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Shelter petition group files suit against governor


Tim Farley February 4th, 2014

Advocacy group Take Shelter Oklahoma filed a lawsuit Monday demanding Gov. Mary Fallin release emails related to an initiative petition that could place storm shelters in all public schools.

take shelter with david slane web  09mh

Take Shelter, represented by Oklahoma City attorney David Slane, has alleged in court documents that Fallin, Attorney General Scott Pruitt and the State Chamber of Commerce conspired to defeat the petition drive, which required 160,000 signatures so the measure could be decided by voters.

Slane claims the emails are necessary for a Feb. 25 Oklahoma Supreme Court hearing involving the storm shelter issue and an allegation that Pruitt deliberately changed the ballot language to place more emphasis on the franchise tax. Take Shelter Oklahoma’s proposal called for $500 million in revenue bonds to pay for storm shelters in all public schools. The bonds would have been repaid with the state’s franchise tax, which the state chamber opposes.

Take Shelter Oklahoma’s original ballot language focused on the need for storm shelters in public schools.
“We believe these emails will likely show they (Fallin, Pruitt and the state chamber) are not in support of this initiative petition and that the attorney general is biased,” Slane said. “We believe the attorney general should be disqualified from this case and the original language reinstated.”

Campaign contribution records show influential members of the state chamber and their companies have contributed to Pruitt’s reelection bid.

Slane requested the emails in a Nov. 7 letter to Fallin’s office but did not receive a response until late December. However, the written reply was mailed to a Tulsa address instead of Slane’s office in OKC. Slane finally received the governor’s response late last month.

“Three months is plenty of time to turn over documents,” he said. “I know this is a pattern for the governor. This is not the first time she had to be sued over open records.”

The lawsuit against Fallin was filed in Oklahoma County District Court.

Governor’s stance
Fallin has argued shelters should be built and funded by local districts, not the state. In her State of the State speech Monday afternoon, Fallin said she supports a constitutional amendment that would allow school districts to incur a one-time debt above its bonding capacity for storm shelters, safe rooms and protections against dangerous intruders.

“This measure preserves local control, allowing each school district and community to make their own decisions about how to address these needs,” she said. “Some schools will need to build safe rooms while others will retrofit existing structures to withstand tornadoes. Schools that already have safe rooms or storm shelters may choose to focus on security precautions to protect their children from intruders.”

She also added, “We aren’t forcing new taxes on Oklahoma families or businesses. We aren’t passing new mandates. Most importantly, we are making our schools safer.”

In some cases, the extra school district debt may cause an increase in property taxes, Slane said.

Filing dates
As required by law, Take Shelter Oklahoma filed its initiative petition with the Oklahoma Secretary of State on Sept. 18. Pruitt filed an intention to change the ballot language on Sept. 27, two days after the legal deadline.

Since then, Take Shelter has filed a lawsuit asking the Supreme Court to reinstate the original ballot language.

Although the group fell short obtaining the required number of signatures by the Dec. 16 deadline, the petition could be resurrected depending on the court’s decision after the Feb. 25 hearing.

 
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