We are in the last month of our session with no budget talks or mention of any. The legislative leadership is stalling over the budget because they want to balance the budget with over $200 million in bonds that they want us to commit to support. As I have previously reported to you, we cannot borrow ourselves out of debt. Evidently a majority of the House members feel the same way, because four weeks ago our Leadership trotted out a $15 million bond to do repairs to the Capitol, and it was soundly defeated. They figure we probably wouldn’t go for a $200 million package, and they are thinking right.
I honestly feel that we need to turn our attention away from “hot button issues” and back to issues to create jobs and make life better for the citizens of Oklahoma. This will not happen until Legislators quit filing bills that they think will get them re-elected and go after less glamorous issues that will create a better way of life for all of us.
We also have to quit killing or trying to kill bills just because someone from the “other” party is the author. There are two bills this session that I voted for, where I was the only member of my party to vote yes. I absolutely don’t regret either one of these votes.
In the past three months I have asked for your opinions on several issues, and after we adjourn I will continue to send out these same questions because, so far, they have been either defeated or not brought up yet, so please keep responding to these questions.
So far this session, no legislation has been brought up for transfer or sale of any water in the State, particularly Sardis water. The tribes (Choctaw and Chickasaw) have done a good job of letting the Governor and Legislature know that there will be legal action taken in regard to movement of water out of SE Oklahoma. I, along with several other Legislators, will be watching for amendments or conference committee reports (bills) that may sneak language into our statutes to affect adversely our Oklahoma water law. I will not only be watching Title 82, which is statute on water law, but I will also be keeping a watch for municipal bills. If a bill comes up to give a municipality free reign to sell utilities without the Governor’s approval, that could be water from Oklahoma City heading south! These are just some of the things about which we must be vigilant in these final May legislative days.
Our new Federal Healthcare Law, which is a misnomer (it should be called the Insurance Reform Law) requires states to operate an ACA compliant exchange by a January 2014 deadline. ACA stands for Affordable Care Act. These insurance exchanges are information sites, whether they are a website or a state agency, for people to shop for insurance and compare premiums. This also allows for the boards of these exchanges to deliberate on complaints brought by citizens against insurance policies or insurance companies.
The Federal Government has allocated $54 million to each state to set up these exchanges. In Oklahoma, our Governor and Legislative Leadership at first accepted this money, then rejected it to set up, at the Oklahoma taxpayers’ expense, this new exchange. It came through SB 971, which is non-compliant with federal requirements in a number of ways. First, it does not meet public accountability and transparency requirements. SB 971 specifically designates governing board slots for insurance industry representatives and contains no prohibition on conflicts of interest. Talk about the fox guarding the hen house!
Second, it denies the exchange the regulatory authority to determine qualified insurance plans. Third, it provides no mechanism to review rate and premium increases or to censure insurance companies that spend most consumer premium dollars directly on medical care, not overhead or administration. If we are not compliant, then we will fall into federal intervention and receivership.
It doesn’t make sense to pass a bill that sets the State of Oklahoma up for failure. This bill has been sent to committee and, hopefully, it will not come out until these deficiencies are corrected.
Visitors this week were Kent Towne from KTC and Raymond Wilson with Puterbaugh TSA students, Brett Weeks, Connor Mayes, Joey Schoggins, Nicholas Santine, Robby Stephens and Joseph Savula. It was also good to have Carol Ervin and Pogo Thomson here representing the Main Street program from both McAlester and Wilburton. Last week we failed to mention another of our firefighters who spent some time here at the Capitol – Heath Marco – a belated thanks for coming by.
I hope everyone had a great Easter. Thankfully, Oklahoma received some much needed rain.
Unfortunately, at the State Capitol our priorities are not always in the right place, and this is no more evident than in the fact that the Legislature continues to violate a state law that was passed five years ago. We have a law that requires the Legislature to fund education by April 1. We have not done so, yet the House leadership is taking Thursday off to go on a golf outing with lobbyists in Arizona. We need to stay on task and do what you, the people, sent us to the Capitol to do, and that is to complete your business.
Meanwhile, we continue to pass some very contentious legislation. SB 398 by Steve Martin (R-Bartlesville) prohibits unsolicited telemarketing text messaging. This is one of those bills that sounds good in theory, but there is no way for Oklahoma to enforce out of state texts from telemarketers. However, Rep. Martin can go home and report what he did for his constituents with the bill.
