Patrick B. McGuigan
At least six ballot measures will appear on the November 2012 statewide general election ballot in Oklahoma. In numeric order of those already qualified, there are State Questions 758, 759, 762, 764, 765 and 766. Each proposal in this group of six measures came to the ballot through legislative action.
One citizen initiative to change the state constitution to allow sale of wine in grocery stores could still secure a spot on the November ballot. Two other petitions have been stricken – one by state Supreme Court edict, the other because activists did not gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.
S.Q. 758 would amend the state constitution (Article 10) to limit ad valorem (real property) tax hikes to 3 percent of “fair cash value.” The 3 percent limit would displace the current limit of 5 percent on annual hikes.
S.Q. 758 was sent to the general election ballot in 2011 after the Legislature approved House Joint Resolution 2011, sponsored by then-Senator Jim Reynolds and state Rep. David Dank, both Oklahoma City Republicans.
S.Q. 759 came to the ballot after the Legislature approved Senate Joint Resolution 759, co-sponsored by state Sen. Rob Johnson of Kingfisher and state Rep. Leslie Osborn of Tuttle.
In the final ballot title, crafted after review by Attorney General Scott Pruitt, states the measure “deals with three areas of government action. These areas are employment, education and contracting. In these areas, the measure does not allow affirmative action programs. Affirmative action programs give preferred treatment based on race, color or gender. They also give preferred treatment based on ethnicity or national origin. Discrimination on these bases is also not permitted. The measure permits affirmative action in three instances. 1. When gender is a bonafide qualification, it is allowed. 2. Existing court orders and consent decrees that require preferred treatment will continue and can be followed. 3. Affirmative action is allowed when needed to keep or obtain federal funds. The measure applies to the State and its agencies. It applies to counties, cities and towns. It applies to school districts. It applies to other State subdivisions. The measure applies only to actions taken after its approval by the people.”
This question might become the most controversial of statewide proposals on this year’s ballot, as activist liberal groups have begun to organize against the proposition.
S.Q. 762 came to the ballot as result of legislative passage of Senate Joint Resolution 25, a measure that was part of the “Justice Reinvestment” drive led by House Speaker Kris Steele of Shawnee and state Sen. Josh Brecheen of Coalgate. This measure would remove the governor from pardon and parole decisions for nonviolent offenders, and make other changes to state law.
State Question 764 would allow creation of a “water infrastructure credit enhancement reserve fund” for bond issues in limited circumstances for “certain water resource and sewage treatment” programs. The proposal was part of the long-range water plans developed at the Legislature this year. Sponsors of House Joint Resolution 1085, the underlying legislation, were state Sen. Brian Crain of Tulsa and state Rep. Phil Richardson of Minco.
Another ballot measure with significant policy implications is S.Q. 765, the revision to fundamental state law that would repeal the constitutional Human Services Commission and create legislative authority to provide a new, reformed framework for the agency (http://www.capitolbeatok.com/reports/steele-comments-on-house-passage-of-dhs-governance-reforms). State Sen. Greg Treat of Oklahoma City joined with Speaker Steele in pressing for this proposal.
After several years of work that began when current-Secretary of State Glenn Coffee (http://www.capitolbeatok.com/reports/if-voters-agree-intangible-assets-will-not-face-new-ad-valoren-taxation) was Senate President Pro Temp, S.Q. 766 comes to the ballot. It would exempt “all intangible personal property from property tax. No person, family or business would pay a tax on intangible property. The change would apply to all tax years beginning on and after January 1, 2013.” This measure resulted from the collaboration of state Sen. Mike Mazzei of Tulsa and state Rep. Dank of Oklahoma City.
The one citizen ballot initiative that could still make the November ballot will, if sufficient signatures are gathered, be designated S.Q. 763. The measure “Would permit counties with more than 50,000 residents to have the option of holding an election that would allow the sale of wine in grocery stores.” In a pre-circulation review of the initiative, the state Supreme Court determined it was “sufficient” on June 28.
Activists supporting the idea have until September to gather enough names to gain ballot status for the proposal.
A “personhood” ballot initiative was “ordered void on its face and stricken” by the state High Court this spring.
Another initiative crafted by departing state Sen. Jim Wilson, a Tahlequah Democrat, would have created new standards for legislative and congressional redistricting, but initiative petition gatherers did not get enough valid names to gain ballot status. Wilson has pressed the idea after an earlier lawsuit against the current state Senate districts was slapped down.
NOTE: McGuigan is author of “The Politics of Direct Democracy: Case Studies in Popular Decision Making” (1985). For complete information on state ballot questions nationwide this year, visit ballotpedia.com and click on “ballot measures.”