OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Emboldened by further gains at the ballot box in November, Oklahoma's Republican leaders say they remain committed to improving the state's economy by focusing on creating jobs and a business friendly environment.
But with nearly two dozen new Republican members, GOP leaders acknowledge they also expect to see even more conservative legislation this session that pushes the envelope on hot-button social issues like guns, abortion and immigration.
"Certainly as our Republican caucus grows, you're going to see more conservative legislation filed," said Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, who has seven new Republican senators in his caucus. "We've got a big tent and a lot of players, and we've got a process to go through, so we'll look at all of (the bills) when they come in and deal with them appropriately."
Although the bill-filing deadline is still two weeks away, Senate measures are beginning to trickle in, some of which reflect the conservative ideology of the now 36-member strong Republican caucus.
At least two measures have been filed to limit the activities of groups connected to Agenda 21, a plan developed by the United Nations to help cities and countries become more environmentally sustainable. Nearly 200 nations adopted the agenda that stemmed from the 1992 "Earth Summit" in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but it has been decried by tea party groups and other conservative activists as an attempt to take away private property rights and limit personal freedoms.
Sen. Patrick Anderson introduced a bill based on an Alabama law that would prohibit counties or municipalities from entering into any agreements or receive any funds from organizations defined in Agenda 21. The bill also would prohibit any political subdivision from adopting any policy recommendations that infringe or restrict private property rights without due process.
"My concerns are that we're allowing more and more government interference with private property rights," said Anderson, R-Enid. "There is an organized effort through Agenda 21 to put more restrictions on the use of property around the world, including the United States.
"There's nothing wrong with making suggestions and proposals on ways that we can protect the environment, but when they start imposing these restrictions on private property owners, that's when it crosses the line and that's what we have to be concerned about."
Another Senate resolution, by Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate, describes Agenda 21 as a "comprehensive plan of extreme environmentalism, social engineering, and global political control" and a "socialist/communist-style redistribution of wealth."
Anderson was lambasted in a Tulsa World editorial that accused him of buying into the conspiracy theory that the United Nations is trying to take over the country.
"Sen. Anderson, the Mayan calendar was wrong, the government is not coming to get your guns and the United Nations is not plotting to take over the United States," the newspaper wrote in a recent editorial.
The attempt by Oklahoma lawmakers to target some of the Agenda 21 goals is raising some concern among local city planners.
"It's an insane conspiracy theory that has no merit in fact," said Oklahoma City planning director Russell Claus.
Claus said he's puzzled how the concept of sustainability somehow has been tagged with a negative connotation.
"What is not sensible about trying to sustain yourself, the world?" Claus asked. "That's insanity to oppose that. What's the opposite of sustainability? Devastation? Apocalypse?
"I just think they don't have any understanding of government, and they're extremely fearful of the way government operates."
Only one House bill has been filed so far, an appropriations measure, but a spokesman for incoming House Speaker T.W. Shannon said he expects an influx of measures to be filed soon as the deadline nears. Spokesman Joe Griffin said Shannon also plans to keep in place an eight-bill filing limit for rank-and-file members.