October 12, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – “For the Children” Weekly Column
Contact: Joe Dorman, CEO – Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy
Telephone: (405) 833-1117
For the Children: A Weekly Column by Joe Dorman, CEO – OICA
State Questions Contain Important Decisions for Voters
Oklahomans will have two state questions voters will have the chance to approve or reject. As with all questions of public policy, it is important for us to examine each question and the impact so we can decide whether a “yes” or a “no” is best for the state.
State Question 805 would amend the Oklahoma Constitution to end the use of sentence enhancements for people convicted of nonviolent crimes. Supporters of SQ 805 claim sentence enhancements have no proven public safety benefit. If passed, the measure would continue to allow someone to get the maximum sentence under current law, and those maximums could still be changed.
SQ 805 simply disallows longer sentences than the maximum because of a prior nonviolent conviction. A fiscal analysis of SQ 805 by the Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs estimates that the ballot measure would reduce the prison population by about 8.5 percent and save the state up to $186 million over the next decade.
Opponents of SQ 805 state this would prevent future legislative changes to add to the list of offenses classified as violent for the purposes of sentence enhancements. Among those offenses are domestic assault and battery in the presence of a child by strangulation or attempted strangulation, on a pregnant woman, stalking, hate crimes, soliciting sex from a minor using a computer (on-line child predators), cruelty to animals, poisoning an animal, cattle theft, and vulnerable adult abuse (physical, sexual, financial, neglect), other than in a nursing home.
State Question 814 would change the way Oklahoma’s tobacco settlement money is distributed. This proposed constitutional amendment would allow the Oklahoma Legislature to allocate 75 percent of funds for coverage of Medicaid expenses, rather than the current 25 percent lawmakers are allowed to appropriate. Currently, 75 percent is distributed by the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) for health programs under their purview and toward grants (OICA receives one annually for our fall conference).
Supporters of SQ 814 say this change would allow the Oklahoma Legislature to allocate close to $50 million annually to help fund Medicaid expansion without raising taxes. Additionally, the endowment fund currently has over $1 billion dollars, so supporters claim TSET should be able to continue funding research, prevention, and health initiatives in Oklahoma. Also, using the settlement payments to help fund health care in Oklahoma could help keep the state from having to cut existing patient services or reduce the amount paid to health care providers.
Opponents of the amendment note TSET is funding important health initiatives, and if SQ 814 passes, this ability will diminish, as a smaller deposit to the trust fund will mean lower interest earnings in the future. They also feel that there are other ways to fund Medicaid without tax increases. Additionally, the language does not specify that the funds must be used for Medicaid expansion, leading to concerns that the funds could be used to simply replace existing Medicaid funding. This is especially true if the United States Supreme Court strikes down the Affordable Care Act in November, as expected by many experts.
Please study these issues and do not forget to vote on all items on your ballot on November 3! Also, if you are not comfortable with voting in-person this year at the polls with the increased number of COVID-19 cases in the state, it is your right to request an absentee ballot and vote by mail. The link is https://okvoterportal.okelections.us/ for the Oklahoma Voter Portal to verify you and process your request.