- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A collection of recent editorials from Oklahoma newspapers:

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The Oklahoman, May 4, 2015

Free-speech rulings such as that in Kentucky are a victory for all

Court rulings and common sense don’t always go hand in hand, so it’s refreshing when a judge’s decision appears both logical and entirely reasonable. Such is the case with a Kentucky judge’s recent free-speech ruling in a case pitting a small business against the organizers of a gay rights festival.

The family owned business Hands On Originals refused to print this T-shirt design for the 2012 Lexington Pride Festival.

Hands On Originals is a family owned business that produces promotional materials, including T-shirts. The owners are Christians and attempt to operate the business in accordance with their beliefs. The company’s website states that it will serve people of “all genders, races, religions, sexual preferences and national origins,” but maintains the right to “refuse any order that would endorse positions that conflict with the positions of the ownership.”

In 2012, the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization sought to order shirts promoting the Lexington Pride Festival. After obtaining an initial quote, an official with the GLSO discussed the job with Blaine Adamson, managing owner of Hands On Originals. At that point, Adamson determined the event promoted sexual activity outside of a marriage between a man and woman, and involved people in sexually suggestive outfits and the distribution of sex-related items. Adamson declined to take the job.

The festival’s organizers filed a complaint with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission, alleging Hands On Originals had violated a local ordinance barring discrimination based on sexual orientation. The commission ruled against Hands On Originals, which appealed that decision as a violation of First Amendment rights.

Citing prior U.S. Supreme Court rulings, Fayette Circuit Judge James Ishmael sided with the company’s owners. In his ruling, Ishmael noted that other printing companies offered to print the T-shirts “for free or at a substantially reduced cost” and that Adamson offered to contact other printing companies on behalf of the festival organizers. At no point did Adamson inquire about the sexual orientation of his potential customers, only the content of the message involved.

“This court does not fault the Commission in its interest in insuring citizens have equal access to services but that is not what this case is all about,” Ishmael wrote. He noted there was “no evidence” that Hands On Originals declined the job based upon a client’s sexual orientation, but only due to the message involved.

Ishmael found the record showed that Hands On Originals “treated homosexual and heterosexual groups the same.” From 2010 to 2012, the company declined to print orders from at least 13 potential clients for message-based reasons, including “shirts promoting a strip club, pens promoting a sexually explicit video, and shirts containing a violence related message.”

Ishmael noted the First Amendment protects citizens from being “compelled to be part of the advocacy of messages opposed to their sincerely held Christian beliefs” and that the commission’s order therefore “inflicts a substantial burden on their free exercise of religion” that could not be justified.

This is a ruling that should be welcomed by all. If Hands On Originals could be forced to print shirts promoting a gay pride parade, then female business owners could be forced to promote messages demeaning women, homosexual business owners could be required to promote messages advocating violence against gays, and worse. A free-speech right that fails to protect citizens from being compelled to promote or participate in activities they consider immoral is a constitutional protection not worth the paper it’s written on.

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Tulsa World, May 5, 2015

No new state debt for American Indian Cultural Center

In May the hearts of museum builders turn to bond debt. And thoughts of state taxpayers should turn to protecting their wallets.

Plans to finish the half-built American Indian Cultural Center in Oklahoma City and create a new popular cultural museum in downtown Tulsa are starting to be rumored at the state Capitol.

The cultural center already has eaten up $63 million in state bond money, and its backers have been clamoring for another $40 million for years. The popular culture museum - OKPOP - comes with an initial price tag of $40 million, again it would be financed with state debt.

For some time we have maintained that the state should not spend another penny on the cultural center, especially not in bond debt. Frankly, $63 million is more than enough.

We also stand by our previous position that the state should get the boondoggle off its books by transferring it to Oklahoma City. Initial legal steps to accomplish that already have been taken. That won’t relieve state taxpayers of the bond service cost of that $63 million, but at least it will get the issue resolved and keep the long-term cost of operating the facility out of the state budget.

We hope no one in the Capitol is trying to engineer a deal to throw a bunch of state money at the Indian museum in exchange for legislative support to throw a bunch more at OKPOP. Such late-session legislative logrolling is what has earned the Legislature a reputation for secret deals that don’t represent the public’s desires.

The state stands $611 million short of what’s needed to prevent cuts to the current inadequate funding level of essential state services.

Given that fact, how could anyone argue that building museums is the state’s priority?

We urge the Legislature to use what money is available for what really matters - schools, roads, public safety and mental health - and stay away from any dreams of long-term debt deals that will bleed resources from future budgets for things we don’t need and can’t afford.

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The Journal Record, May 4, 2015

An unhappy ending

The Legislature is writing a budget story that will have an unhappy ending. It offers your choice of antagonist: low oil prices that have hurt gross production tax collections, the stubbornly imposed income tax cut, or lawmakers’ refusal to vanquish fruitless tax incentives.

No matter the saga’s villain, the victims are certain to be the residents of Oklahoma. Belabored rhetoric about right-sizing government and putting more cash in Oklahomans’ wallets sounds fine when voters imagine eliminating wasteful spending and weeding out frauds and cheats. It’s quite another when the cuts come home to roost and people are left with teacher shortages, failing roads, unremediated toxic sites and failing grades in public health.

The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services has been disproportionately penalized for decades and now finds itself struggling with an ever-widening gap between the lifesaving services it provides and the dwindling budget it has to work with. The state has the second-highest rate of mental illness in the nation, but decades of budgetary snubs have left Oklahoma 46th in per capita mental health spending.

That leaves the agency, which spends less than 3 percent of its budget on administration, able to serve only the most gravely ill of the estimated 700,000 to 950,000 state residents who need services. About three-fourths are left without help, many of whom would need fewer services overall if early treatment were available.

Despite a $611 million budget hole, legislators must consider increasing the allocation to ODMHSAS. Not just because there is desperate need - there is - but because money spent on mental health programs can save the criminal justice system exponentially more. The state’s annual cost to treat mental illness is $2,850 per person, while a single hospital stay brought on by lack of treatment costs $15,318. Mental health court costs $5,400 per person yearly, but if that offender goes to prison taxpayers get an annual bill of $19,000 to $23,000.

Every $1 million spent on mental health produces a $4 million savings elsewhere in the state budget. No businessman would turn up his nose at a 4-1 rate of return; neither should legislators.

Ideally lawmakers would take the approach they used on long-neglected roads and bridges, establish a similar funding catch-up plan for ODMHSAS. If they can’t get that done this year, they must consider increasing the agency’s appropriation and writing a happier ending for at least some of the state’s most dependent souls.

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