OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Bob McBratney is always looking for ways to improve business at his Stone Bluff Cellars winery near Tulsa, where he produces about 24,000 bottles of wine each year.
Oklahoma voters may well have helped him on Tuesday by overwhelmingly approving a constitutional amendment to allow winemakers to sell wine directly to liquor stores and restaurants.
Voters easily approved all four state questions on Tuesday's ballot by double-digit margins, including questions on hunting and fishing and property tax exemptions.
State Question 743, regarding wine sales, would change current Oklahoma law that limits wineries to onsite sales or at fairs and festivals, unless they go through a liquor wholesaler.
"What it's going to do is allow the small wineries trying to start up in rural Oklahoma a better margin to work with," said Bob McBratney, owner of the Stone Bluff Cellars winery in Tulsa. "By allowing them to sell directly to retail liquor stores and restaurants, it will allow them better profit margins."
In 2000, Oklahomans voted 3-1 to permit state winemakers to sell directly to liquor stores and restaurants. After that vote, the number of wineries in the state climbed from a handful to more than 40.
But the law was challenged by liquor wholesalers and invalidated in 2006 by federal judge, who said it was discriminatory because it did not give out-of-state wineries the same distribution rights as Oklahoma vintners.
During the past legislative sessions, winemakers and liquor wholesalers, who are interested in protecting their market, reached a compromise on a plan to allow the resumption of wine sales to liquor stores and restaurants, with several caveats. Wineries would not qualify if they produce more than 10,000 gallons of wine a year, and wineries would be required to use their own vehicles or leased vehicles to transport the wine.
Oklahoma voters also approved S.Q. 742, which adds a new section to the Oklahoma Constitution declaring that all Oklahomans have the right to "hunt, trap and fish" subject to reasonable regulation. The proposal passed with nearly 80 percent of the vote.
The measure allows the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission to approve methods and procedures for hunting, trapping and fishing.
Senate co-President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, who authored the bill to place the question on the ballot, said the measure was a proactive step to prevent outside groups from interfering with Oklahoma's hunting and fishing laws.
"There have been a number of states that have passed restrictions on hunting and fishing, and so we worked with the (National Rifle Association) and other hunting and fishing groups to protect those rights here in Oklahoma," said Coffee, R-Oklahoma City. "I think hunting and fishing are an important part of our heritage … and I want to protect those rights for my children and grandchildren."
Also approved by voters on Tuesday:
State Question 735, giving a household personal property tax exemption to veterans and their spouses if the veteran is 100 percent disabled because of an injury that occurred during military action or through a disease contracted while in active service. The measure takes effect Jan. 1, 2009. Disabled veterans already are exempt from property taxes, and this measure would expand the exemption to include a dozen or more counties that also tax household personal property. The proposal passed with nearly 85 percent of the vote.
State Question 741, requiring a person or business to file an application with the county assessor to get an exemption from property taxes, which now is not always required. Oklahoma County Assessor Leonard Sullivan said the proposal is a housecleaning proposition that closes a loophole that would allow individuals or businesses to retroactively seek property tax exemptions. The proposal passed with nearly 70 percent of the vote