A bill aimed at reducing distractions for young drivers made its way out of a state Senate committee this week. The bill by Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, would outlaw the use of cellphones for drivers younger than 18. Last year, the Legislature banned the use of hand-held devices for drivers with learner’s permits or intermediate licenses. But intermediate licenses only last six months, which means plenty of 16- and 17-year-old drivers are allowed to talk while driving. Crain’s bill is a good idea. Although opponents say current statutes allow penalties for distracted driving, having a law on the books prohibiting cellphone use at the wheel will make teens think twice before doing it. The more focused they are on the traffic around them, the better.
Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman
A bill approved by a state House committee this week would gradually make 21 the legal age to buy tobacco products in Oklahoma. Presently the age is 18. House Bill 2314 by Rep. Ann Coody, R-Lawton, would bump that by a year at a time over the next three years. Raising the age, Coody says, can help “deter many young people from ever starting this bad habit and save them years of health complications.” Perhaps. But one concern we have is that the bill as written apparently wouldn’t apply to tribal smokeshops due to sovereignty concerns. That’s unfair to nontribal businesses that are already at a competitive disadvantage with smokeshops when it comes to taxation of tobacco products. This proposed change needs to apply to all retailers, and state health officials should lead the charge to make that happen.
Jim Lange cartoon from The Oklahoman Archives
Oklahoma Gas & Electric deserves a salute for its commitment to education in the Oklahoma City Public School District and other areas. OG&E employees tutor students and staff the Teachers Warehouse with volunteers one day each week. OG&E volunteers inventory, fill orders and get the Teachers Warehouse ready for supply pickup days. Teachers Warehouse, a program of The Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools, gives an average of $30,000 to $40,000 in supplies to teachers across the district each month. OG&E also provides classes for students to learn the importance of electrical safety and energy conservation. Through a video and a live safety demonstration, the Fourth Grade Electrical Safety Program, available throughout OG&E’s service area, provides students important life lessons such as keeping conducting materials away from electricity, staying away from power lines and practicing safe use of electricity in their homes. The OG&E Energy Corp. Teacher Grant program also has provided more than $200,000 in grants to teachers throughout the Oklahoma City metro since 2003. Creative projects focusing on math, science or reading can earn a teacher up to $1,000.
Voters in Shawnee could hardly have been more emphatic in their rejection of a plan that would have spent close to $47 million on city projects. A 10-year, half-cent sales tax to pay for a $19 million regional sports complex received just 13.7 percent approval in Tuesday’s election. A $13 million bond issue for street, sidewalk and landscaping improvements mustered 22.6 percent approval. Three other bond issues, totaling $13 million and going for such things as upgrades to a city pool and public safety communications system, failed to top 25 percent. One outspoken opponent of the proposals said they were “too much for the city of Shawnee” and that backers’ priorities were out of line. As the results showed, that’s putting it lightly.
Broken Arrow High School students aren’t allowed to leave campus for lunch, but beginning next year they’ll have an opportunity to eat at a popular fast-food chain. Broken Arrow will become the state’s first public school system to have a Subway on campus. Students will have a choice among five or six of the healthier sandwiches and will be able to dress their sandwiches at a self-serve vegetable bar. The sandwiches will be served with fruit, vegetables and milk and will be considered a “reimbursable” meal under the federal school lunch program. Unlike regular Subway franchises, chips or soda won’t be available. About 60 U.S. public schools have Subway franchises on campus. The company waives the franchise fee for schools and trains workers for free; the district pays Subway a percentage of the revenue. If the students are lucky, perhaps Subway spokesman Blake Griffin, the NBA star from Oklahoma City, will stop by to sign autographs.
(Photo by Diane Bondareff for SUBWAY)
Although we normally try to stay out of the turnpike rivalry with Tulsa, we had to chuckle at CareerBliss.com’s recent survey of the happiest and unhappiest cities to work. Oklahoma City ranked No. 3 among its annual survey of the happiest cities for work, trailing only Miami, Fla., and Worcester, Mass. On the other end of the Turner Turnpike, Tulsa ranked No. 4 among the unhappiest cities for work. The worst cities for work list was topped by New Haven, Conn., followed by Dayton, Ohio, and Milwaukee. According to the website, thousands of employees in the happiest cities say they’re most satisfied with the people they work with, the way they work and the work that they do. Employees in the unhappiest cities want to see better growth opportunities, compensation and company culture. Tulsa, however, surpassed Oklahoma City in average salary, according to the website. Tulsa’s average salary was listed at $56,170 and Oklahoma City’s at $54,323.
