Bill to defund OETA fails in House by 57-41 vote
BY RANDY KREHBIEL World Staff Writer
Friday, March 15, 2013
3/15/13 at 5:35 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - Big Bird lives!
An attempt to ultimately end direct state support of the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority failed 57-41 in the state House of Representatives on Thursday, a vote that still leaves the 60-year-old network's future somewhat in doubt.
In truth, the latest attempt to defund OETA would have endangered Big Bird less than programs such as Oklahoma's only statewide newscast and other local programming. OETA received $3.8 million in appropriations this fiscal year, or about 40 percent of its operating budget.
"As a broadcaster, I can tell you the first thing that is cut is local programming," said Rep. Harold Wright, R-Weatherford, who operates several radio stations in western Oklahoma.
"A vote to defund OETA will be its death knell," Wright said.
Rep. Tom Newell, R-Seminole, the author of House Bill 2218, disagreed. He said the bill would phase out funding over 10 years, giving OETA time to "build up its endowment."
Newell tried to entice OETA supporters to vote for his bill by extending OETA's "sunset" authorization to 2022. Trying to defeat that authorization has been one of the tactics used by OETA opponents in recent years.
Seventeen House members lined up to debate against Newell's bill, although at least two of them were against it because they want OETA defunded immediately. Newell was the only member to debate in favor it.
Newell insisted he had worked with OETA officials on the bill, but Rep. Jeff Hickman, R-Dacoma, said: "That means holding a gun to their head and saying, 'You've got two choices. We can eliminate you now or we can eliminate you five years from now.' "
The most impassioned plea came from Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, who said the move to eliminate OETA was driven by a desire to score points "on a conservative index put out by people who couldn't get past Ned in the First Reader."
"I can't believe what we do out here," Dank said. "We're shooting gnats with cannons."
God in schools: Citing the prophet Elijah and the priests of Baal, Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, persuaded his Oklahoma House of Representatives colleagues to pass a bill Thursday that he said guarantees the right of school students to talk about God and other religious subjects at school.
Bennett acknowledged that HB 1940 merely codifies rights already guaranteed by the state and federal constitutions and by Supreme Court decisions, but he said it is necessary because many school administrators are unclear about permissible policy.
The law would allow references to religion under "appropriate" circumstances determined by the school.
Opponents said they were concerned that additional law on the subject will actually lead to more lawsuits and open the door for "demonics, Muslims and Buddha."
Rep. Ben Sherrer, D-Pryor Creek, said the measure is really a thinly disguised attack on a nonexistent "urban legend" that there is an "anti-God, anti-Christian atmosphere pervading public education."
But Bennett and his supporters seemed to be in at least partial disagreement.
"We are a Christian nation, maybe not formally, but we are a Christian nation," said Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell, while debating in favor of the bill.
HB 1940 passed 79-13. It now goes to the Senate.
Original Print Headline: Bill to defund OETA fails in House by 57-41 vote
Randy Krehbiel 918-581-8365
Rep. David Dank: The Oklahoma City Republican said the move to eliminate OETA was driven by a desire to score points "on a conservative index put out by people who couldn't get past Ned in the First Reader." He added: "I can't believe what we do out here. We're shooting gnats with cannons."