Backers of a plan to place storm shelters in Oklahoma public schools have an additional 90 days to collect signatures to get the proposal on a statewide ballot, the state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
The ruling came in a lawsuit by plan supporters who sought to change the way it would be described on the ballot. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt wrote the final description, or ballot title, and the Supreme Court ruling left that wording intact.
David Slane, an attorney for those supporters, called the ruling a “mixed bag.” The lawsuit contends the wording unduly emphasizes the mechanism for funding the plan, which calls for a $500 million state bond measure, with interest on the bonds paid for through a state franchise tax levied on businesses.
While pleased the court allowed more time to collect signatures, Slane said he “respectfully disagreed” with the court’s decision to uphold the ballot title.
“We do believe the ballot language used by the attorney general is not fair,” Slane said. “We think it’s inaccurate and we think it’s biased.”
Slane said he called to see if the attorney general would agree on compromise wording, but hasn’t heard back.
“Throughout the process, my office has acted as a neutral legal adviser and the court’s ruling upholds the correctness, accuracy and impartiality of the ballot title my office proposed,” Pruitt said.
Slane said plaintiffs in the lawsuit are not interested in collecting more signatures unless the ballot title is changed, and that they may seek a rehearing before the state Supreme Court.
Supporters need signatures from about 160,000 registered voters to get the measure on the ballot. They collected about 100,000 signatures, Slane said. He also said the Supreme Court ruling seems to indicate those signatures would not be included in any new petition drive.
The initiative petition was proposed after deadly tornadoes in May in central Oklahoma, including one that killed seven children at Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore.
The lawsuit challenging the ballot title was filed in October by Take Shelter Oklahoma and Kristi Conatzer, the mother of one of those seven children.
Gov. Mary Fallin is backing an alternative plan that would allow school districts to exceed bonding limits one time to fund storm shelters.