DUNCAN, Jan 30, 2013 (Waurika News-Democrat - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Preparing for a final term in the Oklahoma Senate, Don Barrington hopes to have the backs of the state's 3 million residents during the next four years.
With the 2013 legislative session to begin Monday, Barrington plans to take the role of chair of the Public Safety & Homeland Security Committee as seriously as he once covered the backs of Lawton residents as city fire chief; as intently as he did from 1966 to 1969, when serving a tour in the U.S. Army that included 18 months in Vietnam.
"I'm pleased to be chairman for the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, because the committee is about protection for our families," Barrington said, when making a stop at Red River Technology Center to assist in the Association of South Central Governments of Oklahoma in distributing Rural Economic Action Plan grants.
"Given the recent past, with the tragedy of Newtown, Connecticut, there's a lot of discussion about safety in our schools, it's even more important when things like (the Newtown shooting) happen.
"I'm proud of Lt. Gov. (Todd) Lamb, who's started a school security task force. He has some great people on the task force, as far as background and experience.
"There are other public safety and security matters, but school safety is especially important. I hope schools are starting to take a good look at what they need to do to make a safer environment, and I would hope that we could approach that with common sense.
"There's a lot of emotion involved in the subject, and it would be good if we step back and take a look before doing something definitive."
Barrington, whose District 31 includes all of Jefferson County, already served four years as Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee chair. It's his only position as a committee chair in the 2013 session, but he's vice chairman of four other committees -- Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety & Judiciary, Agriculture & Rural Development, Rules, Transportation and Veterans & Military Affairs.
Committees won't occupy all of Barrington's time before the session ends in late spring.
There was discontent among educators following the 2012 session. Some felt the legislature was slow in taking action on an education budget, followed by negative reaction when the legislature cut funds.
Noting the recent improvement in state finances, Barrington is among conservative Republicans tilting toward an increase in public education funding in the 2013 session.
"On the bright side," he said, "we sit pretty good economically right now. The Office of State Finance says revenue is up. Some of the (financial) numbers can be kind of misleading and we know there are some holes, but there should be more money available.
"Education is the number one concern. I think we've reached the point (in increased revenue) where we can budget more money to education.
"Educators were cut the least when budget cuts have been made in recent years, but the education budget will be addressed this year. It might not be to the full extent some might want, but part of it is we're waiting to see what comes down from Washington, D.C., because state dollars are tied to the federal government.
"I saw this (education funding problem) kind of from the get-go. One thing I think is good is that the rural schools are the model for improving our education system."
As a high-ranking Senate member, Barrington has submitted 24 bills for consideration turning the session. They are among 1,119 bills and 34 joint resolutions that were filed by the Jan. 24 deadline.
Barrington's bills are wide ranging, from modifying salaries for Oklahoma State Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs employees to appropriating $2 million-plus from the State General Fund to the Department of Transportation's Public Transit Revolving Fund to clarifying language for private prison provisions to a 2 percent increase in the Teacher's Retirement System.
One bill close to Barrington's heart was spurred by a constituent who has a child with Down's Syndrome. Senate Bill 586 proposed by Barrington would specify that medical personnel must provide parents with information on Down's Syndrome when there is a positive genetic test for the chromosomal disorder.
"There are young couples having kids who discover during pregnancy that the child is Down's baby, but they don't have information on the disease," Barrington said. "The bill would require doctors to provide information when the diagnosis is made that will inform couples on the disease and its effects.
"There are couples who don't know anything about Down's and they don't know how to react or where to find help."
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