In a “cold day in Hell” moment, the Oklahoma House Democratic caucus is enthusiastically backing Republican state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi. Barresi is seeking nearly $300 million more for public schools this year. Last year she sought a $157 million increase that the Legislature ultimately rejected.
Democrats have made Barresi’s latest budget request part of their 2013 agenda, although they don’t explicitly acknowledge it, choosing to call the item “the State Board of Education’s request.” That’s likely because Democrats have made opposing Barresi and education reform a major emphasis and don’t want their base to realize agreement exists.
Barresi has rightfully shifted education policy to focus on results — student and school performance — not just appropriations, but acknowledges the need for funding.
If most Democrats emulated Barresi by supporting not only additional spending but also school improvement, then Oklahoma students would be better off.
Given the many instances of state and local officials ignoring or trying to work around Oklahoma’s open record and open meeting laws, we braced for the worst when the Sunshine Review posted its website transparency report card this week. But the news was actually pretty good.
Oklahoma received a grade of B-minus, not bad considering no state graded better than a B-plus. Sunshine Review looked at government websites for states and their largest counties, cities and school districts, and measured available content against a checklist of information it believes all governments should provide.
Oklahoma received Bs for state and county websites, a C for city sites, and a D-plus for school districts. That last grade is disappointing but not unusual — Sunshine Review said only 20 percent of school district websites nationwide warranted at least a B.
We’ve noted before that human trafficking is a growing problem in Oklahoma, due in part to having three major interstate highways in our state. The issue arose again recently in Tulsa when a prostitution bust turned up several women claiming to have been kidnapped, held against their will, and forced into prostitution.
Police are investigating those claims, but in the meantime one of the women has been arrested on a complaint of soliciting prostitution within 1,000 feet of a church or school and is being held on a $1,500 bond.
If that seems unfair, state Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, agrees. She’s filed legislation to allow expungement of law enforcement and court records of any prostitution conviction incurred by a victim of human trafficking.
That’s a good idea, one legislators should quickly embrace. It makes no sense to punish victims for the crimes of their abusers.
In a monologue this week, Jay Leno noted that Subway Restaurants had apologized to customers who may have been served foot-long subs that didn’t measure 12 inches. “Is that how fat we’ve gotten in this country now — where we’re threatening legal action if our subs are an inch too short?”
In New Jersey and Chicago, the sandwich chain is the subject of lawsuits over not-so-foot-longs. Plaintiffs want $5 million in damages and hope to have their claim declared a class action. No kidding.
Meantime in California, two people who read Lance Armstrong’s autobiography have filed suit claiming Armstrong’s denial of using performance-enhancing drugs was fraudulent and false advertising. They’re also seeking class certification.
Lawsuit reform, anyone?
A state audit of the Emergency Medical Services Authority should grab the attention of EMSA’s oversight board — and indeed of taxpayers who help fund the ambulance service.
The report this week confirmed what had been reported in media accounts — namely, that CEO Steve Williamson and others at EMSA have spent lavishly through the years on travel, accommodations and in other areas. The audit report labeled the spending not as illegal but as inappropriate.
The audit, which was requested by the EMSA board, looked at agency spending from January 2009 to June 2012. During that time, Williamson was reimbursed for more than $400,000 in expenses; more than half of those involved no board oversight. Among the reimbursements: $669 for room service and a $415 spa bill. What sort of work on behalf of EMSA merits such extravagance?
State Auditor Gary Jones said the board has “unintentionally fostered a culture of acquiescence in which officers and employees are permitted to establish inappropriate patterns of expenditure behavior and fail to disclose potential conflicts of interest, unbeknown to members of the board.”
Simply put: The board was asleep at the switch. This has to change.
William Marotta is being sued by the state of Kansas for child support. Marotta is in this predicament because he answered a Craigslist ad from a lesbian couple seeking a sperm donor.
The couple didn’t use a doctor in the insemination process, which would have freed Marotta from future liabilities. Since then, the women have gone their separate ways. One has sought public assistance for her and the child, prompting authorities to track down the biological father.
The case raises numerous thorny legal issues, but it’s hard to argue with Kansas state Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce’s view that it “tells everybody don’t do stupid things on Craigslist. It’s kind of common sense. If you’re going to create another life, even if it’s a good intention, that’s a heck of a responsibility, and it’s one that precedes any sort of state action.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton didn’t like being pressed this week about the different stories offered by the administration following September’s terrorist attack on the Benghazi consulate. “Was it because of a protest?” Clinton responded to a senator’s query. “Or was it because of guys out for a walk one night decided they would go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?”
That takes some gumption, suggesting it doesn’t matter what triggered the attack — our ambassador and three others were killed — or what the administration knew and told the American people about it.
Clinton spent much of her time at Wednesday’s hearing suggesting breakdowns in security and other areas were the fault of others within the State Department. It was five hours of tap dancing.
Soon she’ll be leaving the job at State and may very well set her sights on the White House in 2016. If so, opponents are sure to bring Benghazi up again, and they should.
This year Oklahoma legislators have filed 2,378 bills and 77 joint resolutions — 2,455 in all. That was up by about 200 compared with last year.
According to the 2012 Session in Review and 2003 Session Highlights reports produced by state House fiscal staff, the number of bills and joint resolutions filed this year was the most since 2009. More notably, this year’s total is the second-highest in the past 20 years.
Filing legislation isn’t the same thing as passing laws; only about 400 measures are typically signed by the governor each year. Still, it is ironic that a Legislature with Republican supermajorities has shown such a strong desire to pass new laws.
One has to hope many of these bills are repealers, not new law. If not, given that big Democratic majorities in 1993 got by with just 1,475 measures, shouldn’t small-government Republicans be able to do the same?