Two state questions will go before Oklahoma voters Nov. 3.
The Tulsa World endorses both.
State Question 805 would stop judges from using previous nonviolent convictions as a justification for increasing prison sentences for people convicted of new nonviolent crimes.
This is a smart-on-crime measure pushed to the ballot by an initiative petition that drew nearly 250,000 signatures.
The change would not apply to anyone ever convicted of a violent crime. But it would allow people currently in prison exclusively for nonviolent crimes to ask for sentence reductions.
What all this means is that Oklahoma would prioritize its limited prison space for violent criminals, the people we genuinely should fear.
Oklahoma has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, the highest for women. Oklahomans convicted of property crimes spend 70% longer behind bars than the national average. For drug convictions, it’s 79% longer.
That is bankrupting the state and skewing our budget priorities with no positive effect on public safety.
We’ve tried throwing nonviolent convicts in prison, and it didn’t work. That policy only continues the cycle of poverty and crime and destroys families, leaving Oklahoma poorer, socially dysfunctional and less safe.
State Question 814 would redistribute money the state receives from an enormous 1998 multistate legal settlement with tobacco companies.
Since 2000, when voters approved State Question 692, the state has put 75% of the tobacco money in an endowment with the earnings used to fund tobacco cessation and other health programs. The remainder has gone to legislative appropriations. The endowment currently has more than $1.3 billion.
SQ 814 would reduce the endowment’s share to 25% and dedicate the remainder to Medicaid expenses. That would continue to use the money for health purposes, relieve the state of part of the fastest-growing segments of its appropriated budget and clarify how Oklahoma could pay for recently approved Medicaid expansion.
The Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust has served the state well for years, and will continue to do so, but the funding distribution system that voters approved in 2000 can be changed by the voters, if they see it in the best interests of the state.
It is, and they should.
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