State Capitol
9:07 am
Fri May 23, 2014

House Walks Back Storm Shelter Vote, Plaza Towers Parents Take Legal Action

The Oklahoma House reversed course Thursday night and narrowly passed a plan it had earlier defeated to help school districts pay for safety upgrades such as storm shelters and safe rooms.

House members voted 51-39 last night for the plan supported by Gov. Mary Fallin. It takes a minimum of 51 votes to pass a bill in the 101-member House.

The chamber had defeated the proposal hours earlier by a bipartisan vote of 61-34. House members said that Fallin's office had urged members of the majority GOP caucus to change their no votes.

“Because of the extraordinary efforts of Rep. Mark McBride and Rep. Jon Echols, who represent communities in Moore and Oklahoma City that were hard-hit by last year’s storms, HJR 1092 has been revived and is now heading to the Senate for final passage,” Fallin said in a statement. “It is now up to the Senate to act on this bill and ensure the people of Oklahoma have a chance to vote on a plan to help put more storm shelters and safe rooms in our schools.”

The House took up the proposed constitutional amendment two days after the anniversary of a massive tornado that struck Moore and killed seven students at Plaza Towers Elementary School.

Parents of those students killed at Plaza Towers have filed tort claims against both the city and Moore Public Schools alleging the school failed to follow safety protocols, and that the city failed to use qualified architects, engineers and contractors when building the classroom addition where the seven children died on May 20, 2013.

The Oklahoman’s Jennifer Palmer reports the city clerk’s office received all seven tort claims last week, and several also name the state of Oklahoma.

All seven tort claims were received by the city clerk’s office last week, just before the one-year deadline to file a claim. Several also name the state of Oklahoma.

On Monday, the American Society of Civil Engineers said a report from the May 20, 2013, tornado still is under review, and its findings have not been released.

In the days after the tornado, a group of structural engineers inspected Briarwood Elementary School, which also was destroyed. All of its occupants survived.

One of the engineers, an associate professor at the University of Oklahoma, noted deficiencies, including walls lacking reinforced concrete, an anchor bolt pulled from the ground, and places where the masonry walls were not connected to support beams.

Neither school had a storm shelter, but plans for the new schools, which are under construction, each include one.

An attorney for the city told reporters that he hopes the public will "not to jump to conclusions'' and said the case will take its course through the court system.

The city and the school have 90 days to either deny the claim or reach a settlement. After that a lawsuit can be filed.

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