For the first time in decades, the Oklahoma Senate met behind closed doors in executive session. A spokesman claimed the topic Monday was “decorum and Senate tradition.” Legislators say they were encouraged to reread the chamber’s rules and code of conduct.
Supposedly, this admonition was prompted because Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, referred to Sen. Sean Burrage, D-Claremore, as “Matlock” during floor activity. Another lawmaker referred to a colleague by first name rather than by his title of senator.
If the reports are accurate, it hardly seems worthy of a high-profile secret meeting. And given that Matlock reportedly argued 173 cases over nine TV seasons and lost only two (including one successfully retried), is that really an insult?
Decorum matters, but legislators should be more mindful of these titles — “boss” and “employee.” Oklahoma voters are the former; legislators are the latter. Senators should keep that in mind before telling their bosses a meeting is “none of your business.”
The Oklahoma Policy Institute, which advocates for government programs and increased taxpayer funding, includes a lot of useful data and detailed analysis in its communications outreach. This doesn’t, however, mean that OK Policy always has the right message.
Its officials argue that Medicaid expansion is worthwhile because they find the current system relatively inexpensive. But Oklahoma’s Medicaid program currently covers low-income children and pregnant women, seniors and persons with disabilities. The proposed expansion would add about 180,000 people, potentially including many with serious, long-term health problems. You can’t extrapolate the cost of covering a demographically broader (and potentially sicker) population by examining the costs of covering a dissimilar and narrowly tailored group.
Furthermore, in an issue briefing, OK Policy notes that Medicaid costs “have risen at a more modest pace than total health expenditures or premiums for employer-sponsored coverage” and that per capita costs for Medicaid patients “are significantly below” those for patients covered by private insurance.
But a significant reason for the difference in growth rates is that private insurance absorbs cost-shifting created by Medicaid. The market rate paid by private insurers is often up to 140 percent of Medicare rates, which means Medicare rates are unrealistically low. And Medicaid rates are even lower. In Oklahoma, OK Policy notes, Medicaid rates are 96.5 percent of Medicare rates. This points to significant cost-shifting to those with private insurance or paying out of pocket.
Trumpeting the fact that Medicaid’s costs are rising more slowly than private insurance is like bragging that your electric bill is lower when you’ve got an extension cord plugged into your neighbor’s outlet.
Members of the Oklahoma Legislature earn a base salary of $38,400 per year. For that, taxpayers get these sorts of proposals:
A bill that could leave federal officials facing five years in prison if they’re found to be providing services that comply with President Barack Obama’s health care law. State employees could face a misdemeanor charge for enforcing any part of the law. “When states’ rights have been tread upon, we have a responsibility to speak up, and this is one of those moments,” said Rep. Dan Fisher, R-Yukon, author of the bill. Nice sentiment, but lawmakers also have a responsibility to uphold the law, and Obamacare, like it or not, is the law of the land. (Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, is pushing a measure that would nullify Obamacare.)
A bill by Sen. Harry Coates, R-Seminole, that would direct the Oklahoma Historical Society to hold a contest to name the state’s cowboy song.
A bill by Sen. Dan Newberry, R-Tulsa, that would not allow the use of foreign law in Oklahoma courts. This is truly a solution in search of a problem, yet the Senate approved it and sent it on to the House.
Voters long ago mandated that legislative sessions run from early February to the end of May. Measures like these make us wonder if even four months is too long.
Democrats are issuing weekly press releases criticizing the State Rights Committee, which Oklahoma House leaders created to push back against perceived federal overreach.
Democrats are certainly right to criticize activity they see as ridiculous, although their releases are light on detail, other than claiming Oklahoma Republicans are somehow anti-gun. (Does that claim even pass the laugh test?) Mostly, the releases tout the Democrats’ supposed superior knowledge and love of the U.S. and Oklahoma constitutions.
Yet a quote attributed to Rep. Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa, said Republicans “refuse to accept the law of the land after our three branches of federal government and the Supreme Court have spoken.”
Last time we checked, the U.S. Supreme Court is part of the three branches of government (judicial) — not a fourth. If Democrats want to portray themselves as constitutional experts, they should avoid mistakes that would get them bounced in a high school civics class.
