Voters decide Oklahoma’s State Questions
The Associated Press - November 8, 2016 9:49 pm
Oklahoma voters have approved a measure allocating money saved from a reduction in penalties for certain drug and property crimes toward substance abuse and mental health programs.
Question 781 creates the County Community Safety Investment Fund. It requires state financial officials to determine how much money is being saved through reduced penalties for some drug offenses and nonviolent crimes. In turn, the state would direct the estimated savings to the fund.
Fund managers would distribute proceeds to counties based on their population for use in what are being called “Community Rehabilitative Programs” that would offer mental health and substance abuse services.
Under Question 780, voters were asked to reduce the penalties for some crimes in an effort to curb Oklahoma’s prison population. Many inmates are in crumbling and overcrowded facilities.
Oklahoma voters have approved a ballot measure that will reduce the penalties for some drug possession and property crimes as the state struggles to deal with prison overcrowding.
The passage of Question 780 on Tuesday reduces certain drug possession crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and raises the threshold for a felony property crime from $500 to $1,000.
Voters were also deciding a companion measure, Question 781, that would allocate the estimated cost savings from the reduction in criminal penalties to substance abuse and mental health programs. If Question 780 hadn’t passed, Question 781 would be moot.
Many of the state’s more than 27,000 prisoners are held in crumbling and overcrowded facilities. Some legislators, criminal justice experts and business and religious leaders supported the measure. Prosecutors opposed it.
Oklahoma voters have rejected a penny sales tax increase that would have funded teacher pay raises.
University of Oklahoma President David Boren led the effort to raise the sales tax as a way to address teacher salaries that are among the nation’s lowest. The typical teacher in Oklahoma makes $45,317 a year.
Under Question 779, the tax would have raised about $550 million annually.
A report released last month said that, when adjusted for inflation, Oklahoma’s per-pupil spending had declined 27 percent since 2008. A think-tank that backs lower taxes says that, with the increase, Oklahoma’s state and local sales tax rates would have reached a national-high of 9.82 percent.
Some municipalities opposed the increase, fearing voters will reject future local bond issues if the tax increase passed.
Oklahoma voters have rejected a proposal that could have led to the return of a Ten Commandments monument to the state Capitol grounds.
The state Supreme Court cited Article 2 of the state constitution last year when it ruled against the placement of a Ten Commandments monument at the statehouse. Article 2 prohibits the use of public funds for religious purposes, and the justices said the monument was religious in nature, not historical.
The ruling enraged conservatives at the Capitol, who voted to put the matter before voters.
However, voters on Tuesday opted to keep the constitution’s language as is.
Oklahoma voters have rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have given special protections to the state’s farmers and ranchers.
Question 777, also known as the right to farm amendment, was voted down on Tuesday. Its supporters said it would protect farms and ranches from those who might want to impose restrictions. As an example, they cited efforts to hold egg-laying hens in cages of a certain size.
But former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson worked with a group that opposed the effort. He said that placing such an amendment in the constitution could prevent future efforts to regulate farm or ranch activity that could harm the environment.
He said that as new chemicals and new farming practices are developed, regulators might not be able to respond.
Voters have passed an amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution meant to safeguard the state’s ability to carry out executions.
In balloting Tuesday, voters approved Question 776, which empowers the Legislature to approve any method of execution not prohibited by the U.S. Constitution. It also prohibits death sentences from being reduced due to an execution method being banned and exempts the death penalty from being deemed a cruel or unusual punishment under Oklahoma law.
Two pro-death penalty legislators developed the ballot measure after a pair of botched executions in 2014 and 2015. One inmate struggled against his restraints as he died and the other was given a drug not listed in the state’s execution protocol.
Opponents said the amendment wasn’t necessary because the death penalty is already legal in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma voters have agreed to update some liquor laws that date to the Prohibition era.
Under Question 792, grocery stores will be able to sell wine and strong beer beginning in 2018. The constitutional amendment approved Tuesday also gives the state permission to sell drinks in state lodges.
Many grocery stores, wineries, breweries and chambers of commerce supported the measure. Liquor store operators warned that hundreds of package stores could close.
The proposal gives liquor stores permission to sell ice and mixers. Still, the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma said its members would be left “in the wilderness” while seeking a way to survive.
Some Oklahoma laws date to Prohibition. One limits beer sales in grocery stores to products with an alcohol content of 3.2 percent or less.