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Tulsa World

Initiative petition process defended

By MARIE PRICE World Capitol Bureau

A proposal would make it harder for legislators to undo voter initiatives.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- If lawmakers want to undo the will of the people, it should take three-fourths of them to do so, one legislator believes.

"The whole idea of the initiative petition process is for the people of Oklahoma to accomplish something that the Legislature refuses to do," Rep. John Trebilcock, R-Broken Arrow, said Monday.

"The idea that the Legislature could just then turn around and immediately change what the people had just said they desired doesn't make sense to me."

Trebilcock has filed House Joint Resolution 1006, which would require a three-fourths majority of both legislative houses to amend or repeal a law put on the books through the initiative petition process.

A proposed constitutional amendment, Trebilcock's measure would require approval from voters.

Trebilcock said that his legislation was not sparked by any particular initiative. However, he said that some Oklahomans have expressed concern to him that the Legislature might change the recently approved initiative petition to outlaw cockfighting.

Sen. Frank Shurden, D-Henryetta, has said he will file legislation outlawing cockfighting only in the 20 counties where more votes were cast for the ban than against it. He said his proposal would allow the other 57 counties to decide on a county-option basis whether to legalize the sport.

"A lot of constituents, they've expressed their frustration that the Legislature would contemplate immediately reversing or changing what the people had just done," Trebilcock said.

"Most people, I think, thought that was a constitutional amendment, like most statewide questions are, so they were surprised that this was something the Legislature could change with just a majority vote, and thumb their nose at the will of the majority of Oklahomans."

Trebilcock does not believe a county-option law is appropriate in this instance.

"This county-wide thing, county-by-county election, that doesn't make sense to me either, unless you want a Gov. Largent in some counties and Gov. Henry in others," he said. "We're all Oklahomans."

The latest Oklahoma Poll -- a statewide poll sponsored by the Tulsa World -- shows 58 percent of the state favored a county-option system for deciding the cockfighting issue.

Shurden has announced plans to lower the felony penalties in the approved initiative to the misdemeanor level and remove penalties for related activities such as raising gamecocks.

He was the driving force behind a failed legislative referendum that would have almost doubled the number of signatures needed to place on the ballot any initiative question concerning animal-related sports or entertainment.

"Oklahoma is a state that has great populist traditions," Trebilcock said. "The initiative petition process is one of those. I'm a firm believer in representative government, but also in the will of the people, when they feel that their elected officials aren't representing their will. That's what this is really aimed at."