Rep. Pat Ownbey (R-Ardmore) and Rep. Tommy Hardin (R-Madill) were the featured speakers Thursday for the final Southern Oklahoma Leaders Luncheon of 2013. Both Ownbey and Hardin provided a legislative update based on interim studies in which both are taking part. Sen. Frank Simpson (R-Ardmore) was also scheduled to participate at the luncheon, which was held at the Southern Oklahoma Technology Center, but was unable to do so because of a scheduling conflict.
As chairman of the House Human Services Committee, Ownbey took part in a study looking at the issues foster care parents are facing. He said a number of foster care parents are from Ardmore, as well as other parts of the state. In regard to the results of the study, Ownbey said the committee will determine if legislation is needed or a change in policy.
He also discussed regarding the ongoing debate about storm shelters for schools that would be state funded in the wake of the Moore tornado. Ownbey told those in attendance at the luncheon that the question could be headed for a ballot, and discussed the proactive stance by several Carter County schools placing a shelter in their schools through a bond issue.
"One of the things I told people was, 'Talk to your school board'," Ownbey said.
The controversy over the A-F grading system was also discussed. Ownbey said anytime there is change, there is pushback, but there are genuine concerns. One aspect that he believes needs to be addressed is during testing. A school is only required to test 95 percent of the students rather than the whole student body. Based on feedback from an area superintendent, Ownbey believes all students should be tested, with the top 95 percent of tests taken into account rather than excluding some students. It also creates a disadvantage for schools that do test all students rather than stack the deck, so to speak.
Ownbey also said he believes the state will play with the formula in the upcoming years, and noted Florida took 10 years to get its formula where it needed to be.
Hardin took part in the Oklahoma Department of Veteran Affair study, which will produce several proposed pieces of legislation. One will be to allow all veterans to be eligible for benefits, as well as eligible for residency in one of the state's veterans centers. Currently, there are thousands of veterans ineligible depending on the years served in the military.
Another proposed piece of legislation resulting from the study will be for a restructuring of the War Veterans Commission, which will allow greater representation than the current board offers. The legislation would also provide for three at-large commissioners chosen by the governor.
Both Hardin and Ownbey answered questions from the crowd, varying from Obamacare to the lowering of the state income tax.
Prior to the review, Bill Carter, state director for the OK Small Business Development Center, delivered a presentation and spoke about a satellite office that will be placed in Ardmore during the coming months.