Oklahoma Legislative updates

Interior photo of the Oklahoma Capitol building. Thursday, March 10, 2022.
Interior photo of the Oklahoma Capitol building. Thursday, March 10, 2022.

Bill Promoting Holocaust Education Curriculum Passes House

OKLAHOMA CITY – A bill to ensure Oklahoma students are taught the history and horror of the Holocaust - the systematic, state-sponsored persecution, and murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its allies and collaborators – passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Monday.

House Bill 3720, authored by Reps. Mark McBride, R-Oklahoma City, and John Waldron, D-Tulsa, requires Holocaust education to be taught in all public schools in a manner that:

Generates an understanding of the causes, course, and effects of the Holocaust.

Develops dialogue with students on the ramifications of bullying, bigotry, stereotyping, and discrimination.

Encourages tolerance of diversity.

"The horrors of the Holocaust resulted in the extermination of six million people of Jewish descent as well as many of their sympathizers during World War II," McBride said. "And yet, it is proven that too few students in Oklahoma schools are taught or know about the Holocaust. With the war that is happening currently in Ukraine and that is threatening other parts of the world, this topic has never been more timely."

The measure requires the State Board of Education to work in consultation with experts to develop and distribute curricula for students in grades 6-12.

Holocaust education has never been more important. As time passes and fewer Holocaust survivors and eyewitnesses remain alive, we face an alarming rise in Holocaust denial and antisemitism, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

"At a time when war once again rages in Europe, with all attendant human suffering, it is important to remind the next generation of the resilience and heroism of the Jewish community and other affected populations, and how our Greatest Generation liberated the Nazi death camps and ended that dark period of history," Waldron said.

The legislation is now eligible to be heard in the Senate. McBride and Waldron encourage Oklahomans to reach out to state lawmakers and ask them to support HB3720.


Bill to add National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to student IDs approved

OKLAHOMA CITY – Given that suicide is the second leading cause of death among Oklahoma children, adolescents, and young adults ages 10–24, Sen. Bill Coleman, R-Ponca City, wants to ensure students have help at their fingertips in moments of crisis. The Senate approved his Senate Bill 1307 Tuesday to provide the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number on student identification cards.

“Suicide among youth has been increasing steadily in recent years, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, nearly 40 kids in Oklahoma under the age of 17 tragically took their own lives,” Coleman said. “In adolescents, the cause of suicide is often unknown, but having access to an understanding ear at a moment’s notice who can help them work through their stress, anger or feelings of hopelessness can save lives. By having this phone number on their student ID, they have a daily reminder that they are not alone and there is always someone there for them.”

Beginning July 1, 2023, school districts and charter schools would be required to print the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 988 on student ID cards for 7th graders and up. The state Department of Mental Health and Rehabilitative Services (ODMHRS) is working to launch 988 this summer in Oklahoma.

“The Department of Mental Health is doing a great job getting the new 988 ready for Oklahoma,” Coleman said. “I think having a simple three-digit phone number will be easier to remember and use, and hopefully Oklahomans, especially our youth, will take advantage of this resource in their time of need.”

SB 1307 will also allow schools the option of printing the Crisis Text Line on ID cards, which can be accessed by texting HOME to 741741. The bill further states legislative intent that, beginning July 1, 2023, state and private institutions of higher education that issue student ID cards will also print the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline telephone number, the Crisis Text Line, and the campus police or security telephone number on their cards.

According to the state Medical Examiner’s Office, 883 Oklahomans committed suicide in 2020, including 38 between the ages of 8 and 17 and another 112 ages 18 to 24. Data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) showed that one in four students reported they felt sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more weeks in a row, so much so they stopped doing some usual activities.


House Advances Measure to Add Meats to 'Oklahoma Certified' List

OKLAHOMA CITY – Rep. Jim Grego, R-Wilburton, won unanimous House passage of a bill that would expand the list of meats on the "Oklahoma Certified" list.

Currently beef (bovine) is the only meat on the list. Under House Bill 2368, swine, goat, lamb, poultry and fish would be added.

"Getting meat locally from a safe and trusted source while at the same time helping our Oklahoma farmers and ranchers is vitally important," Grego said. "This is especially true in this current climate where gas prices, supply chain breakdowns and inflation are significantly raising the price of many products. The more 'Oklahoma Certified' meats we have, the better we'll be able to feed people here in the Heartland."

Grego described HB2368 as a simple bill that builds on legislation passed a few years ago that created the label of Oklahoma Certified Beef. It also expands on legislation passed over the past several years to help Oklahoma food producers to be able to get their products more quickly to tables across the state. Measures include those that helped increase the number of meat inspectors in Oklahoma and the distribution of $10 million in CARES Act relief funding to help with processing capacity.

The measure passed the House with a vote of 78-0. It now moves to the state Senate where it is authored by Sen. Casey Murdock, R-Felt.


