A Response to the 2016 Oklahoma State Questions

The 2016 general election is just around the corner, in five days to be exact. Who would have thought the presidential election would come down to Hilary Clinton vs Donald Trump? It’s something out of an SNL skit, for sure.

But what is often overlooked in these elections are the smaller ballot decisions which have effects on one’s local life. The presidential election outcome is actually less likely to have an effect on the average person than local elections, obviously. In this upcoming election, there are state questions on the ballot which have the ability to drastically change Oklahoman life.

Allow me to elaborate on my views of them. The quick descriptions of these ballots were brought to you by ballotpedia.org and okpolicy.org.

State Question 776 was designed to assert that all methods of execution would be constitutionally allowed unless prohibited by the United States Constitution and designated statutorily by the legislature.  It gives the Legislature the power to designate any method of execution, prohibits the reduction of death sentence due to an invalid method of execution, and prohibits the death penalty from being ruled “cruel and unusual punishment” or unconstitutional according to the Oklahoma Constitution

My vote? No

The question would essentially make it so that Oklahoma cannot deem the death penalty unconstitutional. It would place the death penalty above the law, bypassing the system of checks and balances that keeps justice.

Furthermore, 776  is likely to be opposed by higher courts as soon as it is passed. Why waste the time and resources?

State Question 777 was designed to establish a constitutional right for farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices. The amendment bans any new law regulating or prohibiting an agricultural practice unless it can be shown to have a “compelling state interest.” That means any new agricultural regulations would have to pass strict scrutiny, the legal standard used for laws that deprive people of fundamental rights like free speech, gun ownership, or religious freedom.

NO. NO NO NO. 

A huge, loud, resounding, echoing NO.

This bill would make it so that “farming” is a constitutional right; any new laws and farming can easily be dismissed as an infringement on “constitutional rights.” If technology currently used by farmers is later found to be environmentally harmful, or inhumane, new regulations would be extremely likely to be turned down on this defense.

State Question 777 would allow an unchecked farming industry to develop in Oklahoma under the guise of giving citizens the “right to farm.” Big farming industries would be drawn to Oklahoma because they could claim protection under this amendment.

Think about this: ANY NEW LAW proposed to regulate farming practices would be held under the same level of scrutiny as new gun laws! I’m sorry, but the freedom to farm is not equal to the rights to freedom of speech, religion, and the right to bare arms. It shouldn’t receive the same protections as these fundamental rights. Farming ought to be regulated by ever changing environmental regulations, and Oklahoma shouldn’t become a safe haven for big corporations to farm without fear of checks on their farming practices.

State Question 779 was designed to increase the state sales tax by 1 percent to generate revenue for education funding. Of the total revenue generated by the new tax, 60 percent would go to providing a salary increase of at least $5,000 for every public school teacher. The remaining funds would be divided between public schools (9.5 percent), higher education (19.25 percent), career and technology education (3.25 percent), and early childhood education (8 percent). The State Board of Equalization would be required to certify that revenues from the new tax are not being used to supplant existing funds.

Yes. While it feels odd to be to vote to increase taxes, I’m confident this measure would be successful in improving education in the state of Oklahoma. It’s estimated that, if passed,  State Question 779 would add $615 million per year in education funding.

According to Oklahoma Watch. Org , in the 2012-2013 school year, the amount spent on individual students, at $7,912 ranked 49th in the nation along side teacher pay, which shared the same ranking. Oklahoma is struggling to keep and recruit teachers, even the ones who are educated at the University of Oklahoma.

While some claim that a penny tax would harm the poor, one also has to understand that teachers in Oklahoma ARE the poor. The students who are receiving one of the worst educations in the United States, they BECOME the poor. Oklahoma desperately needs this tax if it wishes to reverse the state of it’s education.

State Question 780 and 781: 780 was designed to reclassify certain property offenses and simple drug possession as misdemeanor crimes, and 781 was designed to use money saved by reclassifying certain property and drug crimes as misdemeanors, as outlined in State Question 780, to fund rehabilitative programs.

This is a simple yes for me, to both measures.

I don’t believe the state should be spending ludicrous amounts of money to imprison people for small offenses. The money saved by altering the charge severity would be used for rehabilitation programs, in turn reducing the amount of crime and drug abuse in Oklahoma, and in turn saving even more money.

Take these facts from the Vera Institute of Justice:

IN FISCAL YEAR 2010, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC) had $441.8 million in prison expenditures. However, the state also had $11.6 million in prison-related costs outside the department’s budget. The total cost of Oklahoma’s prisons—to incarcerate an average daily population of 24,549—was therefore $453.4 million, of which 2.6 percent were costs outside the corrections budget.

