Governor wades into late-approved bills

By Jim Campbell

OPA Capitol News Bureau

Pen in hand, Gov. Brad Henry waded into a stack of bills that could die by pocket veto without his signature by June 9. Lawmakers gave him that option by filling his desk with paper in the last week of the 2007 Legislature and giving up their override threat.

During the four-month session, the governor had five days after a bill was delivered to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature as he did with a measure banning use of public funds or facilities in abortion.  After sine die adjournment on May 25, he had 15 days to act on pending legislation.

Many of the bills being scrutinized by the governor and his staff were related to the $7.1 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Henry signed 40 bills on May 31, several of them devoted to children’s issues. These include thwarting sex predators prowling MySpace and other Internet attractions for young people, making it felony to raise a bogus Amber Alert, providing financial literacy instruction in schools and preventing student age sex offenders from attending the same school as their victims.

Signing the “Passport to Financial Literacy Act” by Rep. Ann Coody, R-Lawton, and Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, the governor said HB 1476 would “help prepare young people for economic realities involving such things as credit card debt, taxation, savings, investments, bankruptcy and insurance.”

“Too many young people lack understanding of the simplest personal finances, and that void can have serious repercussions later on in life,” he said.

The State Education Department will develop curriculum standards for teaching to begin with the 2008-2009 school year. Instruction could be in a separate course or part of an existing one.

Henry described HB 1714 by Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore, and Sen. Jonathan Nichols, R-Norman, as “commonplace legislation that will help protect children using the Internet, and it builds on the progress of Oklahoma’s Safe Net Initiative.”

That initiative, establishing a full-time Internet Crimes Against Children unit in the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, was signed into law last year.

 SB 371 by Sen. Cliff Aldridge and Rep. Charlie Joyner, both Midwest City Republicans, makes it a felony to file a false missing child report that results in a statewide “Amber Alert.”

“The Amber Alert is an important tool in the recovery of abducted children, and false reports do nothing but waste the resources of law enforcement and degrade the significance of legitimate alerts,” Henry said.

HB 1051 by House Speaker Lance Cargill, R-Harrah, and Senate co-President Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, requires a juvenile offender convicted of certain felony offenses against another child to transfer to another school. 

The bill also requires the Office of Juvenile Affairs to report to school districts when a student has pleaded guilty to or been convicted of a sexual offense against another student in the same school.

“Victims of violent crimes shouldn’t have to face their attacker in the hall or the classroom of the school they attend every day,” said Cargill, who was contacted by a student who said a classmate had raped her.

The governor also signed another Cargill bill, providing greater access to art and museums and grant opportunities for establishment of visual arts programs.

Other bills approved include SB 390 allowing authorities to give confidential juvenile justice records to the federal Homeland Security Department and federal probation officers, SB 586 focusing on recruitment of better-trained teachers for high poverty and low achieving schools, HB 1650 requiring six hours of sexual assault and violence training for law enforcement recruits, HB 1329 strengthening the penalty for identity theft, HB 1027 making the penalty for robbery with a toy gun the same as for using a real one and HB 1385 eliminating the requirement that a rape victim cooperate with police to receive a forensic exam.

The Interim Study request champion got his 26 subjects from members of the public via the Internet.

Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, said response was overwhelming to his postings on MySpace and Facebook as well as his personal Web site.

“I asked people to turn in ideas for issues they thought the Legislature should address during the interim,” Dorman said.

About 175 requests for studies were filed by the 101-member House of Representatives.

A major topic frequently linked to prison overcrowding, a requirement that the governor sign off on every parole, was filed by Rep. Sue Tibbs, R-Tulsa.

Speaker Cargill, who has until June 8 to choose studies to be conducted, has posed his own study of linking teacher pay to merit instead of seniority alone and another one looking at state agency consolidation.

Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, who carried this year’s tax cut measures, has requested a study of the state’s entire tax structure including tobacco taxes.

Dorman’s requests include the possibility of selling liquor in grocery stores and gasoline stations, a review of animal cruelty laws affecting laboratories, gasoline prices, the legal definition of mental illness, protecting state water supplies, driver education classes, global warming, medical research opportunities, the state contracting process, possible installation of ATMs on toll roads, creation of a NASCAR track and production of biofuels from switch grass.