Oklahoma lawmakers, ending the 2013 legislative session a week earlier than required, passed unanimously a bill that allocates $45 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to help communities recover from last week’s horrific tornado damage.
They also forwarded a late bill to the governor that provides tax breaks to property and vehicle owners who suffered losses in the storm.
Joe Dorman, nearing the end of his productive, but term-limited, role as a member of the House, wants more and with a little help from his friends, he thinks that is possible.
A Rush Springs’ resident who represents the northern sliver of Stephens County, Dorman is one of 29 Democrats in the House dominated by Republicans. He’s level headed, articulate and respected by his colleagues who have agreed with a variety of bills he has sponsored dealing with public safety and emergency management issues during his nearly 11-year tenure.
His most recent idea is personal and emotional. He feels it is urgent.
Touched by what he saw in Moore, he suggests a statewide $500 million bond issue for the construction of storm shelters or safe rooms with heavy emphasis on addressing inadequacies within the state’s public school system.
He proposes $400 million be dedicated to school safety and $100 million set aside for assisting homeowners and group home-type facilities.
Dorman had hoped to fast-track development of the bill and seek passage before this year’s term ended. That wasn’t possible on the shortened schedule.
So he will file for an interim study over the summer, pursue support from House Speaker T.W. Shannon, seek a spot on the House calendar and be ready to submit a bill, co-sponsored by Republican Jason Nelson of Oklahoma City, when his final session begins in February.
While anxious for action, the summer will allow for full development of a plan, addressing topics like concept, design, placement, location, size, cost, timing and other critical details.
He assumes the school safety focus will gain strong and bipartisan support.
Ten of the 26 known dead were students at the 310-student Plaza Towers Elementary.
“Living in tornado alley,” he explained, “means not if but when a tornado might strike. I have toured Moore. I have seen Briarwood Elementary. I don’t see how anyone survived, but they all did. We simply must provide more protection for the next time.”
It is a topic of much interest.
Sherry Labyer, superintendent of the Duncan Public School System, says safe rooms will be a topic of possible revision for the soon-to-be remodeled 51-year-old Duncan High School. Two elementary schools and a junior high, funded by a $126 million bond issue, will stress safety in Norman. Schools in Alex and Chickasha provide community safe rooms, a concept likely to be copied elsewhere. Stephens County Emergency Management Director Gary Ball says all families need a plan and the county needs more shelters. And Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis will propose an ordinance requiring all new residential construction in his city to include a safe room or shelter inside or outside each new home.
It is a conversation that has taken place before in the legislature and across the state.
It is a commitment long overdue.
It is a priority of the highest level, one that impacts us all.
It is a movement that demands swift action.
Dorman, who will also seek an interim study this summer to address zero-based state agency budgeting and a better system of accountability and performance, is the right man to lead the public safety initiative.
His bill will be carefully crafted, practical and comprehensive. His approach will be tenacious and direct.
His support should begin with the Stephens County delegation as we again count our good fortune to have been spared by the latest rash of dangerous and killing storms. It, with the encouragement of citizens throughout Oklahoma, should spread quickly and perhaps even justify a special session.
More tornadoes are coming.
Taking action now to save lives is a decision that requires no debate.
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