POSTED ON JULY 27, 2011:
The influence and process of Oklahoma lawmaking
Flipping through the Reporter's Notebook:
News: Forty-two Republican state legislators sign a letter endorsing a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution and pledging to work for its ratification in Oklahoma.
Comment: Do you really think the Washington powers-that-be give a damn what our state lawmakers think about this or just about any other matter?
Red State Blues.
Earth to the Legislature: We're a flyover state -- a smaller population than Houston and so dominated by one party that we've all but voted ourselves into irrelevance.
This missive, signed by most of the House leadership and seven GOP senators, is worth about what it cost to print -- not much.
But then again, this wasn't really about impacting public policy. It was about playing the us-against-Washington card that has proven so effective in Oklahoma for Republicans.
No doubt some of the great unwashed will stand up and salute, but those fretting about the federal deficit could wield much more influence by individually writing members of Congress and the President -- not by applauding some preening politicians who are pretending they've really done something.
News: Gov. Mary Fallin expands a state of emergency declaration to include all 77 counties, meaning Oklahoma will be eligible for any federal assistance made available to states withering in the miserable triple-digit heat.
Comment: What about the federal debt? What about balancing the federal budget? What about keeping Uncle Sugar out of our business? What about... Oh, never mind.
News: Without publicly identifying the alleged culprits, the state Ethics Commission opens five investigations into possible rule violations.
Comment: Oh, that we had a non-partisan Ethics Commission with real bite. Democrats starved it budget-wise when they were in power. Now Republicans have all but neutered the watchdog -- not only financially but also by appointing go-along-to-get-along commissioners.
Even if the commission is able to turn up real wrongdoing, it can't afford to prosecute the case in court, meaning -- most likely -- nothing more than a slap on the wrist. (Cases can also be turned over to the attorney general, but that throws them back into the realm of partisan politics.)
The people, via constitutional amendment, created the agency to serve as a watchdog over special interest mischief and campaign finance hijinks. It's way past time for the voters to speak again -- establishing a permanent funding mechanism that doesn't leave the Ethics Commission at the vicissitudes of the Legislature's partisan majorities.
News: The state Democratic Party has hired a new interim executive director, South Carolinian Trav Robertson. And new state chair, Wallace Collins, reports he discovered a disconcerting number of unpaid bills when he assumed office recently.
Comment: Remember Will Rogers' deadpan? "I am not a member of any organized political party -- I am a Democrat. "
News: State Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore, and state Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, separately announce plans to file bills that will require adults to immediately report the death or disappearance of a child.
Comment: Some legislators either have too much time on their hands between sessions or are doomed to majoring on the minors.
I'm not downplaying the tragic Florida death of Caylee Anthony, but surely Oklahoma already has enough laws on the books to guarantee we get to the bottom of cases like this. We really don't need to add more lines to our already bloated criminal statutes, do we?
Bad law often comes out of high profile cases like this -- when those following a trial from afar think they know as much as a jury that soaked up every minute of it, live.
Treat contends that "Caylee Anthony's tragic story had a strong impact on numerous Oklahomans concerned with the value of innocent human life."
Seriously? One of our state senators is going to use this sad case to play politics -- a variation of the A-card (abortion)? Shame must be in short supply at the Capitol these days.
Oklahoma had its own flash-point criminal proceeding this summer: the murder trial that led to the conviction of Oklahoma City pharmacist Jerome Ersland.
Some lawmakers tried last session to pre-empt the jury process by, in effect, expanding Oklahoma's Make-My-Day law. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed. The proposals went nowhere.
Kudos, also, to the governor for steering clear of the petitioned demands to free Ersland. Let the process work.
Ersland had his day in court and a jury of his peers concluded he stepped way over the line -- from protecting himself and his property to becoming judge, jury and executioner. He now can appeal, just like anyone convicted of a crime.
This had nothing to do with Second Amendment rights. This was about the rule of law.
Unfortunately, the Anthony verdict now gives Wesselhoft and Treat an opportunity to go meddling, as well. Their efforts reflect the proverbial solution in search of a problem.
News: In the wake of Sooner football star Austin Box's death, state Rep. Mike Ritze wants the Legislature to order drug-testing of all student-athletes.
Comment: Let's not even start with the constitutional issues -- invading the privacy of model students, for example.
Here's a potentially vexing question: Who is going to pay for this mandate? We're already pink-slipping teachers in droves.
It wasn't so long ago that legislative Republicans railed against Democrats for imposing unfunded mandates on local schools. Physician, heal thyself.
--(Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer; okobserver.net)
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