The Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of the boating season. Oklahoma’s lakes will be crowded with boaters, many of whom will be drinking while operating their vessel, which is dangerous but not illegal. It’s only illegal if the operator’s blood alcohol content exceeds the legal limit of .08.
The same person drinking at the wheel of an automobile would be hauled off to jail immediately if pulled over by the law. But rules on the water have always been different. Wanna drink while you operate that boat, which can travel at high speeds and has no brakes? Not a problem.
Through the years, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol’s marine enforcement division has asked the Legislature to pass stronger laws regarding operating a boat under the influence. They’ve been unsuccessful — most lawmakers have shown no interest in rattling that cage. So the culture of “anything goes” continues.
There were a dozen fatal boating accidents last year in Oklahoma. Of those, eight involved alcohol. In drownings involving adults, alcohol is a factor a majority of the time.
Earlier this month on Grand Lake, two 21-year-olds were killed when the boat in which they were passengers smashed into an unoccupied houseboat. Excessive speed, alcohol and operator inattention were cited — according to a preliminary report, the boat’s driver had downed 10 beers and a shot of tequila.
We join the OHP’s lake patrol officers in encouraging Oklahomans to have a great time on the water this weekend. But please, do so responsibly.
Say this for state Rep. David Dank: He doesn’t give up easily.
Dank, R-Oklahoma City, raised a ruckus last week about efforts by some of his colleagues to get last-minute tax credits and incentives approved. Dank has fought long and hard to eliminate tax credits that don’t provide a benefit to the state.
Among the last-minute proposals he cited was a sales tax exemption for an upcoming Senior PGA tournament in Edmond and a five-year extension for a wind-energy tax credit that is supposed to sunset in 2016.
The House voted this session for a bill by Dank to set mandatory criteria for all tax credits. “Did they mean it when they voted for those criteria a few weeks ago, or was that all just a scam to fool the taxpayers?” he said.
We’ll find out as the session winds to a close.
Oklahoma inmates who believe they were wrongly convicted of a violent crime may soon have a new tool available to help prove their point.
The House gave its approval this week to House Bill 1068, which would let those serving sentences of 25 years or more petition the sentencing court for DNA testing. Oklahoma is the only state without such a law.
Under HB 1068, once the state responds to an inmate’s request, the sentencing court would hold a hearing to determine whether to order DNA testing. The bill guards against the courts being flooded with requests by requiring that certain criteria be met.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, and Sen. James Halligan, R-Stillwater. It gained the support of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, which would have a hand in the testing, as well as a panel of attorneys that studied wrongful convictions.
About a dozen Oklahoma inmates have been freed as a result of forensic DNA testing in the past two decades. If this bill helps free even one innocent person, it will have been worthwhile.
The bill now heads back to the Senate, which should send it to Gov. Mary Fallin for her signature without delay.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin this week rejected an idea aimed at ensuring that state agencies are operating as efficiently as possible.
Fallin vetoed Senate Bill 907, which would have created a Joint Legislative Committee on Accountability. The panel would have included legislators from both sides of the aisle — an effort to avoid claims that partisan points were being sought — as well as two members from the private sector, who could review executive branch agencies and request performance audits.
In her veto, Fallin said the governor and legislators already have avenues available to ask for audits. But they seldom do, and that isn’t likely to change.
“For 20 years, people have been talking about this. It hasn’t happened,” a miffed state Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones said. “This bill would make it happen.”
Lawmakers approved SB 907 by votes of 44-0 in the Senate and 87-5 in the House. We’ll see if that support translates into a veto override.
The chorus of voices looking to stop text-messaging while driving now includes the country’s four largest cellphone companies.
T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and AT&T are getting behind a multimillion dollar ad campaign promoting AT&T’s “It Can Wait” campaign.
“Every CEO in the industry that you talk to recognizes that this is an issue that needs to be dealt with,” the head of AT&T told The Associated Press.Perhaps the message eventually will sink in with Oklahoma legislative leaders.
Several efforts this year to ban texting and driving failed. Oklahoma is one of just 11 states that haven’t outlawed texting at the wheel, which is dangerous not only to the person sending or reading messages, but to others on the road.
“They froze us out completely,” the state lawmaker said. “But they’ve got the power, and they’re using it.”
An Oklahoma Democrat complaining about life in the GOP-controlled Legislature? No. The remark comes from a Republican legislator in Colorado, where Democrats recently passed a bill greatly broadening voter rights.
The new law will let voters register on Election Day, allow residents to move within the state without re-registering at their new address, and create an all-mail ballot system. Not a single GOP member voted in favor.
Republicans have led efforts across the country for stricter voter rules. Colorado’s new law makes it far easier to vote. Time will tell if, as we suspect, this law has made it too easy.
The Census Bureau reported this week that nationally, blacks voted at a higher rate than whites in the 2012 election. It’s the first time that’s happened since the bureau began tracking voting data by race in 1968. Indeed the number of black and Hispanic voters increased from 2008 to 2012, while the number of non-Hispanic white voters fell, which the bureau said “indicates that the 2012 voting population expansion came primarily from minority voters.”
This news is especially ironic because the administration of Barack Obama, our first black president, spent so much time last year working to roll back voter ID laws. Attorney General Eric Holder even likened some of these laws to the poll taxes of the Jim Crow days.
The census data shouldn’t come as a great surprise. In 2008, minority turnout in Georgia and Indiana increased dramatically, as did the turnout of Democrats in general, and those states have the strictest voter ID laws in the country.
Asking for identification at the ballot box is constitutional — so says the U.S. Supreme Court — and as the data shows, it’s no more onerous than asking the same to enter a building or board an airplane or write a check.
Oklahoma County is being honored for its work retooling the former General Motors assembly plant.
District 3 County Commissioner Ray Vaughn got word recently that the county had been chosen the Phoenix Award winner from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 6. The awards are given around the country for brownfield development.
The state Department of Environmental Quality nominated the local project, which over five years transformed the former GM plant into an engine repair and maintenance facility for the U.S. Department of Defense.
The local project will be honored at a banquet next week in Atlanta, where it’ll be in the running for the grand prize or people’s choice awards. Kudos.
Justin Jones has a mess on his hands.
As director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Jones oversees the agency charged with watching an ever-growing prison population, and doing so with too-few prison guards. That dynamic contributes to brawls such as the one this week involving about 30 inmates at the Mack Alford Correctional Center in Stringtown.
It was the latest of many violent incidents behind bars in the past year. Prison guards are concerned for their safety, the head of the Oklahoma Corrections Professions says, and prisons are “losing people like crazy everywhere” because of low pay and job conditions.
Additional funding would help, and Jones has regularly asked the Legislature for more. But bookkeeping concerns have become a big problem. The Oklahoman recently obtained documents showing that the amount of money held in two DOC revolving accounts was significantly greater than what the agency reported to the governor for her budgeting purposes.
Preston Doerflinger, the governor’s chief budget writer, says DOC has clear needs “but the problem is when you’ve got monies sitting in revolving accounts that appear to not be accurate and that they’re not utilizing appropriately, then how best are we to know and what confidence are we to have in taking into consideration the need for additional resources?”
Good questions. Until they’re answered sufficiently, Jones’ already tough job will only get more difficult.
ESPN executives welcomed opinions this week about pro basketball player Jason Collins’ disclosure that he is gay — some opinions, at least.
ESPN reporter Chris Broussard had the PC police working overtime after he called Collins a sinner during the program “Outside the Lines.” NBA players who engage in premarital sex or adultery were “walking in open rebellion to God, and to Jesus Christ,” Broussard said.
An ESPN honcho quickly followed up by saying the network regretted that a discussion of personal viewpoints had become a “distraction.”
Ever notice how often Christian viewpoints tend to have that effect? Bashing Christianity is just fine, of course, but defending it? Can’t have that.
ESPN added that the network was “fully committed to diversity and welcomes Jason Collins’ announcement.” Thanks for clearing that up.