- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Stillwater News Press. Jan. 28, 2018.

More changes for alcohol sales are coming to the state in the not too distant future. Oklahomans passed State Question 792 by a whopping 65 percent in 2016, which opened the door for regular strength beer and wine to be sold in grocery and convenience stores. That’s coming in October and retailers have to be ready.

It also opened the door for several different rules and regulations, and not all have been well-received. For instance, the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma has warned for some time of wholesalers increasing prices. Now, the group says it’s coming to fruition, with a social media post that claims costs of “spirits and cordials” will increase 4 percent by Feb. 1 and will have been a 17 percent markup since passage of the liquor bills.

“Unlike consumers, who can shop at dozens of different retail package stores to get the best price, liquor stores must buy from an approved wholesaler at whatever price that wholesaler sets,” the post reads. Unfortunate, if that’s the case, but we’ll have to see what consumers are willing to pay.



There’s also a new rule requiring wineries to submit a floor plan for events they wanted to attend as vendors. How many events even require floor plans by the event planners? That’s seems kind of arbitrary.

It will also lead to the cessation of 3.2 licenses. What will retailers do with all that 3.2 beer? The list goes on, but it might just be the price of progress. Time will tell.

We endorsed 792, and we still fill that modernization was the right move for Oklahoma consumers. But the legislation passed in 2016 was also meant to be the first steps with more tinkering to come. Oklahomans wanted regular strength beer and wine in their grocery and convenience stores. That was the bottom line, and we’ll get what we want. But, it shouldn’t end there. Liquor retailers, wineries and all the various stakeholders should have a say in how we move forward. There is a lot more lawmakers could and should consider with alcohol modernization that doesn’t require rewriting the state constitution.

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Tulsa World. Jan. 28, 2018.

Police departments and sheriff’s offices across the state are struggling to comply with Gov. Mary Fallin’s executive order for an audit of all untested rape kits, and for the findings to be submitted to the state.

Fallin’s first deadline of Dec. 30 came and went. Now, the governor has extended the deadline to Feb. 15 and warned agencies that don’t comply that they could lose federal grant money administered by the state.

The governor is correct in calling for the statewide audit. It is a matter of justice for the victims and safety for the public.

Fallin’s office says that about 60 percent of the sheriff’s offices and fewer than half of the police departments have responded to the order. Congratulations to the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office for being in full compliance, auditing 281 rape kits ahead of the Dec. 30 deadline. That shows dedication and hard work.

We have no doubt that many of the departments that haven’t met the deadline face the same problems as the Tulsa Police Department.

TPD says it has 5,000 to 6,000 sexual assault cases with rape kits dating to the 1980s. Many of those are not in the department’s database and must be physically reviewed and entered. TPD is already well short of the sworn manpower necessary to handle new crimes, but it has authorized overtime for civilian employees on the task to try to reduce the backlog.

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The Oklahoman. Jan. 30, 2018.

The conclusion of bill filing at the Legislature annually produces several “what are they thinking?” measures. This year’s batch includes one bill that treats people who work for the Department of Veterans Affairs like people convicted of a crime.

House Bill 2653, by Rep. Brian Renegar, D-McAlester, declares, “No current or former full-time employee of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs shall be employed or be interested in any contract with a private entity or company that is or has been under contract with or provided any services or assisted the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs.”

The measure contains a similar provision applying to members of the Legislature.

No one objects to banning lawmakers or agency employees from financially benefiting from government contracts they may influence. However, existing safeguards already address that potential problem.

The Oklahoma Constitution declares no member of the Legislature “during the term for which he shall have been elected, or within two years thereafter, be interested, directly or indirectly, in any contract with the State, or any county or other subdivision thereof, authorized by law passed during the term for which he shall have been elected.”

State ethics rules declare any “state officer or employee” who may reap a “direct and predictable” financial benefit from an agency action should recuse himself from participation in the process, particularly if “a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts” would “question his or her impartiality in the matter.”

Thus, the elements of Renegar’s bill aimed at conflict-of-interest problems for current lawmakers or state employees might be redundant, but not harmful. The bigger issue is with the bill’s outlawing any “former full-time employee” of an agency from ever working for a private company that receives a government contract.

There’s a valid argument to be made for a “cooling off” period - typically two years - between legislative service and employment at a state agency. There’s reason to worry a legislator or agency employee might steer money toward a potential employer to get a job.

But a lifetime ban makes no sense. For instance, it’s not surprising someone who worked for the Department of Human Services might later work for a private company in the social services field. The company may have good reason to want an employee with government expertise, especially when the company contracts with DHS.

Yet under HB 2653, it would be illegal for a company to hire someone who worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs, say, 15 years ago, if that company has any agency contracts to provide veteran care. How does that benefit veterans or the state?

It makes sense that the state bans some people convicted of theft from working in home security installation. Is past employment at the Department of Veterans Affairs equivalent to robbing someone’s home?

The bill’s narrow focus on one agency raises questions of constitutionality, as well as underlying motives. Renegar has been a vocal critic of retired Maj. Gen. Myles L. Deering, who served three years as executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs before stepping down in January. But even if HB 2653 isn’t an act of personal pique, it’s bad policy and should be shelved.

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