BY JOE DORMAN
It is the fourth week of committee work and I still have some bills up for consideration. The Common Education Committee will have a chance to pass House Bill 2230, which amends the Bridge to Literacy program to allow for Positive Tomorrows to qualify for grant funding. Positive Tomorrows is an elementary school which only allows students who are currently homeless to attend their school. This school, located in Oklahoma City, at one time did receive federal education dollars, but the No Child Left Behind program, implemented by the federal government, excluded them from funding. My legislation will allow the school to continue their work with grant money which will allow them to further educate homeless students, while also providing career counseling for the parents.
I will also have bill considered by the Public Safety committee that will give local school districts the opportunity to use a comprehensive background check system to learn if school volunteers have committed crimes in the past which would not surface on a simple identity check. House Bill 2228 creates the Protect Against Pedophiles Act to give authorization for local school districts to have the authority to do a background check on volunteers should the local school board or superintendent feel there is a need to have this information. Oftentimes, those who have had a criminal past will move to another state and falsify their identity, but there is no way they can disguise their fingerprints. Federal law currently prohibits schools from using this type of system unless authorized through the state bureau of investigations. Oklahoma currently does not allow this authorization in state law, so this legislation will correct that issue.
I authored a bill similar to this last year which would have required a check on those volunteers who have access to locker rooms or go on overnight trips with students. After it was apparent that bill would not pass, I modified the legislation to this current language at the request of some of the more conservative members of the legislature who feared this was overstepping the rights of volunteers. We have left this completely at the discretion of the local school leadership by giving them the authorization to order the background check. Costs will be assumed by the local school district for the background check, but they can pass those along to the volunteer, a booster club or other parties interested in covering the cost for this security measure. There is also no requirement a school do a check on volunteers, but this simply gives them the "insurance policy" to help protect students.
I was very disappointed that my legislation to enhance school security for facilities did not receive a committee hearing. HJR 1043, as amended, would have established the opportunity for local school districts to vote in an additional five percent above their currently bonding levels to provide funds for upgrading facilities to make them safer. The legislation would also have allowed the hiring of school counselors and School Resource Officers (SRO’s), which are police officers stationed at the local school through these funds. This bond would have fallen under the currently Constitutional requirement to receive a 60% vote of approval. I will continue the fight to get this legislation passed next year, while keeping you posted on any other school safety bills which will be considered.
I was ill with sinus issues over the weekend and had to miss several great events, but I still managed to make a few. While I missed the Chickasha Chamber Banquet and the Elgin 4-H cake auction, I sent donations which I know were appreciated. I did get to attend the American Farmers & Ranchers annual banquet and see several friends from around the state. I also am very thankful to the folks in Ninnekah who threw an appreciation luncheon on Friday for me for serving them the past ten years. I lost that area from House District 65 in redistricting, but I very much appreciate them and will be happy to help out my old areas over the next two years.