Meet Your Legislators 2022

Stillwater's state legislative delegation gave an overview of their priorities Thursday in an online forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters, as they prepare for the upcoming session, which begins Feb. 7. 

Moderator Gladeen Allred, top left, Sen. Tom Dugger, top right, Rep. Trish Ranson, bottom left, Rep. John Talley, bottom right. 

Stillwater’s state legislators joined the League of Women Voters of Stillwater, Stillwater Public Library and the Friends of the Stillwater Public Library on Thursday for their annual “Meet Your Legislators” forum. Because of concerns about COVID-19, Rep. Ty Burns, R-Morrison, Rep. Trish Ranson, D-Stillwater, Rep. John Talley, R-Stillwater and Sen. Tom Dugger, R-Stillwater appeared via Zoom. The forum was shared as a Facebook Live event.

Sen. Chuck Hall, R-Perry, now represents northern Payne County and portion of western Payne County extending into southwest Stillwater west of Country Club Road. The area was added to District 20 during redistricting. Hall couldn’t participate because he had another commitment, moderator Gladeen Allred said.

Each legislator gave a short overview of their priorities for the session when it begins Feb. 7.

Burns represents House District 35, which includes parts of Payne, Noble Pawnee, Osage and Creek counties. His district is mostly rural with a few smaller cities and extends from Perry to Keystone Lake. It includes the far northern portion of Stillwater.

“The number one concern that we’re going to have this year, hands down … not just my area but the whole state in meeting with other members is marijuana,” he said. “The medical marijuana has become a very big thing from foreign investors to illegal grows and activities and human trafficking and the drug cartels and the burden on rural water systems, stealing the water and power, to other drugs … Again, the number one issue we have with this is the lack of enforcement.”

There will be a number of bills that address medical marijuana this session, he said. Inspectors and licensing enforcement is another area of concern that should start to show improvement. The state now has 60 inspectors and the market is starting to level out with a decrease from 11,000 grows to 9,000.

Burns pointed to foreign investors as a major issue in Oklahoma’s marijuana industry but said bad actors are seeing the state take action and starting to leave.

During the last session, the legislature gave the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs $5 million to stand up another department within the agency just for enforcement related to the marijuana industry, he said.

He mentioned compliance at the county level and The Secret Shopper Act, which deals with undercover compliance checks, as major parts of his legislative agenda related to marijuana.

County roads are another major issue in his district, he said. Noting that House members only get eight bills per session, he said his bill creating a county road tax credit that allows people to donate to a dedicated road fund stalled in the Senate last year but he hopes to get it through this year.

Jan. 20 was the deadline to submit bills in the House for the upcoming session. Burns said he has 12 bills and will have to whittle it down to his top eight.

Addressing drivers license backlogs at the Department of Motor Vehicles and creating a paper trail requirement similar to pawn shops for auction companies where stolen construction and farming equipment might be sold are the subject of other bills.

Dugger represents Senate District 21, which formerly was confined to Payne County but now extends into Creek County.

He praised the way Payne County’s delegation has worked together over the years to help each other accomplish what is best for the people of Stillwater and Payne County.

Dugger said he thinks it’s likely there will be some voting rights legislation but COVID-19 will also be an area of emphasis.

“COVID in one form or another will take up four or five things,” he said. “We’ve got masking, we’ve got vaccines, we’ve got boosters, we’ve got schools, we’ve got business closures, we’ve got all of these at various times and they mean different things.”

Dugger said the legislature can address all of them but with things constantly changing, like the Supreme Court striking down an OSHA mandate for employers with 100 or more employees late Friday, he expects to see continued changes.

He has a new assignment to a committee that he said is being assemble to provide quick review of legislation.

Dugger said there will be some differences for him after redistricting because he now has towns like Oilton and Mannford. People will start to see new ideas coming out of those areas.

He continues in committee assignments that allow him to help county government, something he said he looks forward to doing.

Ranson represents House District 34, which encompasses most of what she called “the heart of Stillwater.”

She said as a former teacher, education, children and family are all very important to her. As a member of the minority party, she is looking for pushback against pre-emptive laws to ensure equality and access rather than restriction, particularly when it comes to voting rights.

“Those are the kinds of things that I am trying to ensure I’m ready to fight,” she said. “ … Not sure what’s going to happen with this next session because I know that as a minority member that my voice is not as loud as those who are in the majority caucus. “

Because the rest of the U.S. looks at Oklahoma as a model of very restrictive voting, Ranson said she is alarmed that Oklahoma is looking at changing laws to tighten its already very secure, paper-based system.

“And they’re changing their laws to look more like ours so the fact that we are looking at increasing the security on our voting is a little bit alarming. We want to make sure that the vote of the people is heard, and so we want to make sure that we are allowing access to the polls.”

But she cited COVID-19 as her top concern, saying the State has not done a very good job of letting municipalities and school districts handle the pandemic and we’re seeing the results of that. It’s important to make sure everyone has access to testing, vaccines and boosters and that their jobs are secure when they need to isolate, and their children are educated in the best way possible.

She said she has spent a lot of time working with community leaders during the pandemic and talking about what they need.

It led to legislation she’s sponsoring that would tweak open transfers to allow all staff members’ children to transfer into the district. It would help districts like Stillwater recruit staff, she said.

She’s also working with the City of Stillwater on legal notification requirements when local print newspapers are no longer publishing daily.

“How do we shift that and make sure that we’re being transparent in our government, make sure that we’re being transparent in our notices, but also adjusting to the times that we are in as far as publication of our print newspapers,” she said.

Talley represents District 34, which formerly covered most of eastern Payne County and southern Stillwater. His district was also redrawn, gaining more of Stillwater on the east side and losing Perkins but extending into Logan County where he picked up Langston and the area west to Guthrie.

As he moves into the session, he’s working on items related to schools like pay raises for support staff, who he said receive very low pay across the state.

“I’m in a lot of schools so I’m trying to hear the heartbeat of teachers,” he said.

With many school out Friday because of COVID, he thinks maybe the State isn’t paying as close attention to the numbers as it should.

Talley is also working on a bill suggested by the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety and requested by a constituent who lost a loved one in a car wreck, that would stiffen punishment for drivers convicted of DUI, requiring classes when they get their first charge.

He’s also working on issues related to counties that would reduce red tape for a county government that has excess equipment and wants to sell or give it away.

Talley said he’s been told there will be lots of legislation pertaining to abortion, guns and personal freedoms this session.

“It sounds like it’s going to be an interesting session,” Allred said.

 Twitter: @mcharlesNP

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