Friday, May 15, 2009

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Inside the State Capitol

ISSUE #1: The Economy

Oklahomans gather together on April 15, or tax day, to protest what they called the high taxes and excessive spending in Washington.  This has led many lawmakers to pay attention to what most people consider to be the #1 issue:  The Economy.

Sen. Johnnie Crutchfield, D-Ardmore, reads the current estimates in the Oklahoma budget.  The state budget has direct ties to how much people will pay in taxes in Oklahoma.  The state budget is in an estimated $900 million shortfall due mainly to low tax collections in oil and natural gas.  And because lawmakers do not want to raise taxes, the only option is to cut agencies such as education and transportation.  

Crutchfield says the Legislature may not be doing an adequate job for the people of Oklahoma, because the Republican leadership took longer than last year in attempting to craft the state's budget.  

House Speaker Pro Tempore Kris Steele talks about House Bill 2026, a bill that would give people under the age of 40 "basic preventative" health care plans. He said this would improve the economy by allowing more people to purchase health care and save money.  He said the state would have to pay about $260,000 for the program, but this would be covered by Obama's stimulus plan.  HB 2026 was signed into law by the governor on May 6.  

With One Week Left, Budget is Top Concern

With the 2009 legislative session scheduled to wrap up in only one week, lawmakers are turning most of their attention toward the biggest piece of unfinished business—the state budget. 

Because Republicans have control of both the Senate and the House for the first time, they are in charge of the key negotiations on what cuts will be made in which programs to offset a big revenue shortfall next year.

This has left many Democrats feeling left out of the decision-making process, and some are accusing Republican leaders of failing to address the budget in a timely fashion and make sure all voices are heard.

Sen. Tom Ivester, D-Sayre, said those responsible for crafting the state’s budget waited too long to start the negotiations and will not have enough time to seek sufficient input from rank-and-file Senate and House members.

 “We haven’t even started to do our biggest job,” Ivester said.  “That’s why I don’t believe we’ve earned our paychecks.” 

The state budget is expected to shrink from $7.1 billion this year to about $6.5 billion next year because of the slowing economy and falling energy prices, according to a report released by the Oklahoma Office of the Treasury. Although the federal stimulus program will offset some of the revenue shortfall, the downturn will still require painful cuts in many state programs. Unlike the federal government and some states, Oklahoma is required by its Constitution to pass a balanced budget every year.

Because of the severity of the shortfall, Ivester said it was critically important to get as many people involved in the decision-making process as possible. 

“There has been some talk among the leadership in the House and Senate, probably less than two or three people on each side,” he said.  “I don’t think it’s a good idea to have six or seven people making all the decisions.”

The decisions to be made will affect nearly all Oklahomans, Ivester said.  And education may be one of the most affected because of the short amount of time to draft the budget.  This short time may tempt lawmakers to make across-the-board cuts, leaving education to be one of the largest cut because it comprises over half of the state's total budget, according to the governor's 2010 budget he issued at the beginning of the year. 

Although lawmakers have taken heat for being slow on the budget, the process of crafting it was complicated this year by uncertainty about the size and scope of the big economic stimulus plan drafted by the Obama administration and approved in modified form by Congress.

Oklahoma lawmakers and other state officials did not know most of the rules regarding how the stimulus money could be allocated until early April, state Treasurer Scott Meacham said. 

Sen. Johnnie Crutchfield, D-Ardmore and former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said uncertainty over the stimulus plan was not a good excuse for postponing talks about the state budget. 

“When I was chairman, we started several weeks earlier than we have this time,” Crutchfield said.  “The stimulus money was something we didn’t anticipate, but it had no bearing on when we should’ve started talking about the budget.” 

Crutchfield warned that the late start might force lawmakers to stay at the Capitol longer than anticipated. Although the Constitution requires the Legislature to adjourn the 2009 session by May 29, legislative leaders had hoped to finish a week earlier.

“If the federal guidelines aren’t established to the extent that we can know how we can use every bit of that money, then I think that brings us back in special session, but that has nothing to do with when the talks should’ve started,” he said. 

