Gun-toting teachers, longer school weeks and lawmakers at each other’s throats.
That feeling of kumbaya we saw during the first half of the legislative session is a fading memory as lawmakers battle over bills, and frustrated teachers consider their next move.
A Senate committee passed a bill to reduce the minimum requirements for school staff to carry guns on campus.
“We have too many kids right now that are unguarded, unprotected, they’re sitting ducks if somebody walks in,” said Senator David Bullard (R) Durant.
Senator Carri Hicks (D) Oklahoma City replied, “My biggest concerns are that ultimately, this does reduce the amount of training or requirements that we currently have in place.”
Meanwhile, a House committee passed a bill that would require most schools to have a five-day school week. A $1,200 annual raise was thrown in to sweeten the deal.
“So, I am trying to figure out why we are putting things into bad bills to make them to where they’ll get more votes?” Representative Matt Meredith (D) Grandview asked.
Representative Rhonda Baker (R) El Reno replied, “First of all, I would tell you that it is your opinion it is a bad bill. It is not my opinion it is a bad bill.”
A bill giving corrections officers a $2 hourly raise for hazard pay passed in a House committee.
“It’s similar to like if you’re in the military on the front line you get more money. If you’re a paratrooper, you get more money. These guys are on the front line,” said former Representative Bobby Cleveland with Oklahoma Corrections Professionals.
With a starting pay of just $13.74 per hour, the Department of Corrections is struggling to recruit and retain officers.
Legislative sources say there’s a lot of tension between House and Senate leaders after a bill written by the House speaker to fine railroad companies for blocking intersections failed in a Senate committee.
“Unfortunately, in the state of Oklahoma we just bowed to the train lobby,” Representative Jon Echols (R) Majority Floor Leader said.
Insiders say that led to both houses refusing to hear some of each other’s bills.
“I think it’s a long stretch to say there’s any type of retribution at this time,” Representative Charles McCall (R) House Speaker said.
Next week, expect more discussion about teacher pay raises. The House and governor back a $1,200 raise. The Senate wants more money sent to districts so those districts can decide whether to give raises.