Over the last 10 years, Oklahoma citizens have used the state’s initiative process to bypass an unwilling legislature on certain issues. Some of these issues include medical marijuana, increasing school spending, criminal justice reform, and more. Not all of these measures pass a vote of the people, and many more fail to get the required signatures to make it to the ballot. But the fact remains that this right of Oklahoma citizens is enshrined into the state constitution.
This year, several state lawmakers have taken aim at making such citizen lead initiatives, and are seeking to have constitutional amendments passed that will make it nearly impossible for such initiatives to succeed in the future. These bills attack on two fronts.
The first is making it more difficult to even get initiatives on the ballot. There have been no less than 4 amendments to the state constitution changing how signatures must be gathered. In the Senate, SJR7 (Senator Roland Pederson), SJR8 (Senator Mark Allen), and SJR10 (Senator Kim David) have been introduced to change the number of signatures needed to per Congressional District, rather than statewide. This means that if people want a question on the ballot to amend the state constitution, they would need to gather 15% of votes cast in each of Oklahoma’s 5 Congressional districts. While it would be fairly simple to get 15% in Districts 1, 4, and 5 (Tulsa, Moore/Norman, and Oklahoma City, respectively) The other 2 districts cover more than half of the entire state of Oklahoma with few major population centers. This means that Congressional District 3, which covers most of Western Oklahoma, would have veto power on all petitions.
On the House side of this attack, HJR1002 (Representative David Hardin) is even worse. That proposed amendment would require signatures of 15% of voters in every single one of Oklahoma’s 77 counties. Under this amendment, any citizen initiative would fail as the man power to even reach out to some of the sparsely populated western counties would be overly burdensome.
The other attack front on these initiatives is making those that do reach the ballot have a higher hurdle to succeed. SJR4 (Senator John Haste) and SJR5 (Senator Zack Taylor) both propose amending the state constitution to change the percentage of the vote needed for an initiative to pass from a majority of votes to 60% of the vote. If this were in effect, few state questions in the last 10 years would have succeeded.
UPDATE: Another bill has been added to increase the vote needed for an initiative to pass. This bill, HJR1004 (Representative Scott Fetgatter) would increase the percentage of the vote needed from a majority to 2/3rds of the vote.
UPDATE 2: Representative Newton has introduced two measures, HJR1007 and HJR1008, that increase the vote required to pass a Constitutional Amendment to 55% of the vote. These measures do not change the vote for other initiatives.
These proposals are nothing more than certain legislators upset that they have been bypassed by the people. They are upset that citizens are proposing and passing laws and constitutional amendments that they personally disagree with. This is not about making the initiative process more fair, or even giving people a voice in them. It is about silencing people who disagree with the agenda of the State Legislature.
On the plus side, all these proposals would have to go to a vote of the people if they make it out of the Legislature. These legislators would have a hard time convincing a majority of Oklahomans to vote away their own rights.