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May 23, 2014

Fallin’s bid for school storm shelters fails in House

OKLAHOMA CITY — Rebecca Hamilton looked out at her House colleagues and told them they would have a lot of explaining to do to God one day.

“If kids die because they don’t have storm shelters in their schools, it’s on you,” said Hamilton, an Oklahoma City Democrat, urging support for what she and others said was a flawed proposal.

“I’m going to vote for this turkey, and it is a turkey. It’s a political turkey," said Hamilton. "I’ve done my part by speaking against it. My conscious is clear.”

Such conflicted feelings ultimately doomed the effort that may have allowed some school districts to build shelters. Gov. Mary Fallin had championed the bill.

On one hand, lawmakers including Hamilton said the bill was the last opportunity this Legislative session to put shelters in schools that needed them.

However, many criticized its approach.

Had the bill become law, critics said it would have benefited only about 25 of 500 school districts  — or about 3 percent of Oklahoma students — because it targeted those districts already at their borrowing limits.

The measure would have required a statewide vote to take effect — followed by local votes — meaning new shelters were at least a year away for any district.

“If the figures are true and it’s only 3 percent that we can shelter through this bill, we should have passed this and then worked on something else for next year,” said Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, a co-author of the bill. “Now we have nothing. There’s nothing on the table now."

The shelter issue has become a political one following the death of seven children a year ago at Moore's Plaza Towers Elementary School, which did not have a shelter.

Their deaths during an EF-5 tornado raised concerns about many other schools in Oklahoma that also doing without certified shelters, putting students at risk.

“We need to keep working on it," said McBride. "This was what we had on the table, and when you pushed your red button (voting it down) that means that you’re not even for that 3 percent of the school kids in Oklahoma."

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Duncan Vice Mayor Mike Nelson talks during Wednesday's Duncan Rotary meeting.

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