OKLAHOMA CITY (April 6, 2011) – Oklahoma voters could soon have the opportunity to outlaw state-sanctioned discrimination under legislation approved by a House committee today.
"State government policies simply should not discriminate against Oklahoma citizens based on race or gender," said state Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Tuttle. "This constitutional amendment will allow the voters to take a stand for equality."
Senate Joint Resolution 15, by state Sen. Rob Johnson and Osborn, would submit a proposed constitutional amendment to a vote of the people. The proposed amendment declares, "The state shall not grant preferential treatment to, or discriminate against, any individual or group on the basis of race, color, sex, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting."
"Government employment and contracting decisions should be based on merit alone," Osborn said. "The only way to guarantee all citizens have the opportunity to compete is to treat them all equally. I believe Oklahoma citizens will overwhelmingly approve this constitutional amendment at the polls."
The Senate Joint Resolution says the state shall not grant preferential treatment to, or discriminate against, any individual or group on the basis of race, color, sex, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.
Additionally, the bill says nothing in this section shall be interpreted as invalidating any court order or consent decree that is in force as of the effective date of this section. This bill also says nothing in this section shall be interpreted as prohibiting action that must be taken to establish or maintain eligibility for any federal program, where ineligibility would result in a loss of federal funds to the state.
Many news media outlets are calling this an affirmative action ban. According to the wording in the bill as noted above, this law would not invalidate any court order in place at the time the law is enacted.
The Oklahoma Anti-Discrimination Act prohibits employers of 15 or more persons from discriminating in employment with respect to race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, or handicap (OK Stat. Tit. 25 Sec. 1101, Sec. 1302). Employers are not required to grant preferential treatment to any individual or group even when there is an imbalance in the workforce (OK Stat. Tit. 25 Sec. 1310). However, employers may adopt a plan to reduce imbalance in the workplace with respect to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or handicap if the plan has been filed with and approved by the Oklahoma Civil Rights Commission.
This means that if there is an affirmative action plan in place it will not be nullified by SJR 15 since it says that any consent decree in place at the time of the bill’s passage. And this also would mean that the people voted to have the constitution amended. Remember in 2008 State Question 737, similar to this resolution, failed to garner enough support to make it on the ballot.