Oklahoma neither a laggard nor trend-setter in crafting policy

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: November 25, 2012
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FROM A (abolishing the death penalty) to Z (zero tolerance for underage drinking), individual states have created policies that in time were adopted by other states. More than any other, California is the state with a reputation for policymaking that leads the nation — and not always for the best.

Oklahoma is a mid-range state, according to an assessment by two University of Iowa political scientists. We're more of a follower than an innovator, but then so are most states. California is the most innovative state; Mississippi is the least innovative.

Frederick Boehmke and Paul Skinner built a database of 189 policies adopted by states between 1912 and 2009. They created an “adoption rate” to measure how quickly or slowly the states latch on to policymaking trends.

Oklahoma was the first state to adopt term limits for legislators, in 1990. A number of states did likewise, but some term-limit laws were later repealed and others were nixed by courts. Only 15 states have such a law now.

Michigan was the first state to abolish capital punishment. That happened in 1846. A century and a half later, Oklahoma still executes inmates and is hardly alone is resisting the abolition movement.

The state has been much more receptive to other policies that originated elsewhere. The list includes unrestricted absentee voting, graduated driver's licenses, “English Only” laws and charter schools.

Judging by the number of states that have adopted the policies of others, the most popular policies on the books today include zero tolerance for underage drinkers, allowing breast feeding in public and mandatory motorcycle helmet laws. Yet Oklahoma still allows adults to ride motorbikes without a helmet. Among the least-adopted policies nationwide are Election Day voter registration, legislative term limits and bottle deposit laws.

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