Saturday, October 31, 2020

Here's what you need to know about the State Questions on the ballot

Earlier in the week, I published What you need to know about the judges on the ballot. In this post, I'll focus in on the two state questions that are on the ballot. This information is largely derived from a brief presentation I gave at my church. 

I got some of my material from these helpful articles (SQ805, SQ814) at Ballotpedia, in addition to information from supporting and opposing organizations, and this excellent post on SQ805 at BatesLine.


State Question 805 is on the ballot by virtue of a citizen-led initiative petition. This follows two similar state questions that passed four years ago in the nationwide push for “criminal justice reform” (specifically, “nonviolent” drug-related crime). 

Voting "yes" would prohibit using a person's past non-violent felony convictions to impose a greater (or "enhanced") sentence when sentencing a person convicted of a non-violent felony, as well as provide for sentence reductions for eligible individuals serving or set to serve sentences that were enhanced based on past felony convictions
  • This only applies to nonviolent felonies. Violent felonies as described by statute would include things like assault, battery, murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, human trafficking, burglary, child abuse, rape, rioting, arson, terrorism
  • Supporters say this would reduce the prison population by 8.5% and save the state $186M over 10 years
  • Supporters cover the entire political spectrum, including the ACLU, JC Watts, former Govs. Brad Henry and David Walters, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, both the state’s liberal think tank Oklahoma Policy Institute and the state’s conservative think tank, OCPA; former Republican State House Speaker Kris Steele, the entire Senate Democratic caucus, Americans for Tax Reform, as well as a small number of DAs and law enforcement members

A "no" vote opposes the amendment, thereby maintaining that a person convicted of a non-violent felony can receive greater (enhanced) sentences based on past felony convictions. Amending the Constitution likes this does goes around the legislative process and effectively prevents lawmakers from making any adjustments to the law later. This is a very important factor to consider.
  • Most domestic abuse charges are missing from the state’s list of violent crimes, which means abusers are considered nonviolent in the eyes of the law. The legislature added four domestic abuse charges to the list in May. But because State Question 805 uses the list from Jan. 1, 2020, if it passes each domestic abuse conviction would be sentenced as a first-time offense
  • Crimes that would be classified as “nonviolent” by SQ805 would, according to Tulsa DA Steve Kunzweiler, include: 
    • Domestic Abuse in the Presence of a Child
    • Domestic Abuse by Strangulation of a Pregnant Woman
    • Use of a Computer by an Internet Child Predator
    • Home Invasions by a Habitual Criminal, 
    • Assault and Battery or injury to first responders/teachers/medical providers
    • DUI Resulting in Bodily Injury
    • Oklahomans for Life points out that partial-birth abortion, banned in Oklahoma, would be a “non-violent felony” under SQ805
  • Opponents include Governor Kevin Stitt, former Gov. Frank Keating, the Oklahoma Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, Oklahomans For Life, over 70 county sheriffs, most DAs, and both the Oklahoma District Attorneys and Sheriffs Associations.
I will be voting 'NO' on State Question 805, a position that conservative Tulsa blogger Michael Bates and conservative activists Steve Fair and Georgia Williams (from the Lawton/Duncan area) also take. While criminal justice reform may be needed, SQ805 simply has too many catastrophic problems, and it would be far more disastrous to have as policy than the status quo.


State Question 814 is on the ballot by virtue of the state legislature placing it on the ballot. Back in June, voters approved State Question 802, which expanded Medicaid here in Oklahoma but failed to provide any funding mechanism for the expansion, which could cost between $100M and $250M per year for the state. Governor Stitt (and to a lesser extent the State Legislature) hopes to find ways to pay for this expense without raising taxes. State Question 814 was the legislative proposal to accomplish that.

TSET currently has an endowment of well over a billion dollars, and is pretty much flush with cash. The original intent of the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Fund was for tobacco prevention, cancer research, and other health issues tied to tobacco usage. In recent years, TSET has had so much extra money they’ve diverted millions into ads encouraging people to drink water, or exercise, or paying over $1M to promote smoke-free nights at bars and nightclubs (because getting drunk is apparently better than smoking?).

The money TSET spends annually is based off the income from the trust fund balance. SQ814 would not affect the trust fund balance, but would alter the percentage of new monies deposited into the balance. Currently, 75% of tobacco settlement funds go to TSET, and 25% go to the legislature for allocation. SQ814 would flip that, 25% to TSET and 75% for the Legislature to spend, specifically restricting that to the Medicaid program. So really, in my personal view, this is something of a win-win measure.

I will be voting 'YES' on State Question 814, the same as Michael Bates and Steve Fair and Georgia Williams. Charlie Meadows of OCPAC takes an opposing view, arguing that we ought to instead repeal SQ802 and not "throw in the towel" on opposing Medicaid expansion.

If you are in need of information about judicial retention voting, check out my article Here's what you need to know about the judges on the ballot.


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