Could a bill sailing easily through the Oklahoma Legislature have negative consequences for at least some state children?
House Bill 1384, or the Parents’ Bill of Rights, sets out various rights for parents of minor children, most of which are fairly innocuous. But a close reading of the act shows that some of the rights outlined seem to allow for abuse, negligence and unwanted religious indoctrination.
The bill’s main sponsor is state Rep. Sally Kern, the Oklahoma City Republican known throughout the world for her activism against gay rights. It passed the House on an 89 to 3 vote and the Senate on a 43 to 0 vote. It’s now back in the House, which must approve Senate amendments before it goes to the governor.
In a statement released after the Senate approved the bill, Kern said, “The Bible says that children are a gift from God, and it is the Legislature’s job to ensure that the protection and best interest of children always remains in the hands of parents to whom children are entrusted. I am thankful that the Senate agrees with the House on this. I look forward to House Bill 1384 returning to the House so that it can then be sent on to the governor.”
The problem with Kern’s reasoning is that it’s too absolute and, frankly, just wrong. Ask anyone who has ever been abused by a parent whether the “best interest of children always remains in the hands of parents” and the answer would probably be a resounding “no.” Consider the constant barrage of new stories about parental abuse in this state. While generally speaking parents do have the best interests of the children at heart, it should be just obvious to everyone, including child welfare workers, that Kern’s statement is a huge overreach.
Yet the real problem is some of the language in the bill itself. The bill, for example, makes this sweeping statement: “The Parents' Bill of Rights does not prescribe all rights of parents. Unless otherwise required by law, the rights of parents of minor children shall not be limited or denied.” Could a parent use this open-ended language to legally qualify their abuse of children?
The bill does note that it “does not authorize or allow a parent to engage in conduct that is unlawful or to abuse or neglect a child in violation of the laws of this state,” but it doesn’t spell out the forms of abuse. Is it okay for a parent to strike their children with a belt? Could a parent use the bill to avoid scrutiny by state child welfare workers, who suspect abuse?
The bill also ensures a parent can “direct the moral or religious training of the minor child . . ..” Note the word “moral.” How elusive that word can be in a diverse society. What if a child is raised and abused in a religious cult. Would the state have no authority to intervene? At what point does undesired religious indoctrination become abuse?
The bill allows parents to make “healthcare decisions for the minor child . . .” Does that mean parents can legally prohibit their children from actually receiving medical treatment? Isn’t it a parent’s duty to ensure his/her children receive medical care, rather than a “right” to make a decision about that care?
Then there’s this section, which would require school districts to develop procedures like this:
Procedures by which parents who object to any learning material or activity on the basis that it is harmful may withdraw their children from the activity or from the class or program in which the material is used. Objection to a learning material or activity on the basis that it is harmful includes objection to a material or activity because it questions beliefs or practices in sex, morality or religion . . .
Again, the language is just too sweeping and general. What if the material being taught is going to be on tests that will determine a particular school’s A-F grade in the state? Can parents just create their own children’s curriculum without any regard for academic standards?
The bill goes on to specifically allow parents to withdraw their students from sex education classes and give their children “the right to be excused from school attendance for religious purposes . . .” As I’ve noted there are religious overtones throughout the bill, which isn’t surprising given Kern’s religious zeal.
Here’s the main problem. This state just settled a federal lawsuit in 2012 that argued Oklahoma was not doing enough to protect the interests of children under its care. What this state should be doing is working on behalf of children right now by stopping abuse as much as possible.
We can all agree that parents should have the right to raise and influence their children, but that’s not always absolute. To codify a bunch of absolutist, sweeping statements about parental authority is an obvious step in the wrong direction for Oklahoma given its history.
It bears repeating that Oklahomans continue to elect Republican politicians that work against their economic and health care interests.
Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican who is expected to win reelection in a landslide this November, recently signed a bill into law that would ban cities from raising the minimum wage and requiring specific vacation and sick leave time. That, of course, impacts virtually everyone who is paid on a per hour basis in the state because any boost in the minimum wage would have a trickle up effect on paychecks.
Meanwhile, some Republicans here—Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt comes to mind—have pretty much devoted their entire political careers to bashing President Barack Obama over his Affordable Care Act, which is fast becoming one of the great worldwide economic success stories in the last few decades while providing health care to millions of people.
