By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Norman NEXT connected young professionals this week with area legislators at its annual legislative luncheon and forum.
Sens. John Sparks and Rob Standridge, along with Reps. Scott Martin and Aaron Stiles, attended the luncheon and panel discussion. Rep. Emily Virgin was unable to attend.
Martin, R-Norman, is chair of the Appropriations and Budget committee and is a University of Oklahoma graduate. He said the Board of Equalization overestimated growth this year and revenue is running behind state budget predictions.
Collections are 6.7 percent behind the budget now midway through the fiscal year.
“My hope is that we would get to a flat budget,” he said.
Martin would like to see pension reforms, education policies and judicial reforms this session. He said the bill proposing a unicameral legislature won’t get any traction.
“I’m in the middle of my fourth term (in office),” Martin said. “It’s gone by really quick.”
Standridge, R-Norman, is a businessman and entrepreneur in the pharmacy field.
The senator is working to reduce prescription drug abuse. He said there is a misconception that prescription drug abuse is somehow safer than abuse of other drugs but that’s not true.
“That’s a serious problem and may be a leading cause for this epidemic,” he said.
He wants to track drugs going through nursing homes and pain management clinics more closely.
Standridge said he was also struck by a case where a man got off after murdering his pregnant girlfriend by pleading “innocent by reason of insanity.”
Standridge said that verdict is a slap in the face to the families of victims, and while he can’t control the judicial system, he can change verbiage. He wants the verdict in the future to be “guilty but insane.”
He also wants to raise the bar on requirements for foster families.
“For whatever reason, a lot of these kids end up on meds,” he said.
Because of that, he and his pharmacy staff have witnessed some less-than-successful foster family scenarios, and he hopes to create some better standards.
Stiles, R-Norman, is an attorney. He wants to create better access to court records and said judges should not be able to hide friends’ court records. He also is working to create different standards for naming roads, bridges and buildings.
Stiles said facilities are often named after politicians, and he doesn’t think that sets the right standard. He wants buildings and infrastructure named after military heroes such as medal of honor winners.
Stiles also is working on legislation that will allow an “affirmative defense of common sense.”
Stiles said an affirmative defense is available in several instances, but in the case of things that should be common sense, it doesn’t currently exist. He gave the example of a man using a plastic gas can to pour gas on a fire and suing the container company because the container exploded.
If someone should have the common sense to know not to do something, that should be a defense and not put a company out of business, he said.
Sparks, D-Norman, also an attorney, told Norman NEXT attendees that 90 percent of bills in the state legislature are housekeeping measures.
One of his biggest concerns is education, which took a big hit in funding this year.
“The largest education cuts (in the country) took place in Oklahoma,” Sparks said.
He said the level of education affects an individual’s standard of living and ability to get a good job. It appears that some people in the state legislature think common education and higher education are a waste of taxpayers’ money and would rather spend state funds on roads and bridges, he said.
Sparks maintains that both areas are important and that the legislature needs to strike a balance.
He supports incentives to bring businesses to the state and is working on legislation to allow administrators to track teachers who may have faced allegations of abuse, for example, but left before an investigation was completed. Right now, school administrators are limited in how much information they can give each other about an employee.
In answer to an audience question, Sparks said the A through F grading system will continue to be reformed. Right now, the system is unreliable because it ignores income level, he said.
Kathleen Romero, executive director of Cleveland County CASA, asked about the Department of Human Services Pinnacle plan.
Martin said the plan’s implementation is being monitored. Stiles said he believes there still are huge problems with DHS.
Martin also clarified that while the positive revenue reports coming out of the state treasurer’s office are encouraging and accurate, the treasurer “looks at more of the aggregate of these funds” and the general revenue fund collections are running under budget.
“We’re not growing quite as aggressively as we have been,” he said.
The luncheon forum was open to all interested individuals, as well as Norman NEXT members.
Norman NEXT’s official mission is “to develop the next generation of leaders for Norman by creating a connected, active and engaged community of young professionals. Through leadership, mentoring, networking and volunteerism, Norman NEXT cultivates and inspires young professionals to be a positive agent of change for Norman.”
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