As the dust settles on a breakneck deadline week in the Oklahoma Legislature, now’s the time to take stock of where voting and election-related bills stand.
Lawmakers spent much of last week whittling down legislation ahead of a March 2 cut-off date to advance bills out of committee in their chamber of origin. Bills that were shot down or left unheard will likely remain dormant until next year.
Most efforts to restrict Oklahoma’s initiative petition process, which would have required voter approval to take effect upon clearing the Legislature, did not receive committee hearings. These include:
- Senate Joint Resolution 5 by Warren Hamilton, R-McCurtain: Raises the threshold for state questions to pass from a simple majority to 66%; Also limits state question elections to odd-numbered years.
- House Joint Resolution 1018 by Tammy Townley, R-Ardmore: Requires organizers to collect a percentage of signatures in each congressional district, and raises the signature collection threshold for constitutional amendments from 15 to 20% of voters who participated in the last gubernatorial election.
- House Joint Resolution 1026 by Eric Roberts, R-Oklahoma City: Requires at least 15% of signatures for constitutional amendments to come from each of the state’s five congressional districts.
- House Joint Resolution 1031 by Chad Caldwell, R-Enid. Requires state questions that propose an increase in state government expenditures to receive 60% approval.
An exception is Senate Bill 518 by Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, which adds a $750 filing fee for petitions, doubles the protest period from 10 to 20 days and adds new signature verification requirements. Organizers and voting access advocates fear that the bill, which passed out of committee during the first week of the session, would have a chilling effect on voter-led efforts to get a question on the ballot.
Similar proposals to tighten requirements for state questions to pass or reach the ballot passed out of the House last year but ultimately stalled in the Senate.
One possible factor for the measures stalling this year: Arkansas voters soundly rejected a legislatively-referred initiative to raise the threshold for state questions from 50 to 60% last November, indicating that such an effort in Oklahoma would be an uphill battle.
Among the bills that have advanced out of committee in recent weeks, here are some that I’m tracking:
- House Bill 2024 by Max Wolfley, R-Oklahoma City: Requires notary publics who are authorized to notarize more than 20 absentee ballots per election to submit a log to their county election board. Willfully violating the permission is a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to a $500 fine.
- House Bill 1415 by Denise Crosswhite-Hader, R-Piedmont: Establishes a framework for the state to separate federal and state elections if certain federal provisions take effect. (I wrote about this proposal last month)
- House Bill 2682 by Mark Lepak, R-Claremore: Prohibits any person from offering or providing any contribution, donation, or anything else of value for purposes of conducting or administrating any election.
- Senate Bill 290 by Warren Hamilton, R-McCurtain: Nearly doubles the daily compensation of precinct officials.
- Senate Bill 481 by Dave Rader, R-Tulsa: Classifies threatening an election official as a misdemeanor offense.
What bills are you paying attention to? Is there a story tip you’d like me to look into? Let me know at Kross@Oklahomawatch.org.
What I’m Reading This Week
- The Final Countdown: Will SQ 820 Pass or Fail? While there’s been a dearth of polling on the proposal to legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and over, the initiative’s organizers are confident they can assemble the same coalition that propelled the medical marijuana question to victory five years ago. Election Day is Tuesday. [NonDoc]
- Oklahoma House Approves Bill to Ban Insurance Coverage for Transgender Care: While Republicans argued the bill would protect children from “experimental” procedures, advocates for LGBTQ+ rights say bills like these can increase depression and bullying within the transgender community. [The Oklahoman]
- Oklahoma Wants to Be the ‘Next Texas.’ Imagine That. Despite offering the same red-state promise of open land, a cowboy ethos and limited government regulations, Oklahoma has found itself a perennial also-ran, especially in recent decades as Texas cities became magnets for new companies and workers from around the country. But efforts are underway to attract workers and businesses from the south. [New York Times]
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