Sen. Mike Johnson, R-Kingfisher and current chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he and other leaders had made “tremendous progress” on the budget in recent weeks, and lawmakers won’t have to return in special session.

“We hope we can be done by the end of this week and present the governor with our budget,” Johnson said.  “Then, negotiations will start between him and us as to what changes need to be made for him to agree to it.” 

While next year’s revenue shortfall is expected to be about $900 million, Johnson said the federal stimulus package will provide substantial funds for key programs, including an estimated $472 million for education. 

“If cuts are made in common and higher education, then the schools can apply for part of this money to get their funding back up, so they will be almost held harmless,” he said. “We started the year trying to make it a priority to lessen cuts to education, health, transportation and public safety. That’s still been a priority for us.” 

Even so, Johnson said it was unlikely those programs would emerge unscathed.

“Almost every agency will have cuts,” he said. 

Johnson acknowledged that some Democrats had not been included in the budget discussions so far. The initial conversations have been mainly among himself, House Appropriations and Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Ken Miller, R-Edmond, and Treasurer Meacham, the governor’s chief budget negotiator. 

“You’ve talked to some that haven’t been part of the process,” Johnson said. 

Ivester said that is the problem, and insisted the budget is too important to the people of Oklahoma to not include everyone in the deliberations. 

“In the end, the budget runs our government,” he said.  “If you care about having water, if you care about the fire truck that’s going to come if you have a fire or the policeman who is going to help you if you have a burglary, you should care about the budget.” 

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Friday, April 17, 2009

Economic Growth May Be Seen Despite Recession

A new wave of jobs may be coming to the Norman area in the future with the help of a bill that would make it easier for people to purchase wind turbines.  

HB 2247, authored by Rep. Randy Terrill (R-Moore), would give a 40 percent tax rebate to those that purchase small wind turbines in Oklahoma.  

Terrill said the bill is vital to developing energy independence in the state and would also provide new jobs because of the increase of production.  

"This would provide numerous jobs for the people of Oklahoma,"  Terrill said.  "But wind power is only part of the solution."  

There are also bills in the Legislature that would increase funding for the development of natural gas vehicles and also new geothermal technology.  The wind turbine bill would have to compete with those different energy bills when the Senate debates the issue in the next couple of weeks.  

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The House of Representatives gather as they debate a new voter ID bill.  The governor vetoed a similar bill shortly before the debate.  

Lawmakers ask questions over a bill that would require a photo identification to vote.  This led to some controversy after the governor vetoed a similar measure only 20 minutes before the debate.  

Voter ID Has New Life

A bill that would mandate all Oklahomans to show indentification in order to vote has new life after the governor vetoed a similiar measure today (04/08).

Senate Bill 4 was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Brad Henry because he said the bill would try to disenfranchise those who have a hard time receiving an ID, such as the elderly or minorities.

But that did not stop Rep. Sue Tibbs, R-Tulsa, from getting a similiar bill past the House. Tibbs said this issue is important because it makes sure the voting process is fair.

"We addressed several Democratic concerns by allowing the free voter ID card as an eligible form of identification, but obviously Gov. Henry is more interested in political posturing than protecting our voting process," said Tibbs. "The House and Senate have spoken, now the governor has spoken. We believe it is time to allow the people of Oklahoma to have their say."

The new bill that past the House would bypass the governor and let the people of Oklahoma vote on the measure. Oklahomans will be able to decide if they agree with the governor or Tibbs in 2010.

Sen.  Debbe Leftwich's office, where inside she is working on amendments to a child pornography bill.  She hopes the bill will crack down on child abusers across the state.  

Sen. Debbe Leftwich talks about the new child pornography bill that she co-authored in the Senate.  She hopes the new bill will make child predators think twice before downloading child pornography.  

Oklahoma Cracking Down on Child Predators

Several Oklahoma lawmakers are trying to strengthen the penalty for those who transmit child pornography via any electronic device.

Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, is the House author of Senate Bill 1020, which would give those who transmit child pornography a sentence of five years to life in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.

The current law states that an individual would receive a sentence of up to 20 years in prison if he or she sends any child pornography. Unlike the old law, the bill would include some new technologies including sending child pornography via the internet and cell phones.

“I’ve carried almost all of those statutes clamping down on sex offenders and tightening up on the child pornography offenses,” Terrill said. “It’s an area that’s pretty important to public safety and it’s an area that I care a lot about for obvious reasons.”

The bill passed the Senate unamimously on March 9 with a 44-o vote, and then it passed the House on April 7 unanimously with a 95-0 vote. The bill now heads to the governor where he is expected to sign it into law.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Domestic Violence Issue for Lawmakers

A bill that would allow women to defend themselves if they feel the life of their unborn child is threatened passed the House Monday (03/30).

Senate Bill 1103, authored by Sen. Glenn Coffee (R-OKC) and Rep. Mike Thompson (R-OKC), states that a "a pregnant woman is justified in using force or deadly force against another to protect her unborn child."

Rep. Mike Thompson said the bill was a request by the group Americans United for Life. He said there was a case when a Michigan woman was protecting her unborn child from her boyfriend; the woman stabbed a knife in the boyfriend. He said Oklahoma will not replicate what has happened in Michigan.

"I wanted to do it to protect mothers and unborn children," Thompson said.

The bill passed the Senate early this year with a 44-0 vote. The House passed the bill in another unanimous vote of 95-0. The bill now goes to the Senate where lawmakers will look at the House amendments to the bill, then it will go to the governor where he is expected to sign it into law.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bill Would Create 'Graduation Coaches'

With over 5,000 students dropping out of high school every year in Oklahoma, the governor finds it necessary to implement a 'graduation coaches' program designed to prevent more students from dropping out in the future.

Democratic Gov. Brad Henry said his new program, which is embodied in House Bill 1050, would allow schools to recruit mentors to help students combat obstacles that may prevent them from graduating which includes mentoring both academically as well as helping students cope with emotional issues.

“Within every community in Oklahoma are caring, talented and intelligent people who can make a real difference in the lives of our students,”Henry said. “The graduation coaches will give them that opportunity.”

Georgia implemented a similiar plan in 2006, and has seen results with a 3.1 percent increase in high school graduates from 2006 to 2008. This may lead to not just more students graduating high school, but more students attending higher educational institutions such as OU.

The plan passed the House with a 94-1 vote. The bill is now in the Senate where it is expected to pass before the legislative session ends in May.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, meets with other lawmakers shortly after his bill passed the House. Terrill's bill now goes to the Senate where if passed, would go to the attorney general to sign.

Two lawmakers square off in debate regarding making English the official language of Oklahoma. This led to the bill being passed, and now heads to the Senate.

English Only: Hot-Button Issue for State

Patricia Fennell was outraged as she read Senate Bill 1156, a piece of legislation that may soon become Oklahoma law.

“This bill would say Oklahoma is unfriendly toward immigrants,” said Fennell, executive director of the Latino Community Development Agency.

Fennell, like representatives of other ethnic minorities in Oklahoma, are concerned about the implications of enacting what some people have characterized as “English-only” legislation.

One version of the legislation, which has already received the Senate’s unanimous approval and will be taken up soon in the House, would make English the “official common language” of Oklahoma.

SB 1156, authored by Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, states that no state agency would be required to "provide any documents, information, literature or other written materials in any language other than English."

Anderson said his two-sentence bill would not require state agencies to produce anything in any language unless they are required to do so by federal law, but neither would it prohibit them from doing so if they so chose.

Anderson said he is confident his bill would work because other states have enacted similar legislation.

"This is the same language they've used in Missouri, and it seems to have worked," Anderson said.

Missouri’s new law, which mandates that "English shall be the language at all governmental meetings" in that state, won the approval of more than 80 percent of Missouri residents when it appeared on the ballot there last year.

