It's easy to determine the issues of the day with a quick glance at the 2,400 bills filed by Oklahoma lawmakers for the legislative session that starts Monday.
More than 100 concern firearms regulations, or lack thereof, and twice that amount concern health care. Nearly 100 more mention workers' compensation, though only about a third of these concern actual changes to the law.
Fifty-four bills filed in the Oklahoma Senate and House of Representatives strengthen or loosen privacy and confidentiality laws in regards to the state's open records and meetings acts, eight concern the use of cellphones while driving, and one would call for a contest to name the state's “cowboy song.”
Historically, only about 20 percent of bills proposed by legislators will become law, but determining in advance which ones those are is a practice in futility.
Looking at the bills, though, one thing is for sure: The opinions and issues held dear to the state's 149 lawmakers run the gamut.
“I think with the discussion nationwide and particularly what happened in Connecticut — if he says that this year he won't hear them he may have an issue because everyone's talking about it, you know,” said Sen. Ralph Shortey, R-Oklahoma City.
Shortey, who begins his third year in the Senate, is referring to the chairman of the body's public safety committee, Don Barrington, R-Lawton.
Last year, Shortey said, Barrington wouldn't take up his package of about a dozen bills that would in essence dismantle whatever gun-control regulations remain intact in Oklahoma.
So Shortey filed them again this year, with the hopes that the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December will persuade Barrington and others to take up the issue.
Among bills included in Shortey's “wish list,” as he described it:
• One that would replace language requiring gun carriers to inform police officers that they are carrying a weapon to language that would require it only if they are asked.
• One that would permit state legislators like himself to carry a firearm anywhere in the state.
• One that would allow permitted gun carriers to take their weapons with them to government meetings, including at the local, state and federal level, as well as to professional sporting events.
• And one that would lower the cost of acquiring a firearms license from $100 to $35.
Shortey said these bills “would fix everything that's wrong with the Firearms Act,” including the elimination of so-called “gun free zones.”
“If I were a crazy person who wanted to go out on a high note like these people who do mass shootings, why wouldn't I choose a school?” he said. “You know, you've got the most impact, you're going to get the most media attention, you're guaranteed there's not going to be any resistance because there's not going to be any firearms. If I were a nut job that wanted to make the biggest impact, that's what I would choose, and I'm surprised it doesn't happen more often.”
There is, however, another viewpoint from those who actually work in and manage public schools.
Arming teachers would not be an effective way of reducing the chances for a school shooting, said Linda Hampton, president of the Oklahoma Education Association.
Instead, she urged lawmakers like Shortey to consider the deeper societal and cultural factors that lead up to those scenarios: funding for mental health programming, more school counselors and counselors freed from testing obligations, better access controls at schools and security plans.
“We have to look at things before it even gets to the point of somebody walking through the door with a gun. We want preventive measures,” Hampton said.
Another set of bills filed this year would address long lines experienced at election polls in November.
The author of three such bills, Sen. Randy Bass, D-Lawton, said the goal is to make the process less complicated and more fluid.
Senate Bill 278 would expand the period for early voting to seven days before the election in cities with at least 50,000 residents; Senate Bill 277 would widen the pool of individuals who can work as election judges, clerks, counters and other precinct positions; and Senate Bill 276 would allow a representative of an incapacitated voter to apply for an absentee ballot in person.
“The idea of early voting is to make it more convenient for voters so more of our citizens will participate in the process,” Bass said. “I had a good hour and a half standing in line in Comanche County during November's presidential election. People were getting frustrated and some left. We can improve situations like that with a longer early voting period.”
A handful of bills filed would increase salary for state employees, about a dozen would make county elections, including for sheriff, nonpartisan, and another half-dozen would restrict social assistance to residents who don't pass a drug test.
Senate Bill 310 requires colleges to notify law enforcement about on-campus violent and sexual crimes; Senate Bill 816 would prohibit minors from using tanning devices; and House Bill 1375 would make it unlawful to smoke cigarettes with a child in your vehicle.
And as with every year, there were bills filed intent on rebuking the federal government, including three that would make President Barack Obama's health care law illegal in Oklahoma, two that would provide businesses that don't comply with the laws relief from penalties, two that push for the president to be elected by national popular vote and two that prohibit drones and aerial surveillance.