Understanding The State Questions On The Oklahoma Ballot

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Oklahoma voters will vote on seven state questions Nov. 8 and during early voting, which beings Wednesday, Nov. 3 and goes through Saturday, Nov. 5.

The following information was complied by the League of Women Voters of Oklahoma to help voters understand the questions on the ballot.

This information was compiled by the League of Women Voters of Oklahoma to help you decide how to vote.

State Question 776: Execution Methods

Proponents say:

  • The death penalty is strongly supported by Oklahomans.  The ability to carry it out must be protected.
  • Passing SQ 776 would result in no direct costs for the state.
  • There is a chance certain drugs used in lethal injections, or even the lethal injection itself, will be ruled unconstitutional.  Oklahoma needs options so that lethal injection can continue to be used.
  • The Department of Corrections should have some flexibility to utilize any available method of execution.

Opponents say:

  • The death penalty is immoral and should be outlawed altogether.
  • Passage of SQ 776 could mean that the state death penalty could never be ruled as unconstitutional on a state level.
  • This amendment is not necessary.  The death penalty already exists in state law.  The amendment will not prevent courts from striking down the death penalty by applying federal law. The amendment duplicates existing Oklahoma statutes.  The only purpose appears to be to address the moratorium resulting from the recent mistakes in the administration of the lethal drug method of execution.
  • There is no limit on what crimes the Legislature might choose to make subject to the death penalty and the courts would be restricted in their ability to prevent legislative overreach even if it is inadvertent.
  • This amendment could result in expensive legal challenges that the state would have to pay for.

State Question 777: Right to Farm

Proponents say:

  • The proposed constitutional amendment provides greater protection from overzealous environmentalists, animal rights advocates and “foodies” who promote stricter regulation of agriculture.
  • It could provide long-lasting protection for farming and ranching families that don’t have a lot of resources.
  • The proposal does not give farmers and ranchers a “blank check.”  It would not protect those who violate laws or regulations.
  • The amendment may protect farm-related jobs.
  • Not passing this amendment could jeopardize Oklahoma’s economy, jobs and family businesses.
  • Opponents are intent on driving large-scale production agriculture out of business.
  • More regulation of farming and ranching will cause an increase in food prices and adversely affect families in Oklahoma who are living below the poverty line. Passage of the amendment would help keep food prices less expensive.

Opponents say:

  • Oklahoma already has a State Right to Farm law passed in 2010 – Okla. Stat. Tit. 50 §§ 1 to 1.1 – which provides adequate protections to agricultural activities.  Therefore, the proposed amendment to the constitution does nothing while appearing to do something.
  • The amendment is more about protecting industrial farms from lawsuits challenging controversial practices than defending the rights of smaller farmers.
  • Courts would inevitably have to determine the scope of the vaguely worded amendment (e.g., “compelling state interest”). It would leave the legislature, county and municipal elected leaders and voters on the sidelines as courts decide the future of agriculture. The resulting lawsuits would prove costly to Oklahoma tax payers.  Further, the legislature may be discouraged from proposing future regulations on agriculture.
  • The amendment awards special constitutional protection to a single industry. Allowing such immunity from regulation for one industry sets a precedent for allowing the same treatment for other industries.  The amendment could give “legal protection” for foreign corporations, polluters and those who engage in unethical practices.
  • Public safety would be compromised by barriers to future regulations that respond to new science about food safety or the spread of disease, the use of pesticides that could potentially be harmful to people or important pollinators.
  • There is no evidence of increased food prices due to regulations that protect animals and regulate corporate farming practices.
  • Passage of SQ 777 could potentially make it more expensive to treat and protect water by city utility authorities that manage city reservoirs.
  • Passage of SQ 777 could limit labor laws to protect farm and ranch workers.

