The recent failure or House Bill 1235 and the state’s budget were on the minds of state legislators last Friday, when four local lawmakers were in Rogers County for the Chamber of Commerce’s legislative breakfast.
“Last month, I spoke briefly to you about House Bill 1235 — a measure I was carrying which would have made pseudoephedrine in tablet form a prescription drug,” Sherrer said. “It (the bill) would excluded pseudoephedrine in gelcap or liquid form, and wouldn’t have had any impact on the other hundred or so medications which deal with cold or allergy symptoms.
“That bill came out of committee kind of late in the process and we worked very hard to generate support for it,” he continued. “The ‘in favor’ of side was worked hard by the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, district attorneys and various members of law enforcement — it was picking up steam, but it stalled out and didn’t get a hearing on the (state house of representatives) floor because of, in my opinion, the pharmaceutical industry — as you might expect, they were extremely opposed to it.
“In fact, they bought full-page ads in the Daily Oklahoman and The Tulsa World in opposition of the bill, as well as buying radio spots in the Oklahoma City area in opposition (of the bill),” he said. “That’s kind of telling as to where the (pharmaceutical) industry is, with respect to their role in the manufacture of methamphetamine.”
Other bills which did pass out of the House, however, were House Bill 1234, which deals with enhancing the use of video conferencing in district courts, and House Bill 1232, dealing with penalties for passing barricades on a flooded roads.
“Another measure I think is important is a bill (HB 2131), which deals with corrections reform,” he said. “Key components of this bill would default multiple sentencing of multiple offenses if they are consecutive, and make them concurrent; except for certain violent offenses, if the governor doesn’t act on a parole recommendation from the parole board within 30 days, the recommendation is deemed granted; expands the use of community sentencing to include nonviolent offenders with a prior felony conviction, and any offender serving a sentence (in the Department of Corrections) for a non-violent offense which is less than five years is eligible for electronic monitoring after 90 days in the DOC.”
Sen. Burrage commended Sherrer’s efforts with House Bill 1235.
“We’ve all bragged on Ben’s pseudoephedrine bill — one statistic he cited in its promotion was that from 1993 to 2004, the manufacturing and exportation of pseudoephedrine rose 12,000 percent in the United States,” Sen. Burrage said. “Folks, we didn’t get that much more hay fever and sinus congestion — these (pharmaceutical) companies know what this is being used for, and when you take out full-page ads in The Daily Oklahoma and The Tulsa World, that’s a reflection that it’s about big business. I commend Ben for his courage in bringing that issue forward.
“The last time we were here, we were talking about the Will Rogers Memorial and J.M. Davis Museums,” he continued. “That bill that would have phased out funding (to the museums) over six years would have had to make it off the house floor and it did not — I really appreciate Ben, Chuck, and Marty’s efforts in opposition of this proposition — we all worked very hard to make sure that bill was not heard and didn’t make it to the Senate.”
Sen. Burrage also touched on redistricting’s impact on which issues will be heard at the capital.
“The issues, as we go forward (with redistricting) will be less Democrat vs. Republican as they will be more rural vs. urban, whether it be school consolidation, transportation funding — all these issues are tied to rural or urban districting,” he said. “We got the numbers recently, and while most of our rural areas didn’t lose any population, the population gains have been in the metro areas.
“That means, when we redraw the 48 Senate districts and the 101 House districts, metropolitan areas are going to pick up more and more representation,” he said. “This will impact the complexion of state legislature — it wouldn’t surprise me if, in five years, you don’t start seeing more and more organized rural caucuses appearing regularly.”
All legislators also addressed the state’s projected $500 million budgetary shortfall.
“The budget is more complicated than most people realize — when we first get to the capital, the thought is ‘Well, let’s cut things by three percent, five percent, whatever it takes to make this thing work’, but it’s far more complicated than that,” Burrage said. “First of all, we spend between 53 and 56 percent of all our money on education, and believe me, no one wants to cut education — so, if you don’t do that, then the three or five percent cuts you were thinking about more than double for everyone else.
“Another thing you have to remember is, a lot of the state’s money goes to healthcare authorities and DHS,” he said. “Those monies sometimes are matched three to one, so if you cut one dollar, you’re not just cutting one dollar, you’re cutting four dollars, so then you consider, ‘Well, when it comes to Medicaid, maybe you could cut back on those services’, but if you do that, you’ll probably shut down half of the rural hospitals in Oklahoma. So, it’s a very complicated process with lots of far-reaching implications and we’re just now getting ready to start talking about it (in earnest) at the capital.”
Rep. Hoskin and Rep. Quinn also offered the crowd updates and perspectives on activities at the state capital, followed by opening the floor to questions.