Gov. Mary Fallin, foiled by lawmakers who rejected an anti-smoking proposal she backed, is taking her fight to the people.
The Republican governor said Tuesday in a room filled with anti-smoking advocates and supporters that she is leading an initiative petition drive to put tobacco regulations on a ballot to be decided by the people.
Details still are being worked out, but a spokesman for the governor said the proposal will contain language that would let cities and towns write their own anti-smoking laws. Oklahoma is one of two states that doesn't allow cities and towns to write anti-smoking laws stricter than state law.
Fallin's announcement came one day after a state Senate committee defeated a bill that would have let cities and towns craft their own anti-smoking laws. The issue is dead in the GOP-controlled Legislature for the next two years.
“The tobacco interests may have won a battle yesterday, but they didn't win the war,” said Fallin, who was wearing a “Don't Smoke on Me” sticker. “Now it's time to take the issue to the people of Oklahoma.”
Fallin had asked lawmakers to pass legislation restoring local control to cities and towns regarding tobacco use in public places.
“There's an old saying that says a setback is an opportunity for a comeback,” she said. “So today's our comeback. “
Fallin said language for the proposed petition drive is being developed. It could be as expansive as a statewide ban of tobacco on public property.
State law bans smoking in most public buildings. It is allowed in bars and in separately ventilated rooms in restaurants.
Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said he wants to see the ballot language before he supports it.
“But I really like where this is headed,” he said. “I suspect it is something I will be able to support.”
Plans are for the issue to be on the November 2014 general election ballot. Fallin is expected to be on the ballot to seek a second term.
Supporters said they had no estimate of how much the petition drive and advertising would cost, nor have they identified potential donors.
It's also unclear whether the proposal would change state law or the state constitution. What type of change is sought determines the number of signatures of registered voters required to put an issue on the ballot.
A statutory change would require 8 percent of the 1,034,767 votes cast in the 2010 gubernatorial election, or 82,782 signatures; a constitutional change requires 15 percent, or 155,216 signatures.
Fallin was flanked by University of Oklahoma medical students wearing white jackets, along with health officials and representatives of several cities.
Oklahoma has the fourth-highest smoking rate in the nation, Fallin said. About 6,000 people die each year in the state from smoking-related causes.
About 700 of those die from secondhand smoke.
“These are unnecessary deaths, and they're heartbreaking,” the governor said.
Fallin said both her parents smoked and died from smoking-related causes. Her mother suffered three heart attacks and several strokes before she died in 2005 at the age of 78.
“It's a personal issue for me,” she said.