McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

State House

February 18, 2011

Lawmakers Busy with Committee Work

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma — The past week was a busy one filled with committee activity, including work on a wide range of bills.

House Bill 1456 would require the state to issue letter grades (A through F) to schools based on student performance, giving local parents a true apples-to-apples comparison between local schools. By highlighting the success stories in our state, it will also encourage collaboration between districts and improve services for all students.

The legislation is based on a similar law in Florida, where the number of schools getting a D or F plunged from 677 in 1999 to just 217 in 2009.

A committee voted this week to grant local control of tobacco regulations to Oklahoma communities.

House Bill 2135 would allow local communities the right to set local smoking regulations.

The state of Oklahoma already grants communities similar power when it comes to setting “social host” ordinances regarding alcoholic beverages, and Oklahoma is one of only two states in the country with restrictions that do not allow local decisions on tobacco regulation.

House Bill 2135 passed out of the House Public Health and Safety Committee and now goes to the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

On another front, a number of bills in committee this week would address problems in our state pensions.

Currently, the total unfunded actuarial accrued liability of all seven Oklahoma pensions systems is over $16 billion – about $4,275 per Oklahoman and more than twice the size of the entire state budget.

Oklahoma’s overall funding ratio ranks among the worst five states in the nation according to the Pew Center on the States, and a study by Northwestern University's Joshua D. Rauh predicted Oklahoma’s seven retirement funds will be broke by 2020 unless significant changes are enacted.

While there is no easy or pain-free solution, it is clear we cannot continue to ignore the problem. Failure to act will mean more money will be diverted from schools and roads in the future, or taxes will increase, or both. That is not acceptable.

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