WHAT seemed to be a simple idea — asking Oklahomans if they want state funds to pay for tornado shelters in public schools — is proving to be anything but simple. Supporters of the plan are wrangling with the attorney general over the wording of a state question. Oral arguments before an Oklahoma Supreme Court referee are set for Dec. 18, two days after the deadline that backers face to collect the signatures needed to put the measure on the ballot.
A simpler (and less expensive, though unlikely) approach would be for the Legislature to approve a resolution next session sending the idea to a vote of the people. Simpler still would be for each Oklahoma school district to decide how to deal with tornado safety measures. At its core this is a local issue, and patrons should determine whether shelters are needed and, if so, how to pay for them.
That has essentially been the approach of Gov. Mary Fallin. She's been criticized by those who prefer a $500 million bond issue to get the ball rolling statewide. State Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, who's leading the bond issue effort, said recently that he's “sick and tired of these people using their positions to fight against a program when they haven't offered any suitable alternatives.”
Dorman includes among “these people” Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who changed the language on the ballot issue. Those changes are at the root of a legal challenge filed by “Take Shelter Oklahoma,” a group of volunteers that includes the mother of one of seven children killed in the May 20 tornado in Moore.
Dorman and the group say Pruitt didn't legally make the changes to the ballot title in time. But they also argue that the revised language focuses too much on the bond issue's funding mechanism, which is a state franchise tax. The new language doesn't focus on the reasons for the constitutional amendment or what programs would be established by it, Dorman says. The group's attorney, David Slane, cited similar concerns this week. Both men say Pruitt is playing politics with the rewrite.