effective upon passage.”

As I stated above, this question is likely going to have the least impact on my life and lifestyle and for that reason I am still undecided on it.  For those people old enough to mark a ballot it is incumbent on them to make their own choices.  I will probably make my choice on this question on Election Day.  That said, it is imperative that all participate in democracy in order for it to work.  Regardless of where you may stand on any of the above issues, please get to your polling precinct on November 8th and mark a ballot.  By all means, please………..

Vote

7 Comments

  1. Alex
    Nov 3, 2016

    It feels bad, but I personally won’t be voting in favor of 779. While it is perhaps the pragmatic solution, in reality it’s merely a band-aid to a much deeper problem. Not only that, but it provides an out to our state legislators. If you think they are apathetic to education now, wait until we provide them an excuse in the form of a regressive tax for which they didn’t have to take any credit.

    That brings me to another point, why do we feel the need to roll such complicated measures into ballot questions. Why not separate questions of: 1) should we raise additional revenue for education, 2) who should pay for it, and 3) how much should this offset our state’s existing budgetary obligation?

    Hint: I only agree with the ballot question on item 1.

    It pains me to pass up a raise for our teachers, but I feel that taking pragmatic solution now will lead us to a much darker place in the future.

    Love your site, keep them coming,
    Alex

  2. Route66Kid
    Oct 19, 2016

    “State Question 790 is the result of a majority vote of the entire legislature after the Oklahoma Supreme Court had the unmitigated gall to rule that The Ten Commandments monument on State Capitol grounds was an unconstitutional use of public resources based on Article 2, Section 5 of the state constitution.”

    Tony, that was my attempt to articulate a sarcastic edge. The theocrats in the legislature were so incensed by the state supreme court ruling forcing the removal of the Ten Commandments monument from the State Capitol grounds that they mandated a referendum to change the state constitution so that returning that monument to the state property from where it was removed will be within the law. The problem with this is that after they return that marble ediface to the State Capitol lawn, next they will see about using your state tax money and mine to fund their school vouchers. It is definitely a slippery slope if ever there were. Does that help unmuddy the water for you?

  3. Tony O'seland
    Oct 18, 2016

    “State Question 790 is the result of a majority vote of the entire legislature after the Oklahoma Supreme Court had the unmitigated gall to rule that The Ten Commandments monument on State Capitol grounds was an unconstitutional use of public resources based on Article 2, Section 5 of the state constitution.”

    Stan, I’m afraid I don’t follow the logic of this statement. Having reread the constitution just three days ago, I’m pretty sure this whole mess falls under the separation of church and state in that if you allow special privileges to one sect, you must extend the same privileges to all sects. As our state has tried to establish a state religion, Christianity, several times and have lost their cases because of that pesky Constitution thingie, I don’t see where requiring the removal of one bit of religious propaganda because you won’t allow anyone else’s religious propaganda, to be disingenuous at best.

    Are you, through this statement, advocating the establishment of a state religion in order to “legally” erect propaganda to their version of religion? This would put every other religion in Oklahoma in a distinct disadvantage by declaring them to be illegal in this state. We’ve seen that situation before, and it’s always very, very ugly.

    Please clarify.

  4. Drew
    Oct 17, 2016

    Thanks Stan

  5. Route66Kid
    Oct 17, 2016

    Tom, I actually do agree with you that 779 is a permanent sales tax increase. It will likely require a different legislature to repeal it and install something a little more substantial. However, for the here and now, if this is all we can do for the teachers then it is all we can do. Very like asking me “What is your pleasure, death or taxes?”

  6. Tom
    Oct 16, 2016

    Just curious if you agree with me that the 779 question would be a permanent tax increase (since it involves a constitutional amendment to the OK constitution and no stated term). If so, when the oil industry is again flush with cash and the economy is booming, low and middle income residents will still be stuck paying this sales tax giving the state a free ride to permanently off-load education funding onto a regressive sales tax. That along with the other previously stated arguments against 779 have me leaning strongly toward a “no” vote at this point.

  7. Kendel Hall
    Oct 16, 2016

    I had not heard much, if anything, about State Question 776. It probably doesn’t lend itself to a tv ad or news debate, which is probably why I have been unaware of its content for this long. Overall, I feel much better prepared for my participation in the elections on November 8th. (If I am needed, I may get to start working at a polling place that day!). Thanks, Stan!