Oklahoma State Ballot Questions – Vote November 8

The general election on Nov. 8 will decide a lot more than who gets to move into the Oval Office. It’s a vote that will have a major impact on Oklahomans as they head to the polls to decide on changing our state constitution with seven state questions. An entire ballot page is taken up with the titles and descriptions of those seven proposals, with issues including separation of church and state, the death penalty and teacher raises. It’s a lot of reading, so it will help all voters to go in as prepared as possible. Even if you feel you have a good handle on your opinion of these issues, it’s important to take a close look at what each of these proposals would do before casting a vote on a question that might change the law of our land.

Presented here is an explanation of each state question that will help voters be as prepared as possible when they pick up the ballot Nov. 8.

SQ 776 changes the state constitution to reaffirm the state’s right to impose capital punishment. It states that a death sentence may not be “reduced” — that is, commuted to a prison term — should a particular method of execution become impossible to carry out or ruled unconstitutional. The state question was offered in part because of increasing difficulty obtaining drugs for lethal injections, the current form of execution in Oklahoma.

SQ 777, known as Right to Farm, changes the state constitution to exempt agriculture from future state and local regulation except as deemed necessary by “compelling state interests.” The constitutional amendment does not directly affect existing laws and regulations. The state question was offered in reaction to environmental and animal protection legislation in other states, particularly California.

SQ 779 changes the state constitution to assess a 1 percent sales tax for education and specify how the revenue is to be allocated. Of the money collected through the tax, 69.5 percent is allocated to common education, 19.25 percent to higher education, 8 percent to early childhood education and 3.25 percent to career tech. Of the 69.5 percent allocated to common education, 86.33 percent must be used to increase teacher pay a minimum of $5,000 per person and to “otherwise address and prevent teacher and certified instructional staff shortages.” The remainder of common education must be used to “adopt or expand” initiatives to “improve reading in the early grades, to improve high school graduation rates, and it increases college and career readiness.” The amendment further stipulates that the revenue from the tax shall be audited annually, that it shall not replace existing revenue sources and shall not be used to pay superintendents.

SQ 780 changes state law to make simple drug possession a misdemeanor. It also raises from $500 to $1,000 the minimum value at which most property crimes are classified felonies, but those changes were made legislatively last spring.

SQ 781 changes state law to direct savings from the passage of SQ 780 to substance abuse and mental health treatment programs. The changes are only effective if SQ 780 passes.

SQ 790 repeals Article 2, Section 5 of the state constitution. The language proposed to be repealed prohibits the use of state money or property for religious or sectarian purposes. Article 2, Section 5 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.” The repeal of Article 2, Section 5 is supported by school choice advocates who believe it may interfere with proposed and existing voucher programs. The proposed question arose from a state Supreme Court decision ordering the removal of a Ten Commandments monument from the Capitol grounds, and from concerns the ban could affect the eligibility of certain institutions for school vouchers, Oklahoma’s Promise scholarships, Medicaid and other state-funded programs.

SQ 792 changes the state constitution to eliminate the distinction between 3.2 and “strong” beer, to allow the sale of wine and all beer in grocery and convenience stores, and to allow liquor stores to sell cold beer and items that do not contain alcohol. The amendment also includes many detailed changes in the way alcoholic beverages are manufactured, distributed and sold in Oklahoma.

Updated 11-07-2016

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