Iyou look at the November ballot, you might reasonably think, what with all the yammering about outmigration from California to Oklahoma in recent years, that refugees from the Left Coast had taken over: there are no fewer than eleven State Questions this fall. As you will see, it could have been as many as thirteen. But no, this isn't a sudden upsurge in petitions from the populace; ten of those Questions are legislative initiatives. And, as always, they're a decidedly mixed bag, though only a couple are puke-on-your-boots horrible. We'll look at them all here.

SQ 744:

Ballot text:
The measure repeals a Section of the State Constitution. The repealed section required the Legislature annually to spend $42.00 for each common school student. Common schools offer pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade.

The measure also adds a new Article to the Constitution. It sets a minimum average amount the State must annually spend on common schools. It requires the State to spend annually, no less than the average amount spent on each student by the surrounding states. Those surrounding states are Missouri, Texas, Kansas, Arkansas, Colorado and New Mexico. When the average amount spent by surrounding states declines, Oklahoma must spend the amount it spent the year before.

The measure deals with money spent on day-to-day operations of the schools and school districts. This includes spending on instructions, support services and non-instruction services. The measure does not deal with money spent to pay debt, on buildings or on other capital needs.

The measure requires that increased spending begin in the first fiscal year after its passage. It requires that the surrounding state average be met in the third fiscal year after passage.

The measure does not raise taxes, nor does it provide new funding for the new spending requirements.

This proposal the only one this year that came from a public instead of a legislative petition deletes old language and requires that the state's spending on common education be equal to the regional average, "region" being defined as the six states with which Oklahoma shares a border. Since current state spending is below that average, spending would have to be increased. While SQ 744 does not include a tax increase, it also does not specify any funding source for the new spending. I brought this up way back on April Fools' Day. Said I: "I see no reason to think that unfunded mandates at the state level are any more praiseworthy than unfunded mandates from Washington, of which we have had an abundance." It was a lousy idea then, and it's a lousy idea now. I vote No.

SQ 746:

Ballot text:
This measure amends statues relating to voting requirements. It requires that each person appearing to vote present a document proving their identity. The document must meet the following requirements. It must have the name and photograph of the voter. It must have been issued by the federal, state or tribal government. It must have an expiration date that is after the date of the election. No expiration date would be required on certain identity cards issued to person 65 years of age or older.

In lieu of such a document, voters could present voter identification cards issued by the County Election Board.

A person who cannot or does not present the required identification may sign a sworn statement and cast a provisional ballot. Swearing to a false statement would be a felony.

These proof of identity requirements also apply to in-person absentee voting. If adopted by the people, the measure would become effective July 1, 2011.

This proposal requires that a voter show appropriate ID for example, a driver's license before being issued a ballot. At the moment, Oklahoma polling places merely require a signature in the book. In general, this is an anti-voter-fraud measure, though recently the state has had no major problems with voter fraud. This is not, however, a case of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," because there are a lot of places in this country where it is broken, and inasmuch as this isn't actually costing the individual voter anything the Election Board cards are free, and don't even have to be picked up in person the only argument against it is the supposed indignity of having to produce an ID in the first place. (A legal challenge has been filed against SQ 746, though it has been delayed until after the election.) Should have thought of that before you decided that everyone had to sign for a pack of Sudafed, Bunkie. I vote Yes.

SQ 747:

Ballot text:
This measure amends sections 4 and 23 of Articles 6 and section 15 of Article 9 of the State Constitution. It limits the ability of voters to re-elect statewide elected officers by limiting how many years those officers can serve. It limits the number of years a person may serve in each statewide elected office. Service as Governor is limited to eight years. Service as Lieutenant Governor is limited to eight years. Service as Attorney General is limited to eight years. Service as Treasurer is limited to eight years. Service as Commissioner of Labor is limited to eight years. Service as Auditor and Inspector is limited to eight years. Service as Superintendent of Public Instruction is limited to eight years. Service as Insurance Commissioner is limited to eight years. Service as a Corporation Commissioner is limited to twelve years.

Service for less than a full term would not count against the limit on service. Years of service need not be consecutive for the limits to apply.

