The Woodward News

Local News

June 11, 2013

Lawmakers say rural Oklahoma was big winner

(Continued)

Woodward, Okla. — MORE WORK TO BE DONE

But he wasn't the only one disappointed with how some things went during this year's session.

Returning to the baseball metaphor, Blackwell said, "like when you play baseball, you sometimes leave runners on base."

The Laverne representative said 2 big issues he wished had been better addressed in the 2013 session included the switch to common core curriculum in education the cost and scope of which is still to be determined, and a much needed pay raise for Department of Corrections employees.

Hickman agreed that "it's disappointing we didn't address public safety issues," such as pay increases for DOC officers as well as OHP troopers.

"It's difficult to convince people to spend more money on prisons.  It's a lot easier to sell schools and children and easier to sell roads and bridges," he said.

But taking on that challenge is important because "we're over 100 percent capacity in our prisons across the state and on average just 60 percent staffed," Hickman said.

That makes for an "incredibly dangerous" combination, especially during hot Oklahoma summers when "many of our prisons are not air conditioned," he said.

But with a starting pay of a little over $11 an hour, you can't find people willing to take on that risk, which is why finding a way to increase pay for these brave corrections officers is important, Hickman said.

The same is true for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, he said, especially when there is competition from other law enforcement agencies able to pay officers more.

"You can make more now as a Woodward Police officer than you do as a state trooper," he said.

Other things that will have to be addressed during next year's session includes tort reform, Sanders said.

"The Supreme Court (of Oklahoma) through the tort reform law we passed a couple of years ago out," he said.  "It's a little frustrating because we think it's purely political.  If you look at some of the comments by the justices you can see there's a political bent."

However, with tort reform being right up there with workers comp reform in the importance of creating a business friendly environment in the state, he said legislators will be quick to readdress the issue.

"I assure you that next year, whether it takes 5 bills or 50, tort reform will be the number one issue," Sanders said.

But Marlatt thinks the issue may be bigger than that and perhaps should be addressed sooner.

"I think it's going to take about 90 bills to get everything done that needs to be accomplished," the state senator said, adding that he is "in full support of the governor calling for a special session this year to address those 90 or so bills."

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