Funding for OETA an issue as last seven weeks of session begin

To The Editor:

We are heading into the second half of the legislative session, with only seven weeks remaining until adjournment. Last week was the deadline for single-assigned House bills. Thursday, April 12, is the deadline for double-assigned bills, which are those bills that will have both a policy and fiscal impact.

Fortunately, we are ahead of schedule, and there are only two more double-assigned House bills to be considered in the Finance Committee. This means we will be able to spend a majority of next week on the Senate floor working on those House bills that survived the arduous committee process.

Not surprisingly, some intense debate has occurred at the State Capitol on a couple of different issues this year, including over whether to decrease or completely cut funding altogether to the Oklahoma Education Television Authority (OETA). This was one of many ideas suggested ostensibly to help save the state money.

This bill (House Bill 2236) had strong support in the Legislature, especially in the House of Representatives (where it was introduced). H.B. 2236 would authorize OETA to continue functioning as a state agency until 2016, when the issue would then be reevaluated. This is something that happens every four years for OETA and some other smaller state agencies and commissions.

But the bill did not have strong support in the Senate. The bill originally came up for a vote in the Senate General Government Committee on March 26, resulting in a vote of 4-4. If a vote ties, then it fails. The Senate President Pro Tempore then authorized a suspension of the rules to allow for a second vote this past week. One of the members switched from a no to an aye, allowing the bill to pass by a vote of 5–3.

The member who changed his vote said he would vote against an appropriation for OETA when the Senate votes on the General Appropriations bill later this month or next month. OETA was appropriated $3.8 million last year and raises around $8 million privately each year.

OETA plays an important role in educating Oklahomans about their state government, among many other issues. For years, OETA was the only TV station that had a full-time reporter at the State Capitol during session. Given that the legislature considers nearly 2,000 bills each year, I think it is important that the public be able to learn about those measures. Due to budget cuts, OETA does not have a full-time reporter at the Capitol any longer, but they still provide more coverage of legislative issues than any other TV station in the metro area.

Many of you have also probably watched the Oklahoma News Report (ONR). This is the only statewide newscast that reaches all 77 counties. Prior to budget cuts in years past, this used to be a nightly program with extensive stories on that day’s most important legislation. OETA still covers the most important legislation, but the program now appears only weekly.

OETA realized years ago that there were several counties around the state that did not have access to any Oklahoma government news because no local TV station covered their area. So these citizens received only news about the Texas legislature or those of surrounding states. Once ONR was created, all Oklahoma citizens had access to in-depth coverage of their state government.

The debate continues as to whether OETA needs state funding (given how much they are able to raise in private funds) but there is no question as to the importance the station plays in keeping the citizens of Oklahoma informed about their state government. It is a service that no other TV station in the state has the resources or ability to provide.

                              Senator Al McAffrey 

Note: Senator McAffrey represents much of central Oklahoma City at the state Capitol. 

Senator Al McAffrey

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