Oklahoma Legislative Update: WEEK 12

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From Representative Jeannie McDaniel

This week marked the third-reading deadline for bills from the Senate. In three days the House heard 82 bills, or 64%, of all Senate bills heard and passed from the House. With just four weeks to go there is still much to do. The House is holding conference committee meetings—a departure from the long-held practice of simply requesting a signature at one’s floor desk or in a hallway. This should allow for more thorough vetting of bills that are changed during final hours. In past sessions, it has taken weeks to find final language contained in passed legislation.

Highlights of Enacted Bills
Affirmative Action to the 2012 Ballot
Senate Joint Resolution 15 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would effectively end affirmative action programs in state government, universities and colleges. The emotionally charged debate ran late and continued after many members had left for the week.

I opposed SJR15 for two reasons: we are in a period of steeply rising inequality, documented by a recent report titled ―Pulling Apart‖— and women are still badly under-represented in Oklahoma government. In fact, female representation in the Oklahoma legislature is currently at 12.8%, which ranks our state as the 49th lowest in the country. South Carolina is last with 9.4%.

Governor Signs Bill Allowing Employees to Use Guns at Work
HB 1449 extends the right to use deadly force to business employees who have reason to fear death or great bodily harm. Previously, state law allowed individuals to use deadly force only in their homes.

Legislation moving 2012 presidential primary to March
HB 1614 would move Oklahoma’s presidential primary from February to March. New national rules adopted by both major parties are forcing states like Oklahoma to move their primaries to March if they want to participate in the national conventions. Under the new national rules only Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada can have February 2012 presidential primaries. Oklahoma’s primary will be the first Tuesday in March, the earliest date allowed under the new rules.

Rail Expansion Bill Signed into Law
HB1686, the Eastern Flyer Passenger Rail Initiative, is intended to extend passenger rail to Tulsa. The Heartland Flyer currently carries passengers from Ft. Worth to Oklahoma City and, according to studies, small towns along the route have benefited with income up to $18 million annually from lodging, meals, shopping and entertainment spending by passengers. New projects in development or being planned could benefit from the proposed Tulsa route; Chandler, Bristow and Sapulpa are directly in line to receive rail traffic.

Funding Crisis
Oklahoma Department of Human Services officials are bracing for expected budget cuts by looking at reducing staffing levels and changing the eligibility for child care subsidies, according to a com-mission meeting report. Director Howard Hendrick said the agency is anticipating about a $39 million shortfall, based on the current state budget negotiations. With possible changes in eligibility rules for child care subsidies, fewer people would be able to qualify. The subsidy helps low-income families afford child care, and parents must be working or going to school.

Unintended Consequences
A senior nutrition bill was amended to prohibit independent contractors from distributing federal funds for a pro-gram that feeds mothers, ba-bies and small children. This move was an attack on Planned Parenthood of Arkan-sas and Eastern Oklahoma, which is among the nine inde-pendent contractors that ad-minister the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) feeding program. The bill, however, also will prohibit Margaret Hudson and Morton Health Services in Tulsa from participating in the WIC program, along with six Oklahoma City independent contractors. The bill now returns to the Senate for final consideration.

Birther Bill
SB91, passed by the House, requires future U.S. Presidential candidates to provide a copy of their photo identification and their birth certificate to the Oklahoma State Election Board as evidence of their eligibility to run for office.