A bill that would give teachers the right to present the “scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories” such as global warming and evolution — authored by Kern two years ago and re-presented this session by Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Laverne — is identical in language to bills recently passed in Louisiana, Texas, South Dakota and Tennessee.
“If one state has passed the bill and that bill has been found to be workable and has not been challenged by the court then you try to use that same bill,” Kern said. “They give us the model legislation and we give that model legislation to our staff and the staff looks at it and then they tweak it to fit in with existing laws that Oklahoma already has.”
It's the same process by which Oklahoma legislators have proposed deregulating environmental protection programs and a bill that requires drug testing for people who subscribe to welfare assistance.
“More eyes on a bill makes for better legislation,” said Bill Meierling, the council's senior director of public affairs. “Just because a model policy has been adopted by (the council) doesn't mean that policy is taken at large and pushed upon the people of Oklahoma. Instead, a legislator may find a piece, a ‘whereas clause' in our model policy, and say that makes sense.”
The council has come under fire lately for furthering the “Stand Your Ground” and voter ID laws in other states, but most of the criticism comes from those who complain it gives corporate interests unfettered access to lawmakers.
“What it really is a lot of, you know, ideologically right-wing and corporate entities who are pushing policies that help their bottom line,” said Gene Perry, policy analyst for the Oklahoma Policy Institute in Tulsa. “It's giving them access to lawmakers, and it's not really always clear where the idea's coming from or what's really behind it.”
For example, lawmakers who developed a template for “virtual school” bills at a recent council function did so at the same table as the private vendors who provide such services, part of the council's Education Task Force.
Rep. Ann Coody, R-Lawton, is chair of that task force and Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, is an alternate member. A Virginia-based company called K12 — which already provides virtual learning programs on a limited basis in Oklahoma — is a co-chair of the task force.
Stanislawski, who could not be reached Thursday and Friday, has filed a bill this year that would provide a more expansive virtual learning program through the state Education Department for vendors such as K12.
“This idea that corporations impose their wills on legislators is kind of unfair to legislators,” Meierling said. “Those legislators are the stopgap to make sure whatever legislation is enacted is representative of the people, and in fact the democratic process ensures if they don't they won't be in office anymore.”
He said though the council drafts legislation through a public-private partnership, model bills developed through the committees are proposed, adopted and voted on by the public sector participants only.
Jaclyn Cosgrove, Staff Writer