Supporters of a plan to issue $500 million in bonds to help Oklahoma school districts pay for safe-room shelters filed a legal challenge Thursday against Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s rewrite of the measure’s ballot title.
The challenge filed by Take Shelter Oklahoma and Kristi Conatzer, the mother of one of seven children who were killed when a tornado struck a school in Moore in May, says the initiative petition’s original ballot title is legally correct and asks the Oklahoma Supreme Court to reinstate it.
A state lawmaker who is spearheading the effort, Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, said in a statement that Pruitt’s rewritten ballot title is an attempt “to politicize the issue of protecting school children.”
“His rewrite of the ballot title does not adequately represent the meaning and purpose of the constitutional amendment,” Dorman said. “His rewrite is a political commentary on the use of the revenue source instead of an explanation of the ballot measure, something prohibited by state law.”
Conatzer, whose daughter Emily was among the children killed at Plaza Tower Elementary School when a tornado struck Moore on May 20, accused Pruitt of attempting to stop Oklahomans from protecting their children.
“My child died because her school did not have adequate protection for the children,” Conatzer said. “I never want to see another family suffer like mine did because of politicians who say one thing but don’t follow through on promises.”
A spokesman for Pruitt’s office, Aaron Cooper, said in a statement that the rewritten ballot title fulfills the attorney general’s statutory duty.
“The AG’s office reviewed the proposed ballot language, found inconsistencies and submitted revised ballot language to the Secretary of State that complied with the law,” Cooper’s statement said.
The challenge alleges that the new ballot title focuses primarily on the business franchise tax that would fund the proposal rather than placing safe rooms or storm shelters in schools.
“The proposal from the attorney general is misleading, confusing and will not help the average voter when he or she votes,” the challenge says.
It also alleges Pruitt’s ballot title is improper because he failed to comply with legal deadlines for submitting a rewrite.
As attorney general, Pruitt has the legal authority to rewrite the ballot title on any initiative petition. But state law requires that he notify the Secretary of State within five business days after the filing of the measure and ballot title if he believes the title needs to be rewritten.
Take Shelter Oklahoma filed the initiative and ballot title on Sept. 18, requiring Pruitt to act by Sept. 25. But the attorney general did not respond until Sept. 27, according to the challenge.
Supporters of the measure accused Pruitt and Gov. Mary Fallin of trying to block the initiative petition. The governor has said she believes school storm shelters should be funded through local, not statewide, bond issues.
Supporters have already have started gathering the estimated 155,000 signatures of registered voters they need to place the proposal on the election ballot. State law gives supporters 90 days after they file an initiative petition to gather the signatures or 90 days after the Supreme Court determines the petition is sufficient, whichever is later.
The state’s highest court did not indicate when it will take up the case.
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