- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

The Ada News

March 12, 2016

The brutal news was on the front page of Friday’s Ada News.

Significant revenue shortfalls in the state budget - due largely to the crash of the price of oil - left leaders of East Central University with no other choice but to make drastic cuts.



ECU will eliminate 13 faculty and staff positions, cut six educational programs, suspend four athletic programs and reduce athletic scholarships and academic tuition waivers in the wake of another round of state-mandated cuts to higher education funding.

“Our staff, faculty and executive team have worked hard, and continue to work hard to address very difficult issues facing higher education across the state,” ECU President John Hargrave told the newspaper.

The university has absorbed $2,251,398 in funding cuts since July 2015.

Now, you would think our state legislators - seeing the repeated stories about the huge hole in the state budget and the falling price of oil - would have been trying to head this off long ago by showing the courage to introduce legislation that fixes the terminal problems with the way state government is funding, you know, critical state functions like education and the Department of Corrections.

Well, if you thought this, you’d be wrong. Instead, everyone sticks their heads in the sand and pretends people aren’t getting laid off and that our Department of Corrections isn’t ready to collapse.

Thus, we can only conclude that one of three scenarios is unfolding in the Legislature. One, the Legislature is controlled by people so blinded by ideology that they have no intention of fixing anything with the state’s revenue streams, even if the entire state education system crumbles to the ground.

Let’s just say we would not want to find ourselves in a burning building with these individuals.

Scenario two; The Legislature has been completely corrupted by special interests.

Scenario three is that many legislators at the Capitol either don’t know what they are doing or have already given up because they know whatever they propose doesn’t have a chance of passing anyways due to scenarios one and two.

Certainly, there are examples of people and legislators trying to do the right thing. But we expect our local legislators to come forward soon to propose long-term fixes to the state’s revenue stream, even if they know that legislation will be shot down.

Then, at least we will know they are trying to do something.

___

Tulsa World

March 14, 2016

The state House and Senate have approved separate measures that would allow a Ten Commandments monument to return to the Capitol grounds. The measures, however, go too far.

The very similar measures would ask voters to delete Section 5 of Article II of the Oklahoma Constitution, which prohibits the use of public money or property for religious purposes.

We have supported allowing the people to vote on changing the Constitution to allow the monument’s return. But these proposals are not the correct means of getting there. Removing Article 5, Section II might allow the return of the monument, but it also could just as easily allow dangerous other consequences.

It still leaves the question of whether the Ten Commandments monument can be placed at the Capitol up in the air and subject to state Supreme Court rulings. Article II, Section 5 might be gone, but a determined high court might find some other reason in the state Constitution to block the monument. On the other hand, if the constitutional change is successful in returning the monument, the broad-brush approach could easily open up the Capitol grounds to any number of other religious monuments, everything from the proposed Satanic statute to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

The Legislature still has the opportunity to tailor a resolution more narrowly. A better measure would simply say that regardless of Section 5, the state will maintain a privately funded Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol grounds as a memorial to its role in the legal history of Oklahoma. That language has been successfully defended by Texas before the U.S. Supreme Court.

If the state is committed to returning the Ten Commandments to the state Capitol, let’s do it the right way. Narrow the measure to only what is needed, and put the issue before the voters.

___

The Oklahoman

March 13, 2016

DOES anyone really appreciate and respect the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution anymore - you know, the one that allows for freedom of speech in this country? There are reasons to wonder, based on what’s transpiring on college campuses, in the campaigns for president and even at the Legislature.

We have written often about “safe spaces” and “free speech zones” that have cropped up on college campuses. These are areas that are designed to ensure that students aren’t offended - ever - by what another person might say or do. This is a truly dismaying trend that shows little sign of slowing.

Indeed, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a staunch free-speech defender, includes a “Speech Code of the Month” on its website (www.

thefire.org). The winner for January was Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, whose student code of conduct outlines a laundry list of things that qualify as “bias incidents” including “treating someone negatively” because of a broad spectrum of personal characteristics that include “political or social affiliation.” As the website notes, “So, literally, rolling your eyes at someone who says he or she is voting for Donald Trump is a bias incident under this policy. So is telling someone you don’t date frat guys. Or telling a blonde joke.”

As it happens, a vote for Donald Trump would also be a vote for a candidate who likes to bully reporters who ask questions he doesn’t like, or write stories he doesn’t like. In fact Trump, the Republican front-runner, has said he wants to “open up” U.S. libel laws to make it easier for politicians to sue newspapers that publish things they disagree with. Thankfully, the First Amendment itself makes carrying out such a plan nigh impossible.

Trump has company among candidates disdainful of the First Amendment. Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have each vowed to do what they can to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which broadened free speech rights.

Under the guidance of then-Majority Leader Harry Reid, the U.S. Senate in 2014 tried to undo Citizens United in a way that would have impaled the First Amendment. The measure sought a constitutional amendment to allow Congress and the states to “regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections.” This was needed in order to “advance democratic self-government and political equality, and to protect the integrity of government and the electoral process.” It failed, but 54 senators (all Democrats and independents) voted in favor.

Here in Oklahoma, lawmakers also have their sights on free speech. A bill by Rep. Brian Renegar,

D-McAlester, and approved in the House, would ban animal rights groups from raising money for political purposes, and prevent them from raising money here to be used outside the state.

This bill ties back to alleged questionable practices by the Humane Society of the United States following the 2013 Moore tornadoes. This proposed “remedy” is an example of extreme overreach, not to mention unconstitutional. Would House members who voted in favor of this bill be OK with trying to ban the American Lung Association from doing the same thing? Or MADD?

Normally, we would expect the state Senate to recognize this bill as a clear assault on the First Amendment, and thus reject it out of hand. But these days, sadly, you never know.

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