Category Archives: Initiative and referendum

Oklahoma tinkers with petition law; Kansas has none

Sometimes we in Kansas like to poke fun at our neighbors to the south in Oklahoma. I’m sure they do the same to us.

But one way in which Oklahoma has Kansas beat is in Oklahoma citizens’ ability to petition their government through the process of initiative and referendum.

It’s not possible to do this in Kansas, at least for our state government. And Oklahomans have to be vigilant to make sure the right to petition isn’t taken away from them. It’s a continual effort.

Paul Jacob, president of the Citizens in Charge Foundation summarizes the legislative action in Oklahoma this year as relates to initiative and referendum:

Certainly, I’m encouraged to see Oklahoma citizens win major victories this year. The legislature passed a constitutional amendment to lower the signature requirement. That amendment will appear on the ballot next year. Legislators also passed SB 800, which mandates that challenges to the wording of a petition be dealt with prior to signature gathering. The governor signed SB 800 into law.

But it’s disappointing to see the governor kill HB 2246. Most importantly, HB 2246 would have increased the time citizens have to gather petition signatures from a scant 90 days, currently, to a full year under the language of the bill. This is the most important reform needed in Oklahoma and one we’ll continue to push.

While freedom-loving Oklahomans have to work each year to make sure their right to petition their state government isn’t watered-down so much as to be useless, we in Kansas have no such concern. That’s because we can’t petition our state government.

What would it take for Kansans to gain the right to petition their state government? We’d need to amend the Kansas Constitution. That requires passage of the amendment by a two-thirds majority of both the Kansas House and Senate, and then passage by a majority vote of the people.

It’s a difficult challenge.

Citizens in Charge has a page listing the benefits of initiatives. Perhaps the most important is “Ballot initiatives allow citizens to enact meaningful policy changes that otherwise have little chance of being passed by politicians.”

Legislators don’t like to share the power to make laws with citizens. Unfortunately, since legislators would have to pass a petition law by a difficult to achieve super majority, Kansans may have to continue to wait for the freedom and power that Oklahomans enjoy.

Kansas Lags in Initiative and Referendum

On Saturday I traveled to Oklahoma City to attend “Reforming the Reform Process: How to Restore Oklahoma’s Initiative.” What I learned is that Oklahomans are concerned with reforming a valuable citizen right that doesn’t exist at all in Kansas.

The initiative process allows citizens to place a question on a ballot to be voted on by the people. This is helpful when the legislature or governor refuse to pass laws that the people want. Referendum allows for laws that have been passed to be revoked. In both cases, citizens usually have to gather a large number of signatures in order for the measure to make it on the ballot.

The entrenched powers in states usually don’t welcome initiative and referendum. These powers that will resist I&R are not only legislatures, but also bureaucrats and organizations like teachers unions that benefit from current political arrangements. They’ll do whatever they can to defeat citizen efforts.

For example, I learned of an effort where a group spent some $750,000 to gather signatures on a petition, only to have the effort invalidated due to a technical defect in the language on the petition. The measure, dealing with educational reform, was opposed by the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. That group, and others, sued to have the petition effort invalidated. They were successful.

This illustrates a problem that citizen groups face. They may spend tremendous effort and money, only for it to be wasted. In most states, the process is stacked in favor of entrenched interests.

Kansas has no initiative and referendum at the state level. This is only one are in which Kansas lags behind the standard set by other states.

To learn more about the initiative and referendum process, visit these sites: Citizens in Charge Foundation, Initiative & Referendum Institute, and Ballotpedia.