As chairman of the state Senate Health and Human Services Committee, Brian Crain refused to hear a bill allowing local control of smoking regulations. Crain, R-Tulsa, has argued lawmakers should either debate a comprehensive statewide ban on smoking or nothing, decrying a piecemeal approach.
Yet he then granted a hearing to a bill to legalize the “medical” use of marijuana. That measure failed, with Crain among the opponents.
Crain said he allowed the vote because of the persistence of the bill’s author, Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Oklahoma City.
But advocates of local control of smoking regulations have been pushing the issue for years; supporters include everyone from the governor to health officials to local mayors. In comparison, Johnson is a legislative gadfly. It’s disturbing that a committee chair appears more receptive to the fringes than to than state leaders and the broad Oklahoma electorate.
Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy. People eat oats and bucks and little lambs, but most of us don’t want to eat old Stewball.
Suddenly, horses are in the food section news. IKEA stores in Europe pulled their famous meatballs from cafeteria menus because traces of horseflesh were found in them. In Oklahoma, legislation to allow slaughterhouses for horses has gotten surprisingly strong support.
One bill’s author is accused of an ethical conflict because of financial ties to livestock auctions, but supporters say this isn’t about making hay so much as it is about dealing with abandoned, neglected and unwanted horses.
Despite the IKEA development, some Europeans do eat oats, lambs and mares. Whether the slaughterhouse legislation is baled into law or lawmakers bail on the concept remains to be seen, but the jokes are already in full gallop.
Does “red pony” refer to the doneness of the meat? Saddle up the No. 2 Combo! Want fries, tots or spurs with that?
A measure approved this week in a state House committee would let Oklahoma voters decide an issue that lawmakers refuse to. It’s only the latest example of legislators punting on their responsibilities.
A joint resolution by Rep. Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, would let voters decide whether the state should seek a $200 million bond issue to fix the Capitol and other buildings in the Capitol complex. The Legislature has spiked previous bond issue efforts over concerns about the state incurring additional debt.
An idea similar to Hickman’s was floated during the 2012 session but didn’t materialize. The argument was that the Capitol is “the people’s building” and so they — not the men and women sent to Oklahoma City to represent them — should make the decision.
Last year a legislative task force abruptly stopped studying the idea of letting grocery stores and convenience stores sell wine and high-point beer. Off it went to a potential vote of the people. Lawmakers have shown no appetite for changing state law to allow cities and towns to enact their own smoking-related ordinances. Bills went nowhere last year and again this session. So now Gov. Mary Fallin is leading a petition drive to send the idea to a vote of the people.
Legislators have no problem pandering and passing feel-good bills, but they too often lack the fortitude to make the difficult choices their jobs require.
We’ve previously praised lawmakers who are seeking to remove outmoded, obsolete or even unconstitutional laws from the books. The unenforceable blasphemy law is the most notable example targeted for repeal this year.
So we also like an idea promoted by state Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City. His Senate Bill 310 creates a “Spring Cleaning Commission” that would identify obsolete or duplicative laws so legislators could repeal them. The commission would also identify archaic language that needs to be updated, and would recommend streamlining statutes where possible.
Perhaps most importantly, the group would identify regulations impacting business activity whose original purpose is no longer justifiable.
The nature of our legislative process allows laws to accumulate in an ad-hoc fashion that can have unintended results. It makes sense to conduct a top-to-bottom review to ensure the system is as consistent, cohesive and sensible as possible.
The effort to ban text-messaging while driving has resumed at the Capitol. The Legislature hasn’t warmed to this common-sense idea, which has been tried several times in recent years.
Three Democrats are trying again. Reps. Curtis McDaniel of Smithville, Jeannie McDaniel of Tulsa and Jerry Shoemake of Morris are behind House Bill 1503, which made it out of a House committee this week. It bans texting while a vehicle is in motion, and exempts texts to emergency response operators, medical providers, firefighters and law enforcement.
This really shouldn’t be a partisan issue but has become one — Republicans view such a ban as government intrusion on individual rights. But driving a car isn’t a right, it’s a privilege, and texting while driving endangers not just the driver but other motorists.
It’s time Oklahoma join the many states that have made texting at the wheel illegal.