POSTED ON APRIL 24, 2013:
Lawmakers react with redundancy
A classic case of no good deed goes unpunished? Or window dressing that all-too-often defines so-called "grand achievements" at the state Capitol?
I'm referring, of course, to the four new laws spawned by the work of the Oklahoma Commission on School Security.
The blue ribbon panel was quickly assembled after December's carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT in which 26 innocents -- including 20 first-graders -- were mowed down by a deranged gunman.
Even in Red State, you'll-get-my-gun-when-you-pry-my-cold-dead-fingers-off-the-handle Oklahoma, Sandy Hook seemingly demanded a response.
So Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, a former FBI agent, was charged with leading a group of educators, law enforcement officials, and John Q. Citizens to brainstorm ways to ensure the safety of the state's school children.
A triumphant Lamb and panel members crowded around Gov. Mary Fallin in the Capitol's second floor Blue Room last week as she signed into law bills that sailed through an often-laborious legislative process at warp speed.
"The state of Oklahoma has a duty to do everything we can to keep our children safe," the governor noted. "The bills signed into law today will ensure that schools are well prepared for emergencies of all kinds.
"They'll also help to provide more training and better coordination between law enforcement and education professionals. These measures could help to save lives."
The measures create a Homeland Security division for school safety and require schools to share emergency plans with local emergency responders, stage intruder drills and report firearms discovered on campus.
Common sense, right? Who could oppose any of that?
Well, no one, of course. Anything that could potentially save the life of an innocent child or teacher, administrator or parent stumbling into the path of a gun-wielding loon is worth pursuing.
I'm not old enough to remember the Cold War-era nuclear attack drills, but I do recall times the bell rang, we marched single-file out the door of our classrooms, sat crisscross applesauce along the school's interior hallways and lowered our heads preparing for the day a tornado bore down on our school.
It never happened, thankfully. But I don't imagine the dear folks at Sandy Hook or Columbine or Virginia Tech ever really expected to be the targets of such violence, either.
Behind all the handshakes, smiles and laudatory speeches at last week's bill signing ceremony, however, lurked an irony probably lost on most Oklahomans: Our state's schools already are doing most of what the new laws now mandate.
The Associated Press' Dan Holtmeyer surveyed schools across the state -- from Afton's 120-student Cleora Public School to the 44,000-student Oklahoma City Public Schools -- and discovered the new laws probably won't make much difference, at least in the short term.
The schools already run lockdown drills. They've shared their emergency plans with police. And they alert authorities when they find weapons on campus.
Edmond police spokeswoman Jennifer Monroe told Holtmeyer that security partnerships like the one her department has with Edmond Public Schools work well: "We've come up with a plan together. We meet regularly. We fine-tune it."
Not surprisingly, Lamb bristled when asked at the bill signing ceremony whether the much-ballyhooed legislation really does anything that isn't already being done.
"Some schools ... are performing these responsibilities already, but not all schools are," he responded.
As the legislation was being considered in the House, state Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, was one who had the temerity to ask, in effect, whether the emperor had any clothes.
"I have to tell you, this looks like purely a political statement by some political leaders to bang the drum, get some headlines: 'Here we go for homeland security, for school security,'" he said, according to the Associated Press.
Therein lies a truth about politics: Our elected leaders too often aren't leaders at all. They knee-jerk react to tragedies like Sandy Hook and scramble to race out in front of public opinion -- even if their efforts mean that security plans already in place are simply codified into state law.
Sandy Hook was just the latest in a string of such mass shootings. Where were state leaders after Columbine? After Virginia Tech? After myriad other school massacres? The education professionals in Oklahoma -- working in concert with local law enforcement -- were doing the heaviest lifting.
Alas, many voters don't think these things through, typically trapped in the tyranny of the urgent. So our elected leaders bask in a ton of warm and fuzzy, positive publicity for -- essentially -- piggybacking on what's already been being done.
If all this sounds like so much cynicism, I'm no doubt guilty as charged. But I am also willing to say that I hope this wasn't simply a dog-and-pony exercise aimed at burnishing their images with voters.
Most importantly, I hope it saves lives.
It's unclear, though, how things will be different -- unless the Legislature decides to put its money where its mouth is. Many of the federal grants that helped finance the state Homeland Security Office have dried up.
No more stimulus we now live in the Age of Sequester.
What kind of programs can be developed, much less underwritten and shared statewide without providing the money to do so?
As Homeland Security Office Director Kim Carter told the AP, "It's a little more broad than what we've been able to do in the past. And quite honestly, we hope to get state funding to do the things we need to do."
In addition, the governor is asking for $15 million more in her proposed budget for mental health care, resources that perhaps could help identify and help those who might otherwise end up as the next Adam Lanza.
The Legislature's job is far from over. In fact, given the tax-cutting frenzy afoot at NE 23rd and Lincoln, the hard work is now just beginning: How do lawmakers come up with the money to ensure these new laws are more than just rhetoric?
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