‘Culture war’ bills could cost state jobs and damage reputation
OKLAHOMA CITY — Legislative leaders and Gov. Kevin Stitt spent the week advancing a series of “culture war” bills meant to please some voters but could cost the state the biggest development contract ever. economy of the year.
The Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a series of bills Thursday morning dealing with abortion, trans people, school programs, voting and protest rights, in time to meet a legislative deadline.
For several bills, the Republican majority agreed to suspend the rules in order to replace the wording of the bills that were due to be heard Thursday with brand new language submitted hours before.
This is how Senate Bill 615, which had been a bill requiring school administrators to approve all sex education programs, turned into a “toilet bill” requiring schools to provide toilets exclusively for men and women and requiring students to use the toilet that matches their biological sex as listed on their birth certificate. Schools that violate the law face a 5% cut in state funding.
Stitt’s cabinet appointee, Education Secretary Ryan Walters, has focused on the issue of school restrooms as he campaigns for the elected post of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Walters has shared with the media letters he wrote to the Stillwater Board of Education, twice accusing the board of a “wake-up call” for not forcing students to use the toilets that match the gender on their birth certificates, and a letter to Attorney General John O’Connor asking him to take legal action.
State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister – who is running for governor – has sought legal advice from O’Connor regarding Stillwater’s restroom policy and resisted legislative demands asking her to implement a wide rule of the state until O’Connor issues an opinion.
Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City, said his district has invested in improvements designed to attract businesses and workers, and bills like SB 615 are ruining those efforts.
“No amount of self-investment by cities like OKC, or state incentives and tax breaks, can overcome hateful legislation aimed at already marginalized groups,” Bennett said. “In the coming days, I hope municipal leaders will join us in speaking out against this harmful bill. Senate Bill 615 hurts people. This hinders progress. It hurts Oklahoma.
Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, also asked how the bill would affect economic development. “We voted and I supported a $700 million economic incentive to hopefully entice a Fortune 500 company to open a plant in Oklahoma,” Nichols said. “However, I fear that with Senate Bill 615, we have just caused over $700 million in reputational damage to our state.
“We’ve seen the massive fallout from legislation like this in other states,” Nichols said. “Many companies, like Panasonic for example, are clear and demonstrate their support for the LGBTQ community. Economic development is not just about money and tax incentives. Companies will not choose to have their employees and their families subject to laws that ostracize and marginalize their existence.
Nichols added, “SB615 isn’t just a bad bill, it’s a job killer.”
Just a few weeks ago, the legislature passed and Stitt signed an agreement to provide approximately $700 million to a public limited company that is expected to invest $4 billion to establish a battery manufacturing plant in the area of Tulsa.
Panasonic is known to seek to set up a manufacturing plant in Oklahoma or Kansas. The company supplies batteries for the Tesla electric vehicle factory in Texas.
Earlier in the year, the Kansas legislature also provided a package of tax incentives to lure the manufacturer.
But unlike Oklahoma, Kansas has not passed Oklahoma’s extreme bills in recent weeks.
Last week, the Kansas House of Representatives backed Governor Laura Kelly’s veto of a bill that would have banned transgender athletes from playing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity. Stitt signed a similar measure into law in Oklahoma.
The Kansas House also supported the governor’s veto of legislation that would have created a Bill of Parental Rights, although the state senate voted to override the veto.
The Kansas legislature also avoided imposing an abortion ban on its citizens, allowing voters to decide the issue this fall.
During this year’s session, Oklahoma lawmakers passed a law barring the state from doing business with companies that don’t share the values of their constituents. The Legislature has voted to advance bills that would prohibit the state or any municipality in the state from entering into contracts with banks that refuse to lend money to gun manufacturers, or with companies that reject the use of oil and gas in favor of renewable energy.
Several lawmakers have denounced companies whose policies adhere to a concept known as environmental, social, or ESG governance. On the floor of the Legislature, lawmakers who opposed granting tax incentives to the anonymous company, claimed that ESG policies condoned leftist ideology.
The Panasonic North America website highlights its adherence to ESG policies.
Recognizing that census data indicates that by 2060 minority groups will represent 55% of the US population, Panasonic North America is focused on expanding its diversity and inclusion efforts.
“In 2021, PNA will focus on two key DEI strategic priorities, Culture & Belonging and Talent. Specifically, we will continue to support our Business Impact Groups (BIGs): RISE (formerly Women’s Connect), Veterans Group, PRISM (LGBTQ Support), Level Up (Millennials) and the Black Employee Network (BEN),” company policy reads, “BIGs are instrumental in supporting recruitment, retention and advancement We will also continue to deepen our DEI learning and build on the unconscious bias training that was launched earlier this year and has impacted more than 12,000 employees.
The company is also committed to fighting climate change, reducing emissions and promoting “clean energy”.