- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A collection of recent editorials from Oklahoma newspapers:

Tulsa World, Oct. 19 - The Obama administration says promoting and protecting religious freedom is a key objective of U.S. foreign policy, but its actions seem to point in a different direction.

The U.S. State Department has ignored a congressional request to appoint a special envoy for religious liberty in the Middle East and Asia. Instead, as was first reported by Christian news organization World News Group, it has created a lower-ranking special adviser position.

The Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act, which passed with strong bipartisan support, created a special envoy for persecuted minorities. President Barack Obama signed the legislation into law in August 2014, but the position remained vacant until last month, when the lower-ranking position was created.

U.S. Sen. James Lankford has called on Secretary of State John Kerry to explain the action, pointing out the State Department has special envoys dedicated to such things as climate change, the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, the promotion of LGBT rights and the promotion of Islamic cooperation.



This is not just an issue of symbols and titles. It’s a question of priorities and policy. While a special envoy would typically report directly to the secretary of state, the special adviser will report to U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein, whose own post has been downgraded within Kerry’s State Department.

“The ambassador-at-large for religious freedom is buried in layers of bureaucracy rather than reporting directly to you like the ambassadors-at-large for the Office of Global Women’s Issues and the Office of Global AIDS Coordinator,” Lankford wrote. “If (protecting religious freedom) is a priority, it must be treated as such in terms of the position within the State Department.”

The Obama administration is inching the nation closer to war with a gang of thugs whose reputation was made by lopping off the heads of people who didn’t conform to their version of piety. Lankford’s position that the nation’s diplomatic forces should be paying attention to religious persecution seems like a clear-eyed response to the realities of the world, and Kerry’s choice to do otherwise seems naive.

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The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City, Oct. 18 - Efforts to consolidate state agencies are usually prompted by financial concerns. Lawmakers in a pinch seek to save money any way they can. But even when financial savings from consolidating may be relatively small, doing so can still benefit citizens through greater efficiency. A proposal to consolidate Oklahoma’s state law enforcement agencies may be warranted based on efficiency alone.

Last week, House leaders announced that they will advance legislation to combine some functions of the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control.

Lawmakers may face a budget shortfall of $600 million to $1.2 billion next year, after facing a shortfall of $611 million in the 2015 legislative session. To their credit, House lawmakers are taking that challenge seriously and are actively searching for ways to make limited dollars stretch further.

The Department of Public Safety had a total budget of $180.2 million this year, while the OSBI had a total budget of $34.8 million and the narcotics bureau had a budget of just over $18 million. Combined, the three agencies account for roughly $233 million.

Consolidating the three agencies would undoubtedly eliminate some duplication of expenditures. One of the lawmakers involved, Rep. Scott Biggs, a Chickasha Republican who is a former assistant district attorney, says cost reductions could be achieved through “savings in support staff and in having one computer system instead of three, one motor pool instead of three and other overlaps of assets.”

Yet even if the consolidation were to reduce expenses by 25 percent - not likely - that would reduce agency expenses by just over $58 million in a state government that will spend more than $24 billion this year.

Thus, the size of state government is so immense that even multimillion-dollar savings are only a relative drop in the bucket. Even so, lawmakers should pursue those savings anyway. As the old saying goes, a million here and a million there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money. “Small” savings are still worthwhile; every tax dollar should be put to maximum benefit.

At the same time, consolidation of law enforcement agencies could generate nonfinancial benefits that make the effort worthwhile.

Biggs notes that the OSBI issues concealed carry gun permits. But when state troopers pull over a driver, their computer system doesn’t link up with the OSBI’s system to notify officers if a driver has a gun permit.

Rep. Mike Christian, an Oklahoma City Republican and a former state trooper, notes that Oklahoma “has no overall system that evaluates the state’s crime trends and deploys our resources to fight crime in a smart way.”

“There is limited sharing of information or resources between state law enforcement agencies,” Christian said. “We are only one of a few states that still operate this way.”

That last point deserves emphasis: Officials in most states have concluded consolidation of state law enforcement agencies enhances public safety benefit. That alone justifies review of this proposal, regardless of financial savings.

It appears House leaders have engaged in a careful, considered review of agency operations as they have developed this proposal. That merits praise, and their proposal should be given serious consideration in the coming legislative session.

___

Enid News and Eagle, Oct. 12 - Gov. Mary Fallin has suggested a public vote to amend the constitution to reinstate the Ten Commandments monument on the state Capitol grounds.

With the court-ordered removal deadline looming, the state hired Wilbert Memorials to move the monument … to the private Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs property. That made sense.

However, a constitutional amendment would require the Legislature to pass a resolution calling for a possible November vote.

Readers will remember the Oklahoma Supreme Court declaring the Ten Commandments monument at the Capitol to be unconstitutional last summer.

Retired Enid teacher Cherie Franklin was a plaintiff on the case.

It’s important to note that Franklin, who defines herself as a Christian and a constitutionalist, said she wouldn’t mind having the monument on Capitol grounds, but not at the risk of violating others rights.

Now the governor wants to change the constitution, but she’s fighting a battle she can’t win.

We’re reminded of the words of Queen Elsa: “Let it go.”

The last thing we need is an unwinnable sideshow.

There’s no need to feed the fever swamp of opinion hucksters and political commentators.

With our billion-dollar energy industry running on fumes, the state is facing a projected billion-dollar shortfall next session.

We don’t need a futile and expensive distraction to spend money we don’t have.

Speaking of money, The Associated Press reported the company that built the monument removed under court order still hadn’t been paid for its work.

Wilbert Memorials fronted construction costs after a car was driven into the original monument last year.

The company built the replacement with the understanding it would be reimbursed.

The Bible is clear about this. We’re reminded of Romans 13:7: “Pay to all what is owed to them.”

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