As she does at every first Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce legislative focus breakfast of the year, moderator/sergeant of arms/bouncer Beth Herrington laid down a few ground rules before turning the microphone over to area lawmakers.

“I’m easy to get along with when the rules of moderate behavior are regarded,” said the retired school teacher. “When they aren’t, I’m not so easy to get along with.”

The breakfast, which is held on the first Friday of every month throughout the legislative session, gives area residents who are conscious at 7:30 a.m. the opportunity to visit with legislators about the pertinent issues. Friday morning’s breakfast was held at the old Tahlequah Armory on Water Avenue, which was recently renovated by the city into a civic center.

Judging by audience questions and comments, one of the most pertinent issues this year – at least locally – is a proposed bill that would move the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission from its current headquarters in Tahlequah to Oklahoma City.

Long-time river advocate Ed Brocksmith said the legislation was instigated by landowners on Barren Fork Creek in Adair County who were required last year to remove dams from the creek.

Brocksmith asked Representative John Auffet, D-Stilwell, about his position on that legislation.

“I don’t know what’s in the bill,” said Auffet. “Will I support it? I can’t say right now because I don’t know what’s in it.”

Auffet added, however, that he disagrees with the Oklahoma Attorney General’s position that chicken litter is hazardous waste, and said he doesn’t support the AG’s attempts to regulate the chicken industry. The AG’s office has a lawsuit pending against several chicken production companies, and contends that chicken litter from growing operations is polluting the Illinois River. The chicken companies have filed their own lawsuit against municipalities and other entities along the river that they say are discharging their own pollution into the river.

“I don’t think it’s our job to dictate business policy,” said Auffet.

Senator Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah, however, presented a somewhat different view on the issue.

“The environment has been on the back burner for several years, and we don’t see a lot of regulation – perhaps we need regulation,” said Wilson. “These folks [chicken companies] operate on a 90-day profit cycle, and the rest of us live on a 30-year profit cycle. The Abramoff [Washington D.C. lobby scandal] deal is not an aberration. If you come to Oklahoma City with enough money, people are going to listen to you.”

Wilson added however, that, he didn’t think the bill to move the OSRC from Tahlequah would ever make it out of committee.

Wilson also addressed the Tax Payer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, which he said will probably be on a state ballot later in the year.

Wilson said a similar effort in Colorado forced that state’s colleges to begin privatizing, drained the state coffers (or rather, didn’t keep them very full), and was overturned by Colorado voters last year.

“If that passes, we’re screwed,” he said, adding that the state tends to rank at the bottom or near the bottom, when compared to expenditures made by all 50 state governments.

Teacher pay and health care – two issues that tend to be somewhat important to a lot of Cherokee County residents – are just two of the areas that will lack sufficient funding if TABOR is passed, he said.

“If we were [ranked] No. 1 in anything, this would be a little more acceptable,” said Wilson. “But there’s 80 percent support for it, so it’ll pass, and we’ll be in the toilet. It’s going to be very difficult to get ahead – or even crawl out of the hole – with TABOR.”

Representative Mike Brown, D-Tahlequah, told the audience that, even though the state has a surplus this year in the “rainy day” fund, he expects a lot of that money to be used to finance programs that will be losing federal funding, like education and Medicaid/Medicare.

“The black cloud I bring this morning is – and if anyone watches the national news you know this – you’re looking at cuts in federal funding,” said Brown. “I’m happy we have excess money to spend, but we need to do it very wisely.”

Brown said he’ll be presenting several bills for consideration this session, including one that requires pharmaceutical companies to disclose more information about their products in advertisements, one that imposes ethics rules on the use of federal money in state campaigns, and one that will prohibit insurance companies from basing premium rates on a customer’s credit score.

“I’m sure I’m going to run into great opposition on that one,” said Brown.

Ron Elliott, who opposed recent taxes to build a county jail and implement an enhanced 911 emergency service in the Cherokee County, asked the lawmakers about their views on the “death tax,” and if they would support the elimination of that tax.

“The estate tax, or death tax, brings us $80 million a year, and it affects one percent of the people in the state,” said Wilson. “My district is Cherokee, Adair and Sequoyah counties, so I probably have no one who would be affected by the death tax – I’m going to be against eliminating it.”

Get involved

The next Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce legislative focus breakfast will be held at 7:30 a.m., Mar. 3, at Go Ye Village Retirement Center.

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