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.