Political Participation Bill Passed by House

Article excerpt

Journal Record Staff Reporter State employees will be allowed to make contributions to a political action committee by payroll deduction and serve as officers of political parties if Gov. David Walters signs Senate Bill 165, passed 63-36 Thursday by the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Lawmakers failed to approve the emergency clause of the bill, principally co-authored by Sen. Larry Dickerson, D-Poteau, and Rep. Dwayne Steidley, D-Claremore. The clause needed 68 votes to pass and only got 57. It would have made the bill effective immediately upon the governor's signature. As it is, the measure would become effective 90 days following session's adjournment on May 31. Rep. Leonard Sullivan, R-Oklahoma City, said the bill amounts to "putting the foxes back in the chicken house." But Steidley said there was nothing wrong with trying to help state employ- ees. "If they want to participate in the political process, they ought to be able to do it," he said. The payroll deduction could be used for contributions to a political action committee affiliated with a statewide association limited to state employees with a minimum membership of 1,000 dues-paying members. Opponents of Senate Bill 165 said the only organization that fits the definition is the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, which lobbies on behalf of state employees. "Let's be candid about what this bill is all about," said Rep. Ernest Istook, R- Warr Acres. "It's about power, and building power" for the public employees associ- ation, he said. Istook said there are about 67,000 full-time state employees, and assuming that most have a spouse, it would translate into more than 100,000 poten- tial votes. "They want more power to lobby us so they can get more money from the state," he said. Opponents objected to the legislation restricting the payroll deduction to one beneficiary. Some asked why the Repu- blican or Democrat parties were not included among permitted beneficiaries of the political contributions. Supporters noted that corporations and utilities have had a strong legislative lobby for years, and state employees deserve the same. …