MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

November 4, 2012

P.M. UPDATE: Six state questions that appear on the 2012 ballot

— These six state questions will appear on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. All were referred to a vote of the people by the Oklahoma Legislature. Each question is reprinted here exactly as it will appear on the ballot, followed by a brief explanation prepared by the Oklahoma Press Association.

“STATE QUESTION NO. 758 — LEGISLATIVE REFERENDUM NO. 358

This measure amends the State Constitution. It amends Section 8B of Article 10.

The measure deals with real property taxes also called ad valorem taxes. These taxes are based on several factors. One factor is the fair cash value of the property. The measure changes the limits on increases in fair cash value. Now, increases are limited to 5 percent of fair cash value in any taxable year.

The measure changes the cap on increases to 3 percent for some property. The 3 percent cap would apply to homestead exempted property. The cap would also apply to agricultural land.

The measure also removes obsolete language.”

• State Question 758 would prevent county assessors from raising the assessed value of homes and farms by more than 3% per year. The current limit is 5 percent. The cap is intended to keep property tax bills from rising too rapidly.

Property taxes pay for local services in Oklahoma, including public schools, city streets, county roads and police and fire protection. They also pay off bond issues used to finance capital improvements.

County assessors increase assessed values as market prices rise. Proponents of SQ 758 say the 3 percent cap would protect senior citizens and other property owners living on fixed incomes.

Critics of the measure say it would limit future funding for public services. They argue that it would primarily benefit homeowners living in more affluent neighborhoods and might force assessors to raise millage rates for everyone to satisfy bond issue requirements.

The measure was authorized by House Joint Resolution 1002 by Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, and Sen. Jim Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City. It passed the Senate 26-19 and the House 77-16.

“STATE QUESTION NO. 759 — LEGISLATIVE REFERENDUM NO. 359

This measure adds a new section to the State Constitution. It adds Section 36 to Article II.

The measure deals with three areas of government action. These areas are employment, education and contracting.

In these areas, the measure does not allow affirmative action programs. Affirmative action programs give preferred treatment based on race, color or gender. They also give preferred treatment based on ethnicity or national origin. Discrimination on these bases is also not permitted.

The measure permits affirmative action in three instances. 1. When gender is a bonafide qualification, it is allowed. 2. Existing court orders and consent decrees that require preferred treatment will continue and can be followed. 3. Affirmative action is allowed when needed to keep or obtain federal funds.

The measure applies to the State and its agencies. It applies to counties, cities and towns. It applies to school districts. It applies to other State subdivisions.

The measure applies only to actions taken after its approval by the people.”

• State Question No. 759 would ban government affirmative action programs in Oklahoma, with some exceptions.

Affirmative action programs call for hiring preferences or other special treatment based on race, color, gender, ethnicity or national origin. SQ 759 would prohibit the use of such preferences in public employment, education and contracts.

The measure allows three exceptions: when gender is a legitimate job qualification, when previous court orders require affirmative action and when federal funds are at stake.

Supporters of SQ 759 say affirmative action is no longer needed to ensure equal opportunity in Oklahoma and that state jobs and contracts should go to the most qualified applicants regardless of race or gender.

Critics contend the measure is unnecessary because state law already prevents the use of quotas in state hiring and contracting. Its passage could endanger state-funded scholarships that target minorities.

SQ 759 was authorized by Senate Joint Resolution 15 by Sen. Rob Johnson, R-Kingfisher, and Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang. It passed the Senate 31-15 and the House 59-14.

“STATE QUESTION NO. 762 — LEGISLATIVE REFERENDUM NO. 360

This measure amends Section 10 of Article 6 of the Oklahoma Constitution. It changes current law, decreasing the power and authority of the Governor by removing the Governor from the parole process for persons convicted of certain offenses defined as nonviolent offenses. It enlarges the power and authority of the Pardon and Parole Board by authorizing that Board, in place of the Governor, to grant parole to persons convicted of certain offenses defined as nonviolent offenses.

The Legislature defines what offenses are nonviolent offenses and the Legislature may change that definition.

The measure authorizes the Pardon and Parole Board to recommend to the Governor, but not to itself grant, parole for persons convicted of certain offenses, specifically those offenses identified by law as crimes for which persons are required to serve not less than eighty-five percent of their sentence prior to being considered for parole and those designated by the Legislature as exceptions to nonviolent offenses. For those offenses for which persons are required to serve a minimum mandatory period of confinement prior to being eligible to be considered for parole, the Pardon and Parole Board may not recommend parole until that period of confinement has been served.”

• State Question No. 762 remove the governor from the parole process for most nonviolent offenders. If approved, the appointed Pardon and Parole Board would have final say in deciding whether to release nonviolent offenders from prison.

SQ 762 would require the governor to continue to approve paroles for people convicted of violent offenses and offenses requiring a minimum mandatory sentence.

Oklahoma currently is the only state in the nation requiring its governor to approve all paroles. Some authorities say the requirement contributes to prison overcrowding by slowing paroles for nonviolent offenders who pose minimal risk to public safety.

An independent audit of the Department of Corrections estimated that passage of SQ 762 could save the state $40 million over the next decade by reducing the state prison population.

The Oklahoma District Attorneys Association opposes SQ 762, contending recent Pardon and Parole Board actions have led to the early release of prisoners who should be required to complete the sentence imposed by state law.

