Archive for April, 2007

Saturday House Sessions Garner National Attention

April 25, 2007

The Heartland Voices, a community choir from the Midwest City-Del City area, performs in the rotunda during a special Saturday session of the House of Representatives.


National Conference on State Legislatures Calls Session First in Nation

Last week’s Saturday session held by the Oklahoma House of Representatives has attracted national attention, and has been billed as likely the first of its kind.

The National Conference of State Legislatures has noted on its blog, “The Thicket at State Legislatures,” that the Saturday session is likely the first in the nation, and could serve as a model for similar events around the country.

“We’ll add this to our list of ideas for what legislators can do to improve public understanding of their work,” writes NCSL program director of state services Jan Goehring. “At NCSL we’re not aware of any other legislatures that have scheduled a Saturday session for the convenience of the public.”

Goehring noted that most Saturday session for other legislatures across the country come at the end when the clock is ticking and lawmakers haven’t finished their work.

By contrast, the Oklahoma House event was held as a way to reach out to working families and improve civic education among children.

“We felt this event was a great opportunity for families to have the opportunity to come to the State Capitol to see the House in session outside regularly scheduled meeting times,” said Speaker Cargill (R-Harrah). “Often families don’t have the chance to come to the State Capitol during the work week.”

98 year old Leora Henderson and her daughter Joan Woolley attend a Saturday session of the House of Representatives.

The Saturday session on April 21 attracted a crowd of about 150 people – with the day highlighted by a singing choir, a brief power outage and a visit from a citizen only six months younger than the state. Lawmakers considered a dozen substantive pieces of legislation.

The session continued despite a brief half-hour power outage at an OG&E substation that left the entire state Capitol without electricity. Lawmakers were left without microphones during the power outage, and votes were taken by a voice roll call.

Speaker Cargill said the power outage was a great reminder of the state’s Centennial – an example of how far the state had come since the horse-and-buggy era.

“If lawmakers 100 years ago could conduct the legislative session without laptops, microphones and electronic voting machines we certainly can too,” said Cargill. “It was a nice reminder of the progress we’ve made as a state.”

ACRC To Announce Race Neutral Ballot Initiative in Oklahoma

April 25, 2007

From The New Leadership Blog:

By Christopher Arps

I wrote several days ago that the American Civil Rights Coalition headed by Ward Connerly – a national leader striving for a “color blind society” – would be making an important announcement regarding ballot initiatives in several states next year.

Yesterday in Kansas City, I attended and spoke at the press conference announcing the formation of the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative. It was the second stop on the five state tour of Colorado, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arizona, and South Dakota. The ballot measure will seek to ban government-sponsored race and gender preferences in public employment, public education and public contracting. Here is the actual proposed language:

“The state shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.”

Recent ballot initiative victories in Michigan, Washington, and California, have shown that that these measures passed with strong grassroots support. The internet has become a logical extension of the power of grassroots organizing; with its advantages of quick and cost effective communication. No doubt, the opponents of the measure will use scare tactics and blatant mistruths to distort the purpose of the initiative, but fortuntiately, the blogosphere will be able to counter them. Read more…

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Wednesday April 25, 2007

Contact: Ryan Steusloff at 405-286-6500

Or, Jennifer Gratz at (517) 281-6738 or (916) 444-2278

OKLAHOMA CIVIL RIGHTS INITIATIVE LAUNCHES ANTI-PREFERENCES CAMPAIGN

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – The Oklahoma Civil Rights Initiative is moving ahead with plans for a November, 2008 ballot measure banning government-sponsored race and gender preferences in the state. The Oklahoma Civil Rights Initiative will be part of a ‘Super Tuesday for Equal Rights’ campaign that will offer citizens of several states the chance to end such practices in public employment, public education and public contracting. Similar measures have already passed in three other states, all by overwhelming margins.

“We believe the people of Oklahoma are fair and believe in equal treatment under the law,” said Rep. Randy Terrill. “Ward Connerly and his organizations have done excellent work exposing policies that divide us and now we are delighted to have his support in pursuing the Oklahoma Civil Rights Initiative,” Rep. Terrill continued.

Connerly, chairman of the Sacramento-based American Civil Rights Institute and longtime crusader for a colorblind America, will also be speaking at the event. “Getting our nation to the point of applying a single standard to all Americans is one of the most crucial issues of our time,” says Connerly, who helped lead the earlier successful anti-preferences campaigns in California, Washington state and, most recently, Michigan.

