Lawmaker plans to amend bill requiring payment to protest at Oklahoma State Capitol

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OKLAHOMA CITY – An Oklahoma lawmaker said he plans to amend a bill which has been criticized as unconstitutional by several groups.

Senate Bill 592, authored by Sen. Mark Allen, R-Spiro, would require any organization or group of 100 or more people protesting at the capitol to “post a bond of $50,000 with the Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority.” The purpose is to offset the cost of additional security, clean up and repairs, the bill states.

“That language was misinterpreted downstairs, and we got to a filing deadline so it was filed like that. It’s not going to be like that,” Allen told News 4 on Tuesday. “I would never run an unconstitutional bill, and I’m not going to start now.”

Allen said the bill language will be amended to remove the bond requirement and, instead, require a group to reimburse the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) for any repairs in the event of any damage to capitol property.

The bill stems from the teacher walkout in April 2018, when thousands of educators and supporters spent nine days at the capitol over school funding.

“We figured out it was an issue after the walkout as to how much it actually costs to taxpayers to clean up,” Allen said. “It’s not just them being here. That’s a normal expense of them being here. That’s their right. But, when they deface property, write on the parking lot, write on the sidewalks and walk through the flower beds and things we have to repair after they’re gone for it to be same when somebody else wants to come.”

According to the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES), $15,000 were spent every day of the walkout for janitorial services, trash pickup and repair landscaping. The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety confirms it costed them roughly $100,000 per day; however, they said that figure does not reflect extra costs for the agency as all of the troopers at the capitol would have been on duty for the duration of the walkout either way.

News 4 spoke with OEA President Alicia Priest on Tuesday regarding the bill. Priest had not discussed the bill with Allen prior to our interview, but she said she felt the proposed legislation was a “fix for a non-issue.”

“We cleaned up after ourselves. The troopers said, everyday, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s cleaner now than when you guys came here in the morning.’ I mean, that’s just the reality of what we were doing,” Priest said regarding the walkout. “We briefed with troopers every single day. That was not an issue. That was not an issue from our people.”

The ACLU of Oklahoma has also been critical of the bill as written.

“Certainly, we would welcome changes to this. As it’s written now, it’s not constitutional,” said ACLU Oklahoma’s Deputy Director Allie Shinn. “The people have a first amendment right to speak to their government, to petition their government, to show up and peacefully assemble and any attempt to limit that by creating an arbitrary and ridiculously high price limit is really an affront to the first amendment.”

For a copy of SB592, click here.

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