Request line: Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond said his office has cleared an inherited backlog of Open Records Act requests and has hired former state Sen. Anthony Sykes to work with “state, county and municipal government agencies and commissions to ensure they strictly comply with the Open Meeting and Open Records Acts,” according to a press release.
The release says the Attorney General’s Office had 66 unfulfilled ORA requests, some dating back several years, when Drummond took over in January. The release says all of those have been filled, plus 34 more filed since Jan. 9.
Reporters and members of the public complain that state and local governments have, as a whole, become less responsive to open records requests, either because they just don’t want to fill them or because they’ve been overwhelmed by the volume of requests.
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Under the dome: With abortion mostly illegal in the state, Oklahoma’s Republican leadership seems more open to helping pregnant women and new mothers.
The House last week passed without dissent House Bill 1932, by Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, which would extend the same Temporary Assistance for Needy Families eligibility to pregnant women with no minor children at home as households with minor children, and HB 2014, by Rep. Trish Ranson, D-Stillwater, which would extend Medicaid eligibility for the first 12 months following a pregnancy, subject to a federal waiver.
Senate Republicans were grumpier about about giving state employees six weeks of paid maternity leave, but the bill passed 33-14 with a little help from Democrats.
One piece of legislation with potentially dramatic implications for Tulsa Public schools flew through the House last week, mostly below the radar.
McCall’s HB 1936, which passed 69-18, would require granting of most intra-district transfers — that is, from one campus to another within the same district, unless the receiving school is full.
That policy is already followed for the most part, but the bill as written could cause problems for magnet schools with competitive or geographically based admissions. TPS has several of those, including Booker T. Washington High School and components of other schools.
Rep. Rhonda Baker, R-Yukon, who is carrying the bill for McCall, said it is her understanding that magnet programs would not be affected. The wording of the bill, which apparently is so-called “model legislation” from the libertarian Reason Foundation, makes no mention of magnet programs or exceptions.
The Senate passed without dissent legislation by Sen. Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa, to create an Oklahoma Civil Rights Trail connecting sites such as the state’s all-Black towns and locations of American Indian historical significance, including Ponca City’s Standing Bear Park, Museum and Education Center and the “Osage Reign of Terror” in Fairfax.
The Senate passed and sent to the House legislation creating a pilot program to provide school-based child care for teachers, administrators and support personnel.
LGBTQ advocates are lobbying against HB 2456, by Rep. Terry O’Donnell, R-Catoosa, which would ban school instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation until sixth grade.
In committee, O’Donnell said his intention is to exclude all sex education, including explanations of puberty and its effects on the human body, until the sixth grade.
The Senate passed legislation lifting the admission fees for state parks and limiting trailer and RV fees to $8 per night.
Oklahoma state government could operate for 208.1 days on reserves and cash balances at the end of fiscal year 2022, according to a study released last week by Pew. That ranked ninth-highest among the 50 states, with Wyoming first at 349.6.
Bad vibes: While state GOP leaders tried to figure out why it’s $798 million offer wasn’t enough to lure Volkswagen or Panasonic, the Democratic minority said maybe money isn’t everything.
“The Republican Leadership’s hostility towards anyone that is different from them is costing Oklahomans good, high-paying jobs,” said House Minority Leader Cyndi Munson, D-Oklahoma City.
Munson said Oklahoma’s attitudes on education, abortion, LGBTQ issues and just about every quality of life issue are chasing people away.
“Instead of cultivating a sense of belonging, the Legislature continues to foster division and hate,” Munson said.
State Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, narrowed the problem down to state Superintendent of Public Instruction and Education Secretary Ryan Walters, who has angered even fellow Republicans.
“My hunch is that it is not a winning economic strategy to have a secretary of education who demeans higher education and actively works to dismantle public education,” said Nichols.
9-to-5: The Bureau of Labor Statistics said Oklahoma added nearly 50,000 non-farm payroll jobs from January 2022 to January 2023, a 3% increase.
Of the additional jobs, more than half — 25,300 — were in the Oklahoma City metro area. Tulsa added 12,000, with a little more than 12,000 more spread spread around the state.
Meetings and events: The Oklahoma Federation of Democratic Women will convene on the state seal on the ground floor of the Capitol at 8:30 a.m. Thursday for its annual Women in Blue Advocacy Day.
The Tulsa County Democratic Party will have a comedy sketch fundraiser at 7:30 p.m. March 31 at Spotlight Theater, 1381 Riverside Drive. See Tulsacountydemocrats.org or email email@example.com for information.
The Wagoner County Democratic Party convention will be at 10 a.m. April 15 in the Wagoner Civic Center, 301 S. Grant Ave., Wagoner. The convention is open to all Wagoner County party members, but only precinct officers may vote.
The Oklahoma Ethics Commission will take public comment on ethics rules as they pertain to party in Tulsa on June 9 at a time and location to be announced.
— Randy Krehbiel, Tulsa World