I do not report on a great many of the education bills that are passed; but, folks, we are passing a large number of education bills patterned after the State of Florida. SB 2 by Ann Coody (R-Lawton) establishes a graduation rate indicator for an academic performance index. This is not all bad, except that our new Superintendent of State Instruction has the authority to set goals, and this legislation requires a school to reach a goal of 100%. This may be good in theory but is a farce in reality. Those not reaching these goals must file a graduation improvement plan, and this will also affect that school’s overall A, B, C, D, F grade on which I reported earlier. This will also affect our local districts’ funding.
I asked Rep. Coody if SB 2 will take into consideration the socioeconomic differences of school districts. The answer is “no.” Folks, I have some schools with 92% overall free and reduced school lunches vs. some schools that have a 5% overall free and reduced school lunch rate. For those of you not in the “school business,” families that qualify for “free and reduced” are living at the poverty level. So a school district in House District 17 that has 92% of families living at the poverty level will be evaluated exactly as those school districts that have only a few families in the lower income level. This is not a fair way to evaluate our local schools’ performance, which will ultimately hurt our children.
On top of all this, we just received our National Education result for 2010. Guess what! The overall graduation rate in the U.S. is 73% with Oklahoma at 78% and Florida at 64%, and we are patterning ourselves after the Florida plan. It is going to be very interesting to see where we are sitting five years from now.
Now for a really horrible education bill: SB 260 by Lee Denney (R-Cushing) allows charter schools to issue bonds or participate in bonds issued on their behalf. When questioning the author on who would be responsible for the bond if a charter school went under or bankrupt, she stated that it would be the responsibility of the school board that applied for these bonds. I just wonder if the school board of the charter school will be advised of this personal liability. Also, this legislation states that the “charter school sponsoring board shall meet at the call of the chair,” which is a clear indication that they are exempt from the Open Meeting Act. This is bad public policy. I say this because I am a big proponent of Oklahoma’s open meeting and record laws.
I am House author of SB 637, which is the dog breeder bill. The language in this bill came about as a compromise between dog breeders and the Pet Quality Assurance Board. It creates a toll free hotline for reporting of abused animals. It also keeps the Board from hiring Humane Society members as inspectors and allows dog breeders to use their veterinarians as inspectors. Tuesday’s Floor debate was interesting in that the final bill was not language I came up with, but rather language compromised between the breeders and the board. I had a very difficult time explaining this to the Legislature. They were looking for a “woolybooger” in the bill. I swear I think I could have explained it to a class of fifth graders in less time. After an hour of questioning and some debate, the bill passed 90-5.
If you will notice, I did not call this a “puppy mill” bill. That term is a very derogatory term, and a lot of people associate that name with anyone who raises dogs. This is simply not true. An overwhelming number of people who raise dogs love their dogs as much as you and I. Because of that, I agreed to carry this legislation in the House. Believe me, folks; carrying this legislation was not on my bucket list.
The fear of the unknown is what drives opposition to a lot of legislation, and this was no more evident than when three weeks ago, a humane group out of Oklahoma City came to McAlester and bought an $800 ad saying that I was protecting people who are raising animals in filth. Very simply, they didn’t have the decency to ask me what my intentions were with SB 637. Just think how many animals could have been spayed or neutered for $800. This is the one complaint that I have with national humane groups. They collect money showing starved, neglected pets and then use the money for political purposes, rather than on animals. I want you to know this is not the case in our local PAWS organizations, and for this reason, I would highly recommend that if any of you are currently donating to any national humane organizations, please direct those funds to your local PAWS group because they will spend all of it on the animals.
My door is always open to you. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to work for you as your State Representative. Please feel free to contact me anytime by regular mail, House of Representatives, 504 State Capitol, Oklahoma City, OK 73105; or by email email@example.com; or on our toll free number 1-800-522-8502.
It was good to see Mike Coniglia and Rodney Leamy from the McAlester Fire Department here in the office this week.
As one of the stewards of State Government, I try to be forward thinking of what we have in Oklahoma and what we need to protect (budget-wise). Oklahoma has more upstream flood control structures than any other State in the Union. Each year, Oklahoma’s 2,100+ flood control dams save our state $78 million in flood damage that does not happen because the dams are holding back the floodwaters. I realize in this time of record drought, it may be hard to focus on these flood control dams, but we have to be forward thinking on this subject.