Higher wages and better health care? That’s not what a majority of Oklahoma voters seem to want, the reason for which defies logic. Sure, some low-information voters here are swayed by cultural wedge issues over guns and abortion, and that’s their right, but wouldn’t it be better to fight under the right-wing flag with more money in the wallet and in better health?
Fallin’s decision to sign the new bill into law, which has drawn national criticism, seems to be a direct retaliation against an ongoing initiative petition drive that is trying to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour in Oklahoma City. I’ve written about that here. But, more importantly, it symbolizes the state GOP’s utter disregard for the working poor in a state that has a high number of minimum wage workers.
New York Times columnist Charles Blow calls Fallin’s decision “callous.” He writes:
. . . it should be noted that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “In 2012, Oklahoma’s proportion of hourly paid workers earning at or below the prevailing federal minimum wage ranked third highest among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.”
Meanwhile, Paul Waldman, writing in The Washington Post argues, “She [Fallin] isn’t just saying No to a minimum wage hike. She’s saying No with a sneer — adopting an unusually mean-spirited and overtly ideological stance.” Again, this is a governor that is expected to easily win reelection.
According to Waldman, polls are now showing 65 to 75 percent support for raising the minimum wage across the country. But here in Oklahoma, we elect politicians like Fallin that actually “sneer” at the working poor and other low-income workers.
Meanwhile, virtually every Republican candidate for office in this state is running on an anti-Obama platform, using the supposed failure of the ACA as the number one reason for their sanctimonious discontent.
Yet despite the problems with ACA rollout, the numbers are beginning to show its success. According to an article in the New Republic, “Eight million people have signed up for private insurance plans through the new federal and state marketplaces. And within the federal marketplaces, 28 percent of enrollees are ages 18 to 34. This is good news—very, very good news.”
So as the good news about Obamacare pours in, Oklahomans continue to elect politicians such as Pruitt, who has literally made his entire political career about suing the federal government over the ACA. Pruitt is so popular here he didn’t even draw an opponent in his reelection bid.
Progressives like me have long lamented the growing income inequality between the wealthiest 1 percent or so and everyone else in this country and around the world. Surely there is a breaking point and just as surely the extremely rich and their surrogates will take it to the breaking point. It’s an unfolding drama that might take another generation or two to resolve.
What is clear is that far too many Oklahomans have been tricked into voting against their interests by GOP political rhetoric and the right-wing media here. Decent wages and health care access are pretty basic to living a life with some sense of security and happiness.
A new law banning cities in Oklahoma from establishing a minimum wage for workers seems like an obvious retaliation against an ongoing initiative petition drive.
Gov. Mary Fallin signed a measure into law Monday that prohibits municipalities from creating their own minimum wage and mandatory benefits, such as sick leave and vacation time. The bill passed 68 to 23 in the House and 34 to 9 in the Republican dominated Oklahoma Legislature.
Fallin and others who support the bill publicly argued it would prevent the state from having multiple minimum wage requirements in different cities, which could be confusing and damaging to businesses. Fallin also argued that it could lead to fewer part-time jobs for younger people.
But it’s probably no coincidence that an initiative petition drive, conducted by the Central Oklahoma Labor Federation and attorney David Slane, is underway here to raise the minimum wage in Oklahoma City from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour. President Barack Obama is also pushing to raise the federal minimum wage to that level and local efforts are underway elsewhere in the country to do so as well. Connecticut, for example, recently passed a bill raising the minimum wage there to $10.10 per hour.
The bottom line is that $7.25 per hour is simply not a livable wage, and those who want to keep it that low are ignoring poverty and the growing income inequality in this country and across the world. According to the organization Raise The Minimum Wage:
Low-wage occupations have dominated job growth in the post-recession recovery, accelerating a decades-long shift in the U.S. economy toward lower-paying jobs. At the same time, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, which translates to just $15,080 per year for a full-time worker, remains decades out of date, and the federal minimum wage for tipped workers – $2.13 per hour – has not increased in over twenty years.
The minimum wage, if it had kept pace with inflation over the last 40 years, would actually be $10.74 per hour, according to the same organization.
Meanwhile, the poverty-fight organization Oxfam International notes, “Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population, and seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years.”
The new law in Oklahoma, however, raises more than just moral implications about poverty and income inequality. It also raises the issue over whether the state legislature and the governor can directly circumvent a specific initiative petition drive, which the bill seems to do. Another basic issue, then, is whether people in Oklahoma communities have the right to establish laws. Could the bill face a legal challenge?