The super-majority leadership alone decides what bills get heard and what bills get killed, because we are simply “too busy” to hear them - so it is an interesting insight into their priorities. Here are some those bills in which I think you will be most interested.

This week was an extremely busy week at the Capitol. It was a deadline week, which is a self-imposed rule that every bill has to pass its committee in the house of origin or is dead. The week before was cut short by the ice storms in OKC, so a lot was all crammed into this week. The super-majority leadership alone decides what bills get heard and what bills get killed, because we are simply “too busy” to hear them - so it is an interesting insight into their priorities. Here are some those bills in which I think you will be most interested.

We’ll start with an exception with what I just told you. HB1020xx completes the budget for FY2018 by cutting every state agency by 0.66%. But since that annualized cut is all compressed into these last 4 months of the year, it amounts to a 2% cut to education, healthcare, prisons, roads and everything else. More devastating cuts on top of all the previous cuts. I say this is an exception because it didn’t just go through committee, but through the entire legislative process and was signed into law by the Governor. The votes on this bill were down party lines, R’s cutting and D’s objecting.

SB1582 is another exception. It also went through the entire legislative process and has been sent to the Governor. I am often asked, “What’s going on with the tribal gaming money and Lottery money for education?” I’ve always said that it is going in where it is supposed to with the right hand, but the legislature keeps pulling it back out with the left. The State Board of Equalization finally agreed and determined that we illegally supplanted $20M from the Lottery and we had to pay that back to education. This bill does that. How? It takes $20M from the Unclaimed Property Fund. In other words, it takes money that doesn’t belong to the State to fix the problem caused by illegally taking the money from education.

I took over HB393 from Rep. Goodwin (D, Tulsa). She was not allowed to proceed with her bill, since she voted “wrong” on another bill, but since I voted “right” on it, I was allowed to proceed with the bill for her. This bill prohibits what the prisons have been doing - shackling pregnant inmates during delivery of their babies! It does allow restraints in extraordinary circumstances. It passed Committee. Can you say “Flight risk?” I think not.

Another bill (HB 2817) I presented with Rep. Josh West, (R-Grove) was aimed at curtailing greedy, foreign-owned utility companies like Empire Electric. We faced growing opposition from the entire utility community, so we changed it to a simple Task Force to study the problem, at no cost to the State. It was killed in the Utility Committee by a vote of 5-5. Sen. Shaw and Bergstrom and Rep. West, Hoskin and I will continue to work on finding a way to move forward with protecting our constituents.

HB 3539 by Caldwell (R-Enid) removes all incentives for teachers to stay in education and gain experience and hone their skills by obtaining advanced degrees. It eliminates the step increases in minimum teacher salary. It passed Common Education Committee 9-4 on party lines. This move is the exact opposite of what we should be doing, in my opinion.

Since we aren’t going to pay teachers a living wage, let’s arm them with guns. Current law allows teachers and other school personnel to carry weapons at work, with the permission of their administration, but requires extensive training, particularly in weapon retention (how a good guy with a gun keeps a bad guy, with or without a gun, from taking it away). HB 3192 by Coody, (R-Grandfield) removes that requirement for the extensive training and passed Public Safety.

Another gun bill by Coody, HB 2951, passed Public Safety Committee. This bill removes ALL screening processes and ALL training requirements for somebody to carry a gun. This is what is called “Constitutional Carry.” My concern is simply that a gun, like a car can be dangerous. We don’t allow just everybody to drive cars; we screen them and we require that they have some training and some proficiency with its use. Rep. Coody very persuasively argued that we should really require more training than we currently do for somebody to get a license to carry a gun, so his solution is to remove all requirements for all training?!? And the requirement to have a license. Some argue that the 2nd Amendment involves a right, whereas driving is a privilege. That is true, but it is a distinction without a difference. The fact remains that a car or a gun can be very dangerous in the wrong hands. And “wrong hands” includes someone without basic proficiency in its use.

I have been very lucky so far this year to have three wonderful students serve as Pages so far this year, Kaylee Arment from Wyandotte, Gentry Stelle from Fairland and Sidany Hilburn from Quapaw. All three have been bright, inquisitive and very interested in the legislative process. I hope they enjoyed the experience.

Rom. 13:8 - Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Rep. Ben Loring (D-Miami) represents District 7 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Contact him at ben.loring@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7399.