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Governor signs "Women's Bill of Rights"

Governor Kevin Stitt has until June 14th to sign bills passed in the final week of the Oklahoma legislative session. He quickly signed the "Women's Bill of Rights."


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, with the legislative session over, Governor Stitt has until June 14th to act on all bills passed during the final week, and more than half of those bills comprise the fiscal year 2025 budget. Governor Stitt signed one of the more controversial bills, what's called the “Women's Bill of Rights,” the day after the legislature adjourned Sine Die. What does that bill purport to do?

Shawn Ashley: Well, the bill defines sex as a person's biological sex at birth, and it states that the term equal in reference to sex will not be construed to mean identical, and that differentiating between the sexes will not necessarily be considered unequal treatment. It also forbids sex discrimination while allowing for recognition of the differences between the sexes on issues related to biology, privacy, safety, or fairness.

Dick Pryor: Why did supporters think the Women's Bill of Rights was necessary, and what are opponents saying about it?

Shawn Ashley: Representative Toni Hasenbeck, a Republican from Elgin and the bill's House author, said “the persistent encroachment of men into women only spaces, whether that's in locker rooms or entrepreneurship programs, threatens the health, careers and lives of women across the world. The bill,” she said, “would help prevent that encroachment.” Representative Trish Ranson, a Stillwater Democrat, asked what rights the bill provided women, since none are listed in the measure. And Representative Mauree Turner, an Oklahoma City Democrat and the only nonbinary transgender member of the legislature, argued the bill essentially denied the existence of transgender Oklahomans, particularly the estimated 2,600 transgender children in the state.

Dick Pryor: A district judge in Oklahoma County has ruled that some, but not all, state agency directors could be prohibited from serving as a secretary in the governor's cabinet. What precipitated that ruling and what's its upshot?

Shawn Ashley: Governor Kevin Stitt sought the court's intervention after Attorney General Gentner Drummond issued a formal opinion in March that said Tim Gatz could not serve as Stitt’s transportation secretary, while also serving as director of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority. Drummond said that violated the state's prohibition on dual office holding that prevents a state officer or official from holding two positions unless there is a specific exemption. Under Oklahoma County District Judge Richard Ogden's ruling, cabinet secretaries are considered state officers and subject to the dual office holding prohibition. However, Judge Ogden wrote, “not every head of an agency or other such position may be office holders or officers of the state of Oklahoma.” Now what that means – the upshot - is that each appointment will have to be evaluated individually.

Dick Pryor: Five state legislators have asked Attorney General Gardner Drummond to investigate whether State Superintendent Ryan Walters’ chief policy adviser Matt Langston is a “ghost employee.” The State Department of Education's public relations practices promoting Walters have drawn legislative scrutiny, and now the focus of some lawmakers has shifted to Langston. What are they concerned about?

Shawn Ashley: Representative Mark McBride and the other four legislators want to know, as you suggested, whether Langston is a so-called “ghost employee” - someone on the state payroll, but who does not actually perform the duties associated with their position. According to information provided to the House by Walters and the State Department of Education, Langston is a part time employee, yet he receives state benefits but does not appear to have an employment contract. Among the other things the legislators want to know are the specific duties assigned to Langston, evidence of his fulfillment of those duties, and documentation related to Langston’s employment.

Dick Pryor: Thank you. Shawn.

Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.

Dick Pryor: For more information, go to quorumcall.online. You can find audio and transcripts at kgou.org and look for Capitol Insider where you get podcasts. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I’m Dick Pryor.

KGOU produces journalism in the public interest, which is critical to an informed electorate. Listeners like you provide essential funding for Capitol Insider. Make your contribution at KGOU.org.

Dick Pryor has more than 30 years of experience in public service media, having previously served as deputy director, managing editor, news manager, news anchor and host for OETA, Oklahoma’s statewide public TV network. He was named general manager of KGOU Radio in November 2016.
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