Though some would like to say this measure would “legalize marijuana” and “make criminals commit more crimes,” it is simply not true. The measure would aim to rehabilitate and help those caught with small amounts of drugs, rather than sending them to prison, an expensive process which also has been proven to lead to harder drug exposure and abuse. It’s time for Oklahoma to fix it’s overgrown prison problem.

State Question 790 was designed to repeal Section 5 of Article 2 of the Oklahoma Constitution, which prohibits public money from being spent for religious purposes.

Coming from a Christian, I have to say, no. This is for a couple of reasons.

Being that religious institutions are already tax exempt, it doesn’t make sense for them to receive tax-generated money.

The state should not endorse or fund any one religion, nor should it endorse and fund any processes related to all of them.

Scholarships given to students who then decide to attend a private religious school have already been held constitutional.

Even if the bill is passed, the ten commandments will still most likely be removed from the state capitol grounds.

State Question 792 was designed to allow grocery stores and convenience stores to sell full-strength beer and wine. Currently these stores are prohibited from selling beer containing above 3.2 percent alcohol by volume, as well as all wine and all liquor. SQ 792 would also allow Oklahoma liquor stores to sell refrigerated beer and alcohol accessories (i.e., sodas, corkscrews). The measure would allow multiple beer and wine stores to be owned by one corporation (ownership would be limited to two stores per person if spirits are sold). Currently individual liquor store owners are not allowed to have more than one store. If SQ 792 passes, these changes would take effect on October 1, 2018

There is ALSO a companion bill which will go into effect if this bill passes, SB 383. It allows direct shipment of wine into Oklahoma, increases the clerk age for selling beer from 16 to 18, and establishes other regulations on the sale of alcohol.

Yes. 

Oklahoma currently has the strictest laws regulating alcohol. It is time for Oklahoma to drop the outdated laws.

Being that this practice is legal in almost every other state, the proposed negative effects on liquor stores are unlikely to be realized. Passage of this bill would make the purchase of alcohol more convenient for consumers and it would open the industry in Oklahoma. Liquor stores would be allowed to sell corkscrews and mixers, increasing the likelihood that customers will use these stores as a “one-stop” place for their alcohol needs.

The bill would also allow liquor stores to sell refrigerated beer, allowing crafted and specialty beer to be sold in these stores. It would open the door for Oklahoma beer makers, at a time when beer crafting is an up and rising hobby. Some crafted beers cannot be stored without refrigeration.

The only negative part of this bill is that it could possibly allow larger corporations to open chains of beer and wine stores in Oklahoma.

The measure would allow multiple beer and wine stores to be owned by one corporation (ownership would be limited to two stores per person if spirits are sold). Currently individual liquor store owners are not allowed to have more than one store.

While these stores wouldn’t be able to sell liquor, it is still something to consider. However, the benefits outweigh the negatives.

 

This coming Tuesday is going to change a lot for both America as well as the state of Oklahoma. If you’re over 18 years old, please vote. Don’t brag about not being registered to vote. Don’t let the mudslinging convince you that political action is arbitrary. Don’t allow yourself to concede to political apathy. If you’re not voting, you DO NOT lose responsibility for things that may go wrong, because you have the opportunity to make a difference.

Not acting on your right to vote is a vote for whatever side you oppose.

 

 

 

 

Estoy Aprendiendo Español

As I write this, I have officially finished my first week of Spanish. I say finished, I mostly just mean muddled through. Every single day of the class I was lost. Our instructor is fluent. Most of the students in the class have had some background in it. Therefore, from day two the class has been taught in exclusively Spanish. There wasn’t a day that I didn’t want to cry because I had little to no idea what was going on. We had a homework assignment due at the end of this week that I just finished last night. Any guess how long it took me to complete?

Six hours.

That’s not distracted browsing on Facebook and pinning quotes on Pinterest work either. That is sitting down and focusing completely on the task before me. I am positive that I have never spent that long on an assignment- ever. In high school, I took difficult classes, but none that challenged me near as much as this class has and we’re “just getting started”. I am so far out of my learning comfort zone. Already, though, this class has challenged me to a broader view of the world.

Probably the third day of class my instructor, Señora Audas, came into the classroom a flurry of activity as usual. She pulled out her phone and started chatting excitedly in Spanish. She told a story with large hand motions and a smile in her voice. I listened intensely, desperate to understand. At the end, she and the majority of my classmates laughed. I wanted to cry. I felt isolated. I felt stupid.