Democratic Party activist Susan McCann (Your Views, Feb. 10) took issue with my analysis in ScissorTales last week that President Barack Obama’s “Hope and Change” message falls flat in Oklahoma. Of course the evidence for this is overwhelming: Obama didn’t win in even the most heavily-Democratic counties in a state in which Democrats held a significant registration advantage over Republicans. I have little reason to believe Obama will do any better the second time around. But the rope of hope is always available for the grasping. McCann said it’s only a matter of time before “progressives” will outnumber conservatives in Oklahoma City. We heard something similar in 2010 from supporters of 5th Congressional District Democratic nominee Billy Coyle, who said a Democrat could indeed win the central Oklahoma seat that hasn’t been held by a Democrat since 1974. That seat was open in 2010, and Coyle was an excellent nominee. But he got less than 35 percent of the vote — and Obama wasn’t on the same ballot. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before a Democrat will represent Oklahoma City in Congress. It would help if the state would grow enough to restore the sixth congressional seat it lost after the 2000 Census. Were that to happen, redistricting could center the district more in the urban core and less in the fringes. As things now stand, though, Republicans would be in charge of the redistricting. Still, Democrats should hope that the state GOP’s pro-growth policies will lead to a population change that will result in adding a sixth seat. Right now the Republicans are headed by a governor who took 57.5 percent of the vote in the county that McCann says is steadily marching toward a “progressive” majority. The governor’s predecessor, moderate Democrat Brad Henry (a frequent target of scorn from “progressive” Dems) won the county with 63 percent. Yet the moderate Democrat nominated for governor in 2010 got 42.5 percent. Is this really a matter of time? Or is it a matter of values?
Numerous legislative efforts through the years have failed to put much of a dent in the number of uninsured drivers in Oklahoma. This evergreen topic blooms again with a bill by Rep. Steve Martin, R-Bartlesville. Martin wants suspicion of driving while uninsured to be considered probable cause to make a traffic stop. That suspicion could be piqued through use of the state’s online verification system, which lets police know whether a vehicle they have pulled over is insured. Uninsured vehicles can be impounded after traffic stops — but driving an uninsured vehicle is not probable cause to make a stop. If Martin’s bill were to become law, he said, more vehicles could be cited or towed “without the need for the driver to break other laws at the same time.” It’s worth a try, at least until the next attempt comes down the pike.
The University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname isn’t going away without a fight. The nickname was among several the NCAA deemed “hostile and abusive” in 2006. The NCAA threatened those schools with sanctions if they didn’t change their nicknames and logos. The university dropped its nickname and logo — the profile of an American Indian warrior — last year after the repeal of a state law requiring the school to use them. This week, organizers of a petition drive delivered about 4,000 more signatures than are required to put the question to voters. The university’s president then said the school would resume using the nickname until the referendum process is completed. Good for them. The NCAA was wrong to bully schools such as UND and others. We’re still waiting for it to put the squeeze on the Fighting Irish of the University of Notre Dame. Not hostile and abusive enough, apparently.
One consequence of the Great Recession has been a lowering in construction costs. Tell that to New Yorkers. This week, auditors looking into the new World Trade Center said completing the tower will cost $14.8 billion — a stunning 35 percent more than the last estimate of $11 billion in 2008. Auditors said the Port Authority, which owns the site, has “insufficient cost controls and a lack of transparent and effective oversight” of the project. No kidding. Contrast that with construction of the Devon tower in Oklahoma City. The estimated cost was $750 million when the building design was unveiled in 2008. Now? “We have not revised that figure,” spokesman Chip Minty said.
Above: World Trade Center, Jan. 31, 2012. (AP Photo)
Left: Devon tower, Feb. 1, 2012. Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman