Persistence can be a virtue, especially for those serving in the Legislature. Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, is proving that with legislation to strengthen oversight of school volunteers.
House Bill 2228, the “Protect Against Pedophiles Act,” has now passed both the Oklahoma House of Representatives and the state Senate. Under the bill, schools could have the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation conduct a criminal background check of all adult school volunteers. The district or the volunteer would pay for the review.
Dorman authored a similar measure in 2012 that easily passed the House (where only three lawmakers opposed it), but was then killed in the Senate on a 27-13 vote.
HB 2228 must still clear several more legislative hurdles, but this appears to be a good idea that is sadly necessary to protect children. Dorman is to be commended for continuing to work on this issue.
Last week, Oklahoma Department of Human Services Director Ed Lake canceled 10 contracts that had been awarded to private agencies hired to help find and keep more foster families.
Expanding the pool of foster families is a priority for DHS and an important part of a reform plan borne out of the settlement of a federal class-action lawsuit against the agency. But there were problems with how the program got off the ground.
Among other things, the contracts proved to be confusing for some providers and would-be providers, and some of the financial penalty provisions were overly harsh. Lawmakers heard from other provider agencies that were displeased with the competitive selection process.
The bids for the contracts had been received before Lake took over Nov. 1. He could have simply left not-so-well-enough alone — indeed, Lake said his decision was no reflection on the work done by those that were awarded contracts. But instead he is starting over because “the downside of going forward under these conditions outweigh the benefits” for those agencies and DHS.
Four legislators closely involved in DHS issues supported the move. It will slow the process of finding groups to recruit, train and support foster families, they said, but standing pat would have yielded “significantly worse results over the long run.”
Six months into a very difficult job, Lake is displaying the kind of leadership taxpayers ought to applaud.
During debate on a bill this week, Oklahoma state Rep. Dennis Johnson, R-Duncan, said customer service gives small businesses like his an edge over big stores and chains, even though customers might try to “Jew me down on a price.”
Johnson, 59, later said he grew up hearing that scurrilous phrase but didn’t know why he used it. It “just came out of one of the wrinkles of my brain and was not something that was intentional.”
That excuse might hold more water except that Johnson was speaking on the floor of the Oklahoma House, where one expects a modicum of thought to accompany the proceedings. And it might fly better if Johnson had immediately corrected himself.
Instead he continued his debate until a nearby colleague pointed out what he had said. “Did I?” Johnson responded. Then, smiling — almost laughing — he added, “I apologize to the Jews. They’re good small businessmen as well.”
No doubt the Jews will be glad to hear that.
The state of Oklahoma received a $64.8 million payment this week from U.S. tobacco companies, which have been writing similar checks to Oklahoma since 1999.
In fact the latest payment put Oklahoma over the $1 billion mark in money received as part of an agreement settling a lawsuit filed by 46 states over costs tied to tobacco-related illnesses. The payments will continue as long as tobacco products are sold.
In 2000, Oklahoma voters wisely approved the creation of a trust fund to hold onto the bulk of the settlement money and use the fund’s earnings for health-related purposes. The fund’s balance stands at $797 million, and since 2001, more than $151 million in earnings have been realized.
No other state protected its money; as a result, their tobacco payments go out as quickly as they come in, used for any number of nonhealth-related reasons.
Last year, several candidates demanded recounts in races lost decisively.
After losing the Oklahoma County sheriff’s race by about 75,000 votes, Republican Darrell Sorrels requested a recount. After 14 of 256 precincts were recounted, he closed the gap with incumbent John Whetsel — by a single vote. Fortunately, Sorrels then dropped his request.
In a Wagoner County court clerk’s race, the runner-up in the Republican Party runoff lost nearly 2-1 and still requested a recount.
While those seeking a recount pay a $600 deposit for the first 3,000 ballots recounted and $600 for each additional 6,000 ballots, the process still requires significant manpower resources from local election officials. Lawmakers are trying to discourage frivolous recounts by doubling the required deposit when the margin of victory is greater than 10 percent.
That’s a good idea that will still allow valid recounts but discourage expenditures on political sour grapes.
Legislation addressing drought-related challenges has been sent to Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin to be signed into law.
House Bill 1923 would create the Emergency Drought Relief Fund and an Emergency Drought Commission. After an emergency drought declaration is issued, the commission will recommend fund expenditures to the governor. That group’s members include the executive director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, the Secretary of Agriculture, and the executive director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board.
Money placed in the fund could be used for things like pond cleanup and construction; water conservation in agriculture; providing water for livestock; rural fire suppression activities; red cedar eradication; soil conservation; emergency infrastructure conservation; and other activities.
We previously endorsed this proposal, which is simply a good management effort to prepare for potential drought challenges. Hopefully, the drought will break this summer and the fund won’t be needed.
A report by the National Conference of State Legislatures shows that only three states have a lower percentage of females in their legislatures than Oklahoma. Which means what, exactly?
To some, it means Oklahoma voters aren’t as progressive as states that have a higher percentage of women in the legislature, such as Colorado and Vermont.
To others, it means Oklahoma is missing out on qualities women bring to the table that lead to things getting accomplished. “Things work better and more smoothly when there are more women involved,” state Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, told Oklahoma Watch. “Compromise is more encouraged if more women are involved.” Those comments appear to be based on stereotypes contradicted by the records of many successful female politicians (see Hillary Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, Nancy Pelosi, etc.).
We see the report as evidence only that comparatively speaking, not as many women in this state choose to run for the legislative offices. Oklahomans will vote for the candidate they believe is best suited for the job, regardless of gender. Heck, we had two women seeking the governor’s seat in 2010.
Virgin was more on point when she said it’s difficult to find women who are willing to run. When that begins to change, then the makeup of our Legislature will change, too.
Heading into the 2014 elections, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin is the second-best positioned governor facing re-election in the nation, according to the FiveThirtyEight blog at the New York Times.
Based on the three most recent polls, the blog places Fallin’s job approval rating at 65 percent and disapproval at only 23 percent. Only one governor potentially running for re-election has a better net job approval.
That may surprise some Democrats who hoped Fallin’s rejection of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion would provide them leverage with voters. If anything, that decision may have helped Fallin.
Even if her numbers dip, it may not mean much given Oklahoma’s Republican leanings. Proof of that conclusion can be seen in Illinois, where Gov. Pat Quinn is the second-most unpopular governor up for re-election in 2014, yet FiveThirtyEight notes he “is still considered a favorite to win re-election” because of that state’s heavy Democratic tilt.
During the debate over legalizing horse slaughter in Oklahoma, proponents argued that slaughter was needed in part to reduce the abandonment and starvation of old horses. Animal-rights activists were dismissive of those claims, saying there were alternatives to both horse slaughter and starvation, and implying the abandonment argument was a red herring.
Sadly, evidence continues to mount making clear that mistreatment of horses is far too common.
Near Wewoka, a woman has been arrested for animal abuse after officials found between 20 and 30 dead horses on her property, and another 64 that were malnourished. This is the second time Carolyn Vaughn has faced animal cruelty charges.
Ironically, Vaughn claimed she was running an animal rescue operation. “Saving” those horses from slaughter didn’t save them from either suffering or a miserable death.
Horse slaughter may not be ideal, but was Vaughn’s horse rescue mission really any better?
In January, state Rep. Dan Kirby, R-Tulsa, publicly invited gun-maker Remington to relocate from New York to Oklahoma following New York’s passage of a ban on so-called assault rifles.
Kirby suggested the company could receive Oklahoma Quality Jobs Act incentives and a five-year property tax exemption for manufacturers, and noted recent lawsuit reforms and potential workers’ compensation reforms could make Oklahoma an ideal place for the business.
Many dismissed the invite as a stunt, but maybe Kirby was on to something.
A manufacturer of Colt rifles is now moving to Breckenridge, Texas. The CEO of Colt Manufacturing in Connecticut has suggested the company may relocate after passage of extremely restrictive gun laws. And Texas Gov. Rick Perry has reportedly sent letters to several gun companies, encouraging relocation to Texas.
If that approach is succeeding in Texas, local officials may soon ask, “Why not in Oklahoma?”