Local and state legislators spoke to a full room at the monthly Legislative Luncheon held at Cushing Country Club on Friday.

First up – County commissioner Bill Deering.  Deering said that the weather this year has “been tough” on county roads.

“Winter has been tough,” he said.  “The Christmas blizzard left high drifts that we had to bring dozers in for.  We were fortunate because of the cold – it gave us the opportunity to get the snow and ice off quickly.”  Deering said it would have been much worse on the roads had the ice and snow gone through extended periods of melting and refreezing.

Deering also said they recently purchased a good used track hoe.  “We’re trying to get the roads back up in shape.”

Cushing City Manager Steve Spears said the City experienced problems due to this year’s weather woes.  “We had a lot of water breaks,” Spears said.  Work continues on the area between Harmony Road and Highway 33 where significant breaks occurred. 

Representative Lee Denney and Senator Jim Halligan took turns as a “tag team” to talk about what is going on session.

“Coming up – we have 200 bills to hear in the House,” Denney said, “which means longer days.”  According to Denney and Halligan, just getting bills to the hearing stage has been a somewhat grueling process.

“Some have been contentious, and some of been good,” Denney said.  “But the good news is, we have just finished up the 2010 budget.”  She went on to say they were able to keep education’s budget cuts to just 4 percent for 2010 but warned, “next year will be a little more difficult.”

Halligan echoed the concern for next year’s budget, but indicated school superintendents have been forewarned and asked how legislators could help ease the pain of such cuts and increase maneuverability.  One of the answers?  Take the pressure off by allowing schools to put off certain mandatory purchases – such as the purchase of new text books – for two years. 

Denney and Halligan both admitted having bills that have met with some controversy.  Denney’s “watered-down” puppy mill bill passed the House, but left a bit of a bad taste in the mouths of some of her supporters.

“It was watered down for a couple of reasons,” Denney explained.   “First, I felt we needed to do something to get something on the books.  Second we don’t have the funding right now to do much, so this is a slow start.”

The new version makes it strictly voluntary for breeders to be inspected and licensed.

Halligan’s controversy came from the education side of things – an admitted passion of the Senator.

“I am sufficiently blinded by my passion,” he said with a laugh.

Halligan has proposed that math class become mandatory throughout the high school years.  “I want students to take a math course every year in high school,” he said emphatically.

The high school drop out rate of nearly 25 percent is a great concern to Halligan as well as Denney.  “We are interested in trying to improve our public schools,” Halligan said.  Another area he is raising eyebrows, the suggestion that low performance schools change management.

“I think that if schools have low performance for four years [under the  same management], they should have to change management,” he said, “or at least give an explanation.”  

Both he and Denney were in agreement in lifting the cap on charter schools – a bill Denney is currently working on.

“If a district decides they want to try a charter school, they should be able to,” Denney said, “I mean good charter schools.”

A charter school is a “public, private school.”

Denney and Halligan each noted that “Race to the Top” funding from the Obama administration should be activally sought by Oklahoma.

“If there’s going to be $4.3 billion available, Oklahomans need to get their part,” Halligan said.

Matt Ball from Sen. Tom Coburn’s office was also on hand at Friday’s meeting.  Due to time constraints, Ball spoke only briefly but offered to stay around to answer any questions.  He also said the Senator will be holding Town Hall meetings in the future – maybe as soon as April in the Cushing area.  For more information go to www.coburn.senate.gov.

Legislative Luncheon is held the last Friday of each month while officials are in session.  It is open to the public.  Reservations to attend can be made by contacting the Cushing Chamber of Commerce at (918) 225-2400.

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