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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers

July 10, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Enid News & Eagle. July 9, 2018.

— No help from the Capitol

Oklahoma Department of Health is working to meet a quick deadline to have emergency rules in place for the use of medical marijuana.

Voters approved State Question 788 in late June, and Health Department officials have less than two months to come up with the rules needed to launch the industry.

Unfortunately, they aren’t getting much help from the state Capitol, as state leaders have decided to sit this one out for the time being.

Last legislative session, lawmakers could have written rules that would have been in place pending the outcome of the June 26 vote.

However, they instead decided to kick the can down the road and adjourn the session three weeks early.

Then, Gov. Mary Fallin, who said before the election the measure was written so broadly it would essentially allow recreational marijuana use and who said she planned to call the Legislature back to the state Capitol to tighten the rules, flipped after the election and decided no special session was needed.

The Health Department has been working since April to develop a framework of rules as well as an oversight office — the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority — to make the transition as smooth as possible and to try to iron out issues.

No doubt Health Department officials are working hard to get this right, but under this short of a deadline it’s not much of a stretch to think something is going to be overlooked.

Already, there is a big question to answer, and that’s how to get marijuana seeds into Oklahoma in the first place.

Under state and federal law, all marijuana products — including the seed — must be grown, processed and used in Oklahoma.

We all know there is plenty of marijuana already grown illegally in the state, but that’s a separate issue.

For the medical marijuana industry to be totally legal, something is going to have to be worked out to get the seed needed into Oklahoma.

Interim Health Department Commissioner Tom Bates said no action is required from the Legislature until 2019. Bates said his department will be ready as required, but it would be nice to have additional time to create a robust online system that is interoperable with law enforcement.

We have to believe, though, the whole situation could have been helped had there been some assistance from the Capitol.

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The Oklahoman. July 10, 2018.

— Worthwhile reasons to move school elections

In political debates on education, it’s often argued that state officials should defer decision-making authority to districts in the name of local control. Yet this potentially empowers school employees far more than the families of children served by those schools.

Put simply, “local control” of schools is as much myth as reality, an argument bolstered by voting participation in school elections.

As of Jan. 15, there were 2,016,157 Oklahoma citizens registered to vote. The Feb. 13 elections, which included school board and city government races, drew 93,468 voters, about 4.6 percent of registered voters statewide. The April 3 election, which included runoffs for school board seats and school bond elections, drew just 37,561 voters.

According to the Department of Education, as of Nov. 30, 2017, state schools employed 49,634 full-time equivalent employees in certified positions and 34,441 in support positions, more than 84,000 combined.

Thus, it’s statistically feasible that a substantial majority of school election voters are directly employed by schools. Research backs up that conclusion.

In 2006, Terry M. Moe, a professor of political science at Stanford University, examined teacher turnout in school board and school bond elections in Los Angeles school districts. He found the turnout gap between teachers and average citizens in those elections was an average 36.5 percent.

While just 9 percent of registered voters turned out for school board elections, turnout among teachers working at a school who lived in the district was 46 percent. Turnout among other school employees who lived and worked in the same district was 35 percent.

While one might expect school employees to turn out in higher numbers because of their involvement and familiarity with education issues, when Moe examined teachers who worked in one district but lived in another, their turnout rate fell to 20 percent. Thus, many teachers were motivated to vote only when directly choosing the people who hire their bosses.

In a recent analysis of state boards and commissions, Byron Schlomach, economist and director of the conservative 1889 Institute, highlighted why this is problematic for good policy.

“Because of the outsized role that insiders have in the election of school board members, school boards at times appear to be more interested in serving the interest of the insiders rather than the interests of parents and taxpayers,” Schlomach wrote.

This was apparent when many school boards voted to close school for two weeks this year to let teachers engage in political lobbying, with pay. In many districts, that decision was made without consulting the thousands of student families who faced “great inconvenience and cost to parents and educational detriment to students,” Schlomach notes.

Why did school boards ignore parents? Because the school board members owed their election largely to school employees, not parents.

We have argued for moving school board elections to higher-turnout dates to increase citizen input. Otherwise, until school-election participation improves, lawmakers can legitimately claim to reflect the education views of their communities as much or more than do school board members, because a far higher share of local citizens voted for the legislator.

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Tulsa World. July 10, 2018.

— Tulsa’s levees are a disaster waiting to happen, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is ready to study ways to avoid a catastrophe

Tulsa’s aging levee system is a disaster waiting to happen.

So, it’s appropriate that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers included $3 million in its supplemental disaster relief program for preliminary work to modernize the critical protection to Tulsa homes and businesses along the Arkansas River.

We were sorely disappointed earlier this year when the Corps left local levee work off its annual work plan.

The Corps’ commander had called the project “critical” in an appropriations hearing, which seemed to suggest the fix was in.

It certainly should be. If the decaying levees fail, billions in public and private property would be at risk.

Want to think about a disaster? Imagine what happens if the levees failed catastrophically, allowing water to inundate chemical plants, refineries and homes. More than 10,000 people and about $2 billion dollars in infrastructure are protected by the levees, County Commissioner Karen Keith says.

The Corps’ supplemental budget, which was released last week, includes a feasibility study, the next step toward rehabilitating the levees.

The Corps built the levees, which are now managed by a county drainage district, and that same sort of federal-local cooperation will be needed to modernize the system. City and county officials have already put aside some $16.4 million in local funding for the work.

We give much of the credit for last week’s supplemental budget coup to U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, former chairman and a senior member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which has oversight of the Corps.

Tulsa will rely on him and Sen. James Lankford, a strong advocate on behalf of the levees, to continue pushing for appropriate protections of our homes and industry. Tulsa’s levees are a disaster that can be avoided, if those in charge will only see to needed repairs in a timely fashion.

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