New bill helps protect all in tornadoes

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OKLAHOMA CITY -- State lawmakers and Gov. Mary Fallin appear to have reached an agreement on legislation that would allow Oklahomans to provide a shelter from the storm without the risk of liability.

It's a measure that's been hanging in the balance for several days now at the Capitol and was urgently addressed in the wake of last weekend's tornado outbreak.

Democratic Rep. Eric Proctor authored HB 2296 to address liability at mobile home parks.

The idea came from a constituent who was turned away at her mobile home park's main office building during severe weather because they said they couldn't risk a lawsuit if she ended up injured while in the building.

The bill passed through the legislature with only one no vote but the Governor vetoed it Friday.

After last weekend's violent weather, lawmakers tried to override her decision to no avail on Monday.

Now it seems the measure is back on track.

Republican Rep. John Enns already had HB 2419 in the works.

It would eliminate liability for individuals who welcome others into their storm shelters.
Rep. Enns said, "What we are going to do is we're going to take Rep. Proctor's bill and put it in there. Work with the Governor on language she can handle and make it a more comprehensive bill."

The Governor vetoed the idea the first time because she worried about separating park operators from other businesses and she didn't want anyone to advertise their office as a shelter if it wasn't safe.

Her Director of Communications, Alex Weintz, said, "That's not right and that's something that the Governor was concerned about because it makes people less safe."

The new bill will better define what's considered a safe place.

By combining the measures, it will also include all businesses and individuals.

So if you want to invite your neighbor to your shelter, you can do so without any fear of a lawsuit if they get hurt.

The new bill appears to make both Democrats and Republicans happy.

Rep. Dorman said, "It was disappointing that the override did not occur on the bill yesterday. We felt like this was at least a good product to start with. But there's always a silver lining."

Rep. Enns said, "I'm really actually thankful that the veto happened now because I think we have such better language now through this whole mess. It's going to be a better law."

Weintz said, "This is an example of the process working. We had a bill that was well-intentioned but flawed. The Governor vetoed it. We've worked with the legislature on a compromise that addresses those concerns. It's a much better bill and a better piece of legislation now and we're hoping that it gets to her desk soon and the Governor is able to sign it into law."

The new bill is still waiting for a vote in the house and senate.

If it passes and is signed by the Governor it would go into effect almost immediately.

Gov. Mary Fallin released this statement on HB 2296:

"After a thorough review of House Bill 2296, I felt that it had the potential to provide legal amnesty to individuals who encouraged the residents of mobile home parks to take shelter in structures that were unsafe. This would have the unfortunate and unintended consequence of actually putting lives in jeopardy rather than protecting them. This was obviously not the intent of the authors of this bill, which is why I vetoed the legislation.

"Moving forward, I am absolutely committed to working with lawmakers on new legislation that accomplishes the intended goal of HB 2296, which is to encourage our citizens to open their businesses or homes to other citizens in times of crisis. Speaker Steele has already shared with my office an early draft of a 'Good Samaritan' law that not only achieves those goals, but broadens the scope of HB 2296 in a way that will positively affect even more Oklahomans.

 "Having just returned from Woodward, I have talked to families very recently whose ability to reach a storm shelter or sturdy building meant the difference between life and death. I will continue to do everything in my power to improve access to those safe places in times of emergency." 

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