We are finally spending long days on the House floor passing legislation, some good, some bad, and some that is only passed to help someone get re-elected.
A bill by D. Roberts (R-Durant) was passed and signed by the Governor, which bans funeral protests within 1,000 feet of a funeral (previously it was 500 feet).
SB 274 by Liebmann (R-Okla. City) is a bill to create a new turnpike. Let’s see, we gave Tulsa a new turnpike two years ago -- I guess Oklahoma City wants one this year. I voted NO; this bill was killed.
SB 595 by Derby (R-Owasso) allows the Secretary of Transportation to spend $100,000 on a feasibility study for advertising on toll roads. I would rather see this money go to rehabilitate some of our state’s flood control lakes. I voted “no” on this bill, and it failed by a very narrow margin.
My intentions this week were to write about two or three bills that we either passed or killed each day that had a major impact on the people of Oklahoma. The aforementioned bills came on the House floor on Monday. Unfortunately, yesterday (Tuesday) after nine hours and hearing 30 something bills, there was not one that was newsworthy enough to report to you. Better luck today!
We passed HJR 1002 by Dank (R-Okla. City) which would send to a vote of the people a state question that reduces from 5% down to 3% the amount of ad valorem tax that a county tax assessor can raise our land taxes each year. Our ad valorem (land) taxes go to schools and county government. At the present time the State of Oklahoma ranks 47th out of 50 states in the amount we are taxed; there are only three states that tax their population less than we are taxed.
I have been somewhat disappointed with the content of legislation this year at the Capitol. Over the last few years I have felt the way Oklahoma could pull itself out of this recession is to convert our vehicles to natural gas. I was fully expecting at least legislation to convert state government vehicles and school buses to compressed natural gas. I passed by a natural gas service station this morning and noticed it was at 1.39 equivalent to a gallon of gas, which is pushing $4.00/gallon. We are having a big increase in compressed natural gas service stations statewide. I was also told that our major car makers were going to be mass producing more natural gas burning vehicles in 2017. I wish the people of Oklahoma would push our legislature to pursue natural gas conversions.
We pass a lot of legislation that are hot button items that are polled and politically correct, but yet we seem to fall short on issues that increase the quality of life for most Oklahomans. We are in bad need of another Robert S. Kerr or Henry Bellmon to turn this state around.
This week we honored Department of Transportation Poster winners from across the state. On the House floor we recognized Erin Dunlap, the daughter of Shannon and Gina Dunlap who reside southeast of Krebs. They were accompanied by Cynthia Douthitt who is Erin’s teacher at Will Rogers Elementary School. It sure was nice to see some home folks here at the Capitol.
We also honored 4-H members of Oklahoma. Students from my district who came by were: Makenna Rogers, Kiowa and Chris Maxcey from McAlester.
God Bless all of you and I hope everyone is able to attend Easter services in your home church. Remember the vast majority of Americans profess “In God We Trust.”
Acts, chapter 1.
Rumors are we may be adjouning around the middle of May. If that’s the case, we need to complete a budget. The last two years we have been bailed out of a budget crunch by federal stimulus money and the Rainy Day Fund. Since those revenues are gone, we will need other solutions. We are told that plans are underway for at least a $200 million bond package to help bail us out. You know I am not a financial genius, but I’m smart enough to know that you can’t borrow yourself out of debt.
One of the best bills filed this session that passed out of committee but was not heard on the floor is HB 1235 by Rep. Ben Sherrer (D-Pryor), which would make pseudoephedrine tablets a Schedule III drug. This would severely restrict the amount of this drug a person would be allowed to have in his/her possession. We all know that pseudoephedrine is used to produce methamphetamine. From 1993 to 2004, importation and manufacture of pseudoephedrine has increased 12,000 per cent. With the adoption of this type of legislation in Mississippi, meth labs decreased by 58% in the first eight months. Pharmaceutical money kept it off the House floor here in Oklahoma this year. This is not what is good for Oklahoma.
