We applauded the Oklahoma Legislature’s decision to eliminate the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission and let the state attorney general handle discrimination claims. The wisdom of that decision became apparent when National Review Online reported that the New Mexico Human Rights Commission found Elane Photography, an Albuquerque photography studio, guilty of discrimination because the owners declined to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. That case is now being appealed in court. NRO also noted that Hands On Originals, a T-shirt business in Lexington, Ky., faced similar challenges. The Gay and Lesbian Services Organization of Lexington filed a complaint with the Lexington Human Rights Commission after Hands On Originals declined to make shirts for a gay-pride parade. The idea of the state micromanaging private businesses and trampling on religious liberty that way is deeply troubling, and one more reason to eliminate “rights” agencies that have outlived their usefulness.
Speaking of the Thunder, some fans visiting this week have lamented that the team is the Oklahoma City Thunder instead of the Oklahoma Thunder. It’s worth remembering that in April 2008, in advance of the Seattle SuperSonics moving here, the city council approved an agreement requiring Oklahoma City to be in the team name. That agreement focused primarily on how revenues from arena concessions and restaurants would be split. NBA Commissioner David Stern originally suggested the team be named after the state, not the city, to help lure fans from outside the metro. Mayor Mick Cornett and other city officials disagreed. Among them was council member Pete White, who said the name should reflect contributions by Oklahoma City taxpayers who approved sales tax increases that helped transform downtown and the arena. “Oklahoma City is the one that took the risk, primarily,” White said then. Stern’s concerns wound up being for naught — the Thunder has captivated the state, drawing fans, including season-ticket holders, from across Oklahoma.
Last time Oklahoma tried to raise the gasoline tax, it ended with a bang. Voters shot down the proposal by a wide margin. Yet extending a “temporary” tax on gas ended last week not with a bang but a whimper. Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill extending a 1-cent-per-gallon gas tax for another 10 years. The state taxes gasoline at 17 cents per gallon, of which 16 cents is an actual gas tax and the other penny a source of funding for the underground fuel storage tank program. But the fund isn’t just paying for replacement of storage tanks. It’s now buying new truck weigh stations at ports of entry around Oklahoma, something that was sorely needed. We don’t expect much more than a whimper of protest about Fallin’s OK for the gas tax extension, but the diversion of funds from their original purpose should always be weighed carefully.
How much of a mess is the city council in Washington, D.C.? Even Marion Barry says it’s ridiculous. “We are the laughingstock of the nation,” Barry said at Wednesday’s meeting. In the past five months, two council members have resigned and pleaded guilty to crimes — one for stealing city money targeted for a youth program, the other for bank fraud. Meantime, federal investigators have been looking into city corruption. Barry is the District’s former mayor. While in that job, he was caught on film smoking crack cocaine and was convicted of marijuana possession. More recently he was prosecuted for not filing his taxes eight times in nine years. Councilman David Catania alluded to all that in responding to Barry’s laughingstock comment. “The worst perpetrators are sitting on this dais,” Catania said, noting that a “member of the (Finance and Revenue) Committee is a convicted criminal, hasn’t paid his taxes and yet he’s allowed to lecture others on ethics and vote on tax policy.” Zing!
Note to the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber: The top personal income tax rate is 5.25 percent in Oklahoma, not 5.5 percent. That’s something a chamber of commerce would want to get right on a website touting the area’s low tax burden. The mistake is included in what is otherwise a first-class website called ABetterLifeOKC.com, designed to give new residents and those considering a move here key information about amenities. Given the hoopla over hosting NBA championship games, many are getting better acquainted with the city. Last year the website drew 11,000 visits and more than 8,000 unique visitors. The chamber also has a “Better Life” blog and an email newsletter. It says Boeing and Continental Resources were among corporations using the program to inform relocating employees about what the city has to offer. What the city doesn’t offer, fortunately, is a municipal income tax.
Photo by Paul B. Southerland, The Oklahoman Archives
The excitement of having the NBA Finals in Oklahoma City has impacted more than one workplace as employees, amped up for the game, have been a little distracted. Now some are concerned the NBA Finals could impact the coming primary election, which would occur the same day as a potential seventh game of the series. We think that concern is misplaced. The polls close at 7 p.m. while the game starts at 8 p.m., and citizens can vote early. Those who are serious about voting will do so. Those who claim a game kept them away from the ballot box were never serious in the first place. Some poll workers may miss part of the game, but we have faith in their professionalism. And we’re optimistic the Thunder will make this discussion irrelevant by winning the series early.
The Salvation Army began giving away box fans this week to help Oklahoma City residents cope with the heat that’s sure to come this summer. Those eligible for a fan must be 62 or older or have children younger than 6 months in the home or be disabled with chronic conditions such as emphysema or cardiovascular disease. Oh, they also had to provide a photo ID for all adult household members, along with proof (such as an electric bill) that they live in the city limits. The majority of those who would need a fan are low-income residents. They, and senior citizens, are among the groups that liberals say are being put upon via passage of Republican-backed laws requiring voters to show identification at the ballot box. The Salvation Army’s rules for this good cause help fan the flames of rebuke to the overheated arguments against voter ID laws.
For years, public employee unions have depended on government to provide automatic payroll deductions for dues. So what happens when dues payment becomes voluntary? Membership plummets. The latest example comes from the Oklahoma Corrections Professional Association, which has gone from about 1,900 members to the low hundreds. The group’s executive director says it’s too much hassle for members to mail checks or pay dues through the Internet. Really? We bet those same individuals pay other bills that way. When Wisconsin ended automatic deductions, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees lost over half its membership. We hope Oklahoma lawmakers take note and end automatic deductions for all public sector unions. The failure to pay dues indicates government workers don’t see much value in union membership. So why should the state keep propping up the unions?
For years, conservatives have complained that government entities supposedly focused on civil rights issues were overly politicized. Liberals disagreed. In Oklahoma, the Legislature has voted to put the state attorney general in charge of investigating discrimination complaints and ending the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission. Some citizens worry that will lead to lax enforcement. A group of those critics recently met to found a separate human rights group in response. The fact that they met at Oklahoma Democratic Party headquarters shows concern about politicization may not have been far-fetched. The group is also jumping the gun. Attorney General Scott Pruitt will answer to the voters if he shrugs off civil rights violations, and his office should be given the chance to prove its worth. And, at the very least, such efforts should not be run out of a political party’s headquarters.
Nicole Soto had no chance. Just 3 months old, Nicole died last weekend of starvation. Her parents told Oklahoma City police they “forgot” several times to feed the girl, who weighed just 3 pounds when she died — less than half her birth weight. The parents did find time every day to smoke dope, though. They admitted as much to investigators. The father, 20, is a known gang member, according to police. The mother is just 19. Nicole has two siblings, who are 22 months old and 3 years old. Both have now been removed from the family’s apartment, which police said was filthy and roach-infested. Would that this were a rare story in Oklahoma. Instead it’s all too common. During fiscal year 2011, about 66,500 child abuse or neglect cases were reported to the Department of Human Services. Of those, 8,110 were confirmed.