Officers serving when this measure is passed can complete their terms. All such serving officers, except the Governor, can also serve an additional eight or twelve years.

Currently, the Governor, the House and the Senate are subject to term limits. This proposal would apply similar limits to other statewide offices, though the clock does not begin until 2010 for any offices to be affected: for instance, if Lloyd Fields, incumbent Commissioner of Labor, should be reelected this fall and this question should pass, he would not be subject to term limits until eight more years have passed. A similar item, designated as SQ 736, failed to gain traction two years ago. It is, of course, philosophically possible to disapprove of term limits on the not-unreasonable basis that it limits voter choice once in a while; and then I try to imagine what kind of person would be so wonderful as to merit extending his tenure indefinitely, and the likelihood of such a person being elected to a state office, and facepalm ensues. I vote Yes.

SQ 748:

Ballot text:
This measure amends Sections 11A and 11B of Article 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution. These provisions deal with how the Legislature is divided into districts. This process is known as apportionment. The Legislature must make an apportionment after each ten-year federal census. If the Legislature fails to act, an Apportionment Commission must do so. The measure changes the name of this Commission. It removes all three existing Commission members. It removes the Attorney General. It removes the Superintendent of Public Instruction. It also removes the State Treasurer.

The measure increases the number of members from three to seven. The President Pro Tempore of the Senate appoints one Democrat and one Republican. The Speaker of the House of Representatives appoints one Democrat and one Republican. The Governor appoints one Democrat and one Republican.

The measure provides that the Lieutenant Governor chairs the Commission and is a nonvoting member. It requires orders of apportionment to be signed by at least four members of the Commission.

After the Census results are finalized, the state must redraw the boundary lines on legislative and Congressional districts to make them roughly equal in population. It is presumed that the Legislature will do the job; this measure addresses the question of who will do the redistricting if the Legislature cannot come to an agreement on the new districts. Since the Legislature is likely to remain in Republican hands after the election, the likelihood of this happening is vanishingly small, and in fact the Apportionment Commission hasn't had to do much of anything since statehood. However, this is one of the few definitions of "bipartisan" that doesn't go out of its way to insult anyone's intelligence. I vote Yes.

SQ 750:

Ballot text:
This measure amends a section of the State Constitution. The section deals with initiative petitions. It also deals with referendum petitions. It deals with how many signatures are required on such petitions. It changes that requirement.

"Initiative" is the right to propose laws and constitutional amendments. "Referendum" is the right to reject a law passed by the Legislature.

The following voter signature requirements apply.
  • 8% must sign to propose law
  • 15% must sign to propose to change the State Constitution.
  • 5% must sign to order a referendum.
These percentages are based upon the State office receiving the most total votes at the last General Election. The measure changes this basis. The measure's basis uses every other General Election. General Elections are held every two years. The Governor is on the ballot every four years. The measure's basis only uses General Elections with the Governor on the ballot.

The President is on the ballot in intervening General Elections. The measure's basis does not use General Elections with the President on the ballot.

More votes are usually cast at Presidential General Elections. Thus, the measure would generally have a lowering effect on the number of required signatures.

It takes a lot of signatures to get an initiative petition approved for the ballot, and some times it takes more than others. In 2009, it would have taken many more signatures than it would have in 2007, because the percentage is based on the office receiving the most votes in the previous election, and in 2008 there was a Presidential election. (A 2007 petition would be based on the 2006 election, in which a Governor was elected, and in which fewer votes were cast.) This measure does not change the percentages, but requires that they be based on the last election of a Governor. It would be nice if they'd extend this to simplify ballot access for third parties and their candidates, which is ridiculously difficult for pretty much the same reasons, but this is a good start. I vote Yes.

SQ 751:

Ballot text:
This measure amends the State Constitution. It adds a new Article to the Constitution. That Article deals with the State's official actions. It dictates the language to be used in taking official State action. It requires that official State actions be in English. Native American languages could also be used. When Federal law requires, other languages could also be used.

These language requirements apply to the State's "official actions." The term "official actions" is not defined. The legislature could pass laws determining the application of the language requirements. The Legislature would also pass laws implementing and enforcing the language requirements.

No lawsuit based on State law could be brought on the basis of a State agency's failure to use a language other than English. Nor could such a lawsuit be brought against political subdivisions of the State.

This measure, while it stops short of declaring English the official language of Oklahoma, enables the Legislature to set the terms under which other languages may be used for State business, though English will be considered the default language at all times. Much of the legislature, I assume, remembers the Iranian couple who complained about not being able to get the Oklahoma driver's test in Farsi a few years back; at the time, the test was available in English and Spanish only, and the Spanish version has since been withdrawn. This measure, I suppose, could be considered anti-immigrant, if you're prepared to assert that immigrants don't assume any responsibilities once they're safely across the border. (A legal challenge has been filed against SQ 751, though it has been delayed until after the election.) I vote Yes, though somewhat reluctantly: the wording seems too broad to suit me, and I expect a flood of Federal lawsuits should it pass.

SQ 752:

Ballot text:
This measure amends a section of the Oklahoma Constitution. It amends Section 3 of Article 7-B. The measure deals with the Judicial Nomination Commission. This Commission selects nominees to be appointed judges or justices, when a vacancy occurs. The Commission selects three, sometimes four, qualified nominees. The Governor must appoint one of the nominees.

The amendment adds two at-large members to the Commission. At-large members can come from any Oklahoma congressional district. The Senate President Pro Tempore appoints one of the new at-large members. The Speaker of the House of Representatives appoints the other. At-large members can not be lawyers. Nor can they have a lawyer in their immediate family. Nor can more than two at-large members be from the same political party.

Six non-at-large members are appointed by the Governor. They cannot be Oklahoma lawyers. The measure adds a new qualification for non-lawyer members. They can not have a lawyer from any state in their immediate family. Each congressional district must have at least one non-lawyer member.

Six lawyer members are elected by members of the Oklahoma Bar Association. Each congressional district must have [at] least one lawyer member.

This measure was intended, it appears, to reduce (slightly) the influence of the legal profession on the appointment of judges. Currently the Judicial Nomination Commission contains 13 members (the 13th is a lawyer chosen by vote of the other 12); this proposal would add two more non-lawyers to the Commission, resulting in the non-lawyers outnumbering the lawyers, 8 to 7. I'm not sure how much effect this will actually have. I vote Yes, albeit with fingers crossed.

SQ 754:

Ballot text:
This measure adds a new section to the Oklahoma Constitution. It adds Section 55A to Article 5. The Legislature designates amounts of money to be used for certain functions. These designations are called appropriations. The measure deals with the appropriation process.

The measure limits how the Constitution could control that process. Under the measure the Constitution could not require the Legislature to fund state functions based on:
  1. Predetermined constitutional formulas,
  2. How much other states spend on a function
  3. How much any entity spends on a function.
Under the measure these limits on the Constitution's power to control appropriations would apply even if:
  1. A later constitutional amendment changed the Constitution, or
  2. A constitutional amendment to the contrary was passed at the same time as this measure.
Thus, under the measure, once adopted, the measure could not be effectively amended. Nor could it be repealed.

This measure was created as a response to SQ 744, which mandates that state spending on education be based on an average of six neighboring states; while it wouldn't stop 744 if passed, it would prevent any further such measures from being introduced. If I read this correctly, this measure might also invalidate the Constitutional Reserve Fund, which is based on a formula. What's more, there's this "Don't you even think about repealing this" clause, which I consider unacceptable for anything purporting to identify itself as serious legislation. There's an old saying about locking the barn door after the horse has bolted; this is the equivalent of burning down the barn. I vote No.

SQ 755:

Ballot text:
This measure amends the State Constitution. It changes a section that deals with the courts of this state. It would amend Article 7, Section 1. It makes courts rely on federal and state law when deciding cases. It forbids courts from considering or using international law. It forbids courts from considering or using Sharia Law.

International law is also known as the law of nations. It deals with the conduct of international organizations and independent nations, such as countries, states and tribes. It deals with their relationship with each other. It also deals with some of their relationships with persons.

The law of nations is formed by the general assent of civilized nations. Sources of international law also include international agreements, as well as treaties.

