Several Legislators Want to Make Citizen Initiatives More Difficult

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.

Proposed Constitutional Amendments Attempt To Redefine The Legislature

State Seal of Oklahoma A number of constitutional amendments have been proposed this year that would shake up the Legislative Branch of the Oklahoma government. These proposals, if passed, would go to the people at the November election to be voted up or down. If they pass a vote of the people, they have the power to change what the Legislature is and how it functions.

The first set of these proposals deal with how often and for what purpose the Legislature meets. Three proposals from the Senate, SJR5, SJR37 and SJR39, would require the Legislature to only meet during odd years. This proposal if passed, would force the Legislature to consider all bills in a single session with no increase in session duration. This could potentially make the single session more confusing and rushed with a shorter amount of time to consider and debate bills. Of the two proposals, only SJR39 is the odd one out as it does not reduce Legislative pay.

An alternative proposal from the House, HJR1003, HJR1077 and SJR45, would change the type of bills considered by the Legislature. Under this proposal, the Legislature will only be allowed to consider appropriation bills during odd number years and all other legislation in even years. The appropriations and budget reached during the odd years would be for financing the duties of the government for a length of two years. This particular proposal has been successfully implemented in other states. It would allow the Legislature to focus more carefully on where the money comes from and where it goes.

The next proposal, SJR43, would reduce the Legislature to a single house rather than the two we currently have. It would remove the House of Representatives and leave only the Senate. It would not change the number of Senators. This one might be a tough sell to the people and other members of the Legislature, particularly the House. It would effectively remove a key check from the checks and balances provided by our current government. By having two houses with two different makeups and groups of voters, the strength of a single political party is reduced in the State. under this proposal, it would be far easier for a majority party to influence the direction of the state. This would make it far harder for minority opinions and issues to get heard.

The next proposal, HJR1015, is one that has been introduced nearly every year recently. It would change how the Legislature is paid. Currently there is a board that determines the pay of the Legislature. It meets regularly and sets the pay schedule. However, if this proposal is passed, it would get rid of the board and replace the pay schedule with a formula. It pay members of the legislature a salary that is equal to the average income of Oklahoma households. This could offer an incentive to pass smart legislation that increases the income earning potential of Oklahoma citizens.

The final proposal, HJR1012, would remove the Legislature entirely from the redistricting process. Currently, the House draws the House districts and the Senate draws the Senate districts. I don’t think it is hard to see why this might be a problem. This process allows for the majority party to muscle minor party Legislators out of their seats and protect the seats of friendly incumbents. Under the proposal, this power would be stripped from the Legislature and be replaced by a committee with a non-partisan makeup. The members will be chosen as follows: The House Speaker and the Senate Pro Tempore will pick two members each. The the minority leaders of each house will also pick two members each. The commission will then pick a ninth member by majority vote. This would make current redistricting process far more fair and less biased.

This are just a few of the many proposed Constitutional amendments. We will report of a few more and watch these very carefully.