The Norman Transcript

Crime/Courts

July 3, 2014

Petition drives to provide school shelters

OKLAHOMA CITY — The second initiative petition drive officially launched Wednesday seeking a statewide vote on constructing storm shelters in Oklahoma public schools.

The petition drive, dubbed Take Shelter Oklahoma, comes 15 months after a spate of May 2013 tornadoes killed 47 people. On May 20, 2013, alone, a twister destroyed two schools in Moore and took the lives of seven children at one of them, Plaza Towers Elementary.

The new initiative petition became necessary after previous efforts failed because of partisan political bickering. Last fall, an initiative petition to pay for storms shelters from franchise tax revenues failed to gain the necessary signatures. Earlier this year, efforts to pay for storm shelters by increasing ad valorem taxes failed to pass the legislature.

The initiative petition calls for a statewide vote on a program by which storm shelters and enhanced school security measures would be paid for via a $500 million state bond issue. Repayment of the bond would come for the state’s General Revenue Fund, leaving it up to the legislature on how best to fund the program. The Office of Emergency Management would administer the program.

Oklahoma City attorney David Slane said the move is needed because numerous school districts have limited bonding capacity and already must make difficult choices with the resources they have. Currently, more than 60 percent of Oklahoma public schools have no safe area for students when severe weather hits.

“Protecting children is the responsibility of every Oklahoman,” he said. “Parents deserve the peace of mind that their kids at school can have sufficient shelter during life-threatening weather. In this region of the nation, that is far from a hypothetical situation.”

The initiative petition was filed June 26 with the secretary of state and the attorney general. Signature collection will begin Friday. State law requires 155,216 registered Oklahoma voters sign the initiative petition for it to be placed on the ballot in November. The 90-day signature collection period ends Sept. 25.

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