Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers

August 21, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

The Oklahoman, Aug. 20, 2018

There have been many examples through the years of wording in legislation causing headaches. One of the most recent was the Legislature’s decision last year to build the fiscal year 2018 budget in part with a $1.50-per-pack smoking cessation “fee.”

Backers of the plan, which followed unsuccessful efforts to pass a tobacco tax of the same size, said it was sound because the fee was intended to reduce smoking in Oklahoma. But the state Supreme Court flatly rejected that claim, saying the bill was clearly a “revenue raising” measure — a tax — and thus required the approval of three-fourths of the members in both chambers.

An effort underway seeks to clarify muddy language related to when felons may vote. This is a worthwhile pursuit.

Oklahoma law says someone with a felony conviction may not register to vote for a period of time equal to the time prescribed in their judgment and sentence. Pam Slater, assistant secretary with the Oklahoma Election Board, says the phrase “equal to” is what causes confusion because it appears to double the length of time a person is ineligible to register.

Rep. Bobby Cleveland says the language confuses those impacted by the law, and some election officials too. He tells the story of meeting a constituent while on the campaign trail who told Cleveland he couldn’t vote because of a felony record. The man had been out of prison 20 years, after serving time on a crime that carried a 10-year sentence. The man told Cleveland his local election board had told him he was ineligible.

Efforts by Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, and Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa, to clarify the language have gone nowhere at the Legislature. Cleveland’s House Public Safety Committee heard an interim study on the issue last week.

Goodwin said some legislators felt previous efforts, which resulted in her bill not making it to the House floor, were aimed at changing the law, but that’s not the case. Cleveland said some lawmakers “don’t listen . they say, ’You’re trying to get felons to vote,” he said. “This is not trying to get felons any more rights than they’ve got.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Oklahoma is one of 21 states in which felons lose their voting rights while they’re incarcerated and for a time afterward, typically while on parole or probation, and then those rights are restored.

Felons never lose their voting rights in Maine and Vermont, even while they’re locked up. Fourteen states restore felons’ voting rights immediately after they are released from prison.

This effort wouldn’t put Oklahoma in either of those two classifications. Instead, it would simply clarify existing language to read as follows: “Persons convicted of a felony shall be eligible to register to vote when they have fully served their sentence of court-mandated calendar days, including any term of incarceration, parole supervision or completed a period of probation .”

Cleveland says that if the change is made, he wants to post the language on walls in prisons and in every county election board. This effort “is the right thing to do,” he says. The Legislature should back this change in 2019.


Enid News & Eagle, Aug. 17, 2018

While Enid Public Schools and Chisholm Public Schools both have policies against bullying and harassment in schools, many times the worst aspects of bullying take place in weekends and evenings in cyberbullying through social media beyond the school day.

Bullying does not just happen in schools. For that reason, such destructive behavior is a community-wide concern. Parents, community members and schools must work together as a team to be vigilant against bullying.

How do you identify bullying? Some bullying tactics are obviously severe, but more inconspicuous episodes may be more mental or emotional in nature and not as physically threatening.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, verbal bullying can include teasing, name-calling, inappropriate sexual comments, taunting or merely threatening to cause harm.

Social bullying — often called relational bullying — involves hurting someone’s reputation or relationships. Symptoms include leaving someone out on purpose, telling other children not to be friends with someone or spreading rumors about someone.

More overt physical bulling can include hitting/kicking/pinching, spitting, tripping/pushing, taking or breaking someone’s things or making mean or rude hand gestures.

Whether verbal or physical, bullying is a serious situation. Bullied students can feel emotionally unsafe, as such attacks can be very disruptive to personal well-being

Unfortunately, adults or community members may sometimes minimize concern of bullying situations. Parents need to talk with their kids about bullying and strategies for learning to cope with all situations, including those without threats of violence.

Parents need to be vigilant of social media. They may not be aware of what their child may be posting or viewing on social media if they don’t keep a watchful eye online.

We also need to actively teach kindness, forgiveness and empathy. It’s OK to talk about how to everyone is going to like you, and that’s OK.


Tulsa World, Aug. 21, 2018

The state parole board is moving ahead with clemency consideration of two dozen convicts whose crimes have subsequently been deemed significantly less severe by voters and lawmakers.

State Question 780, approved by voters in 2016, substantially lowered prison sentences for people convicted of small-time drug and property crimes. Last year, the Oklahoma Legislature further reduced sentences on some other low-end crimes.

While neither act was the final word on the subject, both represented smart-on-crime reforms, which begin with the idea that we can’t afford to lock up people whose crimes could be dealt with through treatment and education.

The reforms approved in place by voters and legislators have helped put the state on the right course moving forward, but they do nothing for people already serving time for those crimes.

University of Tulsa law students, under the supervision of the Tulsa County Public Defender’s Office, reviewed hundreds of Oklahoma prison cases this summer to find inmates who are facing significantly more severe prison sentences than they would under the reformed sentencing laws.

The first group of 24 inmates identified in the process were recently approved for sentence modification review by the parole board, which will now interview the inmates and consider any objections before making their recommendations to Gov. Mary Fallin, who has the final word on commutations. Another group of inmates is expected to move through a similar process soon.

Commutation was designed to correct injustices, and that’s what is happening in these situations. The parole board was right to take up the cases and to look at them closely. We hope they will do so with an eye toward bringing a measure of equal justice to the situation retrospectively.

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