“Racial preferences are nothing but state-sponsored discrimination. How can we look the other way when Americans are being deprived of their right to full and equal treatment under the law? If events of the past couple of weeks have taught us anything at all, it is that race will continue to divide our nation as long as long as we insist on treating people differently based on nothing more than the color of their skin or the origin of their ancestors,” said Connerly. “Both Don Imus, in his appalling comments on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, and those who rushed to judgment in the Duke lacrosse case made the same mistake: they looked at individuals and saw only skin color. For the sake of our children and grandchildren, we have to get past that kind of thinking – and we must start by getting our government out of the business of privileging some citizens because of their race or gender and penalizing others,” said Connerly.

The operative clause of the proposed ballot initiative reads as follows: “The state shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.”

"Bumper Sticker Politics" Serves State Poorly

April 25, 2007

By Senator Jay Paul Gumm

The serious discussion of critical issues sometimes gives way to what I call “bumper sticker politics.”

By that, I mean when an extraordinarily complicated issue gets reduced to a few words that fit on a bumper sticker. The Senate considered one of those issues last week when we considered Senate Bill 507, the so-called “Tort Reform” or “Lawsuit Reform” bill.

This was a long and complex bill. It would fundamentally change the ability of everyday Oklahomans to ask a court to put right what once went wrong.

Despite its complexity, senator’s votes on this bill will be distilled down to being “for” or “against” the whole of tort reform, an issue very important to our medical and business communities. Since becoming your senator, I have voted for just about every tort reform bill to come before the Legislature. Read more…

Worthen: Norman Lawmaker Should Apologize for Remark Insulting Teachers

April 25, 2007

Rep. Wallace Collins insults public education and his own literacy/intelligence at the same time!

An Oklahoma City lawmaker Tuesday renewed calls for Rep. Wallace Collins to apologize for insulting remarks he made about public education on the House floor.

“Collins claims he was just joking,” said Rep. Trebor Worthen (R-Oklahoma City). “But I don’t think professional educators find his remarks amusing. I certainly don’t. If he is able to be so flippant about something like this, I think it calls into question his so-called commitment to public education.”

On April 12, while discussing a bill on the House floor, Collins (D-Norman)stated, “I’m only a public school graduate, so I’m not very literate, if you could talk to me in a manner I can understand.”

“This is an insult not only to public educators, but also to the students who go through Oklahoma’s school system every day,” said Worthen. “I don’t think these kinds of comments on the House floor are becoming of a lawmaker. Instead of continuing to dismiss calls for an apology, Wallace Collins should do the right thing and say he’s sorry.”

Senator Gumm’s Blog for April 24-30, 2007

April 24, 2007

“Bumper Sticker Politics” Serves State Poorly

By Senator Jay Paul Gumm

The serious discussion of critical issues sometimes gives way to what I call “bumper sticker politics.”

By that, I mean when an extraordinarily complicated issue gets reduced to a few words that fit on a bumper sticker. The Senate considered one of those issues last week when we considered Senate Bill 507, the so-called “Tort Reform” or “Lawsuit Reform” bill.

This was a long and complex bill. It would fundamentally change the ability of everyday Oklahomans to ask a court to put right what once went wrong.

Despite its complexity, senator’s votes on this bill will be distilled down to being “for” or “against” the whole of tort reform, an issue very important to our medical and business communities. Since becoming your senator, I have voted for just about every tort reform bill to come before the Legislature.

I believe it is important we limit the number of frivolous lawsuits, making sure doctors can practice and businesses can operate without undue fear of lawsuits. However, we must preserve access to the courts for those individuals who have truly been hurt by another.

One of the courts’ most important jobs is to hold businesses and individuals accountable if they harm someone. That requires a balance that is far more difficult to achieve than popping off a two-word, bumper-sticker answer.

This bill, while containing some good provisions I recommended, was loaded down with provisions that would have closed the courts to Oklahomans of modest means. In their zeal to protect defendants in civil suits, the authors of the bill went way too far giving defendants too much protection.

In fact, some of that protection was so strong that if criminal defendants were allowed the same ability to keep facts secret it would amount to legalizing obstruction of justice. Our courts exist to find the truth, this bill would gut the courts’ ability to find that truth.

