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Bill to reinstate 'don't ask, don't tell' in Oklahoma National Guard appears dead this year

Legislative efforts to reinstate the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in the Oklahoma National Guard appear dead this year.

A bill that would have reinstated the policy was to be taken up Monday by the House of Representatives Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.

But House Speaker Kris Steele reassigned the bill about 90 minutes before the meeting to the House Rules Committee.

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Rep. Gary Banz, chairman of the Rules Committee, said House Bill 2195 won't be heard by his committee and the measure is probably dead this year.

"I don't like the 'don't ask, don't tell' being repealed at the national level, but this is not the place and not the time to put our Air and Army National Guard troops and our whole organization at risk," he said.

Rep. Mike Reynolds, the measure's author, said his bill faces an uphill struggle. He showed up at the Veterans and Military Affairs Committee and attempted to get the language of his bill inserted in another measure.

Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, the committee chairman, ruled Reynolds out of order and refused to allow him to proceed.

"That bill is the property of the speaker," Wesselhoft, R-Moore, told Reynolds. "It is no longer my property."

He said after the meeting he wouldn't allow Reynolds to insert his language in another bill because "it's getting around the rules."

Reynolds left the meeting quickly and complained afterward about Steele's decision.

"The speaker did what the speaker can do so well -- made a complete mincemeat of the rules," said Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City.

"That is the type of dictatorial rule that is going on in this House of Representatives, and it's got to come to an end," Reynolds said. "Exposing it will be the start."

Jeopardizing funds

John Estus, a spokesman for Steele, R-Shawnee, said senior state military officials had expressed concerns to House members that the proposed policy would jeopardize federal funding for the Oklahoma National Guard.

"Speaker Steele believes those concerns are valid," Estus said. "The decision has nothing to do with any individual legislator and everything to do with protecting the ability of our National Guard to defend our state and nation."

Reynolds' bill included language that would have prohibited anyone who was ineligible to serve in the U.S. armed forces under federal regulations in effect on Jan. 1, 2009, from serving in the Guard.

He said the state is allowed to set its own standards for service and is not required to duplicate standards for the rest of the military.

"We believe that the state has the authority as long as they (National Guard members) are under the command of the governor," Reynolds said.

Reynolds said the "don't ask, don't tell policy" was "a good deal until Barack Obama was elected president. I don't think anything about him being elected president made it a bad deal."

Banz, R-Midwest City, said passage of Reynolds' measure would jeopardize federal funding for the Oklahoma National Guard.

"Over 90 percent of our funding for equipment, personnel and operational training -- all of that comes through the United States Air Force and the United States Army," Banz said.

Status could change

Rita Aragon, a retired Air Force major general who serves as secretary of veteran affairs on Gov. Mary Fallin's Cabinet, wrote a letter Monday to Steele stating that if Oklahoma reinstated the "don't ask, don't tell" policy the state's National Guard federal status would be in jeopardy.

That would result in the state having a militia and would be responsible for all equipping and training, she wrote.

"That would also mean that the members of the state militia would not be accepted as members of the U.S. Air Force or Army," she said.

Wesselhoft said he has a policy of hearing all bills assigned to his committee. He said he doesn't endorse the bills brought up for a hearing in committee; instead he wants to give House members the opportunity to have their proposals discussed.

Wesselhoft said he was surprised the bill was assigned to his committee; he said Steele told him last week it was probably assigned by mistake and he would decide by Monday whether to allow it to proceed in his committee.

A similar bill was introduced in the Virginia House of Delegates last year but failed to advance.

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