There are seven ballot measures this time around, and it's about time I got around to reading them, especially since they don't figure to be as noncontroversial as the three which passed in 2014.

SQ 776:

Ballot text:
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.

This is, I am inclined to believe, the Legislature's observation that 19 states (and the District of Columbia, which is not a state and never should be) have already abolished the death penalty, and we'll be goddamned if we're gonna be the twentieth. I tend to go back and forth on capital punishment, though I'm pretty sure I'm voting No on this measure, which seems deliberately designed to invite an Eighth Amendment challenge.

SQ 777:

Ballot text:
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.

"Extra protection" ought to raise eyebrows: exactly what "constitutional rights" are being privileged over others? This is being billed as a "Right to Farm" act, but until I get a list of who's intended to be doing this constitutionally guaranteed farming, I'm assuming this is just another form of cronyism, for which I shall vote No.

SQ 779:

Ballot text:
This measure adds a new Article to the Oklahoma Constitution. The new Article creates a limited purpose fund to improve public education. It levies a one cent sales and use tax to provide revenue for the fund. It allocates funds for specific institutions and purposes related to the improvement of public education, such as increasing teacher salaries, addressing teacher shortages, programs to improve reading in early grades, to increase high school graduation rates, college and career readiness, and college affordability, improving higher education and career and technology education, and increasing access to voluntary early learning opportunities for low-income and at-risk children. It requires an annual audit of school districts' use of monies from the fund. It prohibits school districts' use of these funds for administrative salaries. It provides for an increase in teacher salaries. It requires that monies from the fund not supplant or replace other education funding. The Article takes effects on the July 1 after its passage.

"Limited purpose" funds, I suspect, will be the very death of this state. The argument here is that education is poorly funded in Oklahoma, and maybe it is, but this is the sort of thing that should be dealt with at county or at school-district level, not by a blanket state tax. I'd rather they added $100 to my property-tax bill than $50 to my grocery purchases. This, too, gets a No.

SQ 780:

Ballot text:
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.

Jazz hands! This is the state's admission that they're locking up a hell of a lot more people than they probably need to be, and reclassifying some of the druggies, at least, might clear up some of the logjam in the corrections system. I like the idea in principle; what I don't like is its companion piece below.

SQ 781:

Ballot text:
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.

Egad, another limited-purpose fund, and worse, one which may or may not ever receive any money. If there's one thing you can be sure of, it's that state government doesn't estimate funding worth squat. I'll vote for 780, but I turn down my thumb on 781.

SQ 790:

Ballot text:
This measure repeals Section 5 of Article 2 of the Oklahoma Constitution. This section prohibits the use of public monies or property for sectarian or religious purposes.

What are you, nuts? There's a reason that section was enacted in the first place, and contrary to the fevered fantasies of some of our legislators, it's not hostility toward religion. Were this to pass, I give it a week before it's challenged in court. Consider this a No.

SQ 792:

Ballot text:
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.

On this one, I side with the Tulsa World: "Oklahoma has struggled with alcohol laws throughout its history. Advancements have been made, such as liquor-by-the-drink, but the state's laws concerning who could and couldn't sell wine and cold, strong beer have remained archaic. We don't believe that is what most Oklahomans want." Not that you can get liquor by the drink everywhere in this state; we have something called county option, though no county is permitted to be completely dry. Almost every alcohol law in this state is the result of resplitting previously split hairs, and this is no exception; however, the possibility of 3.2 beer disappearing is appealing enough for me to give this a tentative Yes.

Some of the missing numbers:

SQ 774: Issues $500 million in bonds to construct storm shelters in schools. Maybe one school in six has enough shelter to withstand an EF5 tornado. Again, this is a matter I think should be handled below the state level, and I really don't like out-of-state pressure.

SQ 778: Legalizes medical marijuana. Popular in some circles, but failed to get enough signatures from the general public.

SQ 782: Prohibits abortion. The state Supreme Court rejected this measure in March, pointing out that we don't get to preempt federal law.

SQ 783: Would allow wine and strong beer sales (up to 8.99 percent ABV) at grocery stores. Withdrawn by proponents in favor of SQ 792.

SQ 785: Would allow wine and strong beer sales at grocery stores, and would permit taprooms at small brewers with certain limitations. Stricken by the Supreme Court, which noted that said limitations were not made clear: the taprooms, for instance, could not be permitted within half a mile of an existing liquor store.

Two up, five down. I am, of course, only one voter.

Previous State Question coverage: 2014, 2012, 2010, 2008, 2006, 2004, and 2002.

The Vent

  15 September 2016

 | Vent menu | E-mail to Chaz

 Copyright © 2016 by Charles G. Hill