It was ironic when one of the sponsors of the measure used one of my favorite quotes in his debate. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” he said. In an effort to express support for the bill, this senator gave the most eloquent argument against the bill.

Senate Bill 507, in the form it was presented, would ensure that sunlight in many cases would never be able to illuminate the truth. Because of where the bill was in the legislative process, we had no options to clean up the measure before us; it was either a “yes” or “no” on the whole bill before us.

While I will always look for ways to pass effective and balanced tort reform, I could not support a measure that was so fatally flawed and so out-of-balance for the people I represent. We can do better than the bill that passed the Senate and is now on the governor’s desk, and we certainly owe Oklahomans our best efforts.

Thanks again for reading, have a great week, and may God bless you all.

Charter School Debate

April 24, 2007

A recent hot topic of debate at the House of Representatives has centered around the creation of charter schools. Currently there are 13 in Oklahoma. All are in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

Consider one example of a successful charter school. Six years ago the F.D. Moon Academy in Oklahoma City was the lowest-performing school in the state. Five years later, in the very same building, students of KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Charter School produced some of the highest tests scores in Oklahoma, despite tremendous social and economic challenges.

KIPP eighth-grade students dominated the 2006 Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test (OCCT), with 100 percent passing both the state math and writing tests and 97 percent of KIPP students passing the state reading test. This compares to the statewide average of 72 percent of eighth graders passing the math test and 59 percent of Oklahoma City students passing it. The average Academic Performance Index (API) score for all Oklahoma students is 1180. The average score for Oklahoma City students is 1006. Students attending KIPP averaged 1393 out of 1500, which surpassed even Oklahoma City’s Classen School of Advanced Studies, the 17th best high school in the country according to Newsweek. Records indicate that 73 percent of those who enter KIPP at the fifth grade level read at a third-grade level or less, but by the time students reach eighth grade, 97 percent are passing the state reading test.

KIPP students attend school from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm and twice-monthly on Saturdays. As a college preparatory school, KIPP’s focus is not simply on graduating students from 12th grade, but on ensuring they graduate from college.

In a recent Oklahoman story, a KIPP student was quoted as saying, “Before, my dream was basketball or something like that. Now, I want to be a businessman, and KIPP helped me set my goal.”

Nationwide, fifty KIPP academies have been established. Charter schools such as these represent an exciting trend toward reversing the failures of inner city common education.

Considering the phenomenal track record of this, who would oppose such schooling? Early this year, in an obvious attempt to end such success, the Tulsa School Board took action to declare a moratorium on the establishment of any new charter schools.

In response, Democrat State Representative Jabar Shumate, who represents an impoverished part of Tulsa, submitted legislation that would permit higher education institutions and city councils in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties to allow charter schools in those counties. This would prevent local boards of education which are hostile to alternative forms of education from stopping creation of charter schools.

After much questioning and debate, Shumate’s bill passed the House by a one vote margin. Shumate was the only Democrat to vote for the bill and it took the support of fifty Republicans to ensure passage.

The narrow vote demonstrates how that even in light of overwhelming evidence that charter schools are successful, defenders of the status quo will fight hard to oppose reforms designed to improve the learning conditions of Oklahoma’s children.

I admire Representative Shumate’s commitment to doing the right thing for Oklahoma children and was honored to support such legislation.

