State Questions on Ballot
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 require 177,958 valid signatures. Sufficient signatures were collected, submitted and verified. It appears on the ballot as State Question 805.
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. Domestic violence, second degree rape, assault and battery with a weapon, cruelty to animals, assault on a police officer, DUI, second degree manslaughter and many other charges are listed as non-violent crimes in Oklahoma.
Supporters of the measure argue that Oklahoma wastes too much money putting non-violent criminals in prison. “The more money we spend on non-violent low-level offenders, the less money we have to invest in education, mental health care, and treatment services, and issues that truly improve the quality of life in our state,” said Kris Steele, the Director of Oklahomans For Criminal Justice Reform.
Since SQ 805 is a constitutional change, it prevents the Legislature from addressing any negative consequences that SQ 805 may bring. 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.” Former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, speaking for Oklahomans United Against 805, said the state question is “terrible public policy,” and said the group hopes to “inform voters about the very real negative consequences to public safety.”
Here is how the state question will appear on the ballot:
STATE QUESTION NO. 805, INITIATIVE PETITION NO. 421
This measure seeks to add a new Article II-A to the Oklahoma Constitution. This new Article 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.
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 largely along party lines with nearly all Republican legislators voting in favor of placing it on the ballot and most of Democrat legislators opposed.
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 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.
Here is how the state question will appear on the ballot:
STATE QUESTION NO. 814, LEGISLATIVE REFERENDUM NO. 375
This measure seeks to amend Article 10, Section 40 of the Oklahoma Constitution (Section 40), which directs proceeds from the State's settlements with or judgments against tobacco companies. Currently, Section 40 directs 75% of proceeds to the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Fund (TSET Fund), where earnings may only be used for tobacco prevention programs, cancer research, and other such programs to maintain or improve the health of Oklahomans. Meanwhile, the remaining 25% of proceeds are directed to a separate fund for the Legislature (Legislative Fund). The Legislature can also direct some of that 25% to the Attorney General.
This measure amends Section 40 to reduce the percentage of proceeds that go into the TSET Fund from 75% to 25%. As a result, the remaining 75% will go to the Legislative Fund and the Legislature may continue to direct a portion to the Attorney General. The measure would also restrict the use of the Legislative Fund. Section 40 currently states only that the Legislative Fund is subject to legislative appropriation. If this measure passes, money from the Legislative Fund must be used to get federal matching funds for Oklahoma's Medicaid Program.