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Bill threatens program for vision impaired at Oklahoma Capitol

A bill that would exempt the Capitol from a law that requires the state to contract vendor space with blind and vision impaired individuals has passed the House and is waiting to be heard in the Senate.
BY MEGAN ROLLAND mrolland@opubco.com Published: April 18, 2012
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$180K in renovations

Michael O'Brien, director of the department, said that his agency has been in negotiations with lawmakers, and they are working out a way for his department to receive the proceeds from leasing the space to a private company. O'Brien said they spent roughly $180,000 renovating the space and he wishes lawmakers would give it a chance to succeed.

“Matt has proved himself at other facilities and I think they'd be amazed at the service he provides and he's going to provide until the end of session,” O'Brien said.

He added however, that the governor and the Legislature have passed other bills this year that have been critical and beneficial to his agency. He said sometimes politics are a give and take.

The newly renovated snack bar opened for the first time last week, several months later than its promised opening date in February when session began.

Hickman said the delayed opening of the facility played a role in the bill being taken back up this year after having been tabled for a year.

The awareness day Tuesday was an opportunity for many members of the vision impaired community and vendors through the entrepreneurial program to try to convince lawmakers not to pass House Bill 2119.

But Michael Spencer, who lost his vision in 1995, says lawmakers should go ahead and pass the bill.

“Pass your bill, because there is no private sector company that is going to be able to support a facility at the Capitol after the legislators leave,” Spencer said. “Let it pass, because you are going to want us back.”

Spencer, a former University of Oklahoma football player, was awarded the entrepreneur of the year award Tuesday on the steps of the Capitol for the successful businesses he operates at the state building in Tulsa and two minimum security prisons.

“It actually turned my life around,” Spencer said of the Business Enterprise Program. “I was depressed, didn't know what I was going to do for a living and the sky has been the limit.”

Spencer has operated his food service at the Tulsa facility for 11 years and he said he provides high quality service.

“There are 750 people who work in that building, and I know all 750 of them,” he said.

Matt Jones said he is in line to get another facility to manage within months, but wishes the Capitol program would stay open.