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Take Shelter Oklahoma Launches New Initiative Petition

Kurt Gwartney

A group that wants to install a tornado shelter in every public school in Oklahoma spent the holiday weekend gathering signatures to get its initiative petition on an upcoming ballot. 

This isn’t Take Shelter Oklahoma’s first attempt to collect 155,000 signatures, but the group is giving it another shot. 

Supporters of Take Shelter Oklahoma stood on the porch of David Slane’s Oklahoma City law office last week to celebrate the launch of their second signature gathering campaign.

“Today we wanted to announce that we have filed the initiative petition again, a new initiative petition here in Oklahoma,” Slane said.

He started working with the group when its original petition got caught up in a political and legal battle with Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

Back in September, Pruitt rewrote the group’s ballot title language, which is what voters see on Election Day. Take Shelter Oklahoma considered Pruitt’s version to be biased and unfair. Both sides ended up in front of the state Supreme Court in February, and when the justices ruled to keep Pruitt’s language, Take Shelter abandoned its effort.

“We learned from our ballot language before and it is our hope now that we'll be able to gather these signatures and go forward and get it on the November ballot,” Slane said.

Originally, Take Shelter proposed building safe rooms in schools using $500 million from the state’s franchise tax, which is essentially a sliding scale business tax. But after receiving pushback from legislators wanting to eliminate the tax, the group decided to switch the funding source to the general revenue fund, and Pruitt had no objections.

Mikki Davis lost her son Kyle at Moore’sPlaza Towers Elementary when a deadly tornado leveled the school. She says even though this process has lasted longer than originally thought, she and the other parents who lost children aren’t giving up.

“We’re fighting for all the kids in Oklahoma. We want them to be safe. There's no reason why they should be scared to have to go to school,” she said.

For Davis, it’s even more important because Take Shelter Oklahoma’s proposal is the only one on the table right now. A previous effort backed by Governor Mary Fallin and other Republican lawmakers stalled in the Senate.

“Unfortunately, that didn't make it out of the legislature,” said Alex Weintz, Fallin’s communications director.

“That's always going to be the governor's preferred plan and preferred course of action, but as far as the Take Shelter petition goes, they're collecting signatures. If they get the number they need, it will be on the ballot, and the people will decide, and Governor Fallin will respect that decision, and the state will move forward,” Weintz said.

Take Shelter’s attorney David Slane knows he made mistakes last time by ending up in the Supreme Court. But this go around?

“It is our vow to not make this a legal issue, to not get caught up in some fight some place else. This is a moral obligation as parents and as citizens that we have to do this.”

He also thinks one reason the last attempt failed to gather the necessary 155,000 signatures was because some people viewed it as a no-brainer.

“A lot of people thought this was so non-controversial and such an important thing that people would just do it,” Slane said.

That wasn’t the case, he said. This time, he plans on approaching things differently.

“If the public doesn't help us, we will fail, but we need their help. It's our intention to be at every bean supper, chili cook-off, catfish fry, county fair, whatever we have to go to to ask for these signatures and ask people to do it with us.”

Mikki Davis, the mom who lost her son at Plaza Towers, says she’ll persevere no matter how long it takes. No parent, she says, should have to drop their kid off at school and wonder if they’ll be alive at the end of the day.


Ahead of the Storm: The Oklahoma Tornado Project stories are produced by KGOU News, with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Reports may be used in any media with appropriate credit given to KGOU and CPB. For details, refer to our Terms of Use

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