Analysis: Three State Questions appearing on all ballots in Oklahoma
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Published: 02-Nov-2014

Editor's Note: Pollard is president of the Oklahoma Federation of Republican Women. We found this essay a careful summary and analysis of this year's three statewide ballot questions. It should be useful for voters, and it is commended to their attention.

State Question 769

This measure amends Section 12 of Article 2 of the Oklahoma Constitution. That Section currently imposes limits on an individual simultaneously holding certain government offices. The amendment would permit those serving in state offices of trust or profit to also hold certain military positions. Holders of an Oklahoma office of trust or profit who currently can not simultaneously hold certain military positions, include:

• Legislators;
• State Judges;
• District Attorneys;
• Statewide elected officials, such as the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General and Treasurer;
• Members of State Boards, Agencies and Commissions, and
• Many County Officers.

The measure creates a state constitutional right permitting holders of Oklahoma offices of trust or profit to also serve and be called to active duty or active service in the following military positions:

1. An Officer or Enlisted Member of
• The National Guard,
• The National Guard Reserve,
• The Oklahoma State Guard, or
• Any other active militia or military force organized under State law;
2. An Officer of the Officers Reserve Corps of the United States or
3. An Enlisted Member of the Organized Reserves of the United States.

The Measure empowers the Legislature to enact laws to implement the amended Section.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

This state question has a long history which led to this being brought to the voters as a constitutional amendment. I have done a lot of research on this particular question gathering background information and the implications this change would make.

Current OK Constitution Article 2 § 12 states, “Officers of United States or other states - Ineligibility to office. No member of Congress from this State, or person holding any office of trust or profit under the laws of any other State, or of the United States, shall hold any office of trust or profit under the laws of this State.”

To break this down, OK state law limits a person to hold only one office at a time whether it be federal, Oklahoma or an office in any other state.

When a person becomes “active duty military” this is considered “holding an office”, e.g., an Officer with the rank of Colonel in the US Army. When an elected official becomes active duty military it invokes an Article 2 Sec.12 violation. This has only happened 3 times in OK history and has caused 2 elected officials to resign in order to serve their country in the last 10 years. 

There is no way to gauge how many office holders would have volunteered to serve in the military if they knew they would not have to resign their elected office to serve if called to active duty.

The amendment seeks to allow certain Oklahoma office holders to ALSO hold an office in the US military if called to active duty during their term of office.

PROS: 

1) This constitutional change seeks to allow the positions listed above the same rights as private sector service members to be called to active duty, serve their country and return to the same position when their tour is over.

Federal law enacted in 1994 (USERRA) states that employers must guarantee returning service-members are reemployed in the job that they would have attained had they not been absent for military service (the long-standing "escalator" principle), with the same seniority, status and pay, as well as other rights and benefits determined by seniority.

2) The language of this amendment empowers the legislature to write the bill that would implement this section. In other words, the legislature is tasked with working out the details of how to enact this new law.

CONS: 

1) If passed this legislation would allow elected officials, board members, and other officers listed in the amendment to be called to active duty and be away from their positions while they serve in the military.

2) While most of these offices can continue uninterrupted by the absence of the elected official, current rules do not allow for proxy voting for legislators. The legislators could possibly write a provision for this situation or adopt House and Senate rules to allow for certified remote participation such as voting, introducing legislation and serving on committees.

3) If a candidate running for office is a current member of the National Guard or Reserves, the voters can decide if they want to elect someone with the possibility of them being called to active duty.

State Question 770

This measure amends the Oklahoma Constitution. It amends Section 8E of Article 10. This section provides a homestead exemption to certain qualifying disabled veterans. It also provides a homestead exemption to the surviving spouse of qualifying disabled veterans. This measure would allow either the veteran or his or her surviving spouse to sell the homestead but acquire another homestead property in the same calendar year. The exemption would apply to the newly acquired homestead property to the same extent as the original exemption for the homestead property that was sold.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

The voters approved a measure in 2004 (SQ 715) that allows 100% exemption from ad valor-em taxes for all veterans who are 100% disabled. This measure would do 2 things. 

1) Allows the state to define a qualifying disabled veteran based on where the disability took place, and 

2) provides a transfer of the homestead exemption to stay with the homeowner if they should buy and sell their home in the same calendar year.

PROS: 

1) This amendment allows the veterans who have served as active duty military to be defined as “qualifying disabled veterans.” Currently if an injury takes place outside of a military approved location, the veteran would not qualify. A recent example is the shooting at Ft. Hood was classified as workplace violence and therefor injuries sustained were not attributed as a “disabled veteran”. This bill would allow all 100% disabled veterans to be classified as “qualifying disabled veterans.”

2) This amendment allows for the surviving spouse to receive the exemption and transfer it to a new home if the current home is sold and purchased in the same calendar year.

CONS:

1) Currently approximately 19,200 veterans claim this exemption statewide at a cost of $21,000,000. This change would add an additional 500 veterans to this exemption at an estimated cost of $500,000 statewide.

State Question 771

This measure amends the Oklahoma Constitution. It would add a new Section 8F to Article 10. It would create a homestead exemption for the surviving spouse of military personnel who die in the line of duty. 

The United States Department of Defense or the applicable branch of the United States military would make the determination regarding whether the person engaged in military service died while in the line of duty. It would provide the surviving spouse of such person with a one hundred percent (100%) exemption for the fair cash value of the homestead until the surviving spouse remarried. This measure would allow the surviving spouse to sell the homestead, but acquire another homestead property in the same calendar year. 

The exemption would apply to the newly acquired homestead property to the same extent as the original exemption for the homestead property that was sold. The exemption would apply beginning in calendar year 2015. The exemption would also apply for the 2014 calendar year if the surviving spouse meets applicable requirements.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

This amendment follows the example of 100% exemption from ad valorem taxes for disabled veterans. It allows the same exemption for the surviving spouse of a person who “died in the line of duty” while in military service. It will be up to the military to determine if the person “died in the line of duty.” The surviving spouse can keep the exemption until they remarry.

PROS

This amendment gives the same exemption currently given to disabled veterans and their surviving spouses to surviving spouses of veterans killed in the line of duty. The US Dept of Defense would determine if the veteran was killed in the line of duty.

CONS:

 NONE-absolutely none, as these veterans gave their lives for our country

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