Prison rodeo measures progress in state House, Senate

Mar. 2—It's out of the chute and on its way.

House Bill 3749 by District 17 State Rep. Jim Grego, R-Wilburton, would set up a revolving fund to help bring the Oklahoma State Penitentiary Prison Rodeo back to McAlester.

It passed through the House Budget and Appropriations Committee on Thursday afternoon.

It's now headed for the next step in the legislative process — although Grego said he likely won't be certain what that is until this coming week.

"I'm not sure where it will go next," Grego said. "At this point it's still progressing."

Possibilities include HB 3749 going on to the full House floor, or possibly to a joint House-Senate Committee.

While Grego said he's learned not to count on something passing in the legislature until it has passed, he said he has a good feeling about House Bill 3749

In addition to Grego's House Bill, Senate Bill 1427 by Sen. Darcy Jech, R-Kingfisher, that would provide $8.3 million to help bring the OSP Prison Rodeo back to McAlester, also passed through a full Senate Committee on Thursday.

Grego said that in addition to his own HB 3749, he's also a House sponsor of Jech's Senate bill.

The idea of both bills is to get $8.3 million appropriated to an Oklahoma Department of Corrections Revolving Fund to be used to help upgrade and repair the prison rodeo arena.

Grego's bill does not include the funding amount at this point, while it is included in Jech's Senate bill. Grego said the amount could be added to his House bill later, and there's also the possibility the two bills could become a joint House-Senate measure.

"We're running a bill on the House side and they're running a bill in the Senate," Grego noted. "We could combine them into one bill."

HB 3749 is described in legislative documents as "An act relating to prisons and reformatories; creating the Oklahoma Department of Corrections Prison Rodeo Revolving Fund: making (the) revolving fund continuing and not subject to fiscal year limitations; stating purpose of revolving fund; making expenditures subject to warrants; providing for codification and declaring an emergency."

Oklahoma Department of Corrections Chief Administrator of State Institutions Jim Farris, a former warden at OSP and the Jackie Brannon correctional Center in McAlester, said he is determined to see the prison rodeo return to OSP.

ODOC Director Steve Harpe, who also supports the OSP Prison Rodeo's return to McAlester, included a request for $8.3 million for the OSP Rodeo Arena in his initial ODOC budget presented earlier this year.

Also, ODOC has already invested approximately $1 million to start the process of restoring the OSP Prison Rodeo arena and some of the concrete seats inside it, corrections officials said.

Prior to the OSP Prison Rodeo's 2010 cancellation, it drew thousands of visitors and locals from around the state and the nation to McAlester.

In addition to traditional rodeo activities, bull and bronc riding, steer wrestling and calf roping, it included specialty acts and unique events, such as the wild tub ride, the wild horse race and money the hard way.

The popular rodeo continued for approximately 70 nonconsecutive years, with the few breaks in-between brought on by events such as World War II and the 1974 OSP prison riot.

Now, McAlester and state officials, as well as OSP Prison Rodeo fans, are hopeful that the latest actions will help provide the momentum for the rodeo's return.