By Rep. Mike Sanders
In addition to passing a budget and legislation to improve the long-term fiscal management practices of the state this year, the Oklahoma Legislature also reduced state-level education mandates and enhanced the pursuit of public safety in Oklahoma.
Of the bills I had signed into law this year, I am most proud of my bill to curb drunk driving in Oklahoma. House Bill 3146 requires all impaired driving cases to go to district court, or a municipal court of record. Previously, drunk drivers were flying under the radar through multiple offenses because of prosecution in municipal courts that only sometimes passed on that information to the district courts for the purposes of catching and prosecuting repeat offenders.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2010 Oklahoma ranked as the 46th worst state for impaired driving deaths. We have a problem partially because when drunk drivers are arrested in municipal courts and a record of their crime does not reach district prosecutors, then he or she may be a repeat offender with a serious drug or alcohol problem who is flying under the radar. There are 354 municipal courts in Oklahoma who handle a large volume of DUI arrests, but that are not ‘courts of record.’
Of all the bills passed during my tenure at the Oklahoma Legislature, the new drunk driving law has the greatest potential to save lives. It’s the most pivotal public safety law passed in decades. It goes into effect November 1.
I also co-authored two bills that are now signed into law. House Bill 2398 clarifies the criminal law regarding forcible sodomy. Earlier this year, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the law did not justify a conviction in the case of a man who committed forcible sodomy on an unconscious victim. It was incredibly upsetting to see this individual get away with the crime, but we have now fixed the problem so that there will not be another case like it. A second bill, Senate Bill 1491, broadens the definition of domestic violence. Current statute defines it as a pattern involving three or more incidents of abuse. This new law will make it two or more and remove a stipulation that it occur within a 12-month period.
I was also pleased with another bill to improve the prosecution of serial killers and other murderers. Senate Bill 1214 modified the “not guilty by reason of insanity” plea to push out those individuals with antisocial personality disorder that is common among some of the most heinous, but cold-blooded killers. Those individuals would now fall under a “guilty with mental defect” that would require them to get both treatment, but still serve a full sentence in a corrections facility. They would be subject to intense evaluation before release, again, after serving a full sentence.
On the education front, too much testing has long been a problem in Oklahoma. While the goal of accountability is appropriate, the No Child Left Behind Act, which mandated state testing, went too far. Now that some of those federal policies have been scaled back, we quickly took the opportunity to reduce state tests. House Bill 3218 eliminates nine state tests, including three end-of-instruction tests in the upcoming school year. It further gives the state education department the authority to try and consolidate the remaining high school assessments into some broad assessment like the ACT or SAT in future years.
We also scaled back some of the test-based evaluations of teachers, while leaving in place qualitative evaluations. House Bill 2957 modifies the Teacher Leader Effectiveness Evaluation System to create evidence-based and researched professional development plans for every Oklahoma educator. Basically, schools can continue to use any kind of evaluation, but will not be required to do test-based evaluations, especially when we are moving away from the current testing model.
Legislators also enacted legislation that emerged from the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s Teacher Shortage Task Force. House Bill 2371 eliminates the requirement that a mentor teacher be employed by the school district and allows a former or retired classroom teacher to volunteer or serve part-time in that role at the discretion of the district. House Bill 2946 eases the ability of the state board to issue a teaching certificate to a person who has an out-of-state certificate. House Bill 2967 gives district boards of education the authority to enter into contracts with student teachers while they are still student teachers, provided that they cannot teach the next year until completing all certification requirements. House Bill 3025 expands the list of those who qualify to pursue a standard certificate through an alternative placement program. House Bill 3102 increases the maximum number of clock hours an adjunct teacher may teach.