Malice in the Palace

Malice in the Palace - April 5, 2015

State Representative David Perryman

On September 1, 1949, Columbia Pictures released a short film featuring The Three Stooges and their trademark slapstick comedy set in the palace of a middle-eastern Emir. The name of the movie was Malice in the Palace and the plot revolved around the Stooges, all three dressed as Santa Claus, and their attempt to gain entry to the royal residence to “rescue” a valuable diamond.

The film is replete with scene after scene of slaps, slugs, chokeholds and retaliatory pokes in the eyes. Never to be outdone, the Oklahoma House of Representatives, the Senate and the Governor took retaliation to a whole new level this week.

Instead of stealing a diamond, the two houses of the legislative branch conspired with Oklahoma’s executive branch to take from Oklahoma teachers the convenience of having their professional dues withheld from their monthly paychecks.

In an act of crass pettiness, House Bill 1749 was passed and signed into law with the sole intent of preventing local school boards from allowing teachers across Oklahoma to have their POE, OEA or AFT dues broken down into monthly payments and deducted from their gross pay.

During floor discussion and debate, Democrats and the 11 Republicans who joined them in opposition to the Bill pointed out numerous legal and technical problems with the Bill. Debate made it crystal clear that the legislation was nothing more than a retaliatory poke in the eye of Oklahoma’s teachers who regularly proclaim that Oklahoma’s children deserve better than 49th in funding.

Republican Representative David Dank pointed out that there are 69 different payroll deductions that may be made under Oklahoma law and only the teachers’ dues were under attack.  “Let’s not be hypocritical,” said Dank, “We’re doing this to punish a group” that opposes charter schools and education vouchers, which are hallmarks of conservative education policy.

In the end, HB 1749 cleared both houses and was signed by Governor Fallin on April 2. It is scheduled to go into effect November 1, 2015, unless overturned by the courts. Similar laws in Wisconsin and North Carolina have been held unconstitutional and unenforceable.

Additional errors in the Oklahoma statute appear to be attributed to hasty drafting. For instance, the Bill fails to recognize that POE, OEA nor AFT bargain for teacher contracts.

Likewise, an error in the Bill refers to school districts as “state agencies” when the Oklahoma Constitution clearly classifies them as “political subdivisions.” The Bill then states that it does not apply to political subdivisions.

Current law that specifically and expressly states that school districts shall accommodate teachers by allowing professional dues to be payroll deducted (Section 5-139 of Title 70 of the Oklahoma Statutes) was neither amended nor repealed and remains on the books.

Already in the midst of a $611 Million budget gap, Oklahoma cannot continue to afford the costly legal defense of unconstitutional, retaliatory legislation that is directed at a group of citizens who subsidize the education of Oklahoma’s children on a daily basis.

This week I heard a legislator tell a group that “we really would like to give teachers a $5000 raise over the next five years, but we just can’t under the current budget.” Of course we can’t, and we will not be able to so long as the House, the Senate and the Governor don fake Santa Claus suits, give lip service to their support of public education, grant millions in corporate tax credits, and pursue irresponsible tax policy.

POE, AFT and OEA members will soon start paying professional dues by check and will be reminded on a monthly basis that they were poked in the eye and who is behind this Malice in the Palace. Will they hold them accountable?

Thank you for allowing me to serve as State Representative.  If you have questions or comments about this issue or any other matter, please contact me at David.Perryman@okhouse.gov or 800-522-8502.