McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

Opinion

March 10, 2014

Capital Greetings

'Jokes abound here at the Capitol; unfortunately, some of the biggest jokes are actual bills'

McALESTER — Jokes abound here at the Capitol; unfortunately, some of the biggest jokes are actual bills that come up to be voted on or ones that are actually passed.

House Bill 2620 by Martin (R-Bartlesville) is one of those bills that passed off the House floor. This bill is dubbed the “Protected Property Rights Act.” The bill says that cities and towns cannot require registration or fees for transfer of property; unfortunately, there is a phrase in there that also says “any sub-divisions of the government.” That is the punch line of this joke. This includes counties, which means a county cannot require in any office (county clerk, county assessor or county treasurer) registration of any fees when transfer of property occurs.

HB 2317 by Cleveland (R-Norman) is the Merry Christmas bill. This bill’s language allows schools to educate students and staff on the historical significance of winter holidays so that greetings such as Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah and Happy Holidays can be used as greetings at schools. Schools can also have symbols such as the nativity scene or menorah that can be displayed, as long as a symbol for a second faith or a secular symbol is displayed. I guess if you have a nativity scene you will also need a Santa Claus. On the House floor, we spent nearly two hours on this bill when we need to address a crumbling Capitol, grading and testing challenges in education, state employees’ salaries, and pensions. This bill passed, and now we can all have a Merry Christmas. This reminds me of another quote by Will Rogers: “I don’t make jokes; I just watch the government and report the facts.”

HB 3006 by Biggs (R-Chickasha) passed the House this week. This bill puts into statutes that FFA will be kept in public schools and not be under direction of, or located at, Career Techs. We (rural legislators) wanted this language put into law because the Governor’s education secretary wanted to begin a program that would have placed FFA chapters at Career Techs. He wanted to do this by rule, so since statutes trump rules, we felt this was the way to go. Great bill!

In the 2011 session, the Legislature passed a law stipulating that third-graders who did not pass grade level reading tests would not pass to the fourth grade. The bill also required the Legislature to increase funding for remedial help, which we didn’t do. This week, we passed HB 2625 by Henke (R-Tulsa), which allows students to go on to the fourth grade with the approval of the teacher, principal, parent and reading specialist. I guess it is easier to change a law than to fund it. Parents and teachers, we need to watch for the bill’s progress in the Senate.

HB 3177 by Blackwell (R-Laverne) is probably the oddest bill that I have ever experienced. This bill will instruct the Oklahoma State Tourism Agency, in the event of another federal shutdown, to cut the locks on federal parks, which includes Corps of Engineer land, and charge people to enter federal land or facilities. We need to realize that the Murrah Bombing Memorial is a national site, so I guess the Tourism Department will take that over also. The problem is that during the last shutdown, people were actually arrested at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. So Oklahomans could conceivably pay the Tourism Department to enter these parks and then be arrested. Oh, and by the way, we spent 30 minutes of floor time on this bill. Only in Oklahoma... I just wonder what Will Rogers would say.

Folks, we do pass legislation that is beneficial to Oklahoma and Oklahomans, like the bill to amend mandatory third-grade retention I spoke about earlier in this report. It is just that we spend too much time on political fluff bills like the Merry Christmas bill and requiring schools to pledge allegiance weekly when most schools are doing it daily already. We need to spend our floor time on bills designed to make Oklahomans healthier, safer, better educated and less dependent on government. I do believe that we need to pass legislation that will help businesses keep more jobs and, thus, keep families in Oklahoma. That’s why I continue to serve you.

The last bill heard this week is HB 2508 by Sears (R-Bartlesville) which is the Governor’s 1/4 percent tax cut that goes into effect in 2016 if we have an increase in income tax revenue from 2014 to 2015 by 1/4 percent. This bill passed predominately along party lines by a vote of 58-34.

Not many visitors this week with all the wintry weather. On Wednesday we did have Brett Smith drop by and on Thursday, Jo Ann Vermillion and Don LaGasse were here to visit with legislators at the AARP’s annual breakfast.

I was proud to have Taylor Heath here this week as my page. Taylor is a senior at Crowder High School. I think he enjoyed learning about the legislative process. Maybe it inspired him to want to be your state representative someday. Taylor is the son of Steve and Nikki Heath and is the grandson of Tony and Jodi Grosfield.

I hope you have a blessed week. Philippians 2:3 (\) — Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.

District 17 state Rep. Dr. Brian Renegar, DVM, D-McAlester, can be contacted at the Oklahoma House of Representatives at 405-557-7381; brian.renegar@okhouse.gov; or 504 State Capitol, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105.

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