- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

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The Journal Record, Feb. 2, 2015

Fallin’s goals need road map

Gov. Mary Fallin kicked off the first day of Oklahoma’s 55th Legislature with a State of the State speech that emphasized health, public safety and education. We support the governor on each of those points.

As she said Monday, the business community needs a workforce with a significantly higher percentage of postsecondary education. Her plan is to have businesses be more involved with K-12 students through a program called Oklahoma Works. It’s a fine goal and a reasonable model, but the governor did not mention how we motivate students and prepare them for college while providing the third-lowest average teacher pay in the nation.

The governor said she believes in alternative sentencing for non-violent offenders and that she would like to reduce the state’s incarceration rate. That is a solid goal too, both socially and fiscally. We hope the Legislature can find a way to pay for more mental health, drug and veterans courts and more treatment options; the $14,000 per inmate per year saved by alternative sentencing won’t be realized until the programs are in effect and sentences begin to terminate.

The governor also wants healthier Oklahomans. That’s a category that’s been addressed over the past four years, but it’s an important one worthy of continued attention. We support stronger health goals, but would feel a lot more confident if the governor were also pledging to bring Oklahoma taxes back to the state by expanding Medicaid. Democrats have long supported that proposal and this year House Speaker Jeff Hickman suggested that even he would be open to it.

She also said she’d like to see a resolution to the American Indian Cultural Museum debacle (who wouldn’t?), will have state agencies abide by performance standards (we’re all for accountability), and will take a critical look at tax incentives (it’s about time). She also wants the Legislature to control appropriations for a larger percentage of the state budget, and we’re OK with that, too - it’s hard to balance a budget when you control less than half the expenses.

But her only specific nod to picking up the tab was to say she’d like to take $300 million from state agency revolving funds this year, a move that was twice declared unconstitutional when the Legislature did it last year.

Fallin’s goals are right on target. We just wish we had a better feeling about how she’s going to get us there.

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The Oklahoman, Feb. 3, 2015

Trooper’s death a reminder of job’s hazards

The event that left an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper dead and another badly injured offered a jarring reminder that men and women in law enforcement literally put their lives on the line every time they report for duty.

Trooper Nicholas Dees didn’t die in a shoot-out, or while pursuing a lawbreaker, or during a scuffle with a noncompliant offender. Instead, Dees was killed Saturday night while responding to a call in which a tractor-trailer rig had overturned on the highway.

Dees and trooper Keith Burch were offering assistance and conducting their investigation on Interstate 40 near Shawnee - doing the “ordinary” work that’s part of every trooper’s shift - when they were both struck by a vehicle traveling through the area. Dees died at the scene. Burch was taken to OU Medical Center in serious condition.

Dees was 30 and married with two children. He’d been on the job since graduating from the OHP academy in July 2013. He was a second-generation trooper, following his father into the job. Dees “has been around it pretty much his whole life,” said OHP spokesman Capt. Paul Timmons. “So I would say it was probably a dream come true for him when he got accepted to the academy and graduated and actually started the job.”

According to the online Officers Down Memorial Page (www.odmp.org), Dees is the 13th member of law enforcement to die in the line of duty already in 2015 - an 18 percent increase over a year ago. None of those deaths involved gunfire, but eight involved automobiles.

In Colorado, a sheriff’s deputy became the first law enforcement fatality of the year when he was struck and killed by a vehicle while directing traffic at an accident scene. Two correctional officers in Texas were among those killed when a bus transporting prisoners was involved in an accident. In Baltimore, a police officer died of injuries suffered when the cruiser he was riding in struck a utility pole during a chase. And on it goes.

Dees was killed just a few days after 53 cadets gathered in Oklahoma City for the start of the latest Oklahoma Highway Patrol Academy. Those 53 - culled from more than 800 who applied - were about to begin a rigorous 20 weeks of law enforcement training that includes physical workouts and education in such areas as criminal law, firearms and self-defense.

The cadets who make it through the academy will start out earning $40,000 per year. They’ll make more than previous rookies, thanks to (long overdue) pay raises approved last year by the Legislature, but clearly they’re not doing it for the money. “Helping others - that’s what it’s all about,” one cadet said last week.

No doubt Nicholas Dees shared that approach to his work. He rolled up on an accident scene Saturday night looking to do his job - assist the trucker if needed, investigate the cause of the accident - and wound up giving his life.

Oklahomans are left to mourn his loss and thank him for his service.

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Tulsa World, Jan. 27, 2015

Watermelon’s vegetable status again open for legislative debate

The watermelon is fruit, as anyone who has ever taken a freshman botany class knows.

It is the product of a flowering plant that contains a seed. Case closed.

But in state law, it is a vegetable. In fact, it is the official state vegetable.

In a less than distinguished moment in state history, the Legislature gave the watermelon that designation in 2007 at the urging of then-state Rep. Joe Dorman. Dorman represented the town of Rush Springs, which bills itself as the watermelon capital of the world and which hosts a big watermelon festival every August.

The reason watermelon could be a fruit in the textbook but a vegetable in the law books is that Oklahoma already had an official state fruit, the strawberry.

Dorman didn’t want to pick a fight with the strawberry lobby. So, despite science, the designation was passed and remains on the books.

Dorman says that the official vegetable status has actually helped bring more people to the Rush Springs festival and increased watermelon sales.

Now state Sen. Nathan Dahm, apparently a stickler for botanical accuracy, has proposed Senate Bill 329, which would repeal the melon’s honor.

But the Rush Springs contingent won’t walk away without a debate. Dorman’s legislative replacement, Rep. Scooter Park, promises a fight, if the issue is pushed.

The people of Grady County won’t be denied the respect due for their beloved “vegetable.”

Dahm suggests a possible compromise, perhaps redesignating the watermelon as the official state melon or the official state seasonal fruit.

Gentlemen, stop the silliness. The Oklahoma Legislature has far more important jobs to accomplish than bickering over the proper honorifics of fruits and vegetables.

If one minute of legislative time is spent on this issue, it is evidence for the cynics who attack your credibility. And it’s pretty convincing evidence at that.

We wish Sen. Dahm would leave the poor watermelon alone. If he thinks it’s not a vegetable, he’s right and should walk away secure in his own intelligence. If he can also walk away without wasting any legislative time on the issue, he will have displayed something much more important than intelligence, wisdom.

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