Status of Petitions Filed to Place State Questions on Ballot
In Oklahoma, the number of valid signatures needed to get measures on the ballot is based on the votes cast for governor in the previous gubernatorial election. The total votes cast for the office of Governor at the General Election in 2018 were 1,186,385. Signature requirements for the various types of petitions are derived by applying the percentages to the votes cast and are valid from November 14, 2018 through November 15, 2020. A Referendum to keep legislation from becoming law requires 59,320 valid signatures (5%). An Initiative for a non-constitutional change requires 94,911 (8%). To get an Initiative for a Constitutional Change requires 177,958 valid signatures (15%). Signatures must be submitted 90 days after the initiative is cleared for circulation by the Secretary of State. However, the deadline to submit signatures, regardless of when an initiative was cleared to circulate, is September 4, 2020.
The Secretary of State verifies signatures and submits the totals to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which makes the final determination of sufficiency. Following signature verification, measures are often placed on the next General Election ballot, but the governor may call a Special Election or place the measure on the Primary Election ballot.
Here are the various proposed State Questions and their status:
State Question No. 802
Oklahoma’s Medicaid Program
Oklahomans Decide Healthcare an initiative petition to expand Medicaid in Oklahoma. Medicaid provides free healthcare at taxpayer expense to lower income families. Medicaid expansion was a major component of Obamacare. Initiative Petition 419 proposes a constitutional change which requires 177,958 valid signatures. It would add Article 25-A to the Oklahoma Constitution.
When the Affordable Care Act (ObomaCare) was passed, Oklahoma was one of 14 states that chose not to expand Medicaid. The proposal would expand Medicaid eligibility to the entire ObamaCare expansion population of able-bodied adults, would access Obamacare expansion funding, and would be subject to all ObamaCare regulations. The petition was filed on April 19, 2019, but was delayed after a challenge by opponents. But, on June 18, the Oklahoma Supreme Court rejected the challenge, clearing the way for the collection of signatures. Supporters of the initiative petition had until October 28 to collect signatures to place State Question 802 on the 2020 election ballot. On October 24, more than 313,000 signatures were submitted by the Yes on 802 campaign, taking them one step closer to a vote on the Medicaid initiative in 2020. The date for the election awaits the proclamation from the governor.
If approved by voters, the proposal would make the Medicaid expansion a part of the Oklahoma Constitution, which could only be changed by another State Question. The ballot language of the measure says:
“Medicaid is a government-sponsored health insurance program for qualifying low-income persons. This measure would add a provision to the Oklahoma Constitution requiring the State to expand Medicaid coverage. The expanded coverage would include certain persons over 18 and under 65 who are not already covered and whose annual income, as calculated under federal law, is at or below 133% of the federal poverty line. The federal poverty line changes annually, but for example if this measure were in effect in 2019, the measure generally would have covered a single adult making less than $17,236 annually and adults in a family of four making less than $35,535 annually. Under this measure, the State cannot create additional restrictions that make it more difficult to qualify for expanded Medicaid coverage than it is to qualify for the Medicaid program currently in place. The Medicaid program is funded jointly by the federal government and the State. This measure would require the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) to try to maximize federal funding for Medicaid expansion in Oklahoma. If the measure is approved, OHCA has 90 days to submit all documents necessary to obtain federal approval for implementing Medicaid expansion by July 1, 2021.”
The Obamacare Medicaid proposal would be a massive expansion of welfare that could add an estimated 628,000 able-bodied adults to Oklahoma’s welfare rolls. While much of the initial cost of the expansion would be paid from federal funds, it would put Oklahoma on the hook for a state share that could run into hundreds of millions of dollars each year. The federal government would pay 90% of the costs of the expansion in Oklahoma with an estimated $900 million per year, but Oklahoma would have to cover the remaining 10% and would eventually be required to cover a larger share of the program. Oklahoma is one of 14 states that have not signed up for the Obamacare Medicaid expansion.
Gov. Kevin Stitt and Republican legislative leaders oppose the straight Medicaid expansion, as called for in the initiative petition, and pledged to develop an alternative healthcare plan which includes conditions such as work requirements or requiring Medicaid participants to pay a portion of their premiums. A Healthcare Working Group was been formed by legislative leaders to develop legislation. But, even if legislation is approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Stitt in the next legislative session, there is no guarantee that the State Question would be withheld from the ballot. But, successful legislation could work against passage of the State Question.
State Question No. 803
Referendum on Constitutional Carry
An attempt by an Oklahoma Democrat legislator, allied with anti-gun groups, to delay the constitutional carry of firearms from going into effect in Okahoma on November 1, 2019, came up short. According to Oklahoma law, a veto referendum to repeal an approved bill can be filed within 90 days of the adjournment of the Legislature. The Legislature adjourned on May 24, 2019. On August 12, State Representative Jason Lowe (D-Oklahoma City) filed a referendum to call for a statewide vote on House Bill 2597. Referendum Petition 26, was filed with the Secretary of State to place State Question 803 on the ballot. Lowe needed to collect and submit a minimum of 59,320 valid signatures on petitions by August 29.
