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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers

March 13, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Muskogee Phoenix. March 13, 2018.

It’s good to see others recognize the Papilion as one of Muskogee’s treasures.

The Papilion has received a $6,238 grant from The Kirschner Trusts to provide outdoor musical instruments for the Beatrice Sheddan Children’s Garden.

The grant will allow the addition of Freenotes Harmony Park outdoor musical instruments. Freenotes instruments are percussion instruments played with mallets and require the simplest of motor skills to create sounds that blend harmoniously with each other.

“We are so pleased to receive this grant,” said Mark Wilkerson, City of Muskogee Parks and Recreation director. ”... We genuinely appreciate the support of The Kirschner Trusts.”

The Kirschner Trusts long have been a supporter of charitable projects in Muskogee.

The Papilion has become a highlight to Honor Heights Park.

The instruments will further cement the Papilion as a Muskogee tourist attraction.

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Tulsa World. March 13, 2018.

We like ideas in President Trump’s response to the nation’s school violence problem but wish it had gone further.

On Sunday, Trump announced the formation of a national school safety commission headed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and backed options, including improved background checks, for gun purchases.

Trump did not repeat his previous endorsement of raising the age for gun purchases to 21, which was included in a new law passed by Florida lawmakers. When asked about that idea, DeVos said “everything is on the table.”

We think setting a national age limit of 21 is reasonable, constitutional and would improve safety, and hope that’s the direction things go.

While we aren’t fans of putting more guns in schools, we agree with Trump’s plan for federal funding to train armed teachers and school personnel. If we’re going to expand the number of armed people inside schools, we need to make sure they receive school-specific training. If Trump wants to push that option, he needs to come up with the money to pay for it. We also insist that the final word on who (or if) anyone brings a gun into a school should be left to the local school board.

The Florida law also banned bump stocks, which allow semiautomatic rifles and shotguns to fire like automatic weapons, an idea Trump has previously endorsed, and a three-day waiting period for gun purchases. The National Rifle Association is challenging the Florida law in court.

Trump proposed state laws authorizing temporary court-ordered Risk Protection Orders, which would allow police to seize guns from people found to be a danger to themselves or others and prevent those individuals from buying guns. That sounds like a good idea to us, if it’s not already covered in current law.

Trump also called for an audit of the FBI’s tip line, which also seems justified after the Parkland, Florida, killing of 17 people by a 19-year-old man who had been reported to the FBI.

The DeVos Commission has plenty to work on. If it is allowed to take an open-minded look at the situation, we think it will find options that will improve school safety without violating constitutional rights.

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The Oklahoman. March 13, 2018.

As the Oklahoma Education Association issued its demand for a $6,000 pay raise for teachers this year, and $10,000 over three years, House Democrats let it be known they were fully behind them.

“For longer than any of our current members have been in the House, Democratic Caucus members have stood side-by-side with teachers and have fought to protect funding for our most valuable resource — public education,” declared Rep. Steve Kouplen of Beggs, who leads the caucus.

Yet this support wasn’t so evident just five months ago, when a plan to provide teachers with $3,000 raises failed in the House. The bill, which also would have given state employees a $1,000 raise, was backed by 54 Republicans but didn’t receive a single “yes” vote from House Democrats.

The reason, ostensibly, was because the bill didn’t include an increase in the gross production tax paid by oil and gas companies. When a new bill was presented soon after, increasing that tax from 2 percent to 4 percent, about four-fifths of the 28-member Democratic caucus voted in favor but some Republicans who had voted for the first bill switched course, and the measure failed.

House Democrats like to point to that second vote as a way to criticize Republicans and say, “We were willing to do our part.” And it was certainly true that some Republican members peeled off on that vote. But then in February, when the Step Up Oklahoma plan was presented that would have provided teachers with $5,000 across-the-board raises, Democrats bailed again.

The original Step Up plan sought to raise $790 million through a variety of tax increases, including on gross production of oil and gas, and on tobacco — two things House Democrats had long sought. Concerns about some aspects of the proposal resulted in their removal, making the price tag $581 million.

On Feb. 12, the day of the vote on Step Up, teachers and students flooded the Capitol urging the bill’s passage. When it came time to vote, 53 of the 72 members of the Republican caucus supported Step Up. That’s one vote short of 75 percent of a caucus that philosophically opposes higher taxes.

Yet only 10 of the 28 House Democrats (36 percent) did the same. Why? Because among other things, they said, the plan was too hard on lower-income Oklahomans and didn’t hit the energy industry and the “wealthy” hard enough. Democrats claimed they wanted the gross production tax increased to 5 percent (it was 4 in the Step Up proposal), and the top income tax rate bumped to 5.25 percent from the current 5 percent. But the reality is their opposition was driven by pure party politics in an election year.

And so, teacher pay raises — sizable, meaningful pay raises, something Democrats have railed about for years — went by the board. We’re left with the OEA demanding the Legislature come up with $1.4 billion total by April 2, or face a walkout. “Schools will stay closed until we get what we are asking for,” OEA President Alicia Priest said.

That could be awhile. And if that happens, Democrats will surely howl about Republican mismanagement, but House Democrats will deserve most of the blame. The OEA, its members and the general public should remember that.

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