Tuesday, July 17, 2007

One Example: Hardball Partisan Politics Won Out

By Senator Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant
Hello again, everybody! We all learn in school the process by which a bill becomes a law.

All it takes, we are taught, is that bills have support from a majority of members in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Then, the governor can approve or reject the measure.

Support from most members of the Legislature, in theory, reflects the support of most Oklahomans. In fact, in almost every case, majority support from the Legislature reflects majority support from the people.

In 2007, however, many good bills were left by the wayside because some legislative leaders felt it was more important to punish members of a particular political party than it was to do the right thing. There are many examples, but let me share one example where hardball partisan politics won out over what was right.

Senate Bill 756 was a bill requested by the people I represent. It would have strengthened Oklahoma’s Funeral Picketing Act, passed in 2006 as a response to a group from Kansas that travels the nation protesting military funerals.

Under that original law, picketing is illegal beginning one hour before a funeral until one hour after it. Also, the picketers must be at least 500 feet away from the ceremony or cemetery.

Senate Bill 756 would have extended the hours during which picketing was prohibited from one hour to three hours before and after the ceremony. Also, the bill would have doubled the allowable distance from ceremonies or cemeteries for demonstrations.

This bill was requested by my constituents who were outraged when this group picketed a soldier’s funeral in my district. In the Senate, the bill passed on a strong bipartisan and unanimous vote. Few bills get unanimous support.

When the bill went to the House of Representatives, however, it was not even given a hearing in a committee by House leaders. You see, the bill got caught up in partisan politics.

My House author was a respected Democrat. After House Democrats exercised their constitutional right to differ with the Republican leadership on a budget, dozens of bills sponsored by House Democrats were killed by Republican committee chairmen, including SB 756.

Hardball politics is nothing new; they have been used by both sides. However, when hardball politics become more important than standing up for the Oklahoma’s values, then something is terribly wrong.

Oklahomans want to protect the families of our military heroes, men and women who gave the “last full measure of devotion” to our nation. Apparently, House Republican leaders would rather punish those who disagree with them than stand up for the families of fallen soldiers.

Surely, all of us in public office – even those who claim to be “leaders” – owe Oklahomans better than that.

Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute,” have a great week, and may God bless you all.

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