Killed by committee, Senate bill to force OTA studies fails | News

Despite initial approval from both bodies of the state legislature, a bill that would require the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority to conduct rigorous studies will not reach the governor’s office due to what the author called an unusual turn of events.

The OTA announced in February that it would build two new toll roads in Norman as part of a statewide expansion of the toll road system. A proposed toll road would link the Kickapoo Toll Highway south of Interstate 40 in the Lake Thunderbird watershed to Purcell and another along Indian Hills Road.

Senate Bill 1610 requires the OTA to conduct studies before the bonds can be issued. These studies include impacts on the environment and private property, and whether the OTA has chosen the most efficient path over other paths considered.

The bill received initial approval in the Senate and House after a change to add the Indian Hills connector and then remove it. While it first passed both the House and the Senate, it died in a House committee before final approval.

But he failed to secure enough signatures in the House conference committee before being sent to the governor’s office.

State Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, who drafted the bill, said he had no other way — through the legislature — to slow freeway construction toll for the residents concerned.

“I have done all I can and will continue to do all I can to help those in Cleveland County who are trying to preserve their way of life,” Standridge said.

“I signed it from [a] Senate committee several days ago and sent it to the House conference committee,” Standridge said.

Standridge said it’s a procedure that doesn’t often end a bill in his experience.

“I’ve done this dozens of times during my time here,” he said. “I am certain that the author of my House has worked diligently to push the bill forward, but it appears that the opposition forces in the House have managed to kill the bill.”

Standridge said he did everything he could at this point.

State Representative Jacob Rosecrans, D-Norman, said it was a loss of transparency.

“I am saddened that SB 1610, a common sense measure, failed to make it all the way to the governor,” he said. “While this was never going to stop the construction of the Normandy Region Toll Motorway, it would have required studies to be done and delivered to us here in the Legislature before any bond was sold. It puzzles me that “there are some in our legislature who don’t seem to want to demand more accountability or transparency on the OTA. I will continue to do everything I can to not only demand more transparency from OTA, but also to fight for the people who will be negatively affected by this insane toll road plan.

OTA officials said they have no objections to the bill and will conduct environmental studies if necessary.

“The agency will continue to work hard to provide citizens with a better understanding of OTA decision-making processes and recognizes the legislature’s interest in ensuring that appropriate and relevant studies are conducted,” said James Poling, doorman. -word of the OTA.

But those east of Norman, including those who could have directly benefited from SB 1610, are not happy. Inger Giuffrida, who operates a wildlife rehabilitation center in the Lake Thunderbird watershed, worries about the threat the tolls would pose to endangered species.

“The fact that SB 1610, which required the OTA to be accountable to the Legislative Assembly and therefore the people who elected it, died in committee after being passed by both the House and the Senate, is incredibly disappointing,” Guiffrida said. “How are citizens supposed to hold the OTA accountable for justifying their plans that cause unnecessary destruction and suffering to communities? It seems the democratic process has failed hard-working Oklahomans. and it is a devastating loss to our environment, our watershed and wildlife.

Michael Nash, spokesman for resistance group Pike Off OTA, said it was a clear victory for profiteers.

“Today, our legislators have chosen private profits over Oklahoman’s water quality and the precious natural treasures unique to this region from anywhere in the world,” he said. “Again, they chose special interests over people. All we asked of the Legislative Assembly is to ensure that the Toll Highway Authority do a bit of due diligence to ensure that people are not negatively impacted, and our legislators told us that we were asking too much.

Ward 5 Councilman Rarchar Tortorello, whose ward will be by far the most affected by the tollway, called the bill’s failure a setback.

“Failing to put SB 1610 to a vote makes it clear that special interest groups have more impact than private homeowners losing their homes – SB 1610 would have provided the much-needed transparency taxpayers demand” , he said in a statement. newspaper. “It’s a disappointing result, but it’s not the end of the fight. We will continue to work to ensure that private property owners are not unfairly burdened with the infrastructure needs of the state.

Pike Off OTA filed a lawsuit against the agency on May 3, alleging that the OTA lacks the legislative authority to build the proposed toll roads in the Normandy region and is not following procedures for issuing permits. appropriate obligations. Tortorello filed a lawsuit with 150 residents on Thursday accusing OTA of open assembly law violations.

Norman D. Briggs