BY DAVID PERRYMAN
The first live bear I ever saw was on Main Street in Kinta, OK. The year was about 1962 and the Ursus Americanus had not wandered into town from the mountains south of town. Nor was it an escapee from the zoo in Tulsa. Technically, it was not even a part of a circus.
This black bear was chained to a tree in front of a tent and was the property of a promoter of one of those rural American holdovers of the 1800’s. The event being promoted was bear wrestling and the barker was looking for both spectators and contestants. I was not old enough to qualify as either, but tickets were selling like hotcakes.
I don’t remember if my older brothers were allowed to go, but I am pretty certain that they did not wrestle the bear. We lived seven miles from town and they would not have had transportation at the time. The tent that was set up was not large enough to keep the crowd very far from the ring, but by the looks of the tired old bear, vicious animal bites were not likely.
Apparently the sport of bear wrestling first became popular in France and came to the United States in December 1877. Rural America provided circuits of communities where there was just not a lot of constant commotion. To say that times were slow is an understatement and for decades, into the 1960’s any type of entertainment was welcomed.
However, before you get too uppity, please realize that once in a while we did get to attend some really special events. For instance, in my home town of around 350 residents in the 1960’s, we actually got to meet Meadowlark Lemon when the Harlem Globetrotters came to our old WPA gym.
My point is that until 1996 bear wrestling was legal in Oklahoma. The statute that prohibits bear wrestling also prohibits horse tripping. I don’t know how bear wrestling and horse tripping were addressed in the same statute. In fact horse tripping doesn’t sound fun at all.
Historically, Oklahoma has taken the lead and enacted statutes that are needed for the safety of Oklahomans. One of the hottest topics that I have been contacted about over the past 10 days is the proposal to ban texting while driving.
Unfortunately the majority leadership of the Oklahoma House of Representatives has its head in the proverbial sand and is playing politics with lives concerning this extremely dangerous issue.
HB 1503 by Rep. Curtis McDaniel, D-Smithville, is a proposal to make texting while driving illegal. Over 80% of Oklahomans support a ban on texting while driving.
According to AT&T, a Virginia Tech study showed that persons who text while driving are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash than persons who are not texting while driving.
Rep. McDaniels’ bill passed out of committee, but is being blocked from being heard on the house floor.
AT&T reported that a Texas Traffic Institute study showed that when drivers read or send a text message, their reaction time is doubled and when asked to respond to a flashing light while texting behind the wheel, drivers were more than 11 times more likely to miss the light altogether.
The telephone giant has dedicated millions of dollars to its “It Can Wait” campaign and says that “No text is worth dying for. And that is why AT&T is committed to putting an end to texting and driving.”
AT&T says that, “Our goal is to save lives and to make texting and driving as unacceptable as drinking and driving.”
Under current law, an Oklahoma Highway Patrolman cannot stop a driver who is texting and driving at the very instant that the highway patrolman passes the driver. Thirty-nine other states prohibit texting while driving. Should Oklahoma?
According to the Associated Press, House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, stated last week that he is among those who have opposed a ban on texting while driving in the past because he believes that there is a slippery slope argument to be made about what people are doing inside their cars.
At this time, the bill is being blocked from being voted on by the full House of Representatives and Oklahoma law does not allow local control by municipalities across the state. The cities and towns that could otherwise adopt texting and tobacco laws are being stopped by the state Legislature.
Ninety-seven percent of teens say that texting and driving is dangerous. What is your opinion? Do you want HB 1503 to die without a vote or do you want it to be heard on the House floor?
It is your civic duty to let your voice be heard. Take action for the common good. Call or e-mail your representative, a member of the House Calendar Committee or the speaker of the House and let them know your opinion about HB 1503. Their phone numbers and e-mail addresses can be found at www.okhouse.gov.
If the House Calendar Committee will allow the bill to be heard, I will vote in favor of it. It is clear that the need for a ban on bear wrestling has taken a back seat to the need for a ban on texting while driving.
– The author, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives