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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers

September 25, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Tulsa World. Sept. 23, 2018.

— Legislators shouldn’t return to the Capitol as lobbyists

We support the Oklahoma Ethics Commission’s decision to ban legislators from taking lobbying jobs for two years after leaving office.

Frankly, we’d prefer a lifetime ban, but two years is a good start.

At times, the entrance to the state Capitol seems like a revolving door. Legislators write bills that help preferred vested interests, then return after leaving office to work as high-paid lobbyists for the same groups.

That leaves a nasty question: Are the legislators being paid for the lobbying work they’re doing or what they already did?

When Oklahomans send representatives to the Capitol they need confidence that the only interests in the elected officials’ minds will be those of their constituents. A ban on future lobbying makes it clear who legislators are working for. Two-thirds of the states have similar rules.

Last year, the Ethics Commission passed the same ban; and, in a remarkable act of arrogance, the Legislature rejected it. Voters should question the motives of every legislator who voted against the Ethics Commission rules.

One spurious argument against the lobbying restriction is that the commission shouldn’t write rules that prohibit employment opportunities of legislators after they are no longer employed by the state.

Actually, the Oklahoma Constitution does just that: Banning legislators from taking state-funded jobs with state agencies for two years after leaving office.

If the Constitution can prevent legislators from working for the state, the Ethics Commission should be able to stop them from working for special interest groups.

A legislator can’t serve two masters. A lobbying ban makes it clear to whom lawmakers answer: the people.

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Muskogee Phoenix. Sept. 23, 2018.

— Right to vote sacred

Turnout on Election Day should be one of the best measures of our patriotism and our appreciation of our freedoms.

Our right to determine our governmental leaders through the ballot box is a cornerstone of the foundation of this nation. It is what makes this nation great.

Do not miss your opportunity.

Don’t waste your opportunity.

The deadline to register for the Nov. 6 General Election is rapidly approaching — Oct. 12.

National Voter Registration Day was Tuesday.

Voter Registration Application forms can be downloaded from www.elections.ok.gov or picked up at county election boards, libraries, post offices and tag agencies.

“We have already seen increased voter registration this year as compared to four years ago,” said Oklahoma State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax. “Turnout for elections thus far in 2018 has been encouraging. We need to keep that momentum going, and it starts with making sure every eligible voter is registered and ready to vote in November.”

Voting should not be taken for granted.

It’s a right and privilege that is not universal throughout the world.

People fight and die for what the vast majority of voters take for granted.

Get registered.

Get informed.

Get out and vote.

___

The Oklahoman. Sept. 25, 2018.

— Even with reforms, new prisons a necessity in Oklahoma

The Oklahoma Board of Corrections may use $116.5 million in bonds to build a prison or expand existing facilities. While some will object to this, Oklahomans and their elected officials need to face reality: Even if policymakers enact substantial corrections reform that reduces the inmate population, our prisons are still in desperate need of repair and upgrades.

The prison system includes 24 major facilities. Only eight were built to house inmates. Some, such as the prison in McAlester, are now roughly 100 years old and portions of Big Mac are so dilapidated or obsolete they can no longer be used. Officials report the maximum-security penitentiary needs $14 million in upgrades, including new sewer, water and gas lines. In some prisons, there are reports that locks on cell doors no longer work.

This year, corrections officials requested an $800 million bond to build two prisons. Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh said operating two new prisons would save the state “a ton of money” compared with the inflated costs created by maintaining old, dilapidated buildings that have been retrofitted to house inmates.

A new prison could also be placed closer to population centers, reducing staffing shortages that exist at some facilities in remote locations.

The capital needs of Oklahoma’s prison system are not a recent development. A review conducted in 2009 by the Durrant Group recommended $344 million in prison capital spending within five years, with $154 million more in years six and beyond for all improvements. Lawmakers ignored those recommendations.

In the past, the failure to maintain or improve Oklahoma’s prisons has indirectly resulted in policies that may have reduced public safety. A 2007 audit by a private consultant, MGT, criticized the state for reclassifying inmates from maximum security to medium security to shift them to other prisons.

Yet lawmakers chose to dismiss these problems for years. Why did they decide to maintain old buildings not designed to house inmates rather than invest in cost-efficient replacement prisons that would reduce overall expenses in the long run? In many cases, they balked in the name of “protecting jobs” in areas where prisons officials say they struggle to fill jobs.

That mindset must be abandoned. The purpose of a prison system is to protect the public from criminals, not to “create” jobs even when the costs of maintaining those positions in obsolete buildings may well be a net drain on the state economy.

As things stand, Oklahoma’s prisons are filled to 113 percent of capacity. If the state were not able to contract with private prisons, the system would be at 153 percent of capacity. Corrections reform, which we support, may well slow or even reverse the growth of Oklahoma’s prison population. But even if inmate numbers fall significantly, there will remain a need to house them in modern, secure facilities.

The DOC didn’t get the $800 million requested this year, but $116.5 million is a start. There’s a financial cost to preserving public safety. And that cost pales in comparison with the financial and societal costs created when lawmakers fail to modernize and maintain a secure prison system.

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