Seven state questions will be on the Oklahoma ballot on November 8.
State Question 776
SQ 776 would affirm the state’s right to perform executions through a constitutional amendment. It gives the Legislature the power to designate any method of execution and prohibits the death penalty from being ruled “cruel and unusual punishment” or unconstitutional according to the Oklahoma Constitution. Supporters say Oklahomans strongly support the death penalty, and the state should protect its ability to carry it out. Death penalty opponents will likely challenge the measure, costing the state additional resources and energy to defend it. In specifying that the death penalty is not cruel and unusual punishment, the question attempts to eliminate the role of the Courts in its checks and balances role.
State Question 777
Regulation of Agriculture
SQ 77 would give Oklahoma residents the right to engage in farming and ranching practices and employ agricultural technology. The amendment bans any new law regulating or prohibiting an agricultural practice unless it can be shown to have a “compelling state interest.” That means any new agricultural regulations would have to pass strict scrutiny, the legal standard used for laws that deprive people of fundamental rights like free speech, gun ownership, or religious freedom. The measure is modeled after initiatives previously approved by voters in North Dakota and Missouri.
Supporters call it the “Right to Farm Amendment” and say it will help farmers defend themselves from unwarranted laws and regulations — including ballot initiatives funded by deep-pocketed animal-rights groups. Opponents contend it creates an advantage for large, industrialized factory farms by preventing new state laws that protect small farmers and natural resources. They say undermines democracy by preventing Oklahoma’s elected leaders from establishing reasonable standards for food production, environmental protection, and animal welfare. It also would make it much harder to protect Oklahoma’s drinking water from pollution by animal waste disposal, they say. The measure would guarantee the right to make use of agricultural technology, livestock procedures and ranching practices.
State Question 779
Sales Tax for Education
This constitutional amendment for school funding would raise the state sales and use tax by one percentage point. Of the total revenue generated by the new tax, 60 percent would go to providing a salary increase of at least $5,000 for every public school teacher. The remaining funds would be divided between public schools (9.5 percent), higher education (19.25 percent), career and technology education (3.25 percent), and early childhood education (8 percent). The State Board of Equalization would be required to certify that revenues from the new tax are not being used to supplant existing funds. The measure proposes a new Article to the Oklahoma Constitution creating a limited-purpose fund to improve public education. If approved, it would take effect July 1.
State Questions 780, 781
Criminal Justice Reform
SQ 780 changes the classification of simple drug possession crimes from felony to misdemeanor. It also raises the dollar amount that determines whether property crimes are a felony or misdemeanor from $500 to $1,000. Anticipating fewer prison receptions for drug possession, SQ 781 directs the cost savings from SQ 780 to a fund that would be distributed to counties to provide mental health and substance abuse services. The state Office of Management and Enterprise Services is directed to determine the annual savings, which will be distributed to counties in proportion to their population. SQ 780 and SQ 781 are intended to reduce the prison population and provide funding that allows communities to address mental health and substance abuse issues.
State Question 790
Use of Public Resources for Religious Purposes
This constitutional amendment would repeal a part of the Oklahoma Constitution that reads, “No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.” Placed on the ballot by a majority vote in the Oklahoma Legislature, SQ 790 takes aim at an Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling about a Ten Commandments monument on the State Capitol grounds being an unconstitutional use of public property.
State Question 792
Alcohol Law Reform
A proposed amendment to the state constitution that would allow grocery and convenience stores to sell wine and high-point beer. Currently, these stores can only sell beer with alcohol content of less than 3.2 percent. It also would let liquor stores to sell refrigerated beer and alcohol “accessories” like soda, ice and corkscrews. Ownership of more than one beer and wine store also would be permitted. These changes, if approved, are to take effect Oct. 1, 2018.
(Information about the state questions was provided by the Oklahoma Policy Institute.)