The main difference between Anderson's bill and Missouri's law is that Anderson's bill does not require state agencies to produce written materials only in English, making the bill optional. Missouri requires the use of English only in any document produced by the state.

Anderson acknowledges that his bill was not meant to penalize those who disobey his legislation, but rather to set a precedent and get the issue "off the radar screen."

"It's been a divisive issue for a couple of years," Anderson said. "It doesn't create jobs or help the budget crisis in Oklahoma."

While Fennell said she disagrees with Anderson’s bill, she feels even more passionate about another bill because of her past opposition to its sponsor, who led a legislative campaign to crack down on illegal immigrants two years ago.

Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, has authored legislation this year that he said, unlike Anderson’s bill, would enact policies that give the state “real, official English.”

Terrill called Anderson’s bill a "meaningless, symbolic gesture." He said because Anderson wants to just get the controversial issue off the legislative agenda, he does not really believe in enacting official English in Oklahoma.

"My proposal is a real, meaningful, enforceable, official-English bill," Terrill said. "Anderson's bill is a worthless, unenforceable, sham piece of legislation that he is trying to pass off as official language."

Terrill's House Joint Resolution 1042 would declare English the "official language of the state of Oklahoma." It would direct government agencies not to "permit the use of any language other than English for any governmental documents."

Terrill said the resolution would even block some federal mandates from taking effect in Oklahoma. They include Executive Order 13166, issued by President Clinton in 2000, which states that a state agency must provide taxpayer-funded services in languages other than English when requested to do so.

Terrill said this would get rid of all services aimed at different languages, allowing the state to keep more resources.

"By not being under Executive Order 13166, my proposal would actually save money," Terrill said.

Terrill also cited Missouri's state question last year as a model for his resolution. But Missouri's proposal did not include a way to enforce its provisions.

Terrill's resolution would give Oklahoma citizens the right to sue the state if they see a violation in his legislation.

Anderson said this would open up the state to frivolous lawsuits, costing the state both money and time. He said the state cannot afford this risk during the current budget crunch.

But Terrill said frivolous lawsuits would not occur if his measure passed, and insisted the provision would be necessary for enforcement of the measure.

"The reason we authorize private causes of action is that that is the enforcement provision," Terrill said. "The reason we do that is a mechanism for holding government accountable."

Terrill said there would be some exceptions to the law, including the languages used by Native Americans.

“Tribes are not racial or ethnic entities,” Terrill said. “They are political classifications, so it is perfectly appropriate as well as legal and constitutional to exclude them from the scope of this bill.”

Despite this exception, some Native Americans such as Chickasaw Gov. Bill Anoatubby said they do not support the bill.

“The English-only resolution ignores the very fabric that makes up the framework of what is Oklahoma,” Anoatubby said. “The resolution is unnecessary and divisive.”

Anderson and Terrill are not the only individuals fueling the debate over official English in the Legislature. Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, co-sponsored Terrill's legislation. Even though Sykes voted in favor of Anderson’s bill, he insists Terrill's legislation is the best official-English proposal.

"I like the version I've introduced better, and that language is now in Terrill's resolution," Sykes said. "I support the concept of English as our official language. I just think our version is better and really gets to the intent of what most of the people of Oklahoma want in a better way."

HJR 1042 has won approval by the House last week. Oklahoma citizens may be one step closer to deciding if Terrill’s bill is the better version when they go to the polls in 2010 if HJR 1042 wins the approval of the Senate in the coming weeks. Anderson’s SB 1156, which cleared the Senate 46-0, would not require a vote of the people but must be signed by the governor to take effect.
Lawmakers ask questions and debate on a bill that would require voters to provide a photo identification to obtain a ballot in the voting booth.  The debate led to the passing of the bill by a 59-39 vote.  

Voter ID Fraud Addressed

A bill dealing with voter fraud passed the House floor Wednesday (3/11).

House Bill 1037, authored by Rep. Sue Tibbs, R-Tulsa, states that voters must provide a photo identification in order to cast their ballots, aiming at preventing voter fraud.

