Legislative efforts to add hurdles to Oklahoma’s ballot initiative process fizzled out at the Capitol this year, but one Democratic lawmaker is concerned similar proposals will gain traction in the future.  

Rep. Mickey Dollens, D-Oklahoma, announced he’s seeking an interim study on preserving and defending the state’s method of direct democracy. While not every state gives voters the right to modify the constitution, it’s important to protect a process that gives voters the power to act on issues when their representatives don’t, Dollens said in a news release. 

“Oklahoma has a proud history of citizen-led initiatives that have driven significant policy changes,” Dollens said. “The power to shape our public policy includes the citizens of Oklahoma, extending beyond solely elected officials and special interest groups.” 

Following the narrow passage of the Medicaid expansion question in 2020, several rural Republican lawmakers filed resolutions seeking to raise the threshold for initiative petitions to pass or set additional requirements for signature collection, such as requiring a percentage of signatures to be collected in every congressional district or county. 

In statements and media interviews, these lawmakers cited concerns that the process is tilted in favor of voters in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metro areas. Republican lawmakers in Ohio and Missouri have pushed for similar restrictions over fear that voters could overturn abortion restrictions. 

Because the ballot initiative process is enshrined in the state constitution, the Legislature does not have the independent authority to change most aspects of the initiative petition process. It can, however, vote to put a constitutional amendment to a statewide vote of the people. That happened in Florida in 2006, when voters approved an amendment raising the threshold for constitutional amendments to pass from 51% to 60%. 

Lawmakers have some oversight over the administrative process of how an initiative reaches the ballot. For instance, the Legislature passed a bill in 2021 requiring organizers to include a fiscal impact statement and identify a potential funding source if it affects the state budget. 

In February, organizers feared a bill raising the threshold for signature verification would prompt costly legal challenges and thwart efforts by grassroots groups. That measure cleared the Senate and stalled in the House. 

House and Senate leadership typically takes up interim study requests in early July. Last year, Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat approved 41 of 60 requests while House Speaker Charles McCall granted all 82 requests submitted to his office. Study sessions are typically scheduled from August through November. 

Though interim studies don’t generate formal votes or policy recommendations, they often offer a glimpse at issues lawmakers intend to prioritize in the coming session. Lawmakers who request the study are tasked with inviting speakers and setting the stage for discussion, which occasionally leads to concerns of bias or that relevant topics have intentionally been omitted

As always, I’m all ears for story tips, ideas and other suggestions. You can reach me at Kross@Oklahomawatch.org

Tweet Watch

On Tuesday afternoon, Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat learned he was acting governor after Gov. Kevin Stitt and Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell had departed the state. In a statement, Treat said neither Stitt nor Pinnell informed him that they were leaving the state.

The blunder prompted Attorney General Gentner Drummond to ask Legislature to pass a law requiring the governor’s office to notify the next-in-line when the governor plans to leave the state.

What I’m Reading This Week

  • Saying Employees ‘Deserve Better,’ ODVA Interim Director Requests Performance Audit: Interim Veteran Affairs executive director Greg Slavonic asked Tuesday that the special audit cover the period from Jan. 1, 2021, through Dec 31, 2023. A previous audit of the Oklahoma Department of Veteran Affairs from 2018 identified a litany of office culture concerns that Slavonic and current members of the Veterans Commission say have lingered over the last five years. [NonDoc]
  • Despite Support From Some Pro-Lifers, Efforts to Soften Oklahoma’s Strict Abortion Ban Failed This Year at the Legislature: Oklahoma law currently bans all abortions except to save the life of the mother. Anti-abortion lawmakers say they are in a dilemma: Support legislation that could make it easier for some women to get abortions, or risk successful legal challenges and backlash from voters.[The Frontier]

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