Saturday, June 27, 2009

Senator Gumm's "Senate Minute" for June 26-July 2, 2009

DURANT, Okla. – Hello again, everyone! During my legislative career, I have maintained an unswerving belief that we should honor and respect those who served in the Armed Forces.

As America prepares to celebrate Independence Day, we must remember our independence as a nation – and the freedom we enjoy as a birthright – has been bought and paid for with the sacrifice of angels in uniform. Oklahomans owe our military veterans a debt that can never be repaid.

During my service as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, the Legislature provided important tax benefits for many of our veterans. Among those was a sales tax exemption for veterans with a 100 percent, service-connected disability, as well as vehicle and property tax breaks. I was proud to sponsor these benefits for veterans.

Few states in this nation do as much for veterans as we do here in Oklahoma. I believe, however, there is more we must do. One of the areas in which I believe we have not done enough is on an issue particularly sensitive to our newest veterans and their families.

For years now, a fringe group out of Kansas has made it their mission to protest at the funerals of soldiers who gave their last full measure of devotion on the fields of battle in Iraq and Afghanistan. The heartless, uncaring and selfish actions by this fringe group makes the worst day imaginable even more difficult for the families of these heroes.

The state took an initially aggressive response to the foolish actions of this misguided group. The Legislature passed a law banning protests at funerals from one hour before the service until one hour after the service. Further, the protests must be at least 500 feet away from the location of the service.

After the fringe group protested the funeral of a soldier from my district, I introduced legislation extending that protest ban to three hours before and after the service and the distance to 1,500 feet. After passing the Senate with ease, the measure – like so many others – was stalled in the House of Representatives.

I requested an interim study to examine the advantages of adopting my legislation. My hope is to gather enough objective evidence to hopefully spur the leadership of the House of Representatives to do what most Oklahomans believe is the simply right thing to do.

A good measure of my commitment to veterans comes from values instilled in me by my mother, Harlene Taylor Gumm. Mom’s job, for most of my life, was as a veterans’ service office for the American Legion in Durant.

Even today, more than a dozen years after her passing, veterans come up to me and tell me how she helped them. My commitment to veterans is one of the gifts Mom gave to me; it is a commitment that will never change.

Thanks again for reading this week’s “Senate Minute.” Have a great week, and may God bless you all.

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