In addition to state and national races, voters will decide two state questions on November 3.
*State Question 805 would amend the Oklahoma Constitution to end the use of sentence enhancements for people convicted of nonviolent crimes.
*State Question 814 would amend the Oklahoma constitution to change the way Oklahoma’s tobacco settlement money is distributed.
According to the Oklahoma Policy Institute people who are currently sentenced to prison can have their sentences extended if they have prior felony convictions. Under State Question 805, people convicted of nonviolent felonies could still receive the maximum sentence for that crime, but would not receive additional time — called a “sentence enhancement” — due to past convictions. In addition, this measure would allow people to petition a court to have their sentences shortened if they are currently in prison for nonviolent convictions and had received a sentence enhancement. A fiscal analysis of SQ 805 by the Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs estimates that the ballot measure would reduce the prison population by about 8.5 percent and save the state up to $186 million over the next 10 years
Supporters of SQ 805 say,
*Sentence enhancements have no proven public safety benefit, but cost the state millions in unnecessary incarceration.
*People sentenced to prison can still be given the maximum sentence under current law, and those maximums can still be changed by the Legislature. SQ 805 would simply disallow a longer sentence than the maximum because of a prior nonviolent conviction.
*A fiscal analysis of SQ 805 by the Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs estimates that the ballot measure would reduce the prison population by about 8.5 percent and save the state up to $186 million over the next 10 years.
Opponents of SQ 805 say,
*It would prevent future changes to the list of offenses classified as violent for the purposes of sentence enhancements. Some offenses — simple and domestic assault and battery — should be included, but cannot be added later if SQ 805 passes.
*Amending the Constitution goes around the legislative process and prevents lawmakers from making adjustments to the law.
*Sentencing enhancements are important to maintain because they allow prosecutors to step up punishments for repeat offenders, and this takes away their ability to increase punishments beyond the statutory maximum.
State Question 814 would amend the Oklahoma Constitution to change the way Oklahoma’s tobacco settlement money is distributed. Every year, Oklahoma receives a payout from the 1998 tobacco lawsuit settlement. Seventy-five percent of the funds are placed in the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET), and the other 25 percent is split between the Legislature and the Attorney General. SQ 814 would switch the percentages, with 75 percent going to the Legislature and 25 percent going into the endowment fund. It would also mandate that the funds directed to the Legislature be used to help fund the state’s Medicaid program. Funds going to the Attorney General would continue to come out of the Legislative portion.
Supporters of SQ814 say,
*The endowment fund currently has over $1 billion dollars, so TSET should be able to continue funding research, prevention, and health initiatives in Oklahoma even if this change is implemented. *This change could generate close to $50 million annually, which could help fund Medicaid expansion without raising revenues.
*Using the settlement payments to help fund health care in Oklahoma could help keep the state from having to cut existing patient services or reduce the amount paid to health care providers.
Opponents of SQ814 say,
*TSET is funding important health initiatives, and over time, this ability will diminish, as a smaller deposit to the trust fund will mean lower interest earnings in the future. Voter approval of Medicaid expansion shouldn’t mean another public health measure loses funding, especially when strong health infrastructure is more important than ever.
*The language does not specify that the funds must be used for Medicaid expansion, leading to concerns that the funds could be used to replace existing Medicaid funding and leave the state without a way to fund expansion.
*There are other ways to fund expansion without a tax increase, including reductions in tax incentives, an increase on hospital fees, and retaining a fee on insurance plans.
The fate of these two state questions will be determined when Oklahoma voters go to the polls on Nov. 3.
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