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State questions present Oklahoma voters with difficult choices

Oklahoma voters will decide the fate of six state questions on Nov. 6 — 758, 759, 762, 764, 765 and 766.
by Randy Ellis Published: November 4, 2012

The governing commission of the state Department of Human Services would be abolished under one of the six state questions Oklahomans will be asked to vote on Tuesday.

Few if any issues have evoked more raw emotion in Oklahoma than the state's repeated failure to prevent the deaths of abused and neglected children after they have come into state custody.

Part of the Legislature's proposed solution is restructuring of the agency through State Question 765.

The ballot language has created some confusion because it calls for abolishing the state Department of Human Services, the state Commission of Human Services and the position of agency director without specifying what would replace them.

What voters need to know — but isn't on the ballot — is that the Legislature has passed a law that will take effect if the state question passes. That law calls for the governor to appoint the agency's director and would require four citizen advisory panels to be created to oversee DHS operations and administration.

Gov. Mary Fallin and many legislative leaders have been encouraging Oklahomans to vote for the question, saying it would improve agency accountability, since the governor is elected and must be responsive to constituents.

A number of child advocates have come out in favor of the state question.

But not everyone is supportive. Former DHS Commission Chairman Richard DeVaughn has argued it would return the agency to the “old political patronage system so that every time you get a new governor, you're going to get a new director.”

“The governors are going to hire their friends or people, whether they are capable or not, to run the job. So then you're going to have another layer of bureaucracy,” he said in May.

The other five state questions would:

• Limit property tax increases by placing a 3 percent annual cap on the amount county assessors can raise appraisals of agricultural land and property with homestead exemptions. The current cap is 5 percent.

• Prohibit affirmative action programs that give preferential treatment based on race, color, gender ethnicity or national origin, with certain limited exceptions.

• Remove the governor from the parole process for persons convicted of certain crimes classified as nonviolent offenses.

• Exempt all intangible personal property from ad valorem property taxation.

• Authorize the state Water Resources Board to issue bonds to finance a reserve fund for water resource and sewage treatment funding programs.

Here are summaries and some key issues about these five state questions:

State Question 762 (parole process).

A “yes” vote on this would remove the governor from the parole process for persons convicted of certain nonviolent offenses.

Its legislative authors say it could save the state tens of millions of dollars by eliminating unneeded delays in the release of nonviolent offenders.

Fallin was for the state question but is now against it. She switched positions after Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater raised questions about whether state Pardon and Parole Board members have acted illegally by placing inmates on a docket for early release consideration while using a vague agenda item that did not adequately inform the public.

“Recent events have led me to believe now is not the right time for the governor's office to be removed from its oversight role of the Pardon and Parole Board,” Fallin announced in October.

She also expressed concerns that State Question 762 would define nonviolent offenders by only their current offenses.

State Question 759 (affirmative action).

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by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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