BY RON SHARP
Until I started trying to improve accountability of Epic’s handling of state funds, I never received any complaints of my work in the Senate. On the contrary, people wrote and called me regularly to thank me for all I was doing for my hometown of Shawnee, Senate District 17 and Oklahoma overall. They came up to me at church, chamber meetings and other events around the district to thank me for helping them with various issues or getting legislation signed into law.
Eight years has flown by and I’d like to celebrate some of the things we were able to accomplish during that time. With your help and that of various state agencies and organizations, we were successful in getting bills signed into law to:
– Increase accountability and transparency of taxpayer dollars by strengthening Oklahoma’s Performance Informed Budgeting [P.I.B.] system;
– Protect the visitation rights of law-abiding noncustodial parents;
– Better prepare students for jobs in STEM fields by creating STEM Communities and Regions;
– Help more small businesses qualify for the Oklahoma Small Employer Quality Jobs Incentive Act;
– Protect the privacy of Oklahoma’s teachers by keeping all TLE records confidential;
– Allow the State Board of Education to issue teaching certificates to anyone who holds a valid out-of-state certificate and meets the requirements to be considered highly qualified;
– Allow school districts to extend emergency teaching certificates indefinitely to help boost teacher numbers;
– Provide immunity from liability for teachers and school employees who use necessary and reasonable force to control or discipline students at school functions;
– Provide local school boards an alternative to suspension and expulsion to keep unruly students in the classroom;
– Restrict flight of unmanned aircraft over “critical infrastructure” [refineries, electric power generation facilities, etc.] less than 400 feet above ground level or past their fence line;
– Create the “guilty but with mental defect” and “not guilty by reason of mental illness” defenses;
– Stop law enforcement from having to transport mental health patients to hospitals and other facilities;
– Transfer oversight of the Compulsory Insurance Online Verification System [OCIVS] for motor vehicle liability policies from the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to the Oklahoma Insurance Department [OID] to decrease the number of uninsured drivers in Oklahoma;
– Create the Education Compact for Kids in State Care, removing barriers that many young people and their families experience when transitioning to the local school district after placement within the Office of Juvenile Affairs [OJA] or the Department of Human Services [OKDHS];
– Require individuals, especially educators, to report suspected child abuse or neglect of minors immediately to the DHS Child Abuse Hotline and those 18 years or older to law enforcement;
– Allow school districts to install cameras on school buses to record those who illegally pass when the stop sign is flashing;
– Allow district attorneys to choose whether to charge hate crime offenders with a misdemeanor or felony to ensure the punishment reflects the severity of the crime.
Unfortunately, while not successful, I also fought tirelessly to strengthen Oklahoma’s texting and driving laws, provide Oklahoma’s teachers with pay raises [which finally happened in 2018 and 2019] and to protect taxpayer dollars by requiring legislators leaving office mid-term to use their remaining campaign funds to pay for their districts’ special elections.
I also filed multiple bills in response to the multi-county grand jury’s findings in 2018 concerning the State Department of Health’s financial deception. My bills would have enacted some of the grand jury’s seven recommendations to improve financial transparency among state agencies.
I also worked to fairly compensate state employees for lost annual leave they aren’t able to use or not allowed to use because of staff shortages or high work demand.
Another issue that I was passionate about but was unable to get my colleagues onboard with was to bring the state up to standard nationwide regarding responding to Open Records’ requests. My bills would have required requests to be fulfilled within 30 days and the AG to give an opinion in writing to any request by the Legislature, a state officer, board, commission or department within 90 days.
Besides filing legislation, I also was able to honor special Oklahomans like Shawnee native Gordon Cooper, a U.S. Air Force pilot and astronaut who made tremendous contributions to aviation in our country. I authored a resolution celebrating the 50th anniversary of his Project Mercury spaceflight and declaring “Gordon Cooper Day” in Oklahoma. It was special to get to recognize the contributions of great Oklahomans like him.
I’m proud to have been honored by the Research Institute for Economic Development [RIED], the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, the Sheriff’s Association, the Farm Bureau, the Organization of Rural Oklahoma Schools, the Oklahoma Citizen Advocates for Recovery and Transformation [OCARTA], and the National Federation of Independent Business [NFIB] among other organizations. I was also consistently recognized as one of only a few Oklahoma legislators accepting the least amount of lobbyist funds each year.
God bless you all and thank you again for this incredible opportunity!
Editor’s Note: Shawnee Republican Ron Sharp is a retired teacher who served two years in the Oklahoma Senate representing District 17. He was defeated for re-election in the August runoff after being targeted by dark money school privatizers unhappy with his fearless oversight of Epic Charter Schools.