State Question 779: Education Sales Tax

Proponents say:

  • There is no greater need in Oklahoma than the adequate funding of education for our children.
  • No other options, actions or ideas have gained support for solving the education funding crisis. Of the six proposals considered by the 2016 legislative session to address education funding none passed.
  • Oklahoma’s combined real-estate, income and sales taxes consistently fall below the national median.  A sales tax would be statewide and would not disadvantage one city over another.
  • The manner, in which the expected monies will allocated to help schools is spelled out, cannot be altered by legislators nor does it depend on legislative action.
  • The proposed $5,000 raise in teachers’ salaries will be a permanent bump in the salary they receive, not merely a one-time “bonus.”  This will aid in the recruitment of new teachers and retain experienced teachers.
  • The proposal provides school districts with flexibility to implement locally driven compensation methods to address teacher shortages.
  • The salary increase will not be applied to education administrative salaries.
  • Approval of this measure tells the legislature that Oklahoma citizens are committed to improving all levels of public education.

Opponents say:

  • A sales tax is the most regressive tax and disproportionately impacts lower-income people especially since Oklahoma is one of only seven states that impose sales on groceries.
  • Approval of SQ 777 effectively removes the legislature’s obligation to fund education adequately setting a dangerous precedent in public policy making.
  • The proposal would force Oklahoma families to pay the highest combined state and local sales tax burden of any state in the nation.
  • The sales tax increase would lead to more un-taxed Internet sales which would reduce local consumer shopping and negatively impacting local businesses.
  • Higher state sales taxes hurt city governments who are, by law, restricted to the use of local sales taxes in order to pay for the services provided to citizens such as police and fire protection, water, refuse collection and streets.
  • The proposed raises are not equitable because experienced teachers get the same raise as a first year teacher.
  • Business and individuals would not relocate to Oklahoma because of the high sales tax rates.
  • The entire tax structure should be overhauled to provide sustainable funding for public education, corrections, infrastructure and other core services.
  • There is no guarantee that more money will improve educational outcomes.

State Question 780: Criminal Sentencing

Proponents say:

  • Passage of State Questions 780 will result in reduced prison populations which will reduce costs to taxpayers.
  • Treating drug addicts through appropriate rehabilitation and mental health services is more effective than placing them in jail or prison. The impact will have a broad reach because families will be kept intact and will receive the help they need.
  • Misdemeanor charges carry a punishment of up to a year in jail.  Prosecutors would continue to have discretion as to whether to pursue a case as simple possession or possession with intent to distribute.
  • Serving prison time for low-level offenses does more harm than good because prisoners are often exposed to anti-social elements while in prison.  Once released, former prisoners struggle to access housing, employment and education.  Many are left with debilitating debt from which many cannot recover.  The prison system does little to equip these people to be able to successfully reenter society which increases the chances of recidivism.  Further, doing so perpetuates a vicious cycle of incarceration, poverty and future criminal involvement.
  • Several states have successfully employed this strategy as part of the “Right on Crime” initiatives.
  • Oklahoma’s high incarceration rates are inconsistent with Oklahoma values and drain resources away from investments that can do more to promote public safety.

Opponents say:

  • Reducing the possession of drugs such as methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and date rape drugs from a felony to a misdemeanor could endanger the citizens of the state.  There are certain situations where possession of drugs, especially more powerful substances, needs to be a considered felony.
  • Enacting the measures proposed in State Question 780 could potentially increase crime.  It is feared that instances of shoplifting, for example, would increase.
  • The county jail populations could increase from the number of misdemeanor offenders being charged.  Counties jails are not adequately equipped or funded to handle the additional jail population.
  • Eliminating felony possession charges reduces the incentive for those charged with drug crimes to complete treatment programs and weakens prosecutors’ leverage in cases involving more serious offenses.  The average duration to complete a court-ordered treatment program is 18 months to three years.  Those charged with misdemeanors can be sentenced to no more than a year so fewer people will be completing the court-ordered treatment programs.
  • Removing the felony option will make it harder to convince potential witnesses to cooperate with prosecutors.  It will become more difficult to prosecute gang members who are more likely to cooperate if facing a felony conviction.

State Question 781: Criminal Rehabilitation

Proponents say:

  • The measure could provide a way to finance mental health and drug rehabilitation services at the county level for citizens who might otherwise be imprisoned under current laws.
  • Data indicate that treatment programs for low level offenders are more effective than incarceration in preventing recidivism.

