- Associated Press - Thursday, May 22, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The Oklahoma House reversed itself Thursday night and narrowly passed a plan it had earlier defeated to help school districts pay for safety upgrades such as storm shelters and safe rooms.

House members voted 51-39 for the plan supported by Republican Gov. Mary Fallin. It takes a minimum of 51 votes to pass a bill in the 101-member House. House members had defeated the proposal hours earlier by a bipartisan vote of 61-34. The measure now heads to the Senate.

The bill’s author, Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, had kept the measure alive by holding it over for possible reconsideration, and House members indicated Fallin’s office had urged members of the majority GOP caucus to change their previous no votes.

“Now all of a sudden you’re being told to flip your vote,” Rep. Don Armes, R-Faxon, said during debate on the bill’s reconsideration. Armes originally voted against the bill but voted for it on reconsideration.

Rep. Joe Dorman of Rush Springs, a Democratic candidate for governor, urged House members to stick by their prior votes.

“We took action on this earlier and that action should stand,” said Dorman, who helped spearhead a separate initiative petition calling for a statewide referendum on a $500 million proposal to pay for school storm shelters with revenue from a franchise tax on businesses.

The House took up the proposed constitutional amendment two days after the anniversary of a massive tornado that struck Moore and killed seven students at an elementary school.

Fallin, who had criticized lawmakers when they first defeated the bill, praised them for finally passing it.

“It is now up to the Senate to act on this bill and ensure the people of Oklahoma have a chance to vote on a plan to help put more storm shelters and safe rooms in our schools,” said Fallin, who is seeking re-election

Opponents said the proposed constitutional amendment did not go far enough to protect schoolchildren from deadly storms like the May 20, 2013, tornado that ravaged Moore and destroyed the Plaza Towers Elementary School, where the seven students died.

If ultimately approved by voters, the measure would affect only 25 school districts that are near their bonding capacity, only about 3 percent of the more than 500 school districts in Oklahoma, according to opponents.

“We are failing 97 percent of the kids,” Dorman said. “We are not making the best decision.”

The initiative petition Dorman supported was withdrawn last month following a state Supreme Court ruling that allowed Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office make significant changes to its ballot title and go into detail about the financial aspects of how the storm shelters would be financed. Supporters have vowed to file a new petition and ballot title.

Democratic Leader Scott Inman of Oklahoma City said the initiative petition would have provided far more financial support for school storm shelters.

“This really is about life, about protecting people,” said Inman, who also voted against the bonding measure. “We as a Legislature have to do all that we can to ensure … that that situation never happens again. We have to do all that we can to protect those children.”

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