A year and three days after seven children were killed when a tornado hit Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore, the Oklahoma Senate ended its session Friday with a rejection of a proposal for school storm shelters.
“Of course I didn’t vote for it personally,” Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said after the yearly session ended. “I didn’t think there was a need for it.”
The proposal, which was approved Thursday night by the Oklahoma House, called for a statewide vote on allowing school districts, with local voter approval, to increase their bonding authority once to build tornado shelters.
Bingman said 97 percent of school districts already have the ability within their existing bonding authority to seek such public safety improvements. Among school districts that could benefit from the plan, there isn’t much interest in local school bond measures to fund tornado shelters, he said.
Gov. Mary Fallin had lobbied hard for its passage, going to senators’ offices Friday to ask for their support.
The previous day she pressed representatives and put out an angry news release, saying the proposal was being subjected to a “politically motivated and intentionally misleading smear campaign.”
The measure failed in the Senate, 16-25. On Thursday, it passed the House on reconsideration after representatives rejected it earlier in the day.
Fallin said the measure’s defeat was disappointing.
She harkened back to the May 20, 2013, tornado that killed 25 people, including seven children in a hall at Plaza Towers. She said there are 1,100 schools in the state that need to build safe rooms.
“If we’d had storm shelters in that particular school, we might have been able to save those children, I think we would have,” she said. “House Joint Resolution 1092 would have helped Oklahoma communities build storm shelters and safe rooms in their schools. I think it could have helped us save lives.”
Session’s highs, lows
In listing other disappointments for this legislative session, Fallin said she wished lawmakers could have found a way to pass a plan to fund completion of the partially finished American Indian Cultural Center and Museum on the Oklahoma River in Oklahoma City. She also lamented the failure to pass a measure to require doctors to check patients’ drug histories through an online database before writing painkiller prescriptions.
Fallin said the Legislature was successful in passing a measure to fund state Capitol repairs, a compromise measure on a revised oil and gas drilling tax, a conditional income tax reduction, a revised pension plan for future state employees, additional funding for common education and pay raises for the lowest-paid state employees.
Both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature had adjourned by Friday evening, a week ahead of the constitutionally required end of session.
Lawmakers are to return on Jan. 6 for an organizational day, and the next regular legislative session will begin on Feb. 2.