Open Door Policy – 4/23/07

April 23, 2007

Open Door Policy – 4/23/07
The shooting at Virginia Tech last week has encouraged the Governor and members of the legislature to prepare for the worst in Oklahoma. Governor Henry established a task force to review school safety and individual universities have begun to look at ways to inform students in regards to harmful situations on campus. I have visited with Sandy Garrett to encourage schools to pool resources and purchase new security cameras and equipment in groups to cut down on costs and get better deals. Nothing is more important than preparing in every possible way to ensure the safety of students and teachers. This is a disturbing trend in our society and we even saw incidents locally that reflect this. Students need to be aware of their surroundings and report any suspicious activities. Even joking around about harming fellow students and teachers will be punished severely in this modern society. My prayers go out to all those suffering right now over these incidents.
The House met at the Capitol this past weekend, which did not go as well as planned. On Saturday, the power outage in Oklahoma City kept the computer systems from working and required the members to operate similar to the days of statehood. We addressed three pieces of legislation where the clerk had to read the entire bill to us and mandated a roll call rather than using the electronic voting machines. This slowed things down significantly and left little accomplished. Less than 100 citizens showed up to watch the proceedings, but they at least watched some of the activity that did occur.
I want to thank several of the folks back home for voicing their concerns over bills that have been considered recently. Homer Thompson, Pete McDaniel and Dwight Woodward have been very good about keeping informed with the problems in SB 507, the legislation dealing with tort reform. This bill would significantly limit the rights of mineral owners to file class action lawsuits over problems with oil companies. This is but one of the problems with this bill and I appreciate them and others voicing their views. I am encouraging the Governor to veto this bill.
Another issue that was considered was funding for the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program. Legislators voted to place a grade point cumulative on this bill that would have eliminated 31% of the students from the area I represent. While I agree there do need to be increased standards for retention of this scholarship, I felt this was too high and would have prevented too many students the opportunity to succeed in college. I myself had the chance to go to college on the Oklahoma Tuition Aid Grant and I will never deprive students the same chances I had.
Though we worked Saturday, I had several chances to see friends on Sunday. The Fletcher Fire Department had a successful fundraiser at their station and the Apache Rattlesnake Hunt was once again a huge success. There was a tremendous crowd at the festival all weekend and this provided a great boost to the local economy. I’m happy to participate in this event each year and have quite a bit of fun working with the guys in the snake pit. Another event coming up soon to watch for is the Crawds n’ Rods fundraiser in Elgin on May 12 which benefits their local fire department.
It is an honor to represent your views at the State Capitol. If you wish to contact me and discuss one of these or another issue, I can be reached at my office in Oklahoma City toll-free at 1-800-522-8502, or directly at 1-405-557-7305. My e-mail address is joedorman@okhouse.gov at work. My mailing address is PO Box 559, Rush Springs, OK 73082 and my website is http://www.joedorman.com/ on the Internet. Thank you for taking time to read this column and I look forward to seeing you soon.

Sunday Morning Puff Piece

April 23, 2007

We presented a piece a couple of weeks ago on the political affiliations of the Capitol press corps. We posted a list of several reporters who were registered as Democrats. Now that’s not a crime within itself, or, even suggests that these fine reporters aren’t capable of writing stories without inflicting their personal biases. But a story yesterday by Tulsa World reporter Barbara Hoberock, makes us seriously question her motives behind her Brad Henry, Drew Edmondson puff piece.

OKPNS fully understands that reporters do not write the headlines for their stories, but the following headline for Hoberock’s story gives you a gist of the angle of the piece: “AG Gave Advice on Abortion Bill” with the sub headline: “Henry Was Told About Problems With a Hotly Debated Abortion Measure.”

Why does a story of the attorney general performing his duties – dispensing legal advice to the governor and other state agencies – warrant a 15 paragraph story? Many could surmise that this story is meant to deflect from the question of the morality or immorality of abortion, and instead, turn Henry’s controversial veto last week into a question of legalities only.

Martin Luther King wrote about obeying “just and unjust laws” in his famous letter from a Birmingham jail.

“One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.”

We can’t imagine aborting a fetus or a baby “squares with the moral law or the law of God.”

Ambitious Bode Leaving After Spotty Political Career

April 23, 2007

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) After 10 years of political ups in downs, Denise Bode is leaving as a member of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to head a foundation that will promote the use of natural gas.

“I think this is a wonderful opportunity to go change the world,” Bode said Friday as she announced she is resigning effective May 31 to form the American Clean Skies Foundation.

She said the new group will operate primarily in Washington, D.C., joining the national debate over climate change and energy. Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy Corp. will be among its sponsors.

Among the foundation’s top goals will be to persuade policymakers that natural gas offers the best solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Bode said.

Only 53, Bode has had a three decades of experience in the political realm.

She is a former Democrat who was general counsel to then-U.S. Sen. David Boren, specializing in energy and tax issues. Boren is now president of the University of Oklahoma. Read more…

Bode Accepts Job In D.C.

April 20, 2007
From The McCarville Report Online:

“Corporation Commissioner Denise Bode announced today she is resigning effective May 31st to head a new natural gas trade association, Clean Skies Foundation, in Washington. A major member of the association, she said, is Chesapeake Energy Co. of Oklahoma City.”

Read more…