Collection of recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers

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A collection of recent editorials from Oklahoma newspapers:

Norman Transcript, Feb. 25 — There are plenty of parents who will spread the word about the dangers of texting while driving. For many, unfortunately, it comes too late for their own children. Many who have appeared before state legislatures want to spare other families the heartbreak that comes with fatal collisions.

Oklahoma lawmakers are again considering bans on using texting and email devices while driving. We are one of only six states that do not have regulations on distracted driving. Each year it comes up, some lawmakers believe a ban would be a restriction on freedoms.

There are separate pieces of legislation that are moving through the Oklahoma legislative process. ...

A 2009 study on cell phones and distracted driving found that text messaging increased the risk of a crash or near crash by 23 times over a driver that wasn't distracted. That's much greater than drinking and driving, eating and driving or having others in a vehicle.

The measure is supported by insurance companies and major auto travel groups. Most businesses ban employee texting and driving and the state warns employees against the practice. It's time lawmakers take steps to make our streets and highways safer.

The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City, March 3 — The state cut its income tax to stay competitive with bordering states. One such neighbor is Texas, which has no state personal income tax.

Oklahoma? No. Arkansas. The adjacent state that's been cutting income taxes in recent years lies to the west of Arkansas.

New Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has signed into law an income tax cut designed to keep up (or keep down!) with its neighbors.

Arkansas has been taxing citizens as much as 7 percent on incomes as low as $36,000 per couple. By contrast, the top rate in Oklahoma is 5.25 percent, which will drop to 5 percent next year.

The Arkansas cut, passed with bipartisan support (it had unanimous support in the state Senate), will cost the treasury $100 million. "This is an encouraging first step in making Arkansas' income tax rate more competitive with surrounding states," the governor said.

The key phrase here is " more competitive." That's because the cut will drop the top rate to "only" 6 percent for those making between $21,000 and $75,000 a year.

Incremental tax cuts follow a path forged by Oklahoma since the 1990s, when the top rate was 7 percent. Along the way, critics have accused state officials of cutting services to the bone in order to reward "the rich." But the top rate in Oklahoma has always punished relatively low-income citizens as well as "the rich."

Oklahoma's most recent tax cut was largely justified by the need to stay competitive with neighboring states. This state had become the sandwich filling between the bread of Kansas and income tax-free Texas. Kansas now assesses income at a top rate of 4.9 percent. Oklahoma's top rate will drop below that line if the next scheduled cut is triggered by favorable economic conditions.

The debate over setting tax policy based on competitive pressure mirrors the debate over providing economic development incentives, which also cut into state revenues.

For years, conservatives in Arkansas have cited Oklahoma's tax cuts as a talking point for income tax reductions. Hutchinson's victory in November followed a campaign largely focused on a tax cut.

Arkansas is following Oklahoma in another way as well. It now has a 100 percent Republican congressional delegation; state government is controlled by Republicans.

The reason is much the same as here: Barack Obama, a man who came rather late to the conclusion that it's wise to cut taxes for the middle class. Of course, The Great Divider would only do so by raising taxes on "the rich."

Even in states where Democrats have more clout, a wave of tax cutting has broken out.

"Red and blue states are poles apart on just about every issue," reported. "But governors and state lawmakers from both parties are speaking the same language when it comes to offering tax cuts and credits for low- and middle-income Americans."

The reason isn't competitive pressure so much as it is a supposed redress of grievances involving income inequality, a favorite topic of the president.

So unlike in Oklahoma, cuts are focused on the middle class. Here, there's no maximum income to receive the 5 percent rate that will trigger in 10 months. Elsewhere, Democrats are eying targeted tax cuts or tax credits.

While there are limits to how much taxes can be cut, and while the most recent Oklahoma cut suffered from bad timing (it would have been better to wait), we believe that state income taxes should remain relatively low for all taxpayers.

And the states that march at the front of this parade will have a competitive advantage over their neighbors.

Tulsa World, March 2 — Oklahoma doesn't have enough resources to deal with criminal defendants needing competency treatment.

That issue recently was brought into the public spotlight by an Oklahoma County incident and a piece of legislation.

An Oklahoma County judge scheduled a contempt of court hearing involving the Department of Mental Health after he learned that a sexual assault defendant he had ordered undergo competency treatment had been sitting untreated in the county jail for months.

After an initial hearing, District Judge Ray C. Elliott said he wanted to hear from Mental Health Commissioner Terri White.

No one is more passionate about funding and providing quality mental health services in Oklahoma than White. She has fought for better state funding of mental health services, including competency treatment for criminal defendants, for years.

But she can't make something out of nothing.

The state's facility in Vinita doesn't have enough space for all the prisoners needing competency treatment, and the result is a jail backlog.

White says she had a pleasant talk with Elliott and apologized to him because the department hadn't done a good job keeping him advised about the wait for his defendant.

Elliott's defendant got taken to Vinita, and he dismissed the contempt hearing, but the problem is certainly not solved.

Meanwhile, ... the Senate Judiciary Committee OK'd a bill to make it clear that the department can offer competency treatment in jails. That makes a lot of sense. If there's not enough room at the mental health facility in Vinita, bring the doctors to the prisoners.

White said she thinks the department already has that authority and, in fact, recently signed a deal with Oklahoma County to do competency treatment at that jail, but not all counties think the issue is legally clear. She said she supports Senate Bill 715.

But it isn't going to solve the problem any more than White's talk with Judge Elliott will. Space at Vinita is the most immediately pressing resource problem slowing the competency treatment of criminal defendants, but it isn't the only one.

And there are a lot of untreated prisoners waiting. A similar contempt of court hearing concerning 13 untreated prisoners is pending in Tulsa County. Earlier this week, The Oklahoman reported that 105 male prisoners and 22 females were on a waiting list for treatment in Vinita. A dozen of the men scheduled for admission this week have been on the list since July or August.

The problem boils down to one thing: Appropriating enough money to the state's mental health system to maintain enough space and personnel to deal with the number of prisoners we're locking up. The state hasn't done that. The result is justice delayed and people in need of mental health treatment waiting in county jails.

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