NORMAN — I read in the morning paper that the Legislature finished the work of their special session by passing a number of tort reform measures.
In my lifetime, I can only remember the Legislature being called into special session four or five times. As memory serves, previous special sessions were called to address a crisis directly affecting the safety and welfare of the citizens of our state.
Please remember that Gov. Mary Fallin announced in her call for a special session that the legislation was critical to making Oklahoma more business friendly (the same mantra she recited again and again when running for governor).
I have yet to find anyone who believes that tort reform rises to the level of a crisis. In fact, many are worried that these reforms will serve to reduce the average citizen’s ability to secure appropriate and equitable relief from civil and employer wrongful acts.
At the same time, there are several issues that might rise to the level of crisis deserving immediate attention that have not been addressed. For instance:
1. Education: Our public schools, technical training centers, state colleges and universities receive less funding today than any time in this century. The number of students per classroom is growing while state funding keeps shrinking. Teacher pay ranks in the bottom five of the whole United States. It is no wonder that teachers are moving out of Oklahoma at an extraordinary rate.
2. Prisons and jails: Several reputable studies forecast serious problems up to and including prison riots (remember 1973?) in Oklahoma’s near future. Our jails, juvenile detention centers and prisons are at capacity. Most of the prisons were built in the 1930s and have not been rehabbed since the 1970s as a result of federal oversight following the 1973 prison riot. Without exception, correctional facilities are woefully under-staffed and employees are underpaid.