School shelter advocates take fight to State Supreme Ct

Original ballot language

The fight over shelters in Oklahoma schools heads to the state Supreme Court.

Parents and lawmakers who are working to collect signatures for the ballot issue argue Attorney General Scott Pruitt has no legal ground to change their original wording.

They need 160,000 signatures to force a statewide vote on the ballot issue. Through coordinated events and word of mouth, they believe they have around 30,000.

Fueling the fight is the group of parents who experienced the nightmare first-hand. In May, the wreckage around Plaza Towers Elementary School was Kristi Conatzer's worst fear come true.

"You don't think that it's ever gonna happen to you. You don't think that a tornado is ever gonna tear down your child's school and your kid is never gonna come back," said Conatzer.

Her daughter, 9-year-old Emily, was one of the seven children killed inside the school.

In her memory, Kristi has a new tattoo and, more importantly, a cause: the petition for Oklahomans to vote in order to require storm shelters in every school.

"If we're going to require those kids, those teachers be in those schools I feel the state should share a portion of the funding requirements to make that those facilities are safe," said Rep. Joe Dorman (D) from Rush Springs who has helped champion the initiative.

The fight over the ballot language has provided an even larger obstacle than the number of signatures they need to collect.

The original words were written by parents and lawmakers on-board and focus on the shelters.

A recent re-write by the state Attorney General focuses on the pre-existing franchise tax that would pay for them.

"What we believe is he's just playing politics with the law and wants to re-write it so people won't vote for it," said attorney David Slane, speaking on behalf of Take Shelter Oklahoma.

In response, spokesperson for the Attorney General Aaron Cooper released the following statement:

"The attorney general commends those trying to find a way to protect Oklahoma students from severe and dangerous weather. The Attorney General's Office is required by law to review all proposed ballot questions to ensure they explain issues in a way that voters can easily understand. Any changes made to a proposed ballot question center on this primary concern and are required by statute. Changes to a proposal should not be considered as an opinion for or against a proposal. The Attorney General's Office reviewed the proposed ballot language on storm shelters, found inconsistencies with the law, and submitted revised ballot language to the Secretary of State that complied with the law."

Slane also says Pruitt did not notify the Secretary of State about his intention to re-write the ballot issue in the proper amount of time. He has five business days to respond, and officially filed seven business days later.

Now the state Supreme Court will have to decide. Monday at 1:30 p.m. both sides will meet and the court will set all the necessary hearing dates to determine the ballot question.

Judges can choose to keep the original language, keep the A. G.'s re-write, or they could opt for a third option and write a new ballot issue themselves.

For now, those passionate about the cause continue to pound the pavement for signatures.

"This is how I honor her," Conatzer said, "I can't see it any other way. I'm in for the long haul, I'm in for the fight."

They hope the legal tie-up doesn't dissuade people from signing on. Typically they would have 90 days to turn in all the signatures they can, however the court could allow an additional 90 days after its decision.

To read all filed documents related to the case, click here.