The attorney for an organization that wants to place storm shelters in Oklahoma's public schools said Monday it is abandoning the effort and will launch a second petition following the Oklahoma Supreme Court's decision not to reconsider an earlier ruling in the case.
David Slane, attorney for Take Shelter Oklahoma, said the organization plans to begin collecting a second round of signatures to put the measure on an election ballot next month — one year after seven children were killed in a May 2013 tornado that slammed into Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore.
"They plan to file a new initiative petition in May as a last ditch effort to get tornado shelters in place before it's too late," Slane said.
In an 8-0 decision, the state's highest court rejected the group's request to rehear a protest it filed over the attorney general's office's decision to rewrite the ballot title for the storm shelter petition, State Question 767. Take Shelter and Kristi Conatzer, the mother of one of seven children killed in the tornado, filed the petition four months after it struck Moore.
The petition's original 200-word ballot title focused on what supporters said was the purpose of the proposal — to authorize a $500 million bond issue to build school storm shelters.
But Attorney General Scott Pruitt's office made significant changes to the ballot title and went into detail on the financial aspects of how the storm shelters would be funded through a franchise tax levied on businesses that generates an estimated $40 million each year.
After the change, supporters who had circulated petitions using the original ballot title came up 35,000 signatures short of what is required to get it on an election ballot.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled that the attorney general's office's rewritten ballot title could make clear the cost, but that supporters of the petition had 90 days after all appeals were final to collect enough signatures to get the measure on the ballot. Supporters need the signatures of about 155,000 registered voters for it to go to a statewide vote.
The opinion says the 90-day period for collecting signatures begins Tuesday, but Slane said the group has no plans to start over. Take Shelter volunteers have said they did not want to collect signatures using the attorney general's amended ballot language.
"They're going to write a new initiative petition," Slane said. He said the new measure's ballot title will try to strike a balance between the two ballot titles written for the original petition.
"I think the new initiative petition will not go into the great detail that caused problems and confusion on the ballot title," he said.
The Supreme Court rejected the group's request to allow it to use the signatures of about 100,000 voters that had already been collected for the school shelter initiative. Slane said he asked that they be grandfathered in because he felt obligated to respect them.
The high court ruled that circulation of the petition and the collection of signatures must begin anew after Take Shelter's appeal is final.