In my Jan. 30 commentary, I challenged this Legislature to a session focused on issues of concern to a bipartisan electorate. I also posed another scenario in which elected officials could instead “pander to their ‘base,’ relegate their finest moments to the agenda of special interests (particularly those who can pay to play), and use the bully pulpit for political power, personal gain and re-election protection.”
Now that the session has adjourned, the moment of accountability is at hand.
We all know that due to budget constraints, Oklahoma’s surge forward in raising teachers’ salaries, expanding access to health care and ensuring public safety with support for teens ” whether in school or in detention ” abruptly halted. Progress likewise ceased on filling endowed chairs in higher education, increasing salaries of state employees (which sadly have never “surged”), and finding some relief from increased gasoline and utility costs for a myriad of public institutions and services. Supposedly the good news is that we are better off than the rest of the country.
While all indications show priority concerns of the public remain quality education, affordable health care, safe neighborhoods, fair courts and quality work opportunities, I will limit my observations to a few legislative proposals where appropriation of money ” new or increased ” was not inherent in their passage, and these “failed measures” could have perhaps made a difference for the public welfare and a bipartisan electorate.
On the House side, House Bill 1575 (Ron Peters/Brian Crain) attempted to add conditions of willful, malicious and repeated harassing to the definition of “stalking” and provide that those conditions could also be grounds for an emergency order of protection. House Bill 2486 (Marian Cooksey/James Williamson) sought to increase the number of members of the Council on Judicial Complaints to seven, no more than three of whom could be members of the Oklahoma Bar Association. House Bill 3319 (Al Lindley) proposed that when buildings are built with public dollars, then the builders might consider a “green building.” House Bill 2773 (Cooksey/Debbe Leftwich) stated that all general and independent contractors engaged in the construction or remodeling of single-family homes may register with the Construction Industries Board, and a list of registered contractors would be available to the public.
In the Senate, Senate Bill 1694 (Sean Burrage/Tad Jones) instructed the state Department of Education to encourage school boards and districts to develop mentorship programs for youth at risk of dropping out before graduation. Senate Bill 1931 (Susan Paddack/Jones) extended the tuition waivers of the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program to children of teachers with a minimum of six years teaching service in Oklahoma if the teacher remained in an active teaching assignment throughout the duration of the waiver award. Senate Bill 1521 (Andrew Rice/Kris Steele), also known as Stephanie’s Law, required that medical insurance policies cover routine medical costs for patients of established clinical trials.
To be sure, these bills might well have required refining and amending en route to final passage. Interestingly, all of these measures, with the exception of HB 3319, passed one chamber of the Legislature, but were denied hearings or not passed through the second chamber. Sadly, all are “dead” at this time.
Each bill seemed to me to be something we might have done for the public good when appropriated dollars were in short supply. Maybe the off-and-on discussion of segregating the biennial legislative session into one year of budgetary considerations and one year of non-budgetary considerations is worth visiting again.
It certainly might allow more measures of policy and priorities to see the light of day more easily, especially when the cover of “no money” is unavailable.
Boyd, a former state legislator and 1998 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, is owner and chief executive officer of Policy and Performance Consultants Inc.