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May 24, 2014

Fallin’s fight for school storm shelter initiative ends unsuccessfully

OKLAHOMA CITY — A disappointed Gov. Mary Fallin said Friday that she “went down fighting” for her signature school storm shelter initiative. But it wasn’t to be.

After squeaking through the House on Thursday, Fallin’s storm shelter plan died on the Senate floor when a majority decided it wasn’t in the state’s best interests.

The Senate dealt the bill a death blow, killing it on the final day of the session, about an hour before adjourning for the year.

The bill would have allowed school districts that have reached their borrowing capacity to exceed that to build shelters.

The shelter issue has become a political one following the death of seven children during last year’s EF-5 tornado that hit Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore. Their school did not have a shelter.

“I think it could have helped save lives,” Fallin said of the bill, noting that the Legislature adjourned with “nothing to offer our children.”

Critics said the bill would target only about 25 of more than 500 school districts — or about 3 percent of Oklahoma students — since its focus was on those districts that had reached their bonding capacity.

The initiative would have still needed separate elections — a statewide referendum, as well as local ones — before districts could start building shelters, meaning construction could be at least a year away.

The plan faced stiff resistance in the House, which initially failed to pass it Thursday before Republicans banded together to resuscitate it later that night.

“Moving forward, I hope that we can continue to find solutions to be able to help our schools put in safe rooms and (put) other safety precautions into schools,” Fallin said.

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