The Pryor Times


March 29, 2006

Taking Care of Rural Fire Departments

Ben Sherrer-State Represenative

Greetings from your State Capitol! This week the pace slowed down considerably as we moved back to the committee process to begin hearing bills that passed out of the Senate.

When the session began, members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives had filed 1,077 new House bills and 36 new joint resolutions this year. Of that number, 872 passed their assigned committee and 490 were approved by the full House and sent to the state Senate. The Senate sent a total of 534 measures which have been sent to the House of Representatives.

This week's excitement focused around a shakeup in Republican leadership and a struggle with rural fire protection needs. Frustrated with management of the House business, the Republican Speaker ousted his floor leader. It appears Republican members were upset at the fact that over 300 bills died for lack of a hearing on the floor while a great deal of time was spent on controversial, political wedge issues that likely have no hope of making their way through the legislative process to become law.

House Democrats sought the hearing of Senate Bill 1735, a bill that passed the Senate unanimously to provide an increase in operational grant funds for rural fire departments. Rep. Dale Turner attempted to bring the matter to the floor for a vote on a day when several hundred firefighters were at the capitol. His motion was tabled by Republicans on a party-line vote so the bill stalled. I remain optimistic that we will get a bill to the floor next week for a vote.

SB1735 would increase operational grant funds by almost 45% ($2,220) for local fire departments which would bring the total grant that each department receives to $5000. This measure must be voted on by the House before it can be signed by the Governor.

It should not matter who authors the bill as long as we take care of our rural fire departments. It is imperative that we must increase funding for our local departments. Our firefighters are true Oklahoma Heroes and deserve to have the equipment to protect them when saving precious lives and valuable property. The past four months have shown how important our rural fire departments are and we as legislators must make a solid commitment to tell these volunteers that we stand behind them and appreciate their service.

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