OKLAHOMA CITY — Apparently, some legislators are so concerned about recreational marijuana becoming legal in Oklahoma that they want to make it harder for initiative petitions to get on statewide ballots.

House Bill 1603, by Rep. John Enns, R-Enid, proposes a constitutional amendment that could increase the number of signatures required for initiative petitions to be placed on the ballot and would require that a minimum number of signatures be obtained in each of the state’s 77 counties.

“A lot of what’s going around in these other states, like legalization of recreational marijuana, has been done through initiative petition,” Enns said in explaining his bill to the House Rules Committee on Tuesday. “And (constituents) are like, ‘We don’t want to see that happen in Oklahoma.’”

“So really,” asked Rep. Melodye Blancett, D-Tulsa, “the issue here is the fear — this is a pre-emptive strike — regarding a fear that some marijuana bill will come up and become a state question?”

“It’s not a pre-emptive strike,” Enns replied. “It’s an effort to allow the rest of the state to have some say-so in the initiative petition process.”

Oklahomans will vote June 26 on a medical marijuana measure that was brought to the ballot through an initiative petition.

Currently, initiative petitions seeking a statutory change must gather a number of valid signatures equal to 8 percent of the state’s legal voters at the time of the last gubernatorial election. Constitutional amendments require 15 percent. Referenda, which allow voters to repeal legislative acts, require 5 percent.

Enns’ bill would require that those minimums be achieved in each of the 77 counties. It also would remove the provision that the number of signatures required be based on the number of legal voters in the last gubernatorial election. That would seem to leave open the question of how the baseline for determining the number of required signatures is to be determined.

Enns did not disagree when Rep. David Perryman, D-Chickasha, suggested that the baseline could become presidential elections, when voter registration typically peaks. That would mean a higher signature threshold. Enns said he would be willing to revert to the existing language on that point.

“As it stands right now,” he said, “a lot of the population centers around the state — also around the United States, for that matter — are controlling these kinds of referendums. It’s like the rural folks … don’t have any kind of say in the issue.

“My constituents are saying, ‘We’ve got to do something about this, because we don’t feel like we’re represented at all.’”

The bill now goes to the House floor.

Also Tuesday:

A work requirement for Medicaid recipients passed the House Public Health Committee with assurances that it would affect a relatively small number of recipients.

Rep. Glen Mulready, R-Jenks, said his House Bill 2932 would exclude people younger than 19 and older than 64, pregnant women, parents or caretakers of dependent infants, and people who are unable to work.

The bill would require at least 20 hours a week of employment, volunteer work or participation in an Oklahoma Health Care Authority “work program.”

Mulready said about 8,000 Oklahoma Medicaid recipients currently have no income and that several thousand more have minimal income. He pointed out that Oklahoma already has a work requirement for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program food stamps and that most Medicaid recipients are already covered by that.

The full House passed HB 3583, by Speaker Charles McCall, requiring that the director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services have at least three years’ experience as an “expert accountant.”

Neither current director Denise Northrup nor her predecessor, Preston Doerflinger, meet that prerequisite.

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Randy Krehbiel

918-581-8365

randy.krehbiel@tulsaworld.com

Twitter: @rkrehbiel

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