Monday, April 15, 2013

Weekly Cockroft Column: April 8, 2013

Lawmakers began this week by carrying Oklahoma flags and placing them on the south side of the Oklahoma State Capitol to raise awareness of child abuse in the state. Each of the 41 flags represented a child that died from abuse in 2012.

Pottawatomie and Cleveland counties are among counties with high incidents of child abuse. We often come together on a nonpartisan basis on this issue and I was proud to see both Democrats and Republicans among those who carried the flags Monday morning.

There are a number of bills addressing child abuse this year. Senate Bill 639, the most critical of these, would create a child abuse response team under the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. Child abuse is difficult to investigate and prosecute because of the nature of crimes committed within families. A specialized response team will be a strong weapon against child victimizers and I think there is little resistance to this bill in the Legislature.

Senate Bill 460 requires the Department of Human Services to record all incoming calls to the child abuse hotline and store the recordings for 90 days. It is a simple bill, but just another example of the scrutiny this issue is receiving.

A raise for Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers is also seeing little resistance from lawmakers though the budget process is always a bit more complicated. House Bill 2145 most recently received a 23-0 vote by a Senate committee. It was already passed by a wide margin by House lawmakers. The legislation will give the state’s 774 troopers a 16.3 percent pay raise for the cost of about $7 million. A trooper with one year of experience would receive a salary of $44,194, under the bill.

Unfortunately, those of us who pushed hard for correctional employees to receive a pay raise ultimately lost the battle to the governor, who quietly requested the bill be laid over until a study of state employee pay could be completed. However, we have been able to get $1,000 bonuses for select employees approved so far and there is still the possibility of a pay raise being sought through budget negotiations.

Please provide any feedback and thoughts that you may have on policy. Please never hesitate to contact me at (405) 788-9160 or Follow me on Facebook: Representative Josh Cockroft.

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