Critics said the bill would disinfrancise the elderly and minorities because those are the individuals that have a hard time buying a photo identification. This has led the critics to declare the bill as enacting a poll tax on those individuals.

"We're not trying to take anyone's right away from them," Tibbs said. "We are trying to protect this right that many American citizens have."

The bill passed the House by a vote of 59-39, splitting largely between party lines. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Richard Dawkins, an atheist, criticizes Rep. Todd Thomsen, R-Ada, for showing disapproval of his visit to OU.

Alum Blasts OU for Dawkins Appearance

A lawmaker, who was also a former OU football player, authored a resolution criticizing an OU department for indoctrinating students in "one-sided study and thinking."

In House Resolution 1014, Rep. Todd Thomsen, R-Ada, said because OU is a publicly funded institution, the Department of Zoology needs to stop excepting the Darwinian theory of evolution as "doctrinal dogmatism," and think of it as a "hypothetical construction within the disciplines of the sciences."

Thomsen also authored HR 1015, furthering his criticism of OU by addressing Oxford professor and atheist Richard Dawkins' appearance at the university Friday (3/6), saying Dawkins' statements "demonstrate an intolerance for cultural diversity and diversity of thinking and are views that are not shared and are not representative of the thinking of a majority of the citizens of Oklahoma."

"We need to send a message that both sides of the issue need to be addressed," Thomsen said.

Both resolutions will be introduced on the House floor later this week (3/9-3/13).

Friday, March 6, 2009

A 'cocaine' energy drink can which states on the side that there contains no actual cocaine in the drink.  Despite a lawmaker's effort, 'cocaine' will not be banned in the state of Oklahoma.  

'Cocaine' Energy Drink Not Banned in Oklahoma

A popular energy drink will not be banned in Oklahoma thanks to a failed amendment by an Oklahoma lawmaker.

Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, wanted to "ban any food or beverage with the name of a controlled or dangerous substance," which would have included the popular energy drink 'cocaine'.

He was criticized on the House floor for trying to attach this amendment to Rep. Randy Terrill's (R-Moore) bill.

"I don't know why he would want to bring this to the attention of a bunch of 13-year-old goofballs," Rep. Rex Duncan, R-Sand Springs, said on the floor.

After criticism, the amendment was then scratched from the bill.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Rep. Mike Reynolds' office door with a pro-life poster attached.  Reynolds is the co-author of a bill that would aim at listing all of students' religious freedoms in the Oklahoma Statutes.  

Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-OKC, explains House Bill 1001 and defends the bill against his critics who say he is allowing religion in the classroom.

Students May Receive More Freedom in Classrooms

A bill in the Oklahoma Legislature aims at addressing students' religious rights while in the classroom.

Reps. Mike Reynolds and Sally Kern, both R-OKC, said House Bill 1001 would help to save school districts money by addressing all religious freedoms students have while in the classroom in a single statute. By having everything in one bill, it would save school district attorneys time by not having to research every Supreme Court decision dealing with the issue.

Democratic Gov. Brad Henry vetoed a similiar bill last year, saying the bill would allow groups who consider themselves "religious" to come to the classroom that may not be religious at all, such as Satanists, which may be offensive to students. Kern said this assumption is entirely wrong.

"This doesn't apply to groups," Kern said. "This applies to students. This bill makes sure when they walk over the school threshold they do not lose their 1st amendment rights."

The bill passed through committee in late February, but Kern said it is unknown when the bill will be heard by the full House for debate.
"English-Only" Bill Passes Senate

A bill declaring English the "official common language" of Oklahoma passed the Senate Tuesday (3/3), making it one step closer to becoming law.

The bill would not require state agencies to produce any documents in English, neither would it prohibit them from producing documents in other languages.

Patricia Fennell, executive director of the Latino Community Development Agency, said she is disappointed, but not surprised that the bill passed.

"I think the passing of "English-Only" bills is racism," she said. "It says Oklahoma is unfriendly toward immigrants."

