Christmas Weather, Christmas Bill

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The weather disrupted the best laid plans of Oklahoma state lawmakers as we entered our first week of all-day floor action. We had initially planned to come in early on a Monday, but because of the snow and the distance for some members, we only had the afternoon.

The Oklahoma Senate fared worse. They were unable to achieve the minimum number of state senators to hold session and had to take the day off.

Despite our small setback, we still heard and discussed 24 bills on Monday, ending with a long discussion on a topic that is unfortunately increasingly up for debate in the United States. My colleagues, who come from all corners of the state, have had ongoing arguments in their communities over whether or not Merry Christmas was an appropriate greeting in a school setting and whether Christmas displays should be allowed on school grounds.

Seventy-three House members ultimately decided that Christmas displays and greetings are appropriate at school and voted for House Bill 2317. Those members who stood up in debate against the bill argued that it showed a lack of respect to religious diversity. I take offense to that premise. I think Oklahomans have no desire to squash the religious beliefs of their fellow residents. They simply want to be able to express their faith and celebrate a common American holiday. In fact, in order to emphasize religious diversity the bill also emphasizes that Hanukkah, another common American holiday, can be celebrated in schools.

A second bill we approved that Monday would make prescription drugs subject to trafficking laws. If the proposal becomes law, Oklahoma will join a handful of other states that are beginning to address a national trend in prescription drug trafficking. House Bill 2589 would add morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone and benzodiazepine to drugs listed under current drug trafficking laws that penalize the possession of large quantities of drugs.

A third bill we approved on Monday addresses work furloughs. After the federal government shutdown in October, federal employees received back pay to make up for the time they were furloughed. State law allowed them to double dip and collect unemployment during that time. House Bill 2505 states that if an individual receives back pay, they must deduct that from any unemployment claim or benefits received.

Bills approved by the House proceed to the Oklahoma Senate, whose members then decide whether or not to send them on to Gov. Mary Fallin’s desk.

We have another week of debate on the floor. By the end of this stage in the process we will have advanced hundreds of bills, a good portion of which will die in the Oklahoma Senate. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at (405) 557-7407.

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