Take Shelter Oklahoma vs. the State Attorney General

Following a series of deadly tornados in Oklahoma City that killed 47 people in May of 2013, students, educators, and parents have been patiently waiting for a ruling on an initiative petition, which sought a statewide vote to provide storm shelters in Oklahoma public schools. The petition drive, dubbed Take Shelter Oklahoma, was created only four months after a tornado horrifically ripped apart two local schools in Moore, sadly claiming the lives of seven children at Plaza Towers Elementary. The string of deadly tornados has forced everyone to reconsider overall safety and roofing in OKC.

Take Shelter Oklahoma calls for a statewide vote on a program in which shelters would be paid for via a $500 million bond issue funded by Oklahoma's pre-existing franchise taxes. State Rep. Joe Dorman, a firm supporter of the initiative, said the move is "necessary because numerous school districts have limited bonding capacity and already must make difficult choices with the resources they have." Rep. Dorman added, "Protecting children is the responsibility of every Oklahoman, and parents deserve the peace of mind that their kids at school can have sufficient shelter during life-threatening weather. In this region of the nation, that is far from a hypothetical situation."

As the initiative made its way through the proper channels of local government, Take Shelter Oklahoma seems to have received a surprising bit of pushback earlier this year from the State Attorney General's office. The group claimed that the State Attorney General changed the language on the initially proposed ballot to "purposely make it more confusing for voters and unnecessarily one sided on what the cost of the shelters would actually be."

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Take Shelter Oklahoma recently filed a lawsuit against the State Attorney General for its misrepresentation of their cause and, since both sides could not agree on how the ballot should be written, the issue went to the Supreme Court. Following deliberation, the Supreme Court ruled on April 1st, 2014, that the ballot language written by the Attorney General's Office was legal. This was a huge blow for a group that was hoping to avoid economic over-analysis in its efforts to better protect the state's youth. Laws had already been put into place for stauncher regulations regarding general contacting and roofing in OKC during rebuilding periods, and locals were hoping the addition of necessary school shelters would further the cause.

The Attorney General's office issued the following comment:

I appreciate the efforts of those working to help protect Oklahoma students from severe and dangerous weather. As the court noted, the role of the Attorney General's Office in the ballot title process is as 'a neutral legal adviser for the people.' As such, my office is required to review all ballot measures to ensure they comply with the law, and any changes should not be considered a statement on the merits of the proposals. The court's ruling today affirms that my office's ballot title is 'legally correct, impartial and accurately reflects the effects of the proposed initiative' and shows that any assertions to the contrary are completely false. Throughout the process, my office has acted as a neutral legal adviser and the court's ruling upholds the correctness, accuracy and impartiality of the ballot title my office proposed.

Time will tell how much in the way of new school safety measures is paid for by the Oklahoma state government. Until then, homeowners should ensure that their own families are protected by investing in the best storm safe roofing available.