Shaky shelter

In an exclusive News9/Oklahoma Gazette poll, 52 percent of Oklahoma City residents “strongly supported” public funding to help build storm shelters in public schools. Another 26 percent “somewhat supported” the idea.

The survey included 980 city residents, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.13 percent. Though, when asked where the funding should come from, the division was pronounced. This adds to the fray considering last week’s decision from the state Capitol.

Last week, House Rules Committee Chairman Todd Russ (R-Cordell) dealt what might be a death blow to House Joint Resolution 1078, or what many now call the Take Shelter Oklahoma (TSO) resolution.

Russ chose not to hear the resolution by its deadline, which means it will not go to the House floor for further consideration, he said. It was authored by Rep. Joe Dorman (D-Rush Springs).

“I want people and school districts to decide at a local level what’s best for them,” Russ said in a telephone interview with Oklahoma Gazette.

Russ said he supports Rep. Mark McBride’s (R-Moore) House Joint Resolution 1092, which also has been endorsed by Gov. Mary Fallin. The measure would allow school district voters to decide if they want to exceed the district’s maximum bonding capacity for one-time expenditures connected to security and storm shelter protection.

Mark Nestlen, spokesman for Take Shelter Oklahoma, is concerned that “this doesn’t guarantee that any shelter will be built.”

There is still some hope for TSO supporters — albeit small — that a separate petition drive might survive a legal challenge and bypass the House and Senate, taking TSO’s proposition to fund school shelters to a public vote. Funds would be “serviced by the revenue collected from the state’s franchise tax, scheduled for reinstatement this year,” a media statement from TSO said. It would not require a tax increase, according to Dorman.

Last week, the Oklahoma
Supreme Court heard oral arguments regarding a petition ballot started
by TSO. A complicated issue, the petition was reworded at one point,
which threw the validity of the petition, among other issues, into
debate.

There is some
chance that the TSO petition might be allowed to proceed depending on
the Supreme Court’s decision. If it does, and if enough signatures are
approved, the issue (the same wording in JHR 1078) would bypass
legislative consideration and move straight to a vote of the people,
Nestlen said.

See exclusive News9/Oklahoma Gazette poll analysis at okgazette.com.

Jennifer Chancellor

Jennifer is editor-in-chief of Oklahoma Gazette. Her journalistic work includes news, breaking news, music, feature and news feature reporting, investigative journalism, news photography, videography, blogging, page design and marketing spanning more than two decades in Oklahoma. Twitter: @JenChancellor

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