SQ 762 was authorized by Senate Joint Resolution 25 by Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate, and House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee. It passed the Senate 39-1 and the House 86-8.

“STATE QUESTION NO. 764 — LEGISLATIVE REFERENDUM NO. 361

This measure amends the Oklahoma Constitution. It adds a new Section 39A to Article 10. It would allow the Oklahoma Water Resources Board to issue bonds. Any bonds issued would be used to provide a reserve fund for the Board. The fund would be a reserve fund for certain water resource and sewage treatment funding programs. The fund could only be used to pay other bonds and obligations for the funding programs. The bonds could only be issued after other monies and sources are used for repayment. The bonds would be general obligation bonds. Not more than Three Hundred Million Dollars worth of bonds could be issued. The Legislature would provide the monies to pay for the bonds. The Legislature would provide for methods for issuing the bonds. The Legislature would provide for how the fund is administered.”

• State Question No. 764 would assist the Oklahoma Water Resources Board in leveraging additional funding for local water and sewage treatment. The pledge of credit will be up to $300 million.

The additional pledge of credit would allow the Water Resources Board to provide bond financing for an estimated $82 billion in needed water and sewage treatment improvements over the next 50 years.

If SQ 764 is approved, bonds could only be issued after other local and state reserve funds and insurance policy funds were exhausted, and if local governments failed to make required loan payments to the Water Resources Board. Any bonds issued would be repaid with state tax revenues. The Water Resources Board has been providing water and wastewater infrastructure loans since 1985.

The State Legislature would provide money to pay for the bonds, methods for issuing the bonds and provide how the bond fund is administered.     

SQ 764 was authorized by House Joint Resolution 1085 by Rep. Phil Richardson, R-Minco, and Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa. It passed the House 81-11 and the Senate 32-9.

“STATE QUESTION NO. 765 — LEGISLATIVE REFERENDUM NO. 362

The measure amends the Oklahoma Constitution. It abolishes the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, the Oklahoma Commission of Human Services and the position of Director of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. These entities were created under different names by Sections 2, 3 and 4 of Article 25 of the Oklahoma Constitution and given duties and responsibilities related to the care of the aged and needy. The measure repeals these sections of the Constitution and consequently, removes the power of the Commission of Human Services to establish policy and adopt rules and regulations. Under the measure, the Legislature and the people by initiative petition retain the power to adopt legislation for these purposes.

The measure adds a provision to the Constitution authorizing the Legislature to create a department or departments to administer and carry out laws to provide for the care of the aged and the needy. The measure also authorizes the Legislature to enact laws requiring the newly-created department or departments to perform other duties.”

• State Question No. 765 would restructure the Oklahoma Department of Human Services by eliminating its constitutional mandate and authorizing the Legislature to re-create the agency through legislation.

Under existing constitutional provisions, which would be stricken by SQ 765, DHS is controlled by a nine-member governing board that appoints its director. The Legislature already has enacted a law giving the governor the power to appoint the DHS director and the members of four advisory committees.

The proposed changes are designed to improve oversight of the agency, which provides services to elderly, poor and disabled Oklahomans. The existing management structure was identified as one of the problems contributing to a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of children subject to DHS-supervised foster care.

Some supporters have expressed concern that the language of SQ 765 might confuse voters because it says DHS will be “abolished� and does not state that the agency would continue to operate under a new management structure.

SQ 765 was authorized by House Joint Resolution 1085 by Rep. Phil Richardson, R-Minco, and Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa. It passed the House 81-11 and the Senate 32-9.

“STATE QUESTION NO. 766 — LEGISLATIVE REFERENDUM NO. 363

This measure amends Section 6A of Article 10 of the Oklahoma Constitution. At present that section exempts some intangible personal property from ad valorem property taxation. This measure would exempt all intangible personal property from ad valorem property taxation.

An ad valorem property tax is a tax imposed upon the value of property.

Intangible Personal Property is property whose value is not derived from its physical attributes, but rather from what it represents or evidences.

Intangible Personal Property which is still currently taxed but would not be taxed if the measure is adopted, includes items such as:

• patents, inventions, formulas, designs, and trade secrets;

• licenses, franchise, and contracts;

• land leases, mineral interests, and insurance policies;

• custom computer software; and

• trademarks, trade names and brand names.

If adopted, the measure would apply to property taxation starting with the tax year that begins on January 1, 2013.”

• State Question No. 766 would end the taxation of intangible business property such as patents, trademarks, brand names, franchises, contracts, mineral interests and proprietary computer software.

The ballot measure was approved by the Legislature in response to an Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling that said all forms of intangible property are taxable except those already exempted by the Constitution, such as cash and securities.

If adopted, SQ 766 would exempt all forms of intangible property from the property tax.

The Oklahoma Tax Commission estimated that approval of SQ 766 could reduce property tax collections by as much as $50 million per year.

The biggest effect would be felt in counties that receive large shares of their property tax revenue from public utility companies, railroads and airlines. Some education advocates are opposed to SQ 766 because of its potential effect on school funding.

Supporters of SQ 766, including the State Chamber of Commerce, say its failure could lead to future tax increases on smaller businesses because county assessors would be under pressure to start taxing intangible property across the board.

SQ 766 was authorized by Senate Joint Resolution 52 by Sen. Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa, and Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City. It passed the Senate 31-14 and the House 65-29.

(Source: Oklahoma Press Association)

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