Proponents of State Question 805 finally got to turn in their initiative petitions on Monday.
Now they have to hope it gets through the approval process in time for the Nov. 3 general election.
Given resistance from some quarters to the measure, which would bar the use of sentencing enhancements for certain low-level crimes, that might be more of a challenge than one expects. The secretary of state, the attorney general and possibly the state Supreme Court all have to sign off on it, and Gov. Kevin Stitt has considerable latitude about scheduling a vote.
Sarah Edwards, president of Yes on 805, said the campaign figures it has to be through all the hoops by Aug. 24 to make the November ballot.
The campaign says it collected about 260,000 signatures, which is 82,000 more than required. The signature drive was suspended in March because of COVID-19, then had to sue Secretary of State Michael Rogers to force him to accept the petition pamphlets, as the signature-gathering documents are called.
Rogers had said he couldn’t accept the pamphlets while his office was closed because of COVID-19 and for public health reasons.
SQ 805 argued the delay risked keeping the issue off the 2020 ballot, which meant it could be two years before it gets a vote.
Supporters say prosecutors’ use of sentence enhancements — the adding of jail time because of previous convictions — contribute significantly and unfairly to the state’s high prison population.
Prosecutors and others in law enforcement disagree, which has prevented the issue from advancing in the Legislature.“The policy was introduced in 2017, 2018 and 2019,” said Kris Steele, executive director of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform and a former state Speaker of the House. “Ultimately, the policy failed to gain traction because of the political dynamics evident at 23rd and Lincoln.”
That last was a reference to the state Capitol, which Oklahomans have demonstrated a willingness to bypass in recent years by passing initiative petitions on such things as medical marijuana and criminal justice reform.
“When we conducted a poll and found that the people support this policy, a decision was made to put it directly in the hands of the voters,” Steele said.