A Response to the 2016 Oklahoma State Questions

The 2016 general election is just around the corner, in five days to be exact. Who would have thought the presidential election would come down to Hilary Clinton vs Donald Trump? It’s something out of an SNL skit, for sure.

But what is often overlooked in these elections are the smaller ballot decisions which have effects on one’s local life. The presidential election outcome is actually less likely to have an effect on the average person than local elections, obviously. In this upcoming election, there are state questions on the ballot which have the ability to drastically change Oklahoman life.

Allow me to elaborate on my views of them. The quick descriptions of these ballots were brought to you by ballotpedia.org and okpolicy.org.

State Question 776 was designed to assert that all methods of execution would be constitutionally allowed unless prohibited by the United States Constitution and designated statutorily by the legislature.  It gives the Legislature the power to designate any method of execution, prohibits the reduction of death sentence due to an invalid method of execution, and prohibits the death penalty from being ruled “cruel and unusual punishment” or unconstitutional according to the Oklahoma Constitution

My vote? No

The question would essentially make it so that Oklahoma cannot deem the death penalty unconstitutional. It would place the death penalty above the law, bypassing the system of checks and balances that keeps justice.

Furthermore, 776  is likely to be opposed by higher courts as soon as it is passed. Why waste the time and resources?

State Question 777 was designed to establish a constitutional right for farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices. 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.

NO. NO NO NO. 

A huge, loud, resounding, echoing NO.

This bill would make it so that “farming” is a constitutional right; any new laws and farming can easily be dismissed as an infringement on “constitutional rights.” If technology currently used by farmers is later found to be environmentally harmful, or inhumane, new regulations would be extremely likely to be turned down on this defense.

State Question 777 would allow an unchecked farming industry to develop in Oklahoma under the guise of giving citizens the “right to farm.” Big farming industries would be drawn to Oklahoma because they could claim protection under this amendment.

Think about this: ANY NEW LAW proposed to regulate farming practices would be held under the same level of scrutiny as new gun laws! I’m sorry, but the freedom to farm is not equal to the rights to freedom of speech, religion, and the right to bare arms. It shouldn’t receive the same protections as these fundamental rights. Farming ought to be regulated by ever changing environmental regulations, and Oklahoma shouldn’t become a safe haven for big corporations to farm without fear of checks on their farming practices.

State Question 779 was designed to increase the state sales tax by 1 percent to generate revenue for education funding. 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.

Yes. While it feels odd to be to vote to increase taxes, I’m confident this measure would be successful in improving education in the state of Oklahoma. It’s estimated that, if passed,  State Question 779 would add $615 million per year in education funding.

According to Oklahoma Watch. Org , in the 2012-2013 school year, the amount spent on individual students, at $7,912 ranked 49th in the nation along side teacher pay, which shared the same ranking. Oklahoma is struggling to keep and recruit teachers, even the ones who are educated at the University of Oklahoma.

While some claim that a penny tax would harm the poor, one also has to understand that teachers in Oklahoma ARE the poor. The students who are receiving one of the worst educations in the United States, they BECOME the poor. Oklahoma desperately needs this tax if it wishes to reverse the state of it’s education.

State Question 780 and 781: 780 was designed to reclassify certain property offenses and simple drug possession as misdemeanor crimes, and 781 was designed to use money saved by reclassifying certain property and drug crimes as misdemeanors, as outlined in State Question 780, to fund rehabilitative programs.

This is a simple yes for me, to both measures.

I don’t believe the state should be spending ludicrous amounts of money to imprison people for small offenses. The money saved by altering the charge severity would be used for rehabilitation programs, in turn reducing the amount of crime and drug abuse in Oklahoma, and in turn saving even more money.

Take these facts from the Vera Institute of Justice:

IN FISCAL YEAR 2010, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC) had $441.8 million in prison expenditures. However, the state also had $11.6 million in prison-related costs outside the department’s budget. The total cost of Oklahoma’s prisons—to incarcerate an average daily population of 24,549—was therefore $453.4 million, of which 2.6 percent were costs outside the corrections budget.

Though some would like to say this measure would “legalize marijuana” and “make criminals commit more crimes,” it is simply not true. The measure would aim to rehabilitate and help those caught with small amounts of drugs, rather than sending them to prison, an expensive process which also has been proven to lead to harder drug exposure and abuse. It’s time for Oklahoma to fix it’s overgrown prison problem.

State Question 790 was designed to repeal Section 5 of Article 2 of the Oklahoma Constitution, which prohibits public money from being spent for religious purposes.

Coming from a Christian, I have to say, no. This is for a couple of reasons.

Being that religious institutions are already tax exempt, it doesn’t make sense for them to receive tax-generated money.

The state should not endorse or fund any one religion, nor should it endorse and fund any processes related to all of them.

Scholarships given to students who then decide to attend a private religious school have already been held constitutional.

Even if the bill is passed, the ten commandments will still most likely be removed from the state capitol grounds.

State Question 792 was designed to allow grocery stores and convenience stores to sell full-strength beer and wine. Currently these stores are prohibited from selling beer containing above 3.2 percent alcohol by volume, as well as all wine and all liquor. SQ 792 would also allow Oklahoma liquor stores to sell refrigerated beer and alcohol accessories (i.e., sodas, corkscrews). The measure would allow multiple beer and wine stores to be owned by one corporation (ownership would be limited to two stores per person if spirits are sold). Currently individual liquor store owners are not allowed to have more than one store. If SQ 792 passes, these changes would take effect on October 1, 2018

There is ALSO a companion bill which will go into effect if this bill passes, SB 383. It allows direct shipment of wine into Oklahoma, increases the clerk age for selling beer from 16 to 18, and establishes other regulations on the sale of alcohol.

Yes. 

Oklahoma currently has the strictest laws regulating alcohol. It is time for Oklahoma to drop the outdated laws.

Being that this practice is legal in almost every other state, the proposed negative effects on liquor stores are unlikely to be realized. Passage of this bill would make the purchase of alcohol more convenient for consumers and it would open the industry in Oklahoma. Liquor stores would be allowed to sell corkscrews and mixers, increasing the likelihood that customers will use these stores as a “one-stop” place for their alcohol needs.

The bill would also allow liquor stores to sell refrigerated beer, allowing crafted and specialty beer to be sold in these stores. It would open the door for Oklahoma beer makers, at a time when beer crafting is an up and rising hobby. Some crafted beers cannot be stored without refrigeration.

The only negative part of this bill is that it could possibly allow larger corporations to open chains of beer and wine stores in Oklahoma.

The measure would allow multiple beer and wine stores to be owned by one corporation (ownership would be limited to two stores per person if spirits are sold). Currently individual liquor store owners are not allowed to have more than one store.

While these stores wouldn’t be able to sell liquor, it is still something to consider. However, the benefits outweigh the negatives.

 

This coming Tuesday is going to change a lot for both America as well as the state of Oklahoma. If you’re over 18 years old, please vote. Don’t brag about not being registered to vote. Don’t let the mudslinging convince you that political action is arbitrary. Don’t allow yourself to concede to political apathy. If you’re not voting, you DO NOT lose responsibility for things that may go wrong, because you have the opportunity to make a difference.

Not acting on your right to vote is a vote for whatever side you oppose.

 

 

 

 

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