ScissorTales: Is four-month Oklahoma legislative session too long?
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.)
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• 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.
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