The first week or two of session is the most difficult to give a report on because, quite frankly, we don’t do much. I realize this may sound odd, but bills are just now being heard in committees.
With that said, I am happy to report that I had two wildlife bills heard and passed unanimously in the Ag and Wildlife Committee. HB 1338 lowers the age for an “apprentice hunting license” from ten years old to eight years old. This will allow an eight year old to hunt large game (deer, turkey, etc.), as long as they are no further than arm’s length from an adult who has a normal hunting license and has competed a hunters’ safety course. HB 1339 requires that all licenses sold after January 1, 2013, would have to be entered into the system electronically by license dealers. This would eliminate the surety bond that they have to purchase presently.
We have had a flurry of bills filed on various state pension plans, and the general intent of this legislation is that the state will no longer contribute to the retirement system, but that it will be left up to individual employees to fund their own retirement.
We have a huge number of bills filed, and we really don’t have an idea which ones will survive committee, much less pass on the House floor. For this reason, I hesitate to comment on a whole lot of bills. There are, however, some bills on which I would appreciate your feedback.
First, do you favor having Oklahoma “opt out” or doing away with Daylight Savings Time? If that is the option, then we would not “fall back” an hour in the fall.
Second, do you favor open carry of weapons by people who have “concealed weapon” permits?
Third, the last bill I would like feedback on is: Do you favor allowing concealed weapons on college campuses?
On Wednesday, we had Career Tech Day at the Capitol, as well as visits from Correction Officers. Unfortunately, I was in committee meetings from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and that limited my contact with those groups, for which I apologize.
Our pastor of the week is Doug Melton of Southern Hills Baptist Church, and his devotion came from Psalms 39. His main theme was that we tend to number our days following a great event, or leading up to a great event, and he stated that, as we get older, we tend to number our days to the end of our lives. He further reminded us that we can’t earn our way to Heaven with deeds but only through God.
I am very much looking forward to James Collins, pastor of Frink Baptist Church (and my home church), coming next week as pastor of the week for the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Trust me, I will report on his devotion.
Because in this report I have asked for your feedback, I would like to remind you that you can call my office at the Capitol at 1-800-522-8502, ext. 381; McAlester office, 423-1960. My email address is email@example.com, or regular mail is 2300 North Lincoln Boulevard, Room 504, Oklahoma City, OK 73105.
Visitors here in the office this week were: April Murray, Philip Mead, Raymond Wilson, Ronnie DeGiacomo, Randy Lopez, Randy Roden, Kent Wilkins, Roger Johnson and Kent Towne. Thanks to all of you for coming by.
This turned out to be an abbreviated week as our first week due to nasty weather coming in to Oklahoma. Their only substantive work on the floor this week was the passage of House rules which we will abide by during session. Rep. Charles Key (R) Bethany, filed an amendment to the rules requiring that all bills filed would get a committee hearing. He stated that this was a tea party agenda item and it would lend transparency to state government, as well as openness. In the past the chair person of the committee would decide which bill would or wouldn’t be heard. This amendment was killed 53 to 46, with 53 Republicans against it and 29 Democrats and 16 Republicans voting for it. This infuriated the Oklahoma Tea Party as we received email overnight from them.
The State of the State address by Governor Mary Fallin was encouraging as she said she would not tolerate tax credits if jobs were not created! You Go, Mary!! Her main theme was job creation and I applaud her for that! Chief Greg Pyle and Assistant Chief Gary Batton attended the State of the State address, and I was proud to see them as I did not recognize any other Tribal leaders present. As we get more legislation introduced, I will have further comments and longer articles.
As Always, God Bless. I Timothy 2:2.
Two Steps Forward and Three Steps Back
A budget agreement was decided last week that turned out to be a fairly decent compromise. It was achieved by putting a moratorium on tax credits, refinancing bonds, and by adding insurance claims fees.
The wheels came off the train when the emergencies did not pass on the tax credits and the claims fees. This has essentially delayed the bills going into effect for 3 months. Because these wheels came off the budget train, either we will be called back into special session, or the cuts that were published last week by the Governor, Speaker of House, and Pro Tempore of the Senate will go up! We will see.
The real killer this week was the fact that the wireless companies came to the hog trough and received a 50% break on their ad valorem taxes. This is one of the most lucrative businesses in Oklahoma, but their gift will cost the schools and the counties of Oklahoma dearly. In about a month, go to the Ethics Commission website, and you will see who voted for this gift by the contribution to these legislators from the different wireless companies. You will not find any contribution to me as I voted NO!
Next, with less than 48 hours before final adjournment, Representative Dan Sullivan (R-Tulsa), an attorney who works exclusively for insurance companies, ran four bills to regulate, privatize, and dismantle CompSource. This is Oklahoma's Government Workers Compensation Company. We are talking major policy change with