STATE Rep. Richard Morrissette has tried for years to craft workable policy to reduce the number of Eastern red cedar trees in Oklahoma. He will keep trying as he enters the last of his six two-year terms in the Legislature.
Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, who drew no challenger for the November election, has requested an interim study to look at failed policies of the past, and “promising options to finally address threats to life, land and our Oklahoma economy.” His is one of 93 House interim study proposals that House Speaker Jeff Hickman will be vetting.
Simply put, Eastern red cedar trees are a menace. An estimated 462 million of them are growing across Oklahoma. They can consume up to 40 gallons of water daily, which only makes drought conditions worse. The trees reduce wildlife habitat, and their oily branches serve as explosive tinder for wildfires.
In his request for an interim study, Morrissette details several previous legislative initiatives related to the Eastern red cedar. These include bills that wound up getting vetoed, or efforts that never got off the ground. Among them was a 2012 bill to use state inmate labor to harvest the trees. “Not a single tree was harvested by state housed inmates,” Morrissette noted.
Hickman, R-Fairview, should grant Morrissette’s request to try anew. Other worthwhile interim study proposals are in the hopper as well.
One, by Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, would study “smart on crime” programs. Cleveland has been keen on corrections since winning his House seat in 2012 and has been frustrated by his colleagues’ reluctance to support even nominal changes to criminal justice statutes — unless those changes expand or increase punishments.
Along a similar vein, Rep. Todd Thomsen, R-Ada, wishes to evaluate the state’s sex-offender laws. Thomsen’s goal is to “look at how we classify sex offenders and look at potential ways to improve the system.” He’s likely to find the laws broad and highly punitive, even for lower-level offenders. But good luck trying to persuade fellow members to amend any of those statutes!
Rep. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, would like to study unconstitutional legislation and its cost to taxpayers. Our guess is this may get rejected by the Republican speaker, but Floyd is right to be concerned about the many GOP-sponsored bills approved in recent years that have ended up being challenged in court. The state has better uses for the money it spends defending these ill-advised bills.
Speaking of money, Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, requested a “comprehensive look at every funding stream that is funneled off the top of any and every revenue source to state government.” This issue has grown in stature as lawmakers have come to understand that they get to appropriate less than half of state revenues. The rest is diverted ahead of time.
Osborn also has requested a study to analyze required state and federal testing policies for K-12 students in Oklahoma. Among her areas of concern: the use of tests to evaluate teacher effectiveness, duplicative testing and testing vendors.
The state’s Prescription Monitoring Program would be the subject of a study by Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove. The PMP is an online database that’s ignored by too many health care professionals. Cox led an unsuccessful effort during the 2014 session to require doctors to use the PMP; he intends to try again in 2015.
Hickman will decide in the coming weeks which interim studies will be granted. We’ve touched on just a few of those that merit attention — and perhaps will help produce good public policy.