- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Tulsa World, Aug. 1, 2016

Whooping cough increase shouldn’t be a sign of the future, but it might be

Whooping cough appears to be on the rise. If the anti-vaccination crowd continues to get traction, we should all get used to that.

The highly contagious disease, more properly known as pertussis, can cause serious illness and, in some cases, death. It is largely preventable through childhood vaccination, but there’s the rub.

Based on bad science, a small but increasing number of people are opting out of vaccinating their children, which endangers not only their own family, but children too young to be fully immunized, people with suppressed immune systems and those whose vaccinations have worn off.

So far this year, the state has seen 70 confirmed cases of whooping cough. There were 86 in all of 2015.

Those cases include infants, adults who were vaccinated as children but have lost their immunity and people who have for medical or personal reasons refused vaccination, a state epidemiologist told The Oklahoman.

A handful of parents - 1.1 percent of the kindergarten class of 2014-15 - refuse vaccination for their children because of personal beliefs; but that number is up from 0.3 percent 10 years earlier. If the number of parents who refuse to take care of their children increases substantially, we look for whooping cough, and even more deadly diseases, to become more and more common.

Allowing preventable diseases to make a comeback because of junk science is shameful. We’ve said before that the state should remove its hazy personal exemption for vaccination requirements for school students, and we stand by that. A better solution would be if parents just started acting responsibly.


The Journal Record, Aug. 1, 2016

Paying for better schools

Oklahoma teachers, in whom we place so much trust, should be paid more. State Question 779 is not the way to do it.

Let’s first clear up just how much of a tax increase is being proposed. Proponents of the measure routinely refer to it as a 1-cent sales tax. That’s not true unless your household spends only $1 per year. The proposal would increase the state sales and use tax rates by 1 percent, a penny on every dollar you spend.

The state sales tax now stands at 4.5 percent, so a 1-percent hike means a rate increase of more than 22 percent. That doesn’t sound nearly as palatable as a penny.

The 4.5-percent rate is among the lowest for state sales tax, but counties and cities can charge up to 6.5 percent in local sales taxes, which puts most of the state in a position of charging up to 11 percent. California has one of the highest state sales tax rates at 6.5 percent, but local sales taxes there are capped at 2.5 percent, putting the maximum allowable rate at 10 percent.

After adding local surtaxes, the average sales tax rate in Oklahoma for most purchases now stands at 8.77 percent. Add that point with SQ 779 and it’s up to 9.77 percent, and that would be among the nation’s highest.

Sales taxes disproportionately hurt the poor because they represent a much higher percentage of income than they do for wealthier households. Better funding for Oklahoma’s education system shouldn’t come at the expense of those least able to pay.

The responsibility for adequate school funding does not lie with consumers. It is the job of the state Legislature to appropriate enough money for Oklahoma’s students to receive a competitive education. That holds true for all of SQ 779’s components, which include $5,000 raises for all teachers, $120 million for colleges and universities, $49 million for early childhood education and $18.5 million for career training.

Local government would be handcuffed by the high sales tax rate, which is the only mechanism in Oklahoma to add money to a city’s general fund. If SQ 779 passes, there will be little hope that any city will ever be able to raise money for a true economic driver such as Oklahoma City’s MAPS or Tulsa’s Vision 2025.

A 22-percent increase in the state sales tax isn’t the best way to pay for better schools. Oklahomans must get legislators’ attention and demand a better, fairer model.


The Oklahoman, July 29, 2016

Female census in Oklahoma Legislature will grow as number of female candidates increases

State Rep. Lee Denney is on target when she notes, as she did recently in an interview with The Oklahoman, that females comprise 51 percent of the state’s population, “so I think that we definitely need more women in the Legislature.” The good news is she’s getting her wish.

Denney, R-Cushing, is one of 21 women in the 149-member Legislature. Viewed from a glass-half-empty perspective, that means women comprise just 14 percent of the total, compared with a national average of 24.5 percent. This places Oklahoma at the bottom nationally for female representation, along with five other states at 14 percent.

Yet on the other hand, more and more Oklahoma women are showing an interest in pursuing seats in the Legislature. According to the state Election Board, 77 women entered primary races this year. That’s 30 more than ran in 2014, and 41 more than ran in 2012.

Fifty-six women made it through to their primary runoffs or the general election. Thus it’s possible the number of females in the Legislature will increase this year, even with eight women leaving due to term limits. It’s also possible the number of females will dip.

If the latter occurs, it will simply be a result of voters deciding on the other candidate. Merit, not gender, will be the deciding factor - as it should be.

This is what carried Mary Fallin to election to lieutenant governor, and two subsequent re-elections to that office, then to two terms in the U.S. House, and ultimately to two terms as governor.

It was merit that took Jari Askins to six terms in the Legislature and one term as lieutenant governor. She lost in her 2010 race for governor - to Fallin, in a year when the “two women running for governor” narrative was more of an afterthought than anything else.

Females have occupied the office of state superintendent of public instruction since 1990 - first Sandy Garrett, then Janet Barresi and now Joy Hofmeister. Oklahoma has had females serve as labor commissioner, insurance commissioner, corporation commissioner and attorney general. All were either elected or appointed based on their qualifications to fill those offices.

Denney says the larger number of females in races this year could be attributed in part to the large number of open legislative seats and a push for more educators to seek office. Regardless of the reason, it’s encouraging.

Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City, who won her state Senate race in 2014 in her first foray into politics, makes valid points in saying many women may be focused on their families or careers, or may not warm to the idea of being away from home several days a week during the session.

A mother of two, her suggestion for increasing the number of female legislators is for women to consider getting involved at a local level, which can offer a view into the political process and campaigns. “That in itself I think could really spur women to take the leap and put them on the ballot,” she said.

Once there, as Oklahoma voters continue to show, they’ll sink or swim based on their ability, not their first name.

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