Opponents say:

  • It will take years before reforms will have a meaningful impact on the correctional system’s costs.
  • The revenue stream for the County Community Safety Fund is not guaranteed.  The monies are subject to appropriation by the Oklahoma Legislature.

State Question 790: Religion & The State

Proponents say:

  • Oklahomans overwhelmingly support the placement of the Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the state capitol.
  • The Oklahoma Supreme court’s interpretation of Article 2, Section 5 in the Ten Commandments case “can potentially make our state hostile to religion and have damaging impacts on our counties, cities and school districts”  (Oklahoma Representative Paul Jordan, author of SJR 72).
  • Religious liberty should allow the placement of the monument on the state capitol grounds.
  • Repeal will remove an obstacle to the state allowing religious institutions to participate in public programs on an equal basis with non-religious institutions.  These kinds of neutral programs have been upheld under the federal Establishment Clause.

Opponents say:

  • Passage of SQ 790 opens the state to expensive federal lawsuits that the Oklahoma Attorney General will have to defend at the expense of Oklahoma taxpayers.
  • Passage of SQ 790 could affect many areas of religious freedom, including the state’s money and property being appropriated for specific religious purposes, such as funding religion-based schools or activities.  Maintaining Article 2, Section 5 will be faithful to the intent of the founders of the Oklahoma Constitution.  The object of this provision was to effect a stricter separation of church and state than required by the federal Establishment Clause.
  • The state could be faced with proposals from other religions and religious groups to place their own monuments on public property or grounds leading to difficult and divisive decisions and potential law suits.
  • If approved, SQ 790 would have the effect of privileging Judeo-Christian beliefs and putting all other belief systems in the state at a disadvantage.
  • If Oklahomans want to create a space on the Capitol Grounds for monuments and memorials it should be a planned space with guidelines in place for the design and approval of statues, monuments, plaques, etc. and a budget for proper maintenance of the space.
  • The display of a sacred monument in a public secular space diminishes the power of the symbol.

State Question 792: Wine & Beer Sales

Proponents say:

  • Oklahoma’s alcoholic beverages laws are Prohibition-era laws need to be modernized.
  • Passage of SQ 792 will provide Oklahomans with the same level of access to wine and beer as consumers in 45 other states and will allow customers to purchase wine and cold beer more conveniently throughout the state at all levels of retail.
  • Current state alcoholic beverage laws are preventing the growth of local industries including craft brewers, grape growers and retail merchants.
  • The current alcoholic beverage laws do not reduce the number of drunk driving incidents or prevent alcoholism.
  • State tax dollars are being driven to other states where sales of alcoholic beverages have been changed to allow sales of high-point beer and wine in grocery stores.
  • Oklahomans want cold; high-point beer available at all levels of retail.
  • Consumers would save money and have more choices with these changes.
  • Because low-end beers and wines will typically be available in grocery and convenience stores, retail liquor stores will have the opportunity to focus on high-end, more exclusive craft brews and wine vintages providing the consumer more choice.

Opponents say:

  • The additional competition from grocery stores and convenience stores will hurt the independent liquor retailers who are mostly small business owners.  Many current retail liquor stores will go out of business resulting in job losses to the state and inconveniencing consumers especially those in smaller cities.
  • Local businesses, such as retail liquor stores, put 48% of their revenue back into the local economies, whereas retail grocery chain stores give back less than 14%.
  • Allowing grocery and convenience stores to sell strong beer and wine will actually concentrate more power in the hands of fewer corporate owners,reduce competition, and result in higher prices.
  • SQ 792 contains language that would allow out-of-state distributors to buy controlling interest in an Oklahoma wholesaler then designate themselves as the sole wholesale/distributor of any product they represent.  Retailers will not be able to choose between competing wholesalers but must buy each product from only one particular wholesaler.
  • Grocery and convenience stores will not offer the variety and quality of products that are currently available in retail liquor store.
  • Easier access to wine and beer could result in more drunken driving and endanger the public.
  • The cost to grocery stores and convenience stores of enforcing the liquor law age limits for both who can sell and who can buy the beverages will increase and will likely be passed on to customers.