The bill is now on its way to the House and should be heard next week.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Rep. Randy Terrill talks about "English Only" legislation as well as why there seems to be a split over this issue among GOP lawmakers in this entire interview.  

Rep. Randy Terrill has authored legislation that has caused a division within the Oklahoma Republican Party.  

Rep. Randy Terrill explains what his bill does to allow the State to restrict any language other than English.  

Other "English-Only" Bill Sparks Controversy

Another lawmaker that has drafted "English-only" legislation created a tension between those in the same political party.  

Rep. Randy Terrill (R-Moore) has authored House Joint Resolution 1042, making English the "official language" of Oklahoma.  The bill would be implemented toward state agencies; this would prohibit state agencies from conducting any speech that is not English.  

Terrill said Anderson's (R-Enid) bill, Senate Bill 1156, is nothing more than a "meaningless, symbolic gesture," saying the bill is trying to "gut out official English." 

"Anderson has no enforcement in his bill," Terrill said.  "Anderson does not advocate for making English the official language of the state."  

Terrill's resolution would not only make English the official language, but also provides exceptions such as Braille and Native American uses of language.  

If the resolution passes the House floor in the coming weeks, citizens will be asked to vote on the measure during in the 2010 elections.  

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Rep. Randy Terrill (R-Moore) gives his opinion of Anderson's bill.  Terrill has a resolution that also deals with making English the official language of the Oklahoma.  

English May Become Common Language: Officially Anyway

An Oklahoma lawmaker is trying to pass a bill that would make English Oklahoma's "official common language."  

Sen. Patrick Anderson (R-Enid) said Senate Bill 1156 would apply only to state agencies, saying no state agency "shall be required to provide any documents, information, literature or other written materials in any language other than English."  

The two-sentence bill does not require state agencies to provide English-only written materials; Anderson agrees the bill is not meant to be enforced, but to be a symbolic gesture.  

"The point is to turn the focus off this issue," Anderson said.  "There are more important issues to worry about such as the current budget crunch."  

The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Anderson chairs, Wednesday (2/18). Anderson said the bill should be heard by the entire Senate floor in one or two weeks.  

MP3 Test

Friday, February 20, 2009

UPDATE: Rape Bill

Sen. Glenn Coffee's (R- Oklahoma City) bill that allows rape victims to undergo medical treatment before contacting law enforcement passed the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Thursday (2/19).

Coffee said he is glad the bill passed, and hopes it will be a benefit to all rape victims in the state.

The bill will be heard by the entire Senate floor in the coming weeks.

A copy of the actual bill filed by Sen. Jonathan Nichols. Even though the bill will not be heard this session, Nichols still seeks to pass the legislation through an amendment in another bill. Photo by: Clint Sloan

Domestic Violence Bill Fails in Committee

A bill increasing jail time and fines for domestic violence offenders failed to pass committee by the critical deadline Thursday (2/19).

Senate Bill 788, authored by State Sen. Jonathan Nichols (R-Norman), elevates the penalty of a domestic violence offender from a misdeameanor to a felony.

According to the Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, more than 370,000 Oklahoma women are beaten on a regular basis. Nichols said this is a growing problem for Oklahoma women, and even though his bill did not pass, he will still make the issue of domestic violence heard in the legislature.

"I will keep on trying," Nichols said. "This is too important an issue facing our state."

While Nichols' bill will not be considered , there is still a chance he could attach the measure to another bill or wait until next year's session to pass it as a separate bill.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A soldier walks into the National Weather Center. Knowing their lives may be taken in an act of war, they will have the comfort knowing their families may be given an adequate education. Photo by: Clint Sloan

Military Families May Receive Help for College

Families of fallen military members may be given more aid for college thanks to a new state legislative proposal.

Also known as the "Hero's Promise Act," House Bill 1422 would provide in-state tuition waivers for 48 months to dependents of Oklahoma military servicemen and women killed in the line of duty.

