July 03--Hoping persistence pays off, backers of a proposal to issue $500 million in state bonds to pay for school storm shelters launched a renewed petition drive Wednesday.
Flanked by about two dozen supporters, including the mothers of two of the seven children who were killed when a tornado hit Moore's Plaza Towers Elementary School in May 2013, attorney David Slane announced supporters will begin circulating petitions Thursday.
"I implore the parents -- not just of Moore -- but of Oklahoma, the entire state, to not just sign the petition, but to grab one and pass it to their friends and let's get these signatures," said Danni Legg, mother of Plaza Towers third-grader Christopher Legg, 9, who died in the tornado. "We feel that no child in the state of Oklahoma should ever worry about the building around them and are they safe at school."
Volunteer petition circulators are expected to be at Fourth of July festivities and other major events throughout the state in coming weeks, Slane said. The group is actively seeking additional volunteers willing to gather signatures. An announcement will be made in coming days concerning where blank copies of the petition can be obtained, he said.
Supporters of the school shelter bond issue will have 90 days to gather the required 155,216 signatures of registered Oklahoma voters. They hope to get the issue on the November general election ballot.
Slane said it's an important mission. Sixty-one percent of Oklahoma public schools currently lack storm shelters, leaving more than 506,000 students and faculty vulnerable, he said.
Fifty people died in the tornadoes and storms that roared through central Oklahoma in May 2013, including the seven Plaza Towers Elementary School students.
Noticeably absent from the supporters who appeared with Slane at Wednesday's news conference were Democratic gubernatorial candidate Joe Dorman, of Rush Springs, and other elected officials who played a prominent role in the initial petition drive.
Slane said that was by design because the petition drive is about the safety of Oklahoma's children and supporters felt the first petition drive became too politicized and it hurt the petition's chances.
Dorman told The Oklahoman in a telephone interview that he continues to believe the proposal is a good one deserving of public support, but will remain on the sidelines in hopes of depoliticizing the issue.
"If I'm going to somehow hurt that effort, I'm going to step aside and let them try and collect signatures and not have any political ties to it whatsoever," he said.
Earlier efforts to fund school storm shelters became politicized when Dorman backed a Take Shelter Oklahoma proposal to fund shelters with the proceeds of a $500 million state bond issue to be paid back with franchise tax revenues, while Republican Gov. Mary Fallin supported an alternative proposal.
The Fallin-backed plan called for a statewide vote on whether school districts should be permitted to vote to exceed their bonding limits one time to fund storm shelters and other school security improvements. That proposal squeaked by the state House of Representatives, but was defeated in the Senate on the last day of the Legislative session.
Meanwhile, the earlier Dorman-backed plan got bogged down in the state Supreme Court when supporters became embroiled in a ballot title dispute with the attorney general's office and failed to obtain enough signatures. The group had obtained about 100,000 signatures when the effort was halted.
That earlier proposal called for the bonds to be paid off from franchise tax revenues that would be diverted from the General Revenue Fund. Attorney General Scott Pruitt wanted detailed information about that funding source to be included on the ballot, while Take Shelter Oklahoma officials wanted the ballot title to emphasize that the money would be used to build school storm shelters.
The new proposal calls for the bonds to be paid off over 25 years from General Revenue Funds, rather than franchise tax revenues. Slane said he hopes that will help eliminate any major ballot title controversy.