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Proposed measure would let voters decide whether lawmakers can return to teaching after office

OKLAHOMA CITY - A state senator has filed a joint resolution that would allow voters to decide whether lawmakers can return to teaching after leaving office.

Dubbed the "Right to Return" legislation, Senate Joint Resolution 8 was authored by Sen. Carri Hicks, D-Oklahoma City. It would amend Section 23, Article 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution which currently prohibits legislators from accepting any job paid with state dollars for the first two years after leaving office.

The current law states "no member shall, during the term for which he shall have been elected or within two years thereafter, be interested, directly or indirectly, in any contract with the State authorized by law passed during the term for which he shall have been elected".

According to the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services, Oklahoma Attorney General Opinion 2004-25 states that authorization of contract has been interpreted to include legislative appropriation of funds.

"I filed a joint resolution which would ultimately put to a vote of the people basically the right to the return to the classroom, specifically targeting certified teachers and making sure that if you are a certified teacher before you sought office to serve in this capacity that you have the right to immediately return to the classroom after whatever year it is that you’re finished serving in the state Legislature," Sen. Hicks told News 4.

Hicks said if the proposed measure passes the Legislature, voters would be able to decide through a state question.

"They were really mindful basically saying, there should be a two year cooling off period to where you’re not appropriating dollars specifically to a job that you hope to have. I think that was a really good intention," she said, referring to the current law. "However, what we’re experiencing right now is a record number of certified teachers entering the classroom and we have educators that just left office or will be leaving office soon that are qualified and well trained and have a wealth of knowledge from serving in this body that they should be able to return to the classroom right away."

According to the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, nearly 5,000 additional teachers are needed in the state to match the average student-teacher in the region. In late November, the Oklahoma State Department of Education approved another 100 emergency teaching certificates bringing the school-year total to 2,816.

"We also know that in three years, 9,000 teachers are eligible for retirement so it’s not just a one-time fix," Hicks said. "But ultimately over the course of the next several years if we don’t make some of these needed changes, we’re going to be facing an even worse situation that we’re currently in right now."

News 4 spoke with Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell about the proposal. He said it was an idea that's worth considering.

"I want legislators to be thinking this way. What can we do? Thinking outside the box a little bit on legislation to address this education issue and this would be one of the ideas, certainly, that I want to talk about," Lt. Gov. Pinnell said. "I think it needs to be a conversation from there. You can’t have over 2,000 emergency teaching certificates in a state and there’s a lot of reasons for that. We’re going to address all of them down at the State Capitol, but certainly that’s a good way to getting a few more people back into the classroom."

A full copy of the proposed joint resolution can be found here.

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