State Questions Seek Ballot
In Oklahoma, the number of valid signatures required on petitions to place measures on the ballot is based on the votes cast in the last General Election. A total of 1,186,385 votes were cast for the office of Governor in the 2018 General Election. 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 within 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, the governor may place measures on the next General Election ballot, or place the measure on the Primary Election ballot, or call a Special Election.
State Question 804/810
Independent Redistricting Commission
Initiative Petition 420 for State Question 804 was filed with the Secretary of State on October 28, 2019. It would have added a new Article V-A to the Oklahoma Constitution creating the Citizens’ Independent Redistricting Commission responsible for congressional and state legislative redistricting. Currently, the districts are drawn by the Oklahoma 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. This would be a constitutional change which requires 177,958 valid signatures.
The initiative 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 an independent group.
Protests concerning the constitutionality and the gist of the petition were filed with the Oklahoma Supreme Court on November 15, and the court agreed with the protests and found the petition to be invalid as written. The supporters later refiled the measure with minor modifications as Initiative Petition 426 for State Question 810. The new petition was on hold with Secretary of State while appeals and protests are resolved. The petition was withdrawn by proponents on July 14, 2020. “Between the unnecessary lawsuits by politicians and delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are unable to make the ballot this year, and have thus withdrawn SQ810,” said People Not Politicians Executive Director Andy Moore.
State Question 805
Felony Sentence Modification
Initiative Petition 421 was filed in November 12, 2019, by Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform. This would be a constitutional change which requires 177,958 valid signatures. 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. The proposal would prohibit the consideration 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 SQ805 argue non-violent offenders should not get a harsher sentence because of their past convictions.
Gov. 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.”
No protests were filed and the Secretary of State set the 90-day period to collect signatures to begin December 26, 2019. Signed petitions were required to be filed with the Secretary of State’s office no later than March 26, 2020. However, after Gov. Kevin Stitt declared the State of Emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 15, Oklahoma Secretary of State Michael Rogers paused signature-gathering efforts until the declaration was lifted. Once campaign leadership realized in late March that the pandemic could stretch on while the deadline to get the state question on a 2020 ballot approached, they tried to turn in the already-collected signatures. But, the Secretary of State refused to accept them due to the State of Emergency. On May 26 the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in favor of an appeal from the State Question 805 campaign, and required the Secretary of State’s office to accept the group’s initiative petition signatures despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Sponsors submitted around 260,00 signatures to the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s office on June 1. On July 6, 2020, the Secretary of State counted 248,521 signatures and filed them with the Oklahoma Supreme Court for a determination of sufficiency or insufficiency.
State Question 809
Permitting Requirements for Firearms
Initiative Petition 425 for State Question 809, the Reinstate Permitting Requirements for Firearms Initiative, would reinstate most of the firearm permitting and transport requirements that were in place before the passage of House Bill 2597 in 2019, referred to as the constitutional carry or permitless carry bill. On November 1, 2019, Oklahoma became the 16th state to allow constitutional carry. Oklahoma joined 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.
State Rep. Jason Lowe (D Oklahoma City) and members of the group Moms Demand Action attempted a veto referendum last year, but fell short of the number of signatures needed to put the question on the ballot. Lowe said he’s confident this year because supporters would have more time to gather signatures
Because it was seeking a statutory change, only 94,911 valid signatures would required to get it on the ballot. A protest as to the constitutionality of the proposal was filed with Oklahoma Supreme Court on February 21 by the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association. On June 23, a majority of the court said the petition’s gist, or brief description, was legally insufficient to describe the measure and parts were misleading. Proponents could resubmit.
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 that allow some form of legal marijuana use. There were 892,758 votes cast, 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. It 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 has 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, a host of Initiative Petitions have been 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.
So, the authors of State Question 806 withdrew the proposal, 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 replacement 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. This would be a constitutional change which requires 177,958 valid signatures.
A protest was filed with the Oklahoma Supreme Court on January 17 concerning the constitutionality of the measure. 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. The court dismissed the legal challenge to State Question 807, which will allow the campaign to go ahead and collect signatures once the dates are approved by the Secretary of State.
Tay’s Initiative Petition 424, for State Question 808, would also add a new Article 31 to the Oklahoma Constitution. The proposal 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. This would be a constitutional change which requires 177,958 valid signatures. 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.”
No protests were filed with Oklahoma Supreme Court. Signature circulation must be completed for filing no later than August 3.
Other initiatives concerning the use or regulation of marijuana have also been filed. Initiative Petition 427 for State Question 811 was filed, but was withdrawn on March 13. Meanwhile Initiative Petition 428 for State Question 812 was filed with the Secretary of State on March 4, 2020. The proposal would decriminalize certain offenses related to marijuana and require the immediate release from jail of any offenders of such offenses. The measure also seeks to decriminalize marijuana and, if passed, would require the Oklahoma Department of Corrections to release all offenders serving time on a host of cannabis-related offenses. Signature circulation must be completed for filing not later than October 5.
Initiative Petition 429 for State Question 813, would legalize and regulate marijuana for persons 18 years old and older and impose a 25% excise tax on marijuana sales. A protest as to the constitutionality of the proposal was filed with Oklahoma Supreme Court on March 23. The proposal is on hold until all appeals and protests are resolved with the Court.
State Question 814
Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Fund
In addition to the initiative petition process, state questions can also be initiated by the Legislature. To put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment before voters, a simple majority is required in both the Oklahoma State Senate and the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
The Oklahoma State Legislature passed Senate Joint Resolution 27 in the 2020 legislative session. The proposed constitutional amendment would decrease appropriations made to the state’s Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) Fund from 75% to 25% of tobacco settlement revenue. Funds that are not being deposited into the TSET fund are deposited into a special fund, which would continue under the amendment. The measure would direct the legislature to appropriate money from the special fund to secure federal matching funds for the state’s Medicaid program.
The Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) Fund was created with the passage of State Question 692 in 2000. The measure was referred to the ballot by the state legislature and was approved by voters in a vote of 69% in favor to 31% opposed. The TSET was funded through a percentage of revenue from tobacco companies under the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA). The agreement between 46 states, four U.S. territories, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, and cigarette manufacturers. Annual payments to the included states under the MSA began in 2000. The money in the TSET fund was earmarked for tobacco use prevention, smoking cessation programs, education, health care, and other purposes as determined by the TSET board of directors.
Currently, the average annual payment received by Oklahoma under the agreement is around $75 million. Under State Question 814, the amount deposited into the TSET fund would be about $18.75 million, and the remainder (about $56.25 million) would be allocated to gain federal matching funds for Medicaid.
The final ballot title was certified and submitted to the Oklahoma State Election Board and the Governor’s office on July 14, for probable placement on the November ballot.
At this time, it appears that State Question 814 and State Question 805 will be on the November ballot. Other propositions may have too many obstacles in their path to make it to the ballot this year.