Dills' Charter School Reform Bills Pass House

OKLAHOMA CITY – Rep. Sheila Dills, R-Tulsa, won unanimous House passage of a trio of bills that promise increased transparency over expenditures, attendance and oversight policies by Oklahoma public charter schools.

"Charter schools play a vital role in providing school choice options for students and parents in Oklahoma," Dills said. "Still, we must ensure that taxpayer dollars are protected and that we have an accurate and transparent accounting of how they are spent. We also need policies that ensure the academic needs of students are being met."

House Bill 3643 would create greater transparency requirements for state funds appropriated to virtual charter school governing boards that contract with educational management organizations (EMOs). In addition, the State Board of Education would be authorized to demand repayment of any monies illegally expended by an EMO and to withhold any unreturned amount from state funding allocations. All state funds would be subject to audit, and the measure also specifies board composition, meeting and training requirements. The bill also specifies prohibitions against the co-mingling of EMO and governing board employees and legal counsel as well as against the co-mingling of funds with other school districts.

House Bill 3644 would update oversight and training requirements for charter school sponsors and governing boards and would require the State Department of Education to develop Oklahoma Cost Accounting System (OCAS) data codes to correlate with the financial reporting requirements in the bill.

House Bill 3645 is a cleanup of previous legislation that would clarify virtual charter school attendance and truancy policies, specifying that abbreviated school day and attendance policies in current law are the same for virtual alternative education as they are for traditional alternative education. The measure also allows a virtual alternative education school to apply for a truancy waiver to the Office of Accreditation if a student is reported for truancy two times in one year so that the student may continue attending the virtual charter school if the waiver is approved. The bill was requested by the state's only alternative virtual alternative education school and is an effort to keeps students in school.

Public charter schools operate with greater flexibility than traditional schools under state law in exchange for greater accountability requirements. It's these requirements that Dills has been intent on clarifying. She's been particularly focused on reform involving for-profit EMOS. She's pursued such changes since taking office in 2018.

In 2019, she secured passage of House Bill 1395, which created greater oversight and increased transparency of the amount of taxpayer funding going to an EMO. The law change required the amounts being paid as well as a breakdown of all expenditures through the Oklahoma Cost Accounting System. The owners of EMOs also now must make certain disclosures in public meetings.

Dills said her concern is instances of fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars when it comes to organizations that manage the administrative functions of public charter schools. She passed similar legislation in the House last year, but it did not advance. Dills held several studies during the interim that helped guide the current legislation. She said she many charter school stakeholders had input on and support the legislation.

The measures that passed the House now move to the state Senate for consideration.


Senate votes to extend sales tax exemption to spouses of military members killed in action

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Senate gave unanimous approval to legislation Monday to further honor our state’s fallen military by helping their surviving spouses. Sen. Chris Kidd, R-Waurika, is the author of Senate Bill 1670, which would extend the sales tax exemption granted to the unremarried surviving spouses of 100% disabled veterans to the spouses of those killed in the line of duty.

“Oklahoma has a proud military heritage. We are blessed to have so many brave men and women who have fought to defend freedom all over the world,” Kidd said. “While nothing we can say or do can ever truly express our gratitude or acknowledgement for those patriots who make the ultimate sacrifice, we want to do all we can to honor them while also helping their spouses. This will ensure the widowed of those Oklahomans who are killed in action will also receive the sales tax exemption given to the surviving spouses of fully disabled veterans.”

According to the Gold Star Wives of America, a Congressionally chartered organization founded in 1945 for those who have lost a spouse to a military-related cause of death, there are nearly 10,000 active duty and service-connected surviving spouses in Oklahoma.

SB 1670 will now be sent to the House where Rep. Toni Hasenback, R-Elgin, is carrying the measure.


Senate approves bill to move court funding from fees to annual appropriation

OKLAHOMA CITY – Senate Appropriations Chair Roger Thompson has won full Senate approval for a bill aimed at moving district court funding from fees to appropriated funding through the Legislature. Senate Bill 1458 would eliminate a slate of fines and fees currently charged upon conviction.

Thompson, R-Okemah, said the objective of the bill is to take the weight of funding the court system off of the people who are being fined and instead provide resources through the appropriations process.

“I definitely believe someone who is convicted of breaking the law should be held accountable, but the current system of funding courts through fees can actually prevent individuals from turning their lives around,” Thompson said. “When they can’t pay, then the courts don’t get funded, warrants are issued, and people are arrested to get them to pay something they couldn’t afford in the first place. We need to help citizens obey the laws of the land without being overly burdensome.”

The fees listed in SB 1458 currently provide funds for programs administered by various state agencies, a portion of which goes to the courts. Thompson said beginning January 1, 2023, those fees would be eliminated, and the funding would be provided to the courts and other entities through state appropriations.

SB 1458 now moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

This article originally appeared on The Shawnee News-Star: Oklahoma Legislative updates