Supporters of Oklahoma school shelters short of signatures as Oct. 20 deadline approaches

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Supporters of an initiative petition to place storm shelters in every Oklahoma public school said Tuesday they are short of the number of signatures required to put the measure on a statewide ballot with just four weeks left to gather them.

Take Shelter Oklahoma is launching a final push to get the signatures of about 155,000 registered voters needed to get the measure on the ballot, said Oklahoma City attorney David Slane, who represents the organization. The deadline to turn the petitions in to the secretary of state is Oct. 20.

"This is a last ditch effort," said Slane, who was standing beside Danni Legg, whose 9-year-old son, Christopher, and six other children died when a massive May 2013 tornado slammed into Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore. "We cannot wait until another tornado comes and more children die before we act. We need volunteers. We need people on the ground."

"No child should ever have to go to school worrying about a storm," Legg added. "This is one way that we can protect our children."

The push for signatures marks the second time storm shelter petitions have been circulated since the tornado struck Moore. Advocates originally launched a signature-gathering campaign in September 2013 that called for a $500 million bond issue to fund the initiative.

But they abandoned it in April after complaining that changes to the ballot title by Attorney General Scott Pruitt's office shifted the focus from the construction of school storm shelters to how they would be funded — through a franchise tax on businesses.

The new initiative petition still calls for a $500 million bond issue to fund the shelters, but shifts the source of the funds to the state's general revenue fund, which is tapped by nearly every state agency. The fund's budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 is $5.7 billion.

Slane held dozens of envelopes containing signed petitions in support of the school shelter initiative. They came from across the state and were delivered to his office Tuesday.

He said he does not know how many signatures have been gathered so far but that volunteers believe it is fewer than the 100,000 that had been gathered at this stage in the first petition drive.

"Every day we receive literally hundreds of signatures," Slane said. "One day last week we received a thousand in a day. We feel like it's a last chance."

Slane said volunteers originally believed Thursday was the deadline for gathering signatures, but state officials said the group had more time to account for the ballot title review and appeal process.

"We welcome the additional time in order to collect the signatures," Slane said. "Because, candidly, we need the additional time."

He said 506,000 Oklahoma school students and faculty are currently unprotected and that 61 percent of all of public schools do not have tornado shelters to protect them. Most tornados in the state occur in May when students are still attending school, he said. The initiative petition has no organized opposition.

"So, it's absolutely necessary that we do this," Slane said. "This is not a political issue. This is not a legal issue. We feel like it's a moral issue."


Online:

Take Shelter Oklahoma initiative petition: http://bit.ly/ZchzRH

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