By Rep. Mike Sanders
Already the Oklahoma Legislature and Governor Mary Fallin have completed action on a number of policy issues. I told you last week about sending my repeat DUI bill to the governor. Now, I am proud to report that it has been signed into law.
House Bill 3146 creates the Impaired Driving Elimination Act (IDEA) and prohibits municipal prosecution of driving under the influence, unless a municipality has a municipal court of record. Any municipality with a population of 60,000 or more would have the option to create a court of record. Arresting municipalities would still receive a portion of the fines.
Another important measure signed into law will broaden the definition of domestic violence, giving law enforcement and prosecutors a greater ability to go after abusers. Current statute defines domestic violence as a pattern involving three or more incidents of abuse within a 12-month period. Senate Bill 1491 removes the 12-month stipulation and reduces the required incidents of abuse to two or more. I worked hard to get this passed in the House. I have no tolerance for men who would hit their spouses and most Oklahomans agree.
While many bills are being signed into law, there is a separate route for policy questions that still have kinks to work out. This period of the legislative session is known as the conference process. Bills with amendments or title stricken can be rejected and sent to conference, where a committee of House and Senate members will agree on final language and send it back to a vote in both chambers. Low-priority legislation that goes to conference often dies there, while high-priority items get the most focus.
Right now, one of those high priority bills in conference is a bill to reduce the number of state tests. House Bill 1622 would eliminate all K-12 common education tests not required by the federal government. There are currently 26 standardized tests for K-12 instruction in Oklahoma. This measure would end nine of those tests. The bill is scheduled to be heard in the House Conference Committee on Common Education.
Budget negotiations are intense right now. We continue to fight for core services, but, ironically, some of the biggest fights are over services with the least cost. Every year, the Oklahoma Legislature appropriates money for rural firefighters through the Rural Firefighter Defense Fund. This money is administered by the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, but with the express intent of being used for fire departments. However, Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture Jim Reese continues to raid that money to balance his agency budget and could eliminate that funding stream this year with the cuts he will be trying to absorb. This is incredibly inappropriate and reckless when he has yet to eliminate any administrative staff position. Basically, he is choosing to keep the fat at the top, while eliminating a critical public safety service. It seems like every year, there are individuals who want to balance our budget on the back of either transportation or public safety. This is entirely unacceptable, and I will oppose it and help defeat it.