Facts behind censure of Oklahoma City state legislator disputed
The Oklahoma House of Representatives censured a non-binary member for allegedly "harboring a fugitive" following an incident during protest of anti-transgender legislation.
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Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider - taking you Inside politics, policy and government in Oklahoma. I'm Dick Pryor with Quorum Call publisher Shawn Ashley. Shawn, the Oklahoma House of Representatives made national news over the last few days by censuring and removing from committee assignments Oklahoma City Democratic State Representative Mauree Turner. Turner was in their office with a person the Highway Patrol was seeking for allegedly striking a trooper following an altercation between another person and a lawmaker. In taking its action against Turner, House leadership claimed Turner was harboring a fugitive and impeding law enforcement. Facts are in dispute over the incident, and the House Democratic Caucus challenged the leadership's narrative. Does recent legislative history give any indication where this might go next?
Shawn Ashley: Not really. The House was prepared to consider expelling a member at the start of the 2017 legislative session, but that member resigned before the House could take any action. In that case, House Speaker Charles McCall had suspended the representative from his committee chairmanship prior to his resignation and removed him from their committee assignments when they submitted their resignation. According to the motion approved Tuesday by the House, Turner's removal from their committees is conditional. If they apologize for their actions, they can be reinstated. Turner, however, has said they will not apologize.
Dick Pryor: In our recent interview with Speaker of the House Charles McCall, he discussed the House bills that would provide tax credits for parents who placed their children in private and home school environments. Those bills are being reviewed in the Senate, but McCall and Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat are at odds over them. What's going on?
Shawn Ashley: Well, they're really arguing over the legislative process, it seems. Speaker McCall effectively gave Treat an ultimatum Thursday. Pass the bills as they are without any amendments, and he said if the bills are amended those bills would be dead and the House would not take up any of the Senate's education proposals. Treat told reporters, “That's not the way this process works. We all know that. He knows that.” Treat said Senate Republicans are reviewing the bills, and he said something I found rather interesting. “My job,” he said, “is pretty simple. Get 25 votes and try to figure that out. And the path that they sent us does not get us to 25 votes.” In other words, it sounds like the Senate may need to amend those bills in order for them to pass that chamber.
Dick Pryor: A couple of bills have passed off the floors that would change election procedures in Oklahoma. One would impose additional requirements on notaries who certify absentee ballots; the other would change the information required to verify the validity of signatures on initiative petitions. Why do the authors say these changes are needed, and what's the response by those in opposition?
Shawn Ashley: Representative Max Wolfley said he filed House Bill 2024, which requires notaries to maintain a log of all absentee ballots they notarize for a period of at least two years after the date of the election, to provide additional transparency and ensure notaries are following the current law that requires them to keep a log. Senator Julie Daniels, the author of Senate Bill 518 that makes changes to the initiative petition process, said she was focused on improving the integrity of the initiative petition process and improving voter's trust in it. House Democratic leader Cyndi Munson and Representative Forrest Bennett expressed concern that Wolfley’s record-keeping requirement would discourage notaries from verifying absentee ballots, and they noted it is already difficult to find someone to notarize an absentee ballot and this could create another barrier for those who vote absentee. During the Senate's consideration of Daniel's bill, Senator Julia Kirt noted nearly 30% of the signatures on the state Question 820 initiative petition were disqualified using the current process. And she said she was concerned more signatures might be disqualified if you increase the number of data points used to verify signatures.
Dick Pryor: What's ahead for lawmakers over the next few days?
Shawn Ashley: The House and Senate are planning to meet only Monday and Tuesday and take Wednesday and Thursday off so families with children can spend time with them during spring break. Now, March 2nd was the deadline for bills and joint resolutions to be heard in a committee of their chamber of origin and more than 2,000 bills did not advance. They have more than 300 to consider in each chamber before the March 23rd deadline for bills to be heard in their chamber of origin.
Dick Pryor: Thank you, Shawn.
Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.
Dick Pryor: And that's Capitol Insider. For more information, go to quorumcall.online. You can find audio and transcripts at kgou.org. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.
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