Bill Adds More Conflict To Divorce Process

Each year now for at least a decade, there has been a smorgasbord of really bad and extremist right-wing bills introduced into the Republican-dominated Oklahoma legislature, from anti-abortion measures to actions that allow discrimination against the LGBTQ community to religious intrusion initiatives that threaten the teaching of real science in our schools.

Some actually make it through the process and are later overturned by lawsuits. Others don’t make it through the process because somewhere along the line a bit of common sense kicks in among the legislative leadership. It’s a circus, and all of this has been happening in the last eight or nine years as the state faces very real fiscal problems. Nothing like a bit of cray cray to take everyone’s minds off major cuts to education funding, right?

House Bill 1277, sponsored by Rep. Travis Dunlap, a Republican from Bartlesville, is one such bill that needs to get stopped by common sense. The bill, which would restrict no-fault divorce in Oklahoma, would make children more vulnerable to the emotional upheaval of divorce and manufactured even more conflict when it’s terribly unnecessary.

Dunlap was quoted in a local story about the bill this way: “I call it human flourishing or family flourishing or those sorts of thing.” Okay, “those sorts of things” really doesn’t sort it all out for anyone. Strong families are diverse and have their own unique qualities. Single-parent families, blended families, singles with a strong friendship network, all can and do flourish.

The bill would restrict the use of incompatibility for divorce for couples married 10 years or more or have minor children or when at least one of them objects to the divorce. The couple then would then have to undergo counseling. I especially think the reference in the current version of the bill stating this could come about “where one party objects in writing” is problematic. What if someone does this simply out of spite or anger? The bill has passed out of a House committee, which is not a good sign that cooler heads might prevail. Maybe the Senate will stop the bill from advancing.

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Every Resisting Voice

The ongoing Oklahoma budget crisis, which now threatens the very viability of our public schools, was created by conservative ideology and basic malfeasance.

Let’s be clear: The Republican Political Party here has broken the state in ways that may well last for a generation or more. The state has cut funding to public education the most on a percentage basis of any state since 2008. It cut higher education funding last year by nearly 16 percent. Gov. Mary Fallin has refused to accept federal Medicaid expansion, leading to even more health problems in a state with terrible medical access. Conservatives fill up the state prisons while children’s stomachs remain empty.

All this is done under the flawed ideology of cutting taxes for rich people in the supposed belief the money will trickle down and create jobs and opportunities. That’s a big fat lie, perpetuated for decades by conservatives. I don’t think most conservative politicians here even believe it. I believe they just want to serve the rich so they can get campaign donations and get reelected.

The Oklahoma Legislature under complete domination by Republicans has slashed the state income tax, a slow drip of cuts that have primarily benefitted the rich. Conservatives have passed out tax breaks to oil and gas companies as well. All this has lead to another huge, looming budget shortfall next fiscal year—estimated at $878 million in an approximate $7 billion budget—and an immediate revenue failure, which means public education will receive yet another $11.1 million cut.

It’s simply not sustainable. Teachers here are leaving in droves to teach in other states that will pay them more money and give them more respect. The state pays money to public universities—a decreasing amount, of course, made up by tuition increases—to train and educate many of these teachers and they then leave here. Obviously, people will leave Oklahoma for different reasons, but why are we training teachers for other states?

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Where Is The Money For Teacher Raises?

The real question to ask about potential teacher raises next year in Oklahoma is whether the Republican majority in the legislature is serious about finding the money to fund them or if it’s just another GOP meaningless political performance.

I tend to think it’s the latter at this point. In fact, public education and higher education funding is getting slashed once again THIS fiscal year as we found out yesterday. The state faces a revenue failure, which means revenue collections came in recently with a more than 5 percent drop over the budget estimate.

The revenue failure means an immediate $11.1 million cut for public education and a $4.6 million cut to higher education, according to a media report. This, combined with an expected $878 million shortfall for next fiscal year, probably means the grandiose plan for teacher raises is mainly political posturing.

A House committee, however, has passed a measure that, if passed and signed into law, would increase teacher salaries by $6,000 annually over three years, but there’s a huge problem with the plan. It doesn’t identify the funds to pay for it.

Gov. Mary Fallin, of course, has advanced a proposal to increase sales taxes on everything from doctor’s visits to funeral services. Perhaps, we should call these death taxes. Pay more at the doctor’s office for, let’s say, a bleak diagnosis, and then pay more for dying later. But even if the proposal passes, and I doubt it will, would it be enough to fund teacher raises? I don’t think so.

I’ll address Fallin’s plan later in this post, but I want to focus for a moment on the plan to raise teacher salaries. Under the plan, teachers would receive a $1,000 raise the first year, a $2,000 raise the next year and a $3,000 raise the following year. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this plan, although the hyperbole surrounding it seems a bit much.

For example, the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Michael Rogers, a Republican from Broken Arrow, who heads the House Education Committee, was quoted in the media like this about the plan:

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