MEMBERS of the Legislature earn a base salary of $38,400 per year. For that, taxpayers get these sorts of proposals:
• A bill that could leave federal officials facing five years in prison if they're found to be providing services that comply with President Barack Obama's health care law. State employees could face a misdemeanor charge for enforcing any part of the law. “When states' rights have been tread upon, we have a responsibility to speak up, and this is one of those moments,” said Rep. Dan Fisher, R-Yukon, author of the bill. Nice sentiment, but lawmakers also have a responsibility to uphold the law, and Obamacare, like it or not, is the law of the land. (Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, is pushing a measure that would nullify Obamacare.)
• A bill by Sen. Harry Coates, R-Seminole, that would direct the Oklahoma Historical Society to hold a contest to name the state's cowboy song.
• A bill by Sen. Dan Newberry, R-Tulsa, that would not allow the use of foreign law in Oklahoma courts. This is truly a solution in search of a problem, yet the Senate approved it and sent it on to the House.
Voters long ago mandated that legislative sessions run from early February to the end of May. Measures like these make us wonder if even four months is too long.
Better late than never
“As with all positions that come with a lifetime appointment,” U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe said this week, “the deliberations over filling the vacancy can take time.” And how! Robert Bacharach's confirmation Monday to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ended his 13-month wait and fills a seat that's been open for two-and-a-half years. The first few tries at nominating someone were sidelined by Inhofe, R-Tulsa, and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee. Finally Bacharach's name surfaced and President Barack Obama nominated him in January 2012. Bacharach, a U.S. magistrate judge in Oklahoma City since 1999, had sterling credentials, was not a controversial choice and sailed through vetting by the Senate Judiciary Committee last June. Then silly political games got in the way — Senate Republicans hoping for a change in the White House refused to allow votes on circuit court nominees in advance of the election. Coburn and Inhofe, sadly, did nothing to help Bacharach's cause. The folly of this gamesmanship was reflected in the full Senate's vote on Bacharach this week — 93-0.
Just say neigh?
Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy. People eat oats and bucks and little lambs, but most of us don't want to eat old Stewball. Suddenly, horses are in the food section news. IKEA stores in Europe pulled their famous meatballs from cafeteria menus because traces of horseflesh were found in them. In Oklahoma, legislation to allow slaughterhouses for horses has gotten surprisingly strong support. One bill's author is accused of an ethical conflict because of financial ties to livestock auctions, but supporters say this isn't about making hay so much as it is about dealing with abandoned, neglected and unwanted horses. Despite the IKEA development, some Europeans do eat oats, lambs and mares. Whether the slaughterhouse legislation is baled into law or lawmakers bail on the concept remains to be seen, but the jokes are already in full gallop. Does “red pony” refer to the doneness of the meat? Saddle up the No. 2 Combo! Want fries, tots or spurs with that?
Writing policy and policies
It's one thing to expect insurers to offer policyholders a break on their premiums for installing smoke detectors or not smoking. It's quite another to expect insurers to demand a carbon tax. But efforts to get the industry to do just that are under way. In addition to asking insurers to turn up the volume on demands for stronger building and land use rules in disaster-prone areas, advocates for climate action want the industry to work for cuts in carbon emissions. “Why would insurers want to wade into that politically fraught debate? Because climate disasters are forcing them to pay more claims than ever before,” writes Jim Malewitz with Stateline.org. The movement hasn't gained much traction with U.S.-based insurers, but Malewitz says the story is different overseas, where climate change isn't such a sticky issue. It may simply be a matter of time before inroads start to be made here, too.
Promoters of Oklahoma City have a new arrow for their quiver. The Business Journals recently ranked the metro as the second-best city in America for small business, trailing only Austin, Texas. Denver, Raleigh, N.C., and Salt Lake City round out the top five. Tulsa came in at 24th. The Business Journals analyzed each city's number of small businesses per 1,000 residents, the change in that concentration during the past year, one-year growth rates for small businesses and private-sector employment, and five-year rates for population and employment. The study gave Oklahoma City high marks for indicators that deal specifically with entrepreneurship. We were also one of only six major markets that added small businesses during the past year while maintaining a concentration of more than 25 small businesses per 1,000 residents (ours is 26.9).
Smokers and tokers
As chairman of the state Senate Health and Human Services Committee, Brian Crain refused to hear a bill allowing local control of smoking regulations. Crain, R-Tulsa, has argued lawmakers should either debate a comprehensive statewide ban on smoking or nothing, decrying a piecemeal approach. Yet he then granted a hearing to a bill to legalize the “medical” use of marijuana. That measure failed, with Crain among the opponents. Crain said he allowed the vote because of the persistence of the bill's author, Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Oklahoma City. But advocates of local control of smoking regulations have been pushing the issue for years; supporters include everyone from the governor to health officials to local mayors. In comparison, Johnson is a legislative gadfly. It's disturbing that a committee chair appears more receptive to the fringes than to state leaders and the broad Oklahoma electorate.
Democrats are issuing weekly press releases criticizing the State Rights Committee, which Oklahoma House leaders created to push back against perceived federal overreach. Democrats are certainly right to criticize activity they see as ridiculous, although their releases are light on detail, other than claiming Oklahoma Republicans are somehow anti-gun. (Does that claim even pass the laugh test?) Mostly, the releases tout the Democrats' supposed superior knowledge and love of the U.S. and Oklahoma constitutions. Yet a quote attributed to Rep. Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa, said Republicans “refuse to accept the law of the land after our three branches of federal government and the Supreme Court have spoken.” Last time we checked, the U.S. Supreme Court is part of the three branches of government (judicial) — not a fourth. If Democrats want to portray themselves as constitutional experts, they should avoid mistakes that would get them bounced in a high school civics class.