The legislation by Rep. Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City) and Sen. Kim David (R-Porter), passed the Oklahoma House 70-30 on February 13, and the Senate 40-6 on February 27. Gov. Stitt signed the bill within hours of its final passage. It was the first bill signed by the new governor. “Oklahomans are strong supporters of the Second Amendment, and they made their voice known as I traveled across all 77 counties last year,” said Stitt. The bill essentially restores what the state of law was in 1789, when the U.S. Constitution was ratified, and the modern United States came into existence.
The legislation allows the concealed or unconcealed carry of firearms by any person who is at least twenty-one years of age, or at least eighteen years of age and in the military, if the person is not otherwise disqualified from purchasing a firearm. Under the bill, you cannot carry a concealed or unconcealed handgun in public and private schools K-college, public or private sports arenas, gambling facilities, government buildings, or into private businesses, unless allowed by the owner. The bill maintains current law in that you must pass a background check to purchase a gun, that you must disclose guns in your possession when requested by a law enforcement officer, and that those convicted of a felony cannot own or buy a gun. Gun owners can still obtain a license in Oklahoma, with reciprocity recognized in multiple states across the nation.
Rep. Lowe worked with the Oklahoma Chapter of the anti-gun group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and Young Democrats of America in the signature gathering effort. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is a gun control advocacy group created under a larger umbrella group formed with $50 million from billionaire Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, who is currently running for the Democrat nomination for President. Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt also publically promoted the petition. Holt is a former Republican member of the Oklahoma Senate. Holt had a 54% cumulative average on the Oklahoma Conservative Index.
Lowe and his allies delivered petitions on August 29 claiming to have close to the number of signatures required. However, during a challenge in the Oklahoma Supreme Court, the state high court asked how many people signed the petition An attorney for the petition sponsors responded that they gathered between 30,000 and 50,000 signatures, which was far less than the over 59,000 signatures needed to qualify the question for the ballot. It has been reported that the specific signature count was about 37,000, but the number of valid signatures from registered voters was probably much less. Since the raw number of signatures submitted did not meet the required threshold, a Supreme Court order was filed October 7, 2019 that an insufficient amount of signatures were filed and the Secretary of State did not proceed with the signature validation process.
On November 1, Oklahoma became the 16th state to allow constitutional carry. Oklahoma joins Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wyoming, and Vermont that allow the Second Amendment as an individual’s carry permit. The citizens of the 15 states where constitutional carry is allowed can carry without a permit in Oklahoma.
The legislation was one of the ten bills included on the 2019 Oklahoma Conservative Index rating state legislators. Representative Lowe scored 3 percent conservative in this year’s ratings, and has a 20% cumulative average for the whole time he has been in the Legislature.
State Question No. 804
Independent Redistricting Commission
Initiative Petition 420 was filed with the Secretary of State on October 28, 2019. It would add a new Article V-A to the Oklahoma Constitution creating the Citizens’ Independent Redistricting Commission. The initiative would create an independent redistricting commission responsible for congressional and state legislative redistricting. Currently, congressional and state legislative districts are drawn by the state legislature. In 37 of the 50 states, state legislatures are primarily responsible for state legislative redistricting. Independent commissions drew state legislative district lines in six states. In seven states, politician commissions were responsible for state legislative redistricting. The ballot title for this measure is as follows:
“This measure adds a new Article V-A to the Oklahoma Constitution. This new Article creates the Citizens’ Independent Redistricting Commission and vests the power to redistrict the State’s House of Representative and Senatorial districts, as well as its Federal Congressional Districts, in the Commission (rather than the Legislators). The Article sets forth qualifications and a process for the selection of Commissioners, a Special Master and a Secretary. It also sets forth a process for the creation and approval of redistricting plans after each Federal Decennial Census. In creating the redistricting plans, the Commission must comply with certain criteria, including federal law, population equality, and contiguity, and must seek to maximize compliance with other criteria, including respect for communities of interest, racial and ethnic fairness, respect for political subdivision boundaries, political fairness, and compactness. The Article creates a fallback mechanism in the event that the Commission cannot reach consensus on a plan within a set timeframe. It also sets forth procedures for funding and judicial review, repeals existing constitutional provisions involving legislative districts, codifies the number Of state House of Representative and Senatorial districts, and reserves powers to the Commission rather than the Legislature.”
