Oklahoma lawmakers are returning to the State Capitol well rested today. 

The House and Senate wrapped up business last Tuesday and took the rest of the week off, coinciding with spring break for most school districts statewide.

The abbreviated week wasn’t free of controversy: A proposal to ban physical punishment of students with disabilities narrowly failed in the House, prompting a rebuke from leading Democrats and some Republicans. You can see how your representative voted on the bill using our new interactive tool. 

In the Senate, a bill to double the daily compensation for poll workers was widely embraced. 

Senate Bill 290 by Warren Hamilton, R-McCurtain, cleared the Senate without objection. House author Jim Olsen, R-Roland, chairs the House Ethics and Elections Committee, indicating that the bill is likely to receive a committee hearing and advance to the House floor. 

Hamilton’s bill raises pay for precinct inspectors from $110 to $225 per day. Judges and clerks would receive $200 daily, up from the current $100 rate. The bill has an emergency clause, allowing it to take effect immediately if the governor signs it.

When statewide and federal issues are on the ballot, the State Election Board pays all but $5 of a poll worker’s daily compensation, with the county election board covering the remainder. Oklahoma election officials estimate the pay bump would cost the state about $1.6 million annually. 

In a statement, Hamilton said he believes the bill would help reduce turnover among election officials and renew enthusiasm about working the polls. 

“In recent years it has been more difficult to find individuals who are willing to work on election days, and harder to replace long-time election workers who have retired,” Hamilton said. “This is an issue statewide and the goal is that by providing this much-needed pay increase for these citizens who work up to 14 hours on election day, we will see more interest in staffing elections.”

Ahead of last November’s general election, I wrote about the struggles of several county election boards to recruit and retain quality poll workers. As misinformation about widespread election fraud has spread, some longtime precinct officials have left the job over fears of harassment and violence, county officials told me.

One bill aimed at addressing this increased fear of harassment and violence, county officials told me. 

One measure aimed at curbing this increased fear of harassment, Senate Bill 266 by Dave Rader, R-Tulsa, would classify threatening or intimidation of an election official as a misdemeanor. The bill cleared the full Senate last month and is eligible for consideration in the House, where Rep. Jeff Boatman, R-Tulsa, is the author. 

I’d like to hear your thoughts on Hamilton’s bill. Would you be more likely to volunteer as a poll worker if the pay was better? What more could the state do to support local election officials? Let me know at kross@oklahomawatch.org. 

What I’m Reading This Week

  • Citing Scripture, Lawmakers Narrowly Reject Bill to Bar Physical Punishments for Students with Disabilities: Opponents of the measure, including State Rep. Jim Olsen, R-Roland, cited verses from the Bible’s Old Testament that encourage parents to use “the rod” to “give wisdom” to their children. The bill’s author, state Rep. John Talley, R-Stillwater, said he’ll try again this week to get enough support to advance House Bill 1028. [CNHI Oklahoma]
  • Oklahoma Lost Volkswagen, but the Legislature Gained $700 Million: Unless the Oklahoma Department of Commerce has another large manufacturer waiting in the wings that would qualify for the incentives, the money will be released back to the Legislature on April 15. With hundreds of millions of dollars back in lawmakers’ hands, there are several ways to spend it. [The Oklahoman]
  • Investigative Audit of Oklahoma Turnpike Authority Requested by State AG: In a Wednesday letter to State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd, Attorney General Gentner Drummond said he has heard from numerous Oklahomans who are concerned about the authority’s operations. The Turnpike Authority said it welcomes the scrutiny. [Tulsa World]

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