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Lawmakers Traveling During Interim

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- From Puerto Rico to Germany, from Virginia to Boston, Oklahoma lawmakers have their traveling shoes on this summer.

House Speaker Lance Cargill, R-Harrah, is one of just five legislators from across the country who have been in Germany for several days for meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, parliament members and business leaders.

Damon Gardenhire, spokesman for Cargill, said the trip is sponsored by the National Conference of State Legislators, which is picking up all but $2,000 of the cost. The rest will be paid for by the House.

"With an empty General Motors plant in Oklahoma, these are exactly the kind of efforts we should be encouraging," Cargill said in a statement released by his office.

"If Oklahoma is going to meet the challenges of the 21st Century economy, we cannot be inward-thinking and backwards-looking. We have to prepare to compete in a global marketplace.

"When I return, I'll be excited about sharing my experiences and the contacts I gained with our state's leaders. Merkel is an effective leader for her country and all the leaders shared insight into the political and business dynamics of the European Union."

Cargill said it is important for the state's future that lawmakers travel outside Oklahoma to gather ideas and explore economic development opportunities.

Last week, Gov. Brad Henry and several lawmakers attended an event in Puerto Rico held by the Council of State Governments, which is scheduled to hold a meeting in Oklahoma in November.

About two dozen lawmakers are set to attend the American Legislative Exchange Council meeting next month in Philadelphia at a cost to $8,500 to the House, Gardenhire said.

He said the balance will be paid for by "scholarships" from ALEC, an organization that promotes limited government.

Three Republican lawmakers are state directors for ALEC -- Reps. Gary Banz of Midwest City and Rob Johnson of Kingfisher and Sen. John Ford of Bartlesville.

Banz said past ALEC meetings have helped formulate conservative legislative programs.

Rep. Chris Steele, R-Shawnee, said ALEC meetings helped him develop a program on health savings accounts.

Twenty-seven Oklahoma legislators are slated to attend the NCSL's annual meeting in Boston in August at a cost of $37,500, while about a dozen House members will go to the Southern Legislative Conference in July in Williamsburg, Va., at a cost of about $25,000.

Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, is the Oklahoma House's liaison with the NCSL. "These meetings really provide lawmakers with the chance to see how other states are handling problems and even to showcase our own solutions," she said.
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