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Court gives mixed ruling in storm shelter fight


Ben Felder April 1st, 2014

Advocates for a plan to construct storm shelters in schools called Tuesday’s Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling a “mixed bag.”

slane
Take Shelter Oklahoma, a group that had been collecting signatures to force a ballot question to use $500 million in state bonds to build shelters, filed a lawsuit against Attorney General Scott Pruitt last year after he changed the language on their petition and ballot.

The lawsuit made its way to the state Supreme Court, which ruled Tuesday that Pruitt’s changes to the petition were valid. However, the court also gave Take Shelter Oklahoma another 90 days to collect signatures.

“We do believe the ballot language used by the attorney general is not fair. We think it’s inaccurate, and we think it’s biased,” said David Slane, an attorney representing the petitioners. “On the other hand, the attorney general argued that our 90 days were up, and the Supreme Court has said our 90 days has just begun.”

Slane said Take Shelter Oklahoma did not want to move forward with the ballot language as constructed by Pruitt. Instead, Slane said they were interested in writing a new petition that both sides could agree on.

“The mothers I have spoken to have indicated they will not go forward with the ballot language of the attorney general,” Slane said at a Tuesday press conference. “We believe it overemphasizes a tax and underemphasizes tornado safety and security for our children.”

The petition was spurred by a May 20, 2013 tornado that hit Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore, killing seven students.

“I was disappointed,” said Danni Legg, the mother of a Plaza Towers student who died last year. “I felt very confident that we were going to have an extended 90 days and they were going to keep our ballot title.”

Legg said she had grown frustrated that the issue has become politicized and she felt Pruitt was not considering the future lives of children by changing the petition.

“The value of a child’s life is not as important [to him] as it is to me,” Legg said. “I lost a child on May 20, and he did not.”

In a statement following the court’s ruling, Pruitt said he appreciated the effort of the petitioners but stood by his actions.

“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,” Pruitt said. “Throughout the process, my office has acted as a neutral legal advisor, and the court’s ruling upholds the correctness, accuracy and impartiality of the ballot title my office proposed.”

Slane said he was waiting to hear from Pruitt before making his next move but vowed to continue fighting to put the issue on a statewide ballot.

Take Shelter Oklahoma is advocating for the construction of school shelters funded through the current franchise tax. Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, who is running for governor, has advocated for the plan. Gov. Mary Fallin has responded with support of a plan that would allow school districts to issue local bonds to construct shelters.
 
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