SB1016: This bill had the title stricken this week in committee (which means that the bill has to be reworked by the chamber, effectively giving the bill more time in the state legislature, as all bills need a summary statement at the beginning, called the title). It requires public schools that have enough money and pay their teachers enough of a salary to also have a poster displayed. The poster would include the national motto “In God We Trust,” the American flag and the Oklahoma flag. There are important bills in Congress right now, bills that will decide the future of this state, its budget and our quality of life. This bill is so far removed from those struggles and so unimportant as to loop back around to important. Why devote time to putting posters in schools that will alienate children who do not believe in God when there are better things to argue about? It’s nonsense.
SB1105: Legislation that would increase awareness about the facts of HIV/AIDS and educate young people on the matter are not new. They’ve also got a pretty terrible track record of getting any traction in the state legislature. This bill would require schools to teach about HIV/AIDS every few grades. HIV/AIDS is a huge part of our nation’s history and an ongoing problem in today’s society. Talking about it destigmatizes it. People should feel comfortable discussing it, because people will contract HIV, or they’ll know people with HIV/AIDS, and the problem doesn’t go away just because we pretend that it doesn’t exist or — worse — that it only happens to people in the LGBT+ community and is thus shameful or less worthy of attention. While the bill isn’t likely to pass, it’s still a worthwhile fight.
HB3471: Authored by Rep. John Paul Jordan, this bill requires the U.S. history component of Oklahoma’s social studies curriculum to include information about Juneteenth, which commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. Rep. George Young, the leader of the Oklahoma Black Caucus, added a friendly amendment to the legislation that would make June 19 an official state holiday in recognition of Juneteenth. The bill not only celebrates Oklahoma’s diversity, but it provides an important service to our youth by teaching them a crucial and often neglected part of our history. Juneteenth is considered by many to be America’s true Independence Day.
Over the last week, the House and Senate both voted bills out of committee so that they could be voted on and amended by the entire chamber. Due to ice closures two days last week and partisan politics, many bills weren’t even heard in committee, let alone given the chance to be heard and voted on by the whole assembly.
To quote the March 2 House of Representatives press release, “Republican-controlled committees have once again put party over state by only passing 30 measures authored by House Democrats through the committee process.”
As a punitive measure, the minority caucus was notified that members who voted against the Step Up Oklahoma budget package would need to transfer their bills to other caucus members who were in favor of Step Up.
One such measure, House Bill 2615, authored by Rep. Will Fourkiller D-Stilwell, was transferred to another Democrat due to Rep. Fourkiller’s ‘no’ vote on Step Up – a vote requested by a majority of the constituents that contacted him. The measure commemorated soldiers buried at the Fort Gibson National Cemetery.
“I have spent seven years at the Capitol representing the people of Norman, and I have never before seen this level of partisan denigration, especially based on a measure that was widely rejected by both parties,” said Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman.
I wholeheartedly agree.
Of the measures denied a hearing, four measures would have provided teacher pay raises of $5,000 or more, and five measures would have restored the gross production tax to a rate more equitable for all of Oklahoma.
Overall, 38 of the 140 measures introduced by Democratic members and not granted a hearing would have benefitted public education and helped to dramatically improve the state’s fiscal situation.
Retired educator Rep. Donnie Condit, D-McAlester, filed HB2617, which sought to make a tax credit available for teachers that have paid for classroom supplies like reams of paper and pencils. The bill was assigned to a budgetary subcommittee and not granted a hearing.
Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa (the representative for TU), filed HB2929 to help place a timeline for dealing with the backlog of nearly 7,000 untested rape kits in the state, an essential step in stopping serial rapists.
“The victims of sexual assault and rape continue to be ignored in our state,” Nichols said in the press release.
“Many law enforcement agencies across the state failed to comply with the Governor’s audit request on untested rape kits and now because of politics we are once again showing them justice doesn’t matter. Untested kits leave us with the threat of rapist walking free. This is an urgent and dangerous problem, it should be bigger than politics but thanks to a few committee chairs, it is not.”
Other measures presented by House Democrats that failed to receive a committee hearing:
HB2531: Authored by Rep. Collin Walke, D-Oklahoma City, would have restored of the historic gross production tax rate, boosting state revenue by over $300 million.
HB1368: Authored by Rep. Johnny Tadlock, D-Idabel, approval of dedicated, per-pupil funds for books and supplies.
HB2611: Authored by Rep. Johnny Tadlock, D-Idabel, created a tiered gross production tax.
HB2741: Authored by Rep. David Perryman, D-Chickasha, would restore the state standard deduction.
HB2746: Authored by Rep. David Perryman, D-Chickasha, would increase transparency of the legislature by subjecting it to the same rules of other public bodies.
HB1876: Authored by Rep. Eric Proctor, D-Tulsa, would allow a spouse or family member paid leave to care for veterans returning home with disabilities.
“It’s stunning that we have people elected to serve the citizens of Oklahoma that would refuse to hear good legislation from a member based on a previous vote,” said Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City. “That kind of petty behavior from House leadership effectively silenced the voices of the thousands of Oklahomans who put their faith in their legislators.”