Oklahoma Legislators Advance Bills For Constitutional Carry, Teacher Pay Raise
OKLAHOMA CITY - This past week in the legislature, bills advanced that would raise pay for teachers - and make Oklahoma a "constitutional carry" state. As these and other potential laws take shape - lawmakers say they're eager to hear from voters.
Voter input directly guided the vote by Tulsa Representative Carol Bush against "constitutional carry," the bill that would relax requirements for permits to carry a firearm.
"I wanted to make sure my vote reflected what District 70 wanted," says Bush, who said her constituents were overwhelmingly against it.
"Just District 70 people, I had over 500 responses, which is remarkable."
The measure passed despite her vote against it.
Bush says the response was remarkable because lawmakers don't usually hear much from voters except on the most hot-button issues. However, she's noticed a trend towards voters asking more questions and giving more input. She and other lawmakers have said they have to screen out emails and calls that come from outside their district - and sometimes from organized, but out-of-state groups.
Longtime lawmaker Kevin Matthews says the engagement extends from the voters to the lawmakers.
"I've never seen this kind of energy before now," he said of the new crop of lawmakers coupled with a new administration.
"And so there's new energy, there's new people, from top to bottom."
Senator Dave Rader says voter engagement helps the legislature weigh important issues - like changing medical marijuana laws. A committee has worked months on proposals, and those will soon be moving forward.
"We know if we left it alone, it wasn't a very well written law; there were all sorts of complications. The marijuana industry didn't know how to work with it, and the medical industry didn't know how to work with it, so they needed help."
As the majority, Republicans guide the agenda, but Democrats say they are being heard more than before - and they're hopeful.
Representative Monroe Nichols said there are still a lot of important issues that haven't been touched.
"We still have medicaid expansion, that's a big issue. We've got classroom reform out there, and criminal justice reform still hanging out there," Nichols said.
"All things we've talked of tackling this year, and none of which we've gotten a handle on before."
Each of the legislators said they wanted to hear from voters - and that what constituents tell them - really does shape how they vote.