Under the current Montgomery GI Bill, dependents of killed military members receive 45 months of entitlement, totaling about $900 a month. OU veterans coordinator Patricia Ingram said this money is distributed to these students by check, and if the state covers their tuition, the students could pocket that money, making it easier to bear the financial burden incurred in college.

"It would be a tremendous help," Ingram said.

The bill passed the House Appropriations and Budget Committee unanimously on Monday (2/16). Because the bill had no opposition in committee, the bill is expected to pass by the entire House floor in the coming weeks.

Friday, February 13, 2009

In the State Capitol, lawmakers are trying to pass legislation that would help victims of rape.

New Bill Revises Law on Rape

A state lawmaker introduced a bill that would revise a law on rape, allowing those affected by this crime to choose not to promptly contact authorities after a doctor examination.

Sen. Glenn Coffee (R-Oklahoma City) said this law would allow women to deal with their health-related issues without prior contact with law enforcement.

According to the 2008 Sooner Safety Report, there have been 10 reported cases of sexual offenses from 2005 to 2007 on the OU campus. But OU officials say many cases go unreported because of the difficulty of describing such a traumatic experience.

Because the offense is so traumatic, the new law would allow women to not disclose the information immediately to authorities and could wait days. Unlike the current law, doctors must report to law enforcement immediately after seeing signs that a rape has occurred.

"This would give women a chance to breathe," Coffee said.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Appropriations Health Subcommittee. If passed, it will be reviewed by the Senate floor.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

OU Students, along with OU Government Affairs Director Danny Hilliard, wait for lawmakers to speak in a conference room at the State Capitol.  The students hope to convince lawmakers to increase educational funding.  

Students Attend National Education Day

OU students attended Higher Education Day at the Oklahoma State Capitol Tuesday (2/10), hoping to persuade lawmakers to increase educational funding.

Unfortunately for the students, the State is battling a nearly $1 Billion deficit, which makes it even harder for students to accomplish their goal. Still, students are optimistic that lawmakers would realize the importance of education and somehow spare education in the budget cuts.

"Education is everything," university college freshman Tyler Smith said. "For families that struggle with that [providing higher education], funding makes it easier for kids to go to college."

Students, like Smith, are confident lawmakers will not cut funding this legislative session, which may maintain or even lower students' tuition next semester.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Gas prices at the Campus Corner Market are quite different than they were last summer, with prices reaching nearly $4 a gallon.  These low prices seem to be hurting the state budget.  

Low Gas Prices Hurting the State?  

Low gas prices may be a major factor in the economic slowdown in Oklahoma, a member of the Oklahoma House Appropriations and Budget Committee said Friday.

State Rep. Randy Terrill (R-Moore) said the low gas prices hurt the state because Oklahoma is an energy-driven state with an energy-driven economy. High energy prices have produced surpluses for state government, but with the current low energy prices, the budget shortfall could be worse than the already projected $500 million gap.

"[The deficit] could go to $600 million if gas remains low," Terrill said. "I think it's pretty clear the economic downturn is probably going to be worse next year."

A greater economic downturn means less jobs and makes it harder for college students to find work after graduation, but Terrill said he is still pushing for a state energy plan that would create more jobs and provide residents with alternative energy besides oil or natural gas.

Terrill said Oklahoma should be at the forefront of the nation in not only developing natural gas technologies, but also wind, solar and geothermal. He said he hopes he can deliver a new state energy plan this legislative session.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Legislature May Cut Funding for Education

The Oklahoma Legislature may have to cut funding toward education because of the slowing economy, a member of the appropriations and budget committee said.

Appropriations and Budget Committee Chairman Ken Miller (R-Edmond) said educational funding may get cut despite Democratic Gov. Brad Henry's promise that the funding for education, public safety, transportation and healthcare will remain untouched.

Miller said the legislature has a constitutional obligation to balance the state budget, and that takes precedence over educational funding.

"To say that those agencies are not going to get cut is a committment I can't make," Miller said.

Educational cuts may make Oklahoma universities anxious to raise tuition and fees, but because OU is enacting a tuition-lock policy, this likely will not affect OU as much as other universities.