Monday, March 3, 2014

Cockroft Column - Weekly Legislative Update

Deadlines at the Oklahoma Legislature ensure that there is a deliberate process to every new law we add to the books and to every spending item we place in the budget. With each deadline, the number of measures is reduced and we can pinpoint our focus on those that remain.

The first stage of the House’s deliberations, committee work, is ended. The deadline has passed for committees to hear House bills and now we will be working on the floor, debating the merits of surviving legislation in front of all 101 members. The next deadline will end the life of bills that have not yet had a hearing on the House floor. After that date, we will begin working on bills sent over to us from the Oklahoma Senate. We start out every year with thousands of bills, but enact less than a fourth of them.


I am the co-author of a bill that is already headed over to the Oklahoma Senate after we voted in support of it on the House floor. The legislation would make it a felony to knowingly destroy a human embryo to create stem cells. The bill would also ban couples from destroying frozen embryos that are left over following in vitro fertilization. Excess embryos left over from in vitro fertilization would either need to be kept frozen forever or provided to others who want to adopt the embryos and grow them into babies. It is not our place to destroy life and adult stem cell research is the only appropriate line of research I can support.

Gov. Mary Fallin has called on the Oklahoma Legislature to approve a $160 million bond to fund repairs to the Oklahoma State Capitol. While I agree these repairs are necessary, I do not support a bond as a mechanism to fund them. We should pay as we go rather than borrow money, much like we pushed to do last year. The Oklahoma Senate has voted in support of this bill, so we will have to be the ones to vote against it, if we want to push for a direct appropriation. The argument can be made for the current affordability of bonds and the fact that a large portion of our current bonds will be rolled off in 2018, but I cannot in good conscience vote to place more debt on our state.

A second topic of discussion this year is an effort to put more money into the Native American cultural center in Oklahoma City. This project was fully funded, but did not properly use its resources and is now looking for more money. The current plan is to borrow the money from a state treasury fund used to pay back unclaimed property to Oklahomans. In truth, I believe this project is most appropriately finished with private funding. However, the reality is that our state has taken on this project as a priority and the sooner we finish it, the less of a burden it will be in the future. I have pushed for the completion of this project and then the transfer of liability over to Oklahoma City or any other entity so that the state would not be responsible for reoccurring expenses in the future. The state has already contributed and has many more important priorities to focus on.


I will have more to report on the budget and House bills as we discuss them on the House floor. I can be reached through my Capitol office at (405) 557-7349.


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