Even though the start of the legislative session is a couple of months away, it is still a busy time. In fact, Friday is a deadline day to get reservations in on bills that each legislator plans on introducing this session. On the House side of the rotunda, we are limited to filing eight bills each year of the session. On the Senate side there is no limit to how many bills can be filed. I thought I should share with you the particular issues that I want to address this year. There certainly are many other issues that are significantly important, but in view of the fact that almost one half of the House members will be brand new this year, some of the bills I want to do will have to wait so that I can figure out all the new faces and what is really a political possibility. Several of these ideas came from constituents talking to me about issues and problems and what can we do to help achieve reasonable solutions. I am proposing all eight of my allotted bills.

The first bill is about tribal law enforcement and fire protection. There is a significant degree of cooperation between these agencies and their municipal and county counterparts, probably more than most people realize. To make a long story short, one of my bills is to give the tribes, and their policemen and firemen the opportunity to participate in the State retirement systems. This is important to the tribal departments, as a retirement, as one officer phrased it, is the difference between that work being a job and being a career. Those public servants face the same dangers and deal with the same issues that city police and fire departments do, but cannot get the same benefits for various reasons. This bill, at best, would require a two-year process as an actuarial study will have to be done the first year, and then the bill can move forward in the second year of session.

Right now, the Open Meetings Act recognizes that there are very legitimate reasons for a public body to go into an executive session and discuss specific and very limited matters outside of the public’s hearing. One such example is a public body discussing litigation strategy with its attorney when it has been sued. But what the law doesn’t currently provide is any consequence if someone were to violate the sanctity of that executive session. For example, an outsider might hide a tape recorder in the executive session room and tape the entire conversation; or place a bug that broadcasts the conversation, or a dissident board member could just publicly “tell all” about what took place in the session. These are actions that could cost the public body millions of dollars, which really means it would cost the taxpayers that money and yet there is no punishment for doing so. One of my bills would create a criminal punishment for violating a public body’s executive session without the consent of that body.

Another public body law that needs some work, in my opinion, is the Qui Tam statute. The City of Miami, recently went through that process and it cost the city taxpayers a huge sum of money. Basically, both the state and federal governments have similar statutes, which allow anybody to address a mistake made by the public body and collect a fee for bringing the mistake to light. The difference between the two however, is this, under the state law there only needs to be the mistake, but under federal law the mistake has to have been brought about by bad faith or fraud on the part of the public body for the plaintiff to recover. I would like to bring our law more into conformity with the federal law.

Last year some changes were made to the Oklahoma laws relating to child pornography as to the destruction of the evidence after the case has been heard in court. This was good in concept, but there are simply many new problems created by the bill, which we discussed with many of the law enforcement agencies. We decided it would be cleaner to let that law go through last year and try to clean it up this year, so that is another of my bills.

Another bill will be to work with veterans groups, the Wildlife Department, and gun rights groups to exempt disabled veterans from some of the hunting license requirements. Thank you veterans. Another would help strengthen the property insurance laws to ensure that the property is adequately cleaned up before the owner is fully paid the insurance proceeds, rather than taking all the money, then abandoning the property so that the local government has to clean it up at the public’s expense. I will try once again to get Oklahoma to approve the Benefit Corporation Act, which encourages socially responsible investment, rather than require corporations to simply pursue making a profit for its stockholders. Thirty states have already passed such laws and Oklahoma is losing out on over $7 billion dollars invested into such corporations. And, I will try once again to raise the legal age of buying or possessing tobacco to 21. Tobacco directly costs the State of Oklahoma over $1 billion dollars every year and costs this state thousands of lives, not to mention all the other associated problems. Raising the age limit, even with all of its pitfalls, has proven to curtail the adult addiction rate significantly. Finally, I have a bill to name a bridge after Corporal Eldon Ervin, the Korean War soldier whose remains were finally returned home this past year. That is actually my ninth bill, but “naming bills” don’t count toward your eligible eight.

As you can see, these cover a wide range of interests and concerns, but I believe each of these are important issues that need to be addressed. Once again, however, the major issue of the session will be the budget, but that is handled through an entirely different process than bills like these. We will see how much more damage the legislature will do to education and all the other core functions of government, while rewarding the wealthiest 1 percent and oil companies for being the wealthiest 1 percent and oil companies. I thank you for the opportunity to represent you in OKC and if there are issues that you would like to discuss, please feel free to contact me, (918) 533-6533.

Luke 2:7 and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

— Ben Loring (D-Miami) represents District 7 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. He can be reached at ben.loring@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7399.