A number of Oklahoma lawmakers want to add hurdles for citizen-led teams to cross the kind of state questions that legalized medical marijuana, expanded Medicaid and gained voter help regardless of Republican leaders’ opposition lately.
Greater than a dozen payments up for consideration, all authored by GOP legislators, search to both tighten necessities for citizen-led voter initiatives to get on the poll or improve the edge for a number of the proposals to cross on election day.
These embrace proposals to:
- Require a majority of voters in two-thirds of Oklahoma counties to vote for some state inquiries to take impact statewide;
- Mandate background checks for petition circulators;
- And block out-of-state donations for initiative or referendum campaigns.
The payments haven’t been heard but. However Gov. Kevin Stitt and several other GOP lawmakers have voiced considerations that Oklahoma’s state query course of must be tightened.
This follows the passage of a number of high-profile state questions opposed by the governor and plenty of within the GOP-dominated Legislature.
Since 2016, voters via citizen-led initiatives have expanded Medicaid to greater than 200,000 low-income Oklahomans, modified a number of drug and non-violent crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and made Oklahoma one of many nation’s largest and most accessible medical marijuana markets.
Stitt took particular goal on the medical marijuana poll query throughout his State of the State speech when he stated it was “deceptive” and stated voters have been bought a “invoice of products.” He went on in charge organizations outdoors of Oklahoma for influencing the elections.
“You understand in addition to I try this not all of that product is being bought legally,” the governor stated. “This can be a excellent instance why we want to ensure initiative petitions signify Oklahomans, not out-of-state particular curiosity teams.”
An Oklahoma Watch evaluation of marketing campaign finance filings since 2016 reveals a extra sophisticated image.
Some state questions have been largely funded by out-of-state teams, together with the failed 2016 proposal to permit optometrists to observe in retail places and the profitable passage of sentencing reforms. However a number of different hot-button races didn’t see a lot out-of-state cash.
Greater than 97% of the pro-medical marijuana marketing campaign funding for that 2018 state query got here from inside Oklahoma. State residents and teams produced 86% of the pro-medicaid growth marketing campaign funds in 2020.
State questions placed on the poll via the Legislature noticed a mixture of their funding sources. Whereas some legislatively assigned state questions didn’t see a lot out-of-state funding, a choose few did. Greater than 93% of the $5.5 million spent on 2016’s alcohol-sales reforms got here from out-of-state.
Requested to make clear Stitt’s statements in the course of the State of the State, the governor’s workplace stated he was not speaking particularly right here about medical marijuana, however as a substitute a broader point out of initiative petitions.
“The governor’s level right here is that proper now, outdoors teams have an excessive amount of affect in pushing these initiatives and, as he said throughout State of the State, Oklahomans should know precisely what they’re voting for,” stated Stitt spokeswoman Carly Atchison in an emailed assertion to Oklahoma Watch.
Atchison stated the governor’s workplace normally doesn’t remark about pending laws and wouldn’t say if there have been any particular payments or plans that the governor helps.
A query of management?
Stitt isn’t the one one who’s making claims about undue out-of-state affect within the state questions.
State Sen. Warren Hamilton, R-McCurtain, introduced he’s sponsoring a proposal, Senate Joint Decision 30, to require state questions that change the structure or “take away rights” of Oklahomans be authorized by a two-thirds majority vote of all Oklahoma counties to cross and be written into the state’s structure. If a majority of voters approve the query, however not two-thirds of Oklahoma’s 77 counties, the modification would solely take impact within the international locations that authorized it.
Hamilton didn’t reply to Oklahoma Watch’s a number of requests for remark.
In a press launch about his proposal, Hamilton stated “state questions are a manner for out of state liberal teams who aren’t accountable to us to unfold half-truths and lies and to avoid our legislature.”
Hamilton, who has beforehand made unfounded accusations in regards to the 2020 presidential race, went on to make claims, with none proof, that state query elections are a “golden alternative for voter fraud, election tampering.”
Amber England, who ran the profitable 2020 Medicaid growth marketing campaign, stated these are scare techniques lawmakers use as a result of they don’t wish to cede management to voters.
“What you might be listening to is politicians and the governor making an attempt to make it more durable for Oklahomans to make use of their voice to resolve points for themselves,” she stated. “It’s disappointing, however not fully stunning, as a result of politicians like to manage issues and consolidate energy for themselves.”
Oklahoma is one among 28 states that has an initiative course of, based on the Nationwide Convention of State Legislatures. However it’s extra restrictive to get on the poll right here than in lots of states.
After submitting a replica of the petition with the state and getting the go-ahead to proceed, citizen-led campaigns should gather sufficient signatures of registered voters to equal 8% of votes solid in the newest gubernatorial election — 15% for constitutional adjustments. For the upcoming 12 months, this could require almost 95,000 signatures for statutory adjustments and virtually 178,000 for constitutional ones.
All of that have to be accomplished in a 90-day window.
To get on the poll, the query should additionally survive potential authorized challenges that may ship organizers again to sq. one.
If something, England stated, Oklahoma ought to make it simpler to get on the poll.
“There are numerous (initiatives) which have been filed, however to make it during the method … it’s laborious,” she stated. “And I get that it must be robust, however it shouldn’t be rigged (in opposition to) on a regular basis Oklahomans.”
‘A bit greater normal’
State Rep. Carl Newton, R-Waynoka, who’s sponsoring a invoice that might require 55% of voters to approve a state query. Newton stated he’s not wanting to remove energy from the individuals.
“I simply suppose it must be a bit greater normal,” he stated.
Newton is a co-sponsor on a Home proposal looking for to ban out-of-state marketing campaign contributions for state query campaigns.
“Do we want New York, California or some state on the market sending in a bunch of cash making an attempt to affect our elections?” he stated. “I simply suppose Oklahomans ought to help Oklahomans.”
Newton stated he doesn’t suppose candidates — who typically obtain large donations from out-of-state firms or political motion committees — ought to have the identical restriction.
It’s unclear which, if any, of the proposals to tighten state query necessities the Legislature will take up.
Final 12 months, quite a lot of payments sought to extend thresholds for state questions, however lawmakers pushed via solely comparatively minor adjustments.
Included was a legislation requiring citizen-led teams to incorporate a fiscal influence assertion — with a proposed a funding supply if there’s a value. One other set out procedures for recounting state query ballots if there’s a shut race.
England stated she hopes that in an election 12 months, legislators will see it’s a nasty transfer to take energy away from the voters. She stated activists can be working to cease these sort of proposals in the event that they acquire traction within the Legislature or on the poll field.
“I consider we must always mount an aggressive no marketing campaign and shut this down as soon as and for all,” she stated. “However I simply actually hope we don’t should spend the subsequent eight months combating these.”