TLO State Question Voting Guide

In 2016, I surprisingly voted on the winning side of each and every State Question on the Oklahoma ballot. When I watched the results roll in on election night, I wasn’t sure if I should be worried that I was becoming more like Oklahoma or concerned that Oklahoma was becoming more like me.

Either way, Oklahomans will be voting on five state questions tomorrow. We have a breakdown of each one, along with an official TLO endorsement. Here we go…

SQ 793: Optometrists & Opticians to Operate in Retail Stores

Since going to the mall for an eye exam isn’t weird enough, State Question 793 would allow optometrists to operate within commercial retail establishments, and open up the lucrative eyeglasses and contact lenses trade to national retail chains like Big Lots, Hobby Lobby and Discount Tires. At least that’s how I interpreted it.

SQ 793 was, naturally, backed by Walmart and other large retailers. I guess the rationale is, if you’re going to put Oklahoma liquor stores out of business, you might as well go for the locally owned optometry practices, too. Anything to lower prices, provide more access to consumers and increase profits for out-of-state shareholders, right?

Naturally, the state’s optometrists are against these free market ideals. You can’t really blame them. They have the eye exam market in Oklahoma cornered and don’t want to share it. As a result, they’ve banded together like William Wallace’s army in Braveheart and launched a full-scale attack against the measure. It reached its political scare tactic zenith with this ad:

Yep, if you’re allowed to get an eye exam from a licensed optometrist inside a Walmart, you’re going to die of cancer.

TLO Endorsement: Vote No on SQ 793

Yeah, our current state laws regarding optometry are a bit dated and protect optometrists, but haven’t we given Walmart enough over the past couple of years? Plus, out of all the candidates running for public office and all the State Questions on the ballot, only one group placed a political ad on The Lost Ogle – the optometrists against SQ 793. Protect small businesses and support those who support obscure local social blogs. Vote No on SQ 793.

SQ 794: Marsy’s Law

Since we now live in a society where everyone is a victim, it shouldn’t be a surprise that we have a state question on the ballot that will give victims even more rights, under the law.

Marsy’s law, which is financed by a tech billionaire whose sister was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in the early 80s, would add a slew of new victims’ rights to the Oklahoma constitution, including:

(1) expanding the court proceedings at which victims have the right to be heard;
(2) adding a right to reasonable protection;
(3) adding a right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay;
(4) adding a right to talk with the prosecutor; and
(5) allowing victims to refuse interview requests from the defendant without a subpoena.

On the surface, Marsy’s Law seems like an easy “Yes” vote. Victims should have rights, too. Outside of adding more layers to the criminal justice bureaucracy that we’re supposed to be reforming, what could go wrong? I asked my pals at the ACLU that very same question, and this is what they said:

This state question is the wrong mechanism for advancing victims rights. Granting crime victims rights equal to the accused in criminal proceedings undermines due process and if passed would almost certainly exacerbate already alarming inequalities in our criminal legal system. There are much more effective ways to protect the dignity and rights of victims. We must strive to do so in a way that honors the Constitution and does not pit the interests of victims against the rights of the accused.

Additionally, some groups are saying Marsy’s Law may not pass a legal challenge. A similar law was struck down in Montana, and the concern here would be that it violates our constitutional single subject law.

TLO Endorsement: Vote Yes on SQ 794

Although Marsy’s law may be a bit regressive and use the state constitution to over-solve a problem it already kind of addresses, I’m probably going to Vote Yes. I think the odds are higher that I’ll be the victim of a crime than an actual criminal, so I’m going to do what most Oklahomans avoid and vote in favor of my self-interests on this one. If you don’t want victims’ rights to interrupt your rights to a fair and speedy trial, don’t commit a crime.

SQ 798: Joint Ticket Governor and Lieutenant Governor 

One of the toughest decisions an Oklahoma voter faces when entering the ballot box is who to vote for in the Lt. Governor’s race. If you’re like me, you probably spend countless hours watching video of candidates cut ribbons with gigantic scissors and dig holes into red dirt with golden shovels to see who’s the most qualified—only to follow your heart and vote for the person with the coolest name at the end.

If passed, State State 798 would make that tradition a thing of the past and put Governor and Lieutenant Governor on the same ticket. Although it gives the Governor more control of government, consolidates power to the ruling class and will probably be something we’ll all regret down the road, it seems to make sense.

The biggest complaint about SQ 798 is that, if passed, it lets the Oklahoma legislature determine the process for how the Lt. Governor will be chosen. They’ll probably create a tribunal of wealthy business leaders, Baptist ministers and Oil Overlords and let them decide. Considering that’s how most Oklahoma policy is created, I guess that will work.

TLO Endorsement: Vote Yes on SQ 798

Once again, we may regret this down the road, but if it saves us all two seconds of time at the ballot box, it’s probably worth it.

SQ 800: Oklahoma Vision Fund

Starting in 2020, SQ 800 will take 5% of the revenue the state collects each year from the gross production tax, increase the amount by .2% each year, and put all the money into a trust fund called the Oklahoma Vision Fund, which will probably be used down the road to give subsidies back to oil and gas companies. That’s how the system usually works, right?

Although it’s good for government to save money when times are good to help pay for services when times are bad, I’m not so sure about this legislation. First of all, Oklahoma already has two reserve funds. One of them, the Revenue Stabilization Fund, already receives a portion of gross production tax collections. Second, this law was obviously crafted and pushed forward by the Oil Overlords, which basically means the true intent of the legislation is unknown and shouldn’t be trusted.

TLO Endorsement: Vote No on SQ 800

I trust Oil Overlords on where to find natural resources and the most expensive steakhouses, and that’s about it. We literally just passed the increase in gross production taxes. Let’s first use the money to fund education, and if it turns out we can afford to put some in a trust fund down the road, let’s do it at that time.

SQ 801: School Millages

When I first saw the name of this state question, I figured it would let school districts build mills to employ students on the fifth day of a four-day school week, but then I discovered a millage – which spellcheck wants to change to “mileage” – is some fancy way to determine property tax rates. Since I have no clue what I’m talking about, here’s the ballot language.

This measure would provide a means for voters to allow school districts to expand the permissible uses of ad valorem tax revenues to include school operations.

The Oklahoma Constitution limits the rate of ad valorem taxation. However, it permits voters in a school district to approve an increase of up to five mills ($5.00 per $1,000.00 of the assessed value of taxable property) over this limit for the purpose of raising money for a school district building fund.

Currently, monies from this fund may only be used to build, repair, or remodel school buildings and purchase furniture. This measure would amend the Constitution to permit voters to approve such a tax to be used for school operations deemed necessary by the school district, in addition to the purposes listed above.

The only thing I really took from this SQ is that it gives more power and authority to local school boards on how they get to spend millage money, so if it passes, expect a bunch of new 10 Commandment statues and Confederate flag monuments popping up in Southeastern Oklahoma.

In all honesty, I have no clue if this is good policy or not. If only we had elected representatives around who could research and study these nuanced issues, determine if they’re good policy or not and then vote accordingly. Trusting Oklahoma-educated voters to fully grasp a complex issue like this just doesn’t seem wise.

TLO Endorsement: Vote No on SQ 801

When in doubt, vote no.

Anyway, that concludes our State Question Resource Guide. To learn more about our state questions, do what I did and head over to Oklahoma Policy.