By Rep. JAMES LOCKHART
It has been a couple of weeks since I sat down and wrote a weekly wrap. I have had a pretty severe cold for the past couple of weeks. I finally took time to go to the doctor and get a prescription and I have started feeling better. It was kind of funny though, last week my colleagues wanted me to vote from the gallery and not give them my cold by coming on the floor to vote.
Last week in session was relatively calm, but the first major deadline of the legislative session was March 15, in which work on House bills in the chamber of origin had to be completed. We started the year with 962 bills and 26 joint resolutions filed in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. At this time, just 321 House Bills and Joint Resolutions remain active, and we have now started reviewing the Senate bills, which total 317 bills and joint resolutions. Only 10 weeks of session remain.
A bill that will assist veterans seeking employment after serving in the armed forces passed unanimously from the House, and if enacted, will assist the many veterans who are returning to jobs in the civilian world after years of honorably serving our country. HB1985 will offer the opportunity in interviews to demonstrate that veterans acquired“transferable skills” in the service.
At the interview, the employer will be able to better determine whether a veteran’s military education or experience produced a transferable skill that will make them a top candidate for the vacant position. In 2011, Oklahoma had approximately 9,000 unemployed veterans.
After several votes and much discussion and debate, House Bill 2582 passed the House and now awaits a hearing in the Senate. If enacted, HB2582 would improve the safety of some of the most vulnerable Oklahomans by requiring the implementation of a fingerprint-based National Background Check for employees of certain long-term care providers, such as nursing homes, adult day cares, and assisted living centers.
If the background check reveals that the individual has acted against any federal, state, or municipal laws applicable to his or her license, certification, employment class, or permit, that person must be terminated. In other words, this bill would require that we terminate people who have acted against the laws that are in place to ensure competence and trustworthiness in these professions.
Left unheard by the House was HB1085, which would have subjected the legislature to the Open Records and Open Meeting Acts. While Oklahoma has an inclusive open records law, a variety of forces have been chipping away at the public’s right to know in recent years. Exemptions to the state Open Records Act have combined with lax enforcement and underfunded ethics agencies to create a public less informed about its government. I would have liked to see this bill heard; when dealing with public funds or interest, sunshine should always be the rule.
Some other interesting bills failed to receive a hearing in House committee, such as HB2553, which stated that any public utility found charging amounts more than the legal rate cannot file an application for review of rates or a notice to increase rates for five years; HB2733 sought to encourage school boards to develop policies to increase shared use of playgrounds/fields/tracks/courts and exercise facilities of public schools with their communities; HB2721 sought to amend the back-to-school sales tax holiday by expanding the number of eligible items for purchase to things like #2 pencils, pencil cases, loose leaf paper, pocket folders, crayons, erasers, glue, and scissors – in turn, it would exclude items currently deemed eligible by the Tax Commission, such as household and shop aprons, bathing suits and caps, garters and garter belts, girdles, lab coats, slippers, and wedding apparel.
It is an honor to serve as your State Representative. It is important to me that you know my door is always open and that I will do my best to ensure your voice is always heard. If you need to reach me you can contact my office at 405-557-7413 or my home at 918-653-7571 or by email at [email protected] or find me on facebook.