IN Oklahoma, members of the political party of smaller government can't wait to add more laws to the books — including, sadly, a few real doozies.
The Republican Party has strengthened its hold on the Capitol during the past few election cycles. It now has overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate. Republican lawmakers apparently wish to use that clout to expand rather than contract the scope of government.
By last week's deadline for filing bills for the first session of the 54th Oklahoma Legislature, 2,378 bills and 77 joint resolutions had been submitted. That's nearly 200 more measures than were filed two years ago, at the outset of the 53rd Legislature.
Of course not every bill has a GOP author. Many of the measures won't be given the time of day. But it's still disconcerting to see such a sizable increase in the number of bills filed. And the objectives of some of the Republican-backed bills are equally bothersome.
State Sen. Ralph Shortey, R-Oklahoma City, plays on the emotions of the Connecticut shooting with his bill to allow any school employee who has a firearms license to bring a weapon to school. Several education leaders in Oklahoma have said they don't want guns in their buildings, but that matters little to Shortey. “Let's give them an opportunity to defend themselves with more than just their lives,” he said.
His is one of about four dozen gun-related measures in the hopper. At least one of them is a retread — a bill by Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, to exempt state-made guns from federal rules. Then-Gov. Brad Henry vetoed a similar bill in 2010. Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa, wants to allow the carrying of firearms into government meetings, but not government buildings equipped with metal detectors and security officers, such as the Capitol. Why one but not the other?
Concern about President Barack Obama's call to tighten gun control in the United States is evident in a bill by Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, which says the federal government has no right to regulate firearms in Oklahoma. Dahm calls himself a “strict constitutionalist,” but his bill's chances of withstanding constitutional scrutiny are zero, according to at least one constitutional scholar interviewed by The Associated Press.
Dahm, in his first year at the Capitol, didn't stop there. He wants to let any Oklahoman 21 and older who isn't a felon to be allowed to keep a loaded or unloaded gun in their car or truck for self-defense.
Many other dubious pieces of legislation are pending. Anderson isn't a fan of pit bull terriers — thus his bill that would let municipalities ban any breed of dog. Never mind that a similar effort failed in 2006, or that state law already defines dangerous and potentially dangerous dogs and lays out the punishment for owners who allow those dogs to get loose.
State Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, is recycling “personhood” legislation — providing individual rights and constitutional protection beginning at conception — even though last year the state Supreme Court said unanimously that language in a similar resolution was unconstitutional.
Good bills are in the mix, too, such as those seeking to change the state's workers' compensation system and further bolster public pension systems. Lawmakers need to spend their time focusing on these and other measures that truly seek to improve the state.