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Oklahoman editorial, news stories

The 75 Percent Solution

The people periodically vote to restrain legislative arrogance. Oklahomans have done so repeatedly in recent years with moves toward term limits, restricted taxing power and shorter legislative sessions.

Now the Legislature will have a chance to restrict its own ability to overturn the will of the people. State Rep. John Trebilcock has filed House Joint Resolution 1006 to require a three- fourths majority to amend or repeal any law that comes about through an initiative petition and referendum.

It's a great idea, but we doubt the Legislature will vote to restrict its own power. Trebilcock's bill would require a vote of the people because it's a constitutional amendment. The Legislature would be referring the measure to the people.

We still doubt that lawmakers will give Trebilcock, R-Broken Arrow, a fair hearing on HJR 1006. For one thing, they will be too busy sorting out the budget crisis and perhaps too busy debating a bill that HJR 1006 would prevent if the three- fourths requirement were already in effect.

We're referring to state Sen. Frank Shurden's proposal to amend the cockfighting ban approved last November by a majority of voters. The ban resulted from an initiative petition, but it was not a constitutional amendment and is thus fair game for revision.

The ban should be left alone, but Shurden and others won't stop trying to make cockfighting legal in the 57 counties in which a majority didn't support the ban or decriminalizing the sport statewide. They will be bolstered by a new Tulsa World poll that shows a majority of Oklahomans aren't opposed to cockfighting by county option.

But the referendum in November was a statewide ban of cockfighting. If Shurden gets his way, legislators will be emboldened to ignore the will of the people and override whatever initiative and referendum issues that win voter approval.

Trebilcock said his HJR 1006 is not specifically a reaction to Shurden's plans. In any case it would come too late to prevent lawmakers from overriding the statewide cockfighting ban. Trebilcock's proposed constitutional amendment probably wouldn't go on the ballot until 2004 even in the unlikely event that the Legislature refers it to the people.

It would be the height of legislative arrogance to overturn the will of the majority when it comes to the cockfighting ban. If Shurden succeeds, the people's confidence in the initiative and referendum process will be shattered and the Legislature's image as an arrogant body would be further enhanced.

This is a time for bold leadership in Oklahoma government. Gov. Brad Henry and key lawmakers need to guide the state through troubled waters. They need to oppose attempts to override the will of the majority, and they need to support Trebilcock's attempt to restrict the Legislature's ability to ignore the people's wishes.