State Question 804 is part of a national effort led by former President Barack Obama and his Attorney General Eric Holder to redraw legislative and Congressional maps to elect more Democrats. That effort is spearheaded by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), chaired by Holder. The NDRC’s website says it is motivated to redraw maps to help Democrats combat Republican policies that include “assaults on women’s health, suppressing the vote for people of color, failing to address climate change, and refusing to stand up to the epidemic of gun violence.” (https://democraticredistricting.com/about/) The NDRC is seeking to replace legislative and congressional maps drawn by elected officials with maps drawn by judges. The language of SQ 804 in specifically cites social justice-driven concerns regarding “respect for communities of interest.”
David McLain, chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party, says, “SQ 804 would remove control over the redistricting process from our elected officials and place it in the hands of unelected activist judges who would then assemble their own ‘independent’ election commission. These new commissioners, unlike the bipartisan legislative committees that today control redistricting, would be held accountable to no one.” McLain also noted, “The maps created by many of these independent commissions look as bad or worse than the corkscrew- or hockey stick-shaped maps that many legislative bodies produce. The difference, of course, being that activist judges are contorting districts into positions that accompany the ‘correct’ numbers of urban, liberal, LGBTQ+, or whatever other left-leaning affiliation that might benefit Democrats.”
Protests concerning the constitutionality and gist of the petition was filed with the Oklahoma Supreme Court on November 15 (SC case no. 118405 & 118406). The measure is on stand by with the Secretary of State office until all appeals and protests have been resolved with the Court.
State Question No. 805
Felony Sentence Modification
Initiative Petition 421 was filed in November 12, 2019, by Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform. The measure would add a new Article II-A to the Oklahoma Constitution. Organizers say State Question 805 is a criminal justice reform measure that would end the use of sentence enhancements for nonviolent offenses, and it would allow inmates who have already received an extreme sentence to petition the court for relief. Sentence enhancements often add additional prison time for repeat offenders. It would prohibit the use of a previous felony conviction to increase the statutorily allowable base range of punishment for a person who is again convicted of a felony. Advocates for 805 argue non-violent offenders should not get a harsher sentence because of their past convictions. The ballot title for this measure is as follows:
“This measure seeks to add a new Article II-A to the Oklahoma Constitution. This new Article A excepts and does not apply to persons who have ever been convicted of a violent felony. It would prohibit the use of a former felony conviction to increase the statutorily allowable base range of punishment for a person subsequently convicted of a felony. Individuals who are currently incarcerated for felony sentences that were enhanced based on one or more former felony convictions, and whose sentences are greater than the maximum sentence that may currently be imposed for such felonies, may seek sentence modification in court. The new Article sets forth a detailed process for such sentence modification, including but not limited to requirements for a hearing, appointment of counsel for indigent petitioners, and notification of victims, and requires that the court impose a modified sentence no greater than the current maximum sentence which may be imposed on a person convicted of the same felony with no former felony convictions, and which results in no greater time served in prison than under the original sentence. It establishes an appeal procedure, provides an effective date, and contains a severability clause.”
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt expressed opposition to adding this provision to the state constitution: “Trying to put this into our state’s constitution, it peels back enhancements for DUIs, human trafficking, domestic violence – some of the things I don’t think we need to put into our constitution.”
The group needs to collect the 177,958 valid signatures to place the measure on the ballot. No protests were filed and the Secretary of State set the 90-day period to collect signatures to begin December 26, 2019. Signed petitions must be filed with the Secretary of State’s office no later than March 26, 2020.
State Questions for Recreational Marijuana
With the approval of State Question 788 in the Primary Election on June 26, 2018, Oklahoma became the 30th state to allow marijuana to be legally used for medical purposes. There are now 33 states. There were 892,758 votes cast on State Question 788, with 57 percent voting in support of the proposal. Most of the other states limit use to a specific list of qualifying medical conditions for which a doctor can prescribe medical marijuana. In contrast, this measure leaves it to the doctor’s discretion. The measure also allows a higher amount of marijuana to be possessed by an individual than most other states. It is easier to get a marijuana license in Oklahoma than any other state.
In its first year, Oklahoma’s medical marijuana industry went from nonexistent to one of the largest and most valuable cannabis markets in the nation. According to the latest figures from the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, there are 2,242 licensed dispensaries. That equates to 56 dispensaries per 100,000 residents in the state. With the 238,786 patient medical marijuana cards issued, one in 13 adults in Oklahoma hold one. Dispensaries recorded medical marijuana sales of $345 million in 2019, which was the first full year that Oklahoma’s program have been in effect.
As has been the case in other states, legalizing medical marijuana was the first step toward legalizing recreational marijuana. Eleven states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes, and all first legalized it for medical purposes. Because of the easy access to obtain medical marijuana in Oklahoma, it was thought that a move toward recreational marijuana use would be a few years down the road. But, three Initiative Petitions were recently filed with the Secretary of State.
