Friday, November 2, 2018

Important State Questions on Tuesday’s Ballot

Election Tuesday is next week, and there’s a lot more on the midterm ballot than candidates running for office.

While voting on state offices and our local state representatives and senators is important, this election ballot also includes five state questions that can have significant impacts on Oklahoma and its residents.

State Question 793 is a citizen-initiated referendum to allow optometrists and opticians to operate in retail establishments, while State Question 794 expands the constitutional rights of crime victims, known as “Marsy’s Law.”

Providing for the election of governor and lieutenant governor on a joint ticket starting in 2026 is the subject of State Question 798, with State Question 800 creating a new budget reserve fund, the Oklahoma Vision Fund, to receive a portion of gross production tax revenues. The final question on the ballot, State Question 801, allows for local building fund revenues to be used for school operations.

Local optometrist Dr. Amanda Trudeau Hatcher said 793 will change the Oklahoma constitution.

“Walmart is wanting to put optometrists in their facilities,” Trudeau Hatcher explained. “They are actually wanting to change the state constitution to fit their business model and change health care laws and limit the scope of practice.”

Trudeau Hatcher explained that with the current constitution and health care laws, optometrists in the state are required to provide comprehensive eye exams, to check for glaucoma, high blood pressure and other eye-related conditions. If the law is changed, patients in Oklahoma will not know if the care they receive includes a quality exam.

Supporters of the question feel that increasing competition will drive prices down, but Trudeau Hatcher said it will probably drive smaller, independent optometrists out of the market, in addition to lowering the standard of care.

“A corporation is wanting to change the state health care laws,” Trudeau Hatcher said, adding that 13 other states are supporting Oklahoma in fighting the referendum. “What that means for patients is they are wanting to make money; they’re not there to protect the patient’s health.

“I would encourage voters to vote ‘no’ on State Question 793,” she said. “Don’t let a corporation change our state health care laws. They are there to protect you as the patient.”

State Question 794 would add several new rights for crime victims to the Oklahoma constitution, according to the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

The measure, known as Marsy’s Law, would give victims the right to be notified of criminal case proceedings in which they are involved, to be heard in court during the proceedings on their case, receive full and timely restitution and speak with the case prosecutor upon request.

Supporters feel that the people accused of crimes should not have more rights than the victims, with victims having a say in plea bargaining and notifying victims of sentencing changes.

Opponents of Marsy’s Law claim the implementation will be costly, and that allowing victims to testify will interfere with a defendant’s right to a fair trial or parole hearing.

Also on the ballot is State Question 798, which would allow the governor and lieutenant governor to run together on one ticket beginning in 2026.

According to OPI, supporters of this question say partnering the governor and lieutenant governor will make it more likely that Oklahoma leaders have a unified vision and work together better to implement policies. Opponents say that requiring both positions to be elected as one ticket takes away options from voters and places too much power with the governor.

State Question 800 would create a trust fund, the Oklahoma Vision Fund, in which collections from the gross production tax on oil and gas would be deposited.

Sallisaw School Superintendent Jeremy Jackson said 800, if passed, will endanger dedicated funding for public schools across the state.

Jackson said schools now receive about 10 percent of all gross production revenue funding outside of the appropriations process. According to information from the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, the percentage of GPT collections would increase every year with no cap until all GPT collections would be directed to the fund. Jackson said eventually, this would eliminate GPT as a dedicated revenue source for schools.

The Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration opposes State Question 800.

“Schools could lose millions of dollars in potential funding every year due to the diversion of funds to the Oklahoma Vision Fund,” according to a CCOSA statement. “Schools currently get about 10 percent of all GPT revenue in funding that is dedicated outside the appropriations process.”

State Question 801 deals more specifically with school funding, removing restrictions on how school districts may use some property tax dollars.

According to the OSSBA, passing this measure will not create any additional funding for schools, and most schools have already shifted as many operational costs as possible to the building fund to free up as much money as possible for classroom needs, including teacher salaries. The group also says Oklahoma school districts don’t have excess building fund money going unused; in fact, most districts have unmet capital improvement needs.

CCOSA also opposes State Question 801.

“It would negatively impact funding for public schools at a time when they are already extremely under-funded,” the CCOSA statement reads. “With the increase in tax rates on oil and gas in 2017, new revenue will be available to support public education and other vital state services that have suffered in recent years due to budget cuts. We need to restore those cuts and meet current budget needs before diverting money to a third trust fund for the state.”

Jackson said he also is not a proponent of State Question 800 or 801.

“We already have flexibility in the way we use some of these building fund dollars,” Jackson explained, urging voters to vote “no” on both 800 and 801. “We need them for capital improvements to our buildings.”

Pam Cloud, Managing News Director

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