Some drama: Legislature advances bills to repeal Common Core, protect e-cigs and finance prison alternatives

OKLAHOMA CITY — In a rebuff to incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi and Gov. Mary Fallin, both Republicans, the Oklahoma House this week approved legislation that would effectively repeal the controversial Common Core curriculum.

The Senate, meanwhile, advanced to the other side of the Capitol a statute that would afford some new protections to e-cigarettes, and unanimously approved a new revolving fund to support alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders.

COMMON CORE: The lower chamber passed House Bill 3399, with Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Nacoma, as lead sponsor. The vote was overwhelming, 78-12, in the 101 member House.

Although Falllin has defended the common core, last winter she issued an executive order to oppose federal intrusion into state education policy. Hickman was conciliatory, saying after the debate that his bill would allow the Legislature to work with Fallin “to create a better education system with higher standards for our most precious commodity, our children.”

Two weeks ago, state Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs – who opposed the standards when first enacted – reiterated his opposition, drawing the praise of the conservative ROPE (Restore Oklahoma Public Education) organization. Now, in a move cheered in his conservative GOP caucus, Speaker Hickman has laid the basis for outright repeal.

Senate Bill 1764 — by Sens. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, and Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate — was amended during debate to accomplish essentially the same goal. 

Senate leaders pulled the measure from the floor this week, promised Common Core critics that the repealing measure would be heard in the Senate Education Committee (something previously denied), and that Brecheen would be at the table in coming deliberations. Debate in the Legislature is now between outright repeal and significant revision of the standards. House and Senate committees will in the next few weeks grapple with the Common Core-linked measures as passed in the opposite body.

A leading critic of the Common Core, ROPE President Jenni Whitetold CapitolBeatOK, “We applaud Sens. Sykes and Brecheen for their desire to listen to OK taxpayers and do what is best for OK children. We expect the Senate Education Committee to do the same, despite the loud and growing complaints from special interests who are defending the Common Core.
“ROPE also applauds Speaker of the House Jeff Hickman for hearing the loud and sustained voices of parents and taxpayers alike.”

Senate President Pro Temp Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, told reporters during his regular press briefing he has supported Common Core, but wants the standards to reflect Oklahoma, and not Washington, D.C., values.
E-CIGARETTES: Developments in the House could be summed up as the floor fight that never was. After weeks of debate and division among House Republicans over one measure to support state officials seeking to treat e-cigarettes as the equivalent of tobacco, and another to afford the devices new protections against such treatment, neither ever got to the floor.

However, a measure to protect e-cigs from categorization as tobacco products sailed to 37-2 approval in the Senate. S.B. 1602, from Sen. Rob Johnson, R-Yukon, was first amended to exclude smokeless tobacco products from those protections. The measure also forbids youth access to e-cigarettes – the one thing upon which there is nearly unanimous agreement in both houses.
PRISON REFORM: The “pay for success” program sponsored by Sen. Kim David, R-Porter, sailed to unanimous passage.

Under her Senate Bill 1278, the state Treasury would administer the “Criminal Justice Pay for Success Revolving Fund,” creating a program that would allow contracts between the government and a Tulsa program, Women In Recovery (WIR).

WIR would be required to meet “predefined criminal justice outcomes” for its program, which provides a strictly supervised alternative to incarceration for non-violent offenders. Contracts would mandate that participants remain drug free and complete life skills training and supervised release. Only upon completion of the program could WIR receive financing from the revolving fund.

“Pay for Success” drew endorsements from both Senate President Pro Temp Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, who told Oklahoma Watchdog it was one of the highlights of this year’s session, and Minority Leader Sean Burrage, D-Claremore.

The latter said, “This is a bill for people who don’t have a lobbyist. It’s a bill that would most benefit those who don’t yet know they need it.”

The proposal now moves to the House side for consideration. If it ultimately is enacted, it would be one of the first concrete steps taken toward implementation of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, legislation that passed in 2012 to move 

Oklahoma away from its No. 1 rank in female incarceration, and top five ranking for imprisonment of males, in many cases for non-violent offenses.

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