I want to report back to you and let you know how impressed I was with the responses to my survey questions I proposed in both newspapers and letters sent by my office. The results from you, the people, are: abolish daylight savings time – 19-1 in favor; guns on campus – 12-1 against; open carry of Guns, 8-1 against; giving the Governor power to appoint elected positions of State Treasurer, Labor Commissioner, Superintendent of Public Education, and Corporation Commissioners, almost unanimous against (80-1). I truly appreciate the responses.
The last couple of weeks I haven’t reported on many bills passing off the House floor because we are back in the “committee cycle,” considering Senate bills in House committees. When we have passed bills, they really haven’t been ones with much substance. The next two weeks will be deadline weeks to clear all Senate bills off the House floor as well as House bills off the Senate floor.
As you are aware, the Governor signed a bill taking away a teacher’s due process, and we passed a bill to grade schools on an A, B, C, D, F formula; there are a host of other education bills that are all a part of the “Florida Plan.” Our state leaders think that we need to pattern Oklahoma’s education plan after Florida. Ironically, over the last several years, Oklahoma students score higher on ACT tests than Florida. Also, Florida spends $1,700 more per child in the classroom than Oklahoma, but there is no mention of additional funding for our schools – talk about hypocrisy!
This week we celebrated the 45th Infantry Appreciation Day in a Joint Session with the Senate. Mostly ceremonial in past years, the tribute seemed more poignant this year since 3300 of our guardsmen have been activated for overseas duty. There was a marked absence of Guardsmen in the gallery; however, there were quite a few family members present. We all need to pray for their safe return.
Some of the visitors here at the Capitol this week were: Cathryn Tucker and Christine Sauro, celebrating Library Day; and Jennifer Clark, one of our Advocates for Kids. Also coming by were Karen Fisher and Amy Cable from CASA of SE Oklahoma. Thanks for stopping by the office.
This week we had a lot of visitors at the Capitol. We had the Women of Oklahoma Farm Bureau who brought home cooked food to the whole Capitol staff. We also had Farm Bureau members from throughout the State, as well as from my district.
As most of you know, every ten years we take a census, and then the year after, the State changes each of our districts. Prior to 2010, each Representative represented 34,165 people; after the 2010 census, we now represent 37,142 – an increase of almost 3,000 population. Most of the increase in population occurred in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, but there was a pretty good increase in Durant also. I have been told that my district will move into McAlester. I also have been told that I will pick up northern Atoka County and northeast Coal County. I may lose the three southern precincts in Haskell County, but keep all of Latimer County, western Leflore, and eastern and southern Pittsburg County. I won’t know for sure for a couple of weeks, but the people who decide, who are above my pay grade, will let all of us know. The Legislature must vote approval of the redistricting plan before the end of Session on May 27.
There seems to be turmoil in the Tourism Department here in Oklahoma. The new Tourism Director Debbie Snodgrass announced recently that she is closing seven state parks in the eastern part of the state, which is ironic because tourism is our third largest industry in the state, and these closings will decrease tourism dollars spent in those counties. Today in the Economic Development Committee, a bill passed that would allow the State Tourism Department to sell $10 million in bonds for capital improvements in State Parks. There is a feeling around the Capitol that we are sprucing up these State Parks for future sales. Two years ago the Department sold Lake Texoma State Park to Chesapeake Corporation. Debbie Snodgrass, our new director, is a former employee of Chesapeake Corporation. Interesting, huh?
There are no concrete budget terms out yet, but preliminary reports are that Public Education, Public Safety and Human Services will be cut 3%; Higher Ed 5%, Career Tech, 5 ¼%, and all other agencies 5 to 7%.
Congratulations are in order for the 2011 recipient of the Donna Nigh Award. The award is named for the former First Lady and recognizes an individual whose volunteer work in government, business or media has dramatically improved the quality of life for fellow Oklahomans. The state recipient this year is McAlester resident, Larry Ivey. Congratulations and kudos to Larry!
Last week I was busy in committee meetings, and as I was cleaning my desk off this week, I found a note that I missed Marilyn Turvey, Susie Hass and Paige Shoupe from Kiamichi Tech.
Visitors this week included Tim Wynn, Jerry Banker, Larry Ivey, Mike Ward and several residents from Oklahomans for Independent Living. McAlester Day at the Capitol was Tuesday; it’s always a highlight when the McAlester Chamber showcases our hospitality to the Legislature and to the Capitol staff.