MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

February 3, 2014

Social issues on Legislature's agenda

Bills address gun rights, abortion rights, marijuana possession


Associated Press

— OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — How Oklahoma lawmakers will appropriate the state’s scarce tax dollars is expected to top discussion during the 2014 Oklahoma Legislature.

But social issues such as gun rights, abortion and legalizing marijuana are also expected to stir debate, even as the state defends lawsuits that challenge social issue legislation passed by lawmakers in previous years.

In an election year, Republicans who have solid control of both the House and Senate will promote social agenda bills they believe are favored by the state’s conservative voters.

“They know in the primary, it’s the social issues that drive the train,” said Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City. “They’re in charge, and they’re the ones who decide what gets passed.”

Several measures that supporters say will strengthen Oklahomans’ right to carry firearms under the Second Amendment have been filed in the House and Senate. A measure by Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, would allow citizens to carry firearms without a license.

“The Second Amendment says the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, and yet when we require our citizens to jump through hoops, pay fees and undergo a process that presumes they’re guilty of something until proven otherwise, their rights are being infringed upon,” Dahm said.

Under the bill, anyone 18 or older would be able to open carry loaded or unloaded firearms without a license for hunting, target shooting or other such events. Places where guns are prohibited, such as schools and government facilities, would continue to be off-limits for firearms.

A bill by Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, would prohibit Oklahoma schoolchildren from being punished for chewing their breakfast pastries into the shape of a gun.

Kern said her bill, named the Common Sense Zero Tolerance Act, was in response to school districts having policies that she says are too strict or inflexible. She cited a recent Maryland case where a boy was suspended from school for chewing a Pop Tart into the shape of a gun.

Students also could not be punished for possessing small toy weapons or using writing utensils, fingers or their hands to simulate a weapon under the legislation. In addition, students would not be punished for drawing pictures of weapons or wearing clothes that “support or advance Second Amendment rights or organizations.”

State lawmakers have promoted a variety of anti-abortion legislation in recent years, and this year will be no exception.

Legislation filed by Rep. Randy Grau, R-Edmond, would require caregivers to notify women who are considering an abortion after their fetus has been diagnosed with a condition that is incompatible with sustaining life after birth that perinatal hospice services are available as an alternative to abortion.

“I just want people to have all the information. That’s the general concept of informed consent,” Grau said. Perinatal hospice services provide comprehensive support from the time of diagnosis through the infant’s birth and death and can include obstetricians, neonatologists, psychiatrists or other mental health professionals as well as clergy, social workers, and specialty nurses.

“If a couple or birth mother considers terminating the pregnancy because of something like a defect, they’re available,” Grau said.

Many anti-abortion and related measures approved by lawmakers in past years have been struck down by the courts. Just last month, an Oklahoma County judge ruled that a state law approved last year that makes it harder for women to obtain the morning-after pill is unconstitutional and prohibited its enforcement.

Oklahoma lawmakers will also be asked to consider legislation that would regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol in Oklahoma, similar to regulations that legalized marijuana in Colorado that went into effect last month.

The measure by Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, would make the personal use, possession and limited home-cultivation of marijuana legal for adults 21 years old and older, and establish a system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed.

“Marijuana prohibition has been a disaster in Oklahoma as it has elsewhere in the country and it’s particularly hard on minorities,” Johnson said. Black Oklahomans are nearly three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white residents, she said.

“As taxpayers, we’re spending over $30 million each year policing, jailing and incarcerating our citizens on marijuana-related offenses. Yet marijuana is almost universally available,” Johnson said.

Taxing and regulating marijuana would take it out of the hands of criminals and allow law enforcement to focus on real threats to public safety, Johnson said.