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.

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