By Mindy Ragan Wood
State lawmakers and U.S. field representatives gave local citizens an inside look at several issues, from war to oil and gas squabbles during the monthly legislative luncheon Tuesday morning at the Yukon Police Department.
Bryson Panas, field rep for U.S. Senator James Inhofe, described the lawmaker’s efforts to beef up the military without breaking the U.S. treasury. Panas said the U.S. defense budget, now proposed at $750 billion was just $586 billion in 2015, down from $794 billion in 2010.
“Senator Inhofe’s big thing is getting back to the (previous) levels,” he said. “That means modernization needs to take place and also our readiness levels dropped below really all of our military (branches) to say that we’re not really ready for Russia and China in the threats from a nuclear level and also the modernizations of weapons as well.”
Grace Enmeier, who represented Congressman Frank Lucas, shared some notes from Lucas’ recent speeches. She told the audience that the lack of a super majority in Washington is making it more difficult to get bills passed into law.
“Along with the big infrastructure bill this year and maybe a health care bill, Congressman Lucas kept reminding people how difficult it is to get really important things passed with a divided government,” Enmeier said. “Probably the big immigration bill is not going to happen.”
Enmeier was more optimistic about the trade agreement deal struck by President Donald Trump and Canadian and Mexican governments.
“The USMCA, the United States Mexico Canada Agreement, Congressman Lucas believes it’s a big improvement on NAFTA (North American Trade Agreement),” she said. “It was actually signed by the President with the leaders of Canada and Mexico back in November but we’re having a hard time getting it on the House floor due to leadership. If we can get that on the floor, I think it will pass easily.”
Voters in state Senator Lonnie Paxton’s district (R-Tuttle) have made their voice loud and clear on local issues.
“In this area still my number one issue I deal with is oil and gas production and how it’s interacting with areas in my district,” Paxton said. “Last year my biggest email was the budget. This year my biggest email is, ‘why is there an oil well in my front yard?’ That’s my big issue I’m dealing with.”
Paxton met with officials from at least eight cities and oil and gas industry leaders to discuss how oil and gas can be win-win for citizens and the industry.
“(To) try to come up with some type of ordinance that cities and oil and gas can deal with,” Paxton said.
Municipalities pass ordinances to restrict where operators can locate wells, route trucks, and regulate nuisances such as light pollution, noise and odors. Oil and gas lobbyists complained that too often the ordinances go beyond state law which forbids municipalities from enacting “reasonable” restrictions.
“Right now, what we’re doing is a lose-lose for everybody,” Paxton said.
State Rep. Denise Crosswhite Hader (R-Yukon) reported her time has been spent on the public safety committee where mental health and the rehabilitation of prisoners has come under her radar.
“I appreciate Lonnie carrying one of my bills that passed yesterday on mental health prisoners,” she said, “allowing corrections to choose the best place for prisoners with mental health issues.”
During a tour of Mabel Bassett, a female-only prison, Hader saw the range of prisoners from death row to those who are in a beauty school work release program.
“We (Oklahoma) have the first cosmetology school and there’s about 30 women in there,” she said. “The attitude, and how excited they are to have hope. They have jobs lined up with Supercuts and Clips have contracted with them.”
Hader said policy is important but seeing how policy could affect others is part of writing and voting on laws.
“It gives me the insight when I’m voting on things,” she said. “Because we impact people’s lives every day.”
Onto matters of policy, Hader said she and fellow lawmakers are focusing on the budget.
State Rep. Jay Steagall seemed stunned by the number of House bills filed.
“Since December there were 2,800 House bills filed,” he said. “Who thinks Oklahoma needs 2,800 pieces of legislation?”
He was pleased to see the state House “trim it down to less than 400 bills” as these progress to the state Senate.
Canadian County Commissioner Marc Hader brought the focus back to hyper local issues with projects underway or coming up. He reported improvements are to begin on Wilshire Boulevard and Richland Roads, five miles of Waterloo between Piedmont and Okarche and progress on the purchase of land for a new fairgrounds project.
“We are very close to finalizing our deal on the land purchase,” Hader said. “We’ve got water supply which was a challenge, but the City of El Reno is going to sell water to the Banner district.”
Part of the land deal included removing a gas well which has not yet been completed.
“When those two things are done here, hopefully in a matter of days, we’ll be able to ink the deal,” Hader said.