Initiative Petition 422 to place State Question 806 on the ballot was filed in December 12, 2019, but was withdrawn on December 23. The initiative would have legalized and regulated marijuana for persons 21 years old and older and imposed a 15% excise tax on marijuana sales.
Proponents of the measure gave little advanced notice that the measure was going to be filed, in the hope that opponents would not have time to organize to challenge the petition. However, the stealth move also caught the Oklahoma medical marijuana industry by surprise. Owners of the medical marijuana dispensaries expressed concern about the impact of the higher tax, and the new recreational dispensaries that might enter the market. Patients also express concern about the increased tax.
The authors of State Question 806 quickly made a few changes and filed Initiative Petition 423 for State Question 807 on December 27. There are two primary changes found in the details of the proposal. First, only existing medical marijuana businesses in Oklahoma would be eligible to receive licenses during the first two years after recreational marijuana business licenses are available. Also, the proposed 15 percent excise tax would not apply to products purchased by medical marijuana patients.
The measure would add a new Article 31 to the Oklahoma Constitution. The ballot title for this measure is as follows:
“This measure adds a new article to the Constitution, which would generally legalize, regulate and tax marijuana for persons aged 21+ under state law (but not alter the rights of medical marijuana licensees). Specifically, it protects the personal use of marijuana for those 21+, while establishing quantity limits, safety standards, and other restrictions. It maintains prohibitions on impaired driving and distribution to, or use by, those under 21. It would not affect employers’ ability to restrict marijuana use by employees. Property owners generally may restrict marijuana on their property. The Oklahoma Marijuana Authority would license, regulate, and administer the article pursuant to specified requirements. It permits municipalities, upon popular vote, to limit or prohibit retail licenses. It imposes a 15% excise tax on sales (not applicable to medical marijuana) to fund the Authority, localities where sales occur, schools (for programs to prevent substance abuse and improve student retention and performance), and drug-addiction treatment programs, while ensuring such funds must add to, and not replace, existing funding. It provides a judicial process for people to seek modification, reversal, redesignation or expungement of certain prior marijuana-related judgments and sentences. Its provisions are severable and would take effect in 90 days.”
Michelle Tilley and Ryan Kiesel are the two official petitioners proposing the measure. Kiesel also serves as director of Oklahoma’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Kiesel said he was pushing the proposal “in my individual capacity” and not in association with the ACLU. Tilley said, “The new ballot initiative strengthens the language of the previously filed initiative to ensure that we are crystal clear that this program does not adversely affect the current Oklahoma medical marijuana industry or its patients.”
A protest was filed with the Oklahoma Supreme Court on January 17, (SC case no. 118582) concerning the constitutionality of the measure and it is on hold until all appeals and protest are resolved with the Court.
The protest was filed by Paul Tay of Tulsa, who filed a competing initiative, State Question 808, also on December 27. In his complaint, he is challenging the constitutionality of the measure, arguing that it violates the U.S. Controlled Substances Act.
Tay filed Initiative Petition 424 which would also add a new Article 31 to the Oklahoma Constitution. Tay’s proposal, State Question 808, calls for “universal basic access to cannabis.” The initiative would create a constitutional right to consume cannabis. The measure would also require those convicted of marijuana offenses to be exonerated and/or released from incarceration. The ballot title for this measure is as follows:
“This measure adds a new article to the Constitution, which would generally decriminalize cannabis, hemp, and all its related products for all persons. Specifically, it states the right of all persons to cultivate, consume, and consign for sale, barter, or charity of cannabis, and all its related products, while establishing the official State of Oklahoma policy on drug abuse as a public health issue, not in the purview of law enforcement or criminal justice system. ne measure would enjoin all appropriate State Officials to establish the infrastructure for universal basic cannabis access, without regard of the ability to pay. No persons shall be denied employment, equal protection of law, right of self-defense by any available means, or be subjected to any adverse, punitive administrative actions by any State agency, or official, due to cannabis consumption. No persons shall be incarcerated, due to cannabis use, transfer to any other person or corporate entity, or transport to its final destination. All persons currently or formerly incarcerated for cannabis offenses, without any other violence related offenses, shall be exonerated, released as free persons, and reparated for time served, to the fullest extent possible. No State official may assist federal enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act, or any other federal administrative rules prohibiting the same transactional access, as any other substances, such as alcohol, and tobacco. The measure establishes state-sponsored financial infrastructure to provide for easy, convenient transactions, quality control, and baseline standards for all cannabis, and related products. The measure provides for extensive public input when specific cases arise to require changes, to allow appropriate State officials to promulgate appropriate administrative rules and procedures to address future needs. The measure allows the State Legislature to impose a reasonable tax to the extent required to promulgate and implement all provisions of the measure, and for no other purposes.”
As of January 21, no protests had been filed with Oklahoma Supreme. Signature circulation dates have not yet been determined by the Secretary of State.