“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” You might have heard that saying used as a defense against hurtful words thrown about on the grade school playground in your youth.
In truth, words often do hurt. However, when lawmakers use words to craft legislation, they can cause even more lasting harm by placing them into law.
More than 3,000 bills were filed by state lawmakers this year. Arguably, every single bill going through the Capitol shifts rights among Oklahomans, some getting expanded rights while others see their rights curtailed. Even tax cuts and credits provide or reduce financial benefits, while conversely reducing or increasing services or savings.
In policy bills, even just one word can make a difference, such as the use of “may” compared to “shall” in legislation. When not weighing the consequences currently and going forward for years with the policy in question, the costs for some can be difficult if not devastating.
The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) is monitoring around 200 bills with potential impacts on Oklahoma’s children and families. Most of the bills contain good ideas; a few have bad wording that if enacted might cause harm for years to come. Our job is to help provide insight to lawmakers on the impact of bills on Oklahoma’s children.
Some bills have good and bad parts. One such bill would increase opportunities for students to have access to state-supported tuition assistance for lower income students who also maintain good grades. The bad is a section of the bill that would create a time limitation to complete coursework. This section could cause devastating harm to some who are not able to complete their degrees or certifications before this arbitrary clock runs out.
Statistically, many former foster youth struggle to adjust once they age out of the system. Single parents or individuals enduring a traumatic incident (such as a pandemic), or others taking part-time classwork while maintaining one or more jobs all would face a potential repayment of tens of thousands of dollars. An amendment is filed to remove this latter portion, and OICA fully supports this modification.
Another bill going through the process poses a problem by listing a specific website and phone number for a state agency within statute. Should this information change, a future change by lawmakers, with all the expense and effort another bill requires, would be necessary to correct this issue. Specifics such as this should always be avoided when imprinting something in our state’s statutes.
The task given to lawmakers by their constituents is not an easy job, and the work required to analyze each bill can be daunting. The best lawmakers are those who can take themselves out of their own worldview and consider all perspectives with how each idea will extend rights while removing the liberties of others.
After this, a vote for what they justify is the best answer to said problem is all we can expect. We have many lawmakers who have this ability. We are counting on them to advance the greater good for children and also influence others to follow suit. It is OICA’s job, along with the voice of constituents and advocates like you, to help guide them in thoughtful decisions.
Help us with this effort. To see the bills we are tracking, which is updated each week, go to our website. The tracking list is at https://oica.org/oica-tracking-2021/