A representative with Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs spoke about the seven state questions to be on November’s ballot Wednesday.
Estela Hernandez, OCPA vice president of engagement, spoke to the Garfield County Republicans, dividing the seven state questions into six categories. OCPA is a conservative think tank that focuses on state and local level government control.
“We’ve stayed on top of the state questions, but there’s been several that have been brought up,” she said. “OCPA thinks power is at the state level and it is meant to be from the bottom up.”
Hernandez said OCPA has taken a stance on two of the state questions.
“For me, this is not about telling you to vote yes or no,” Hernandez said. “This is about hearing both sides. Do the research and know why you’re going to vote a certain way. With many of these state questions, the Legislature couldn’t decide and felt it best to bring it to the people.”
Death penalty: State Question 776
Hernandez said the situation began several years ago with the execution of Clayton Lockett. Lockett’s execution is described as botched and made national news when he died 43 minutes after the first execution drug was administered.
“Those opposed to the death penalty said his execution was why Oklahoma needed to get rid of it,” Hernandez said. “The question if passed would reaffirm the death penalty in Oklahoma.”
The question would clarify the Legislature could determine an alternate execution method if a method of execution is found invalid.
Agriculture: State Question 777
Commonly known as “right to farm,” the question would give control to farmers and ranchers, Hernandez said.
The measure would add a new section to Article 2 of the Oklahoma Constitution, declaring Oklahoma residents have the right to engage in farming and ranching practices.
“Some individuals feel government got too big,” she said. “This ties the hands of the Legislature to impose any more restrictions. If a change is made to agriculture restrictions, legislators have to prove the change is in the best interest of the state, they have to prove a compelling state interest to change the rules or laws.”
Hernandez said many farmers and ranchers feel any more government restrictions will hinder their ability to operate.
“Many people I have heard from think this will end up in court whether it passes or not,” she said. “From what I’m gathering from farmers, they want to be able to continue what they’re doing without any government interference. Are you giving more power to the Legislature or the farmers?”
Hernandez said if the question passes, if a farmer develops new technology to use in his or her practices, the state would have to prove a compelling state interest before being allowed to restrict the use of such technology. The operation would not include puppy mills, she said.
Education: State Question 779
A constitutional amendment, the question would increase Oklahoma’s sales tax by 1 percent for education.
Hernandez said OCPA Impact is opposed to the question and challenged it in court.
“We advocated to have a teacher pay raise; however, we don’t feel it needs to be done on the backs of Oklahomans. This will be a negative on a city like Enid (because it uses sales tax to fund core services).”
Revenue from the tax would be placed in a new fund to be distributed to public school districts according to the state aid formula; universities and colleges; early childhood education; and Department of Career and Technology Education. It also would mandate increasing teacher pay by $5,000.
“Many are for this saying we need to give education the money it deserves, and we agree, we just don’t think Oklahomans should carry this on their backs,” Hernandez said. “Many teachers qualify for welfare and we are asking them to pay for something that may hurt them. It’s not a penny we find in our couch cushion or car. It’s a 1 percent increase on what we pay.”
Hernandez said the question will impact every Oklahoman, and she encouraged those in attendance Wednesday to research the question.
“Yes, teachers need a pay raise but this is not the way,” she said. “We need education reform. We need accountability and to see where that money is going.”
Criminal justice: State Question 780 and 781
Oklahoma is No. 1 in the nation for female incarceration rates and No. 2 for overall incarceration rates.
“We’ve been tough on crime but not smart on crime,” Hernandez said.
State Question 780 would reclassify certain low-level offenses — drug possession and property crimes under $1,000 — as misdemeanors instead of felonies. Possession with intent to distribute, distribution, manufacturing and trafficking of drugs under the proposed ballot title would remain felonies, according to the proposal.
State Question 781 would create a fund allowing savings from SQ 780 be provided to local governments to invest in rehabilitative programming.
Hernandez said those opposing the question say it provides a “free pass” for offenders, and that rehab programs do not work on everyone. She said opposition also notes there is nothing protecting the funding setup by SQ 781 from being used for other purposes.
“This is one of the two areas that takes up a majority of the state budget — corrections and education,” she said.
Religion: State Question 790
The measure would remove a section from the Oklahoma Constitution to allow a Ten Commandments monument be erected back on Capitol grounds, Hernandez said.
The question would remove “no public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination ...”
“Taking that away will bring the Ten Commandments back, but think about it 10, 20, 30 years down the line,” she said. “We have state money that goes to Oklahoma Baptist University, toward religious-based hospitals. If you vote no, it closes the door to other religions. If you vote in favor, it overturns the Oklahoma Supreme Court decision.”
Alcohol: State Question 792
The question would allow grocery stores to sell beer and wine, and liquor stores would be allowed to sell products other than alcoholic beverages and remain open until midnight.
“This would also say someone can only own and operate two liquor stores, but such a restriction is not put on grocery stores,” Hernandez said.
Those in favor said it would allow full strength beer and wine to be sold seven days a week in grocery and convenience stores while allowing refrigerated items in liquor stores. The opposition says the question is unconstitutional because there will be different laws for grocery and liquor stores, Hernandez said.