State and Federal delegates discussed issues impacting Oklahoma with citizens during the final Eggs & Issues event of 2021 March 26 at the Fairview Community Center.
The event was hosted by Fairview Chamber of Commerce and those present were served a breakfast of pancakes and sausage, thanks to Pioneer Broadband Services, who sponsored the event.
State Representative Carl Newton addressed the crowd first and he explained the House and Senate are now hearing bills from the other branch.
One bill Representative Newton stated he is working on is 710. He said the bill allows the State Election Board to clear up residency issues. One of the residency issues to be cleared up is voters who are casting ballots in more than one state.
Another bill Representative Newton is working is 714, which encompasses several election related items. One piece of the legislation addresses how nursing home residents are able take part in the election process in events such as the pandemic.
Also part of the bill would create an electronic ballot for blind and deaf individuals.
Replacement of a ballot would also be included in the bill. Currently if an absentee ballot gets damaged, the voter is not issued a new ballot. What the bill sets out to do is to allow damage ballots to be “spoiled”, which would allow the voter to receive a new ballot.
Bill 715 is another bill being worked on by Representative Newton. The bill was drafted following the election process last year. Current laws make it illegal for candidates to campaign within 300 feet of a ballot location. However, due to large voter turnout and long lines at a polling place in Oklahoma City, individuals were waiting in line well past the 300 feet buffer of the polling place.
As a result, one candidate was shaking hands and talking to individuals waiting in line to vote. The proposed bill would change the wording from 300 feet of the polling place to 300 feet of the line to the polling place.
Representative Newton said the treatment plan being used at Bill Johnson Correctional Center in Alva is being looked at for it’s success and ways to expand the program. Currently the treatment program is for individuals 18-21 but is being expanded to the 18-25 age group.
Mr. Newton is also carrying a Tele Med bill that will expand current programs. The bill will also address patient concerns and make sure the system is being abused.
Another bill being looked at stemmed from an issue in Woodward County. The issue at hand stems from a law that doesn’t allow for county employees to make more money than county commissioners. As a result, Representative Newton stated Woodward County is having a hard time retaining an individual to oversee and run day-to-day operations of the Woodward County Event Center.
The hope is that the facility can retain a director with the possibility of more pay. Mr. Newton explained that a group is working with OMES to set up a new pay structure to address the issues.
Representative Newton explained redistricting is nearing completion. He stated most districts will see minor changes but most rural areas will not see any major changes.
Senator Casey Murdock then addressed the crowd. He stated his coyote bill passed the Senate and is being heard in the house. The bill would allow land owners to be able to use thermal scopes and other equipment to hunt coyotes on the landowner’s property. He stated he also has other bills that will firm up property rights that will allow land owners to address nuisance animals.
In response to some states recently declaring “Meat Free” weeks, Senator Murdock stated Oklahoma declared “Meat All Week” March 22-26.
Senator Murdock stated the effort was part of a larger attempt to get National Western Stock Show to relocate to Oklahoma permanently. The event has been held in Denver, but was moved to Oklahoma last year due to better COVID-19 guidelines. Colorado was among the states that celebrated “Meat Free Week”.
One issue that is continuing to be addressed according to the Senator is the cause of utility bills going up after the arctic blast.
He stated he received an email from a hospital in his district that stated their average monthly utility bill is $8,000 but it was over $81,000 after the arctic blast.
Fairview City Manager Jerry Eubanks chimed in that OMPA, who provides power for the City of Fairview, has agreed to absorb the elevated costs in an effort to keep bills at a minimal for municipalities and their customers.
Senator Murdock stated his office continues to receive calls regarding foreign nationals purchasing land in Oklahoma. As a lot of the land being purchased is being used for medical marijuana grow facilities, he stated there is a push to reclassify marijuana grow facilities located outside of city limits so they fall under ag. Reasoning for the reclassification is due to a law still on the books from 1910 that prohibits ag land to be owned by foreign individuals.
As it is now, if someone suspects land is illegally owned by a foreign entity, then individuals are encouraged to contact the State Ag department.
Those present then heard from Grace Enmeier, Field Representative for Congressman Frank Lucas.
Among items touched on by Enmeier was the US Senate recently passed a bill to extend the PPP program for small business loans. She was asked about the Congressman’s stance on gun rights and she stated he has voted in support of gun rights this year and in years past.
Senator Murdock also responded and stated his looking a bill in Oklahoma that would allow rifles to be loaded and chambered in a vehicle. The bill passed in the Senate and is in the House now. A question was then asked by a citizen that dealt with a bill targeting the Oklahoma Promise recipients. The bill in question would require students who have received money through the Oklahoma Promise program to pay the entire amount if they drop out of college early.
It was the vast opinion that many of the students who receive Oklahoma Promise funds would have a hard time paying back funds, since most come from families who are already struggling financially.
Many felt students leaving college due to family emergencies or other unforeseen circumstances, should not have the additional burden of paying the funds.
There was a questioned posed about the possible elimination of Corporate Income Tax and what it would mean to retirement programs like Retired Educators. An article published in another newspaper stated the Retired Educators could lose up to $24 million from their account if elimination of the tax passes.
It was explained that the particular portion of the Corporate Income Tax that is being looked at for elimination will not impact the retirement accounts.
Fairview Public Schools Superintendent Craig Church questioned Senator Murdock and Representative Newton about their opinion on a pair of bills targeting the school funding formula and transportation issues. Both stated as of the meeting, neither bill had enough support to allow them to pass.