You see, in high school, there weren’t that many times that I really struggled to understand a concept more than any of my classmates. If I didn’t get something- hardly anyone else did either. I graduated with a 4.0. I was part of the National Honors Society. I was an Oklahoma Academic All Stater. School was my comfort zone. Now, here I was completely lost. I had to take a deep breath. I had to remind myself to be patient with me because I am just beginning.

It hit me that there are so many incredible people who experience that every single day when they come to America. People who are stunningly intelligent and experts in every field with more knowledge than I could ever hope to obtain who come here and feel that same way when it comes to speaking English. I suddenly could sympathize (though my Spanish class is a substantially smaller scale) with those I see from other countries struggling to grasp the language I just happened to be born into. This moment reminded me to have compassion for those struggling at the post office, or at the restaurant, or even just in front of me in class.

I challenge you to do the same. Open you eyes and open your heart. Don’t take things for granted because you never know when you’ll be on the opposite side of the situation.

 

Cross posted onto my personal blog found here.

Education Around The World

Yesterday was Veterans Day. I would like to take a moment to express my gratitude for all those who have served and are serving for their country. I truly am grateful for their courage and honor.

On a different note, there was an event yesterday on campus called “Education Around The World.” It was a panel of students from 5 countries talking about how the education system in their countries work. The students represented France, Afghanistan, Egypt, Bosnia, and the good old United States. It was very interesting to hear each person’s perspective on his or her own education system, including the American student. I found it interesting how the focus on standardized education is generally very different abroad. Nearly every speaker mentioned how a single test would determine what he or she could do in the future. Here in the United States there is standardized testing, but it doesn’t have that kind of weight. A common thread between Afghanistan and Egypt was in the impact of money on education. This is partially true here too, but the education level you can get in those countries largely depends on how much you can afford to spend on it. One thing that was mentioned that I wish I had was the way that foreign education is often more diverse. Many of the students spoke of how they would take many subjects at once, many more than I did in high school. Particularly in the area of languages, I feel that this would be very valuable, and I wish our education system had that aspect. Hearing the stories of places abroad and travelling for school makes me wish I had done the same, and I can’t wait for my trip to Italy!

I would like to add my own perspective on the education system here in the United States. I know that education here varies greatly around the nation, often dependent on urban/rural status as well as the state. I grew up in Idaho (a rural state), and by most standards my school was fairly small. It was right between being what we called a 3A and a 4A school, which affected nothing but sports, and mostly just means that there were 500-600 students total in the high school. I do not know how much of my perspective is from being in the United States, and how much is from my particular hometown. However, there were definitely some things that bothered me while growing up.

One of the most frustrating things for me was when teachers and other school leaders would try to put me in the cookie-cutter mold. It always felt to me that the goal of the teacher was to have everybody pass the standardized test, rather than have us really learn anything. They didn’t seem to care if we were progressing or not, as long as we were able to move on at the end of the year. I call this the cookie-cutter mold because I was always too smart for them. I would be all done with my assignments and start something that I wanted to do, then get in trouble because I needed to “be productive.” So, I would move ahead in the lessons. Then I would get in trouble for being ahead of where the teacher wanted me to be. I often had to reinvent methods of keeping myself occupied while staying out of trouble. The most common was putting a fiction book inside of a school book. Once in 5th grade I had a teacher who would let me make paper airplanes, and I spent an entire school year running experiments on which designs would fly farthest. I probably should have skipped that class, but I wasn’t allowed to try to break the mold.

Another thing that bothered me throughout high school was the lack of funding in the school system. I had many conversations with a math teacher about the poor pay that teachers receive, and how it was difficult to support a family on such a tight budget. Teachers are not the only sector that lacks funding. Many school programs, both core requirements and extracurricular, struggled to get by in my school. The ones most pressing on my mind were the art and music divisions. It has been proven in many studies that such classes help students improve, but they are often among the first programs cut. This is unfair to the students who participate in such organizations. Also inhibited by lack of funding is the variety of classes available. At my school, many subjects that are considered core high school requirements by most universities were not available at my school. We did not have World History, for instance. We also did not have enough teachers for the foreign languages to be able to require any foreign language courses; there simply wasn’t enough class time to fit everybody.

I do know that many of these problems are not nationally present. They are altered by the particular school that I happened to attend. However, I do have to ask- if I had had more options available to me as a child, if I had truly been challenged, how much more could my potential have spread? Where could I be right now? What could I have accomplished in those years of boredom and paper airplanes? I will never know, because I never had a choice.