SEAN MURPHY Associated Press
October 15, 2013
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The attorney general’s rewrite of the ballot language for a plan to issue $500 million in bonds to help school districts pay for safe-room shelters is biased against the proposal and may be challenged in court, a state legislator said Monday.
Rep. Joe Dorman, a Democrat who is spearheading the effort to get enough voter signatures to put the proposal on the ballot, said Republican Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s rewrite of the ballot title focuses mostly on the business franchise tax that would be used to fund the proposal, rather than placing safe rooms or storm shelters in schools.
“I’m greatly disappointed,” said Dorman, D-Rush Springs. “It is clearly slanted to focus on the funding mechanism, rather than the shelter program that we’re trying to create.”
Pruitt notified the Secretary of State’s Office on Friday that his office had rewritten the ballot title because the original proposal language “did not comply with applicable laws.” The attorney general previously indicated the original proposal did not adequately explain, in basic words, how the proposal would be funded.
The new language does state that the bond money would be used by local school districts and technology centers for storm shelters and campus security, but it focuses primarily on the funding mechanism: the state’s franchise tax on Oklahoma businesses. Because the proposal taps the business tax, it has not been well-received by many Republicans, including Gov. Mary Fallin. The governor says she believes school storm shelters should be funded through local, not statewide, bond issues.
Dorman said he is consulting with attorneys to discuss their options, including a possible legal challenge to Pruitt’s rewrite.
But a legal challenge could pose additional problems for initiative supporters, who already have started gathering some of the estimated 155,000 signatures of registered voters they need to place the proposal on the ballot. According to state law, supporters have 90 days after they file an initiative petition to gather the signatures or 90 days after the Supreme Court determines the petition is sufficient, whichever is later.
Dorman said he is uncertain how a legal challenge to Pruitt’s ballot language might affect the tens of thousands of signatures that already have been collected.
“That is something the court will definitely need to rule on, to give us a clear understanding of when the deadline will occur and the status of the current signatures we’ve already gathered,” Dorman said. “If they invalidate the current signatures, that will definitely hurt the petition drive.”
A spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office said the office couldn’t determine the start date of the 90-day signature gathering process without knowing if a legal challenge would ensue.
“There’s always the possibility that someone could file a challenge,” said Kathy Smith, administrative assistant for the Secretary of State’s Office. “We can’t tell them they can’t (collect signatures), and we can’t tell them they can. They’re going to have to make that decision themselves, with the understanding that there could be a legal challenge.”