A Week of Disappointment from the State Capitol

Oklahoma City – Another deadline for hearing legislation has been reached at the State Capitol, and it was a most unusual and disappointing week.

Oklahoma is seeing a continued battle for varying education policies promoted by state officials. Each has a unique plan for funding tax credits for individuals who home-school their children or send their kids to private schools, along with funding at different rates for teacher pay raises and systemic reforms.

Governor Kevin Stitt vetoed more than 20 policy bills from senators who oppose the private and home-school proposals. In response, the state Senate pulled dozens of bills and held up executive confirmations for cabinet secretaries appointed by the governor. In addition, the House of Representatives and Senate delayed hearing bills due to the feud.

OICA saw several pieces of our legislative agenda fall by the wayside in the ongoing dispute. In the Senate, the Hope Shaffer Act, House Bill 2102, was pulled from the agenda and held until next year. This is the second year in a row this bill was stalled in the state Senate. It was a tough call to make to the Shaffer family to let them know the legislation – named after their daughter who died in a driver’s education vehicle wreck – would not become law.

The bill would require notice and written consent from parents that their children would be riding as backseat passengers at times in these vehicles.

In the House of Representatives, Senate Bill 681 would have raised the age requirement for children to wear seatbelts in vehicles was not heard. A few years ago, an error lowered the mandatory age to wear a seatbelt from twelve years old to eight. Each year since, a coalition has worked to raise the age to put Oklahoma in line with the other 49 states. Oklahoma has the distinction of having the youngest seatbelt age requirement in the nation for passengers and that will continue for another year at least.

Another victim of the Capitol battles is Senate Bill 291, which added child abuse as a reason to file for a protective order. The bill would have allowed a petition to be filed on behalf of a minor victim for any of the statutory reasons a person may file a protective order.

Governor Stitt vetoed this legislation and his veto message had nothing to do with the substance of the bill. The governor wrote, “… until the people of Oklahoma have a tax cut, until every teacher in the state gets the pay raise they deserve, until parents get a tax credit to send their child to the school of their choice, I am vetoing this unrelated policy and will continue to veto any and all legislation authored by Senators who have not stood with the people of Oklahoma and supported this plan.”

While all of this might be infuriating for many Oklahomans, I remain optimistic that each of these worthy policies will become law someday. It is unfortunate that these good ideas fell victim to these circumstances, but this is also why advocates must remain in contact with their elected officials to demand positive action on behalf of Oklahoma’s children.

We can help you make that difference. OICA will hold its Advocacy Day on Thursday, May 4 (Star Wars Day) at the State Capitol. If you would like to join us, please register at https://oica.org/event/advocacy-day-2023/

Notes: The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy is celebrating its 40th Anniversary in 2023. The organization was established in 1983, according to its promotional materials, “by a group of citizens seeking to create a strong advocacy network that would provide a voice for the needs of children and youth in Oklahoma, particularly those in the state’s care and those growing up amid poverty, violence, abuse and neglect, disparities, or other situations that put their lives and future at risk.” The group’s mission statement: “Creating awareness, taking action and changing policy to improve the health, safety, and well-being of Oklahoma’s children.” CEO Joe Dorman is a former Democratic state representative from Rush Springs. He was the Democratic Party nominee for governor of Oklahoma in 2014. His commentaries on public policy issues have appeared on the CapitolBeatOK.com website for more than a decade. Founded in 2009, CapitolBeataOK.com is an independent, non-partisan and locally-managed newspaper based in Oklahoma City. His articles are also often featured online at city-sentinel.com and in print editions of The City Sentinel newspaper (Oklahoma City).