The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy and Sunbeam Family Services were proud to announce this Monday that Audrey Patton of Mustang will be the 2017 Kid Governor. Audrey, a fifth-grader at St. John Nepomuk Catholic School, has been a volunteer at the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and helped raise funds to support their backpack program. We are looking forward to her service this year and hope she will inspire many young Oklahomans to do great things!
We made this announcement at the Capitol, so it was an opportunity to see the Legislature at work. I have only been back to the State Capitol Building a few times since I retired from the House of Representatives in 2014. Our visit brought back memories of friends and accomplishments, but it also reminded me of the work yet to be done and things left unfinished.
When it comes to child safety, there are two specific issues that I wished had gained more traction during my time in the Legislature: strengthening our system for recovering missing children and improving school background checks for school volunteers.
Some readers may remember the case of Jaray Wilson, a student from Weatherford who went missing and seized national headlines. Her parents worked with me to create a state alert, similar to an Amber Alert, if a child is missing and there is significant reason for worry. In addition, authorities could have the ability to detain a child who has run away from home under this law. Our effort connected us with many passionate supporters; we even found private citizens who offered to pay the additional $80,000 that the Department of Public Safety estimated our change would cost.
Unfortunately, our bill lost momentum in the Legislature and never passed. I hope one of our lawmakers will take the time to learn about this issue and breathe new life into it, and I know the Wilson family does also.
Likewise, improving school background checks is another issue ripe for a legislative champion who is passionate about protecting children. Most people are unaware that schools in Oklahoma are not allowed to do a fingerprint background check through the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations for volunteers. Instead, most schools use an online system that looks up a social security numbers that can be easily falsified. Federal law will allow fingerprint background checks, but only if authorized by the state. I ran the legislation to allow those types of checks, but again, that bill was defeated.
I hope new legislators will recognize the need to increase safety and security for young Oklahomans and consider both concepts again.
Legislative bodies and their priorities change but one thing never does: lawmakers listen to their constituents and try to respond to their wishes. If you have an idea that would help Oklahoma kids, don’t be afraid to speak out. If there is something out there important to you, please contact your state legislators and share your thoughts.