Sharia Law is Islamic law. It is based on two principal sources, the Koran and the teaching of Mohammed.

This measure fixes the standard for legal precedent in the State, and specifically outlaws the consideration of arguments based on international law or on Sharia, not that there has been a lot of that going on in the State courts. Nor do I expect an upsurge, really; in places like Britain, sharia courts do exist, but their jurisdiction seems to be somewhat limited. On the other hand, if Islam, which is reported to be a religion, can have its own set of rules, why can't the Catholics or the Mormons or the Rastafarians? And what is there in international law that anyone could possibly want to emulate in Oklahoma? I vote Yes.

SQ 756:

Ballot text:
This measure adds a new section of law to the State Constitution. It adds Section 37 to Article 2. It defines "health care system." It prohibits making a person participate in a health care system. It prohibits making an employer participate in a health care system. It prohibits making a health care provider provide treatment in a health care system. It allows persons and employees to pay for treatment directly. It allows a health care provider to accept payment for treatment directly. It allows the purchase of health care insurance in private health care systems. It allows the sale of health insurance in private health care systems.

The measure's effect is limited. It would not affect any law or rule in effect as of January 1, 2010.

Nor could the measure affect or negate all federal laws or rules. The United States Constitution has a Supremacy Clause. That clause makes federal law the supreme law of the land. Under that clause Congress has the power to preempt state law. When Congress intends to preempt state law, federal law controls. When Congress intends it, constitutionally enacted federal law would preempt some or all of the proposed measure.

This measure is aimed at the provision of the 2010 Affordable Care Act which mandates that individuals buy health insurance or face a penalty. It is unclear whether its passage would have any actual effect, since, as noted in the ballot text itself, Federal law supersedes state law; just the same, other states are considering similar measures. That ballot text, however, was inserted by Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who has not been exactly keen to fight the ACA. It may be true that this measure has symbolic value at best; however, I am not one to underestimate the power of symbolism. I vote Yes.

SQ 757:

Ballot text:
This measure amends the State Constitution. It amends Section 23 of Article 10. It increases the amount of surplus revenue which goes into a special fund. That fund is the Constitutional Reserve Fund. The amount would go from 10% to 15% of the funds certified as going to the General Revenue fund for the preceding fiscal year.

The Constitutional Reserve Fund is more commonly known as the "rainy-day fund," and this proposal would increase the amount the State stashes away each year. Since there hasn't been any surplus revenue lately, the fund is running low on cash at the moment: two fiscal years ago there was $600 million available, but covering recent budget shortfalls has dropped the fund down to $100 million. Assuming revenues improve, this measure would step up the replenishment of the fund. Note that this does not mean that 10 percent of surplus must be deposited: it means that all surplus must be deposited until the fund reaches 10 percent of the previous year's collections. The only question I have is why they didn't make it 20 or 30. I vote Yes.

You'll note that there are some missing numbers in that range. Here's some of what they said:

SQ 745: See SQ 749.

SQ 749: "The measure, herein, calls for legislative action and/or languages which will provide a clear definition of the 'Best Interests of the Child,' where there is not, currently, a clear set of criteria which establish or amend Oklahoma Statues in such a language as will subject of any individual, State agency, affiliate organization, legal, medical and mental health professional to criminal and/or civil penalties when unnecessary separation of child and family, wrongful termination of parental rights, fraudulent activities or other defined actions/infractions are proven." [Originally SQ 745, initiative petition, withdrawn by proponents, redrafted and resubmitted as SQ 749, subsequently dismissed for lack of sufficient signatures.]

SQ 753: "The Governor appoints all Worker's Compensation Court judges. Current law limits this appointment power. The Governor can only appoint a nominee submitted by the Judicial Nominating Commission. That Commission submits three names to the Governor. It also submits the name of the incumbent judge, if that judge chooses to seek reappointment. This measure further limits the Governor's power to appoint these judges. It requires the Senate to approve the appointment of Worker's Compensation Court judges." [Legislative initiative, withdrawn by the Legislature by a Senate Joint Resolution with House approval.]

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

The Vent

  18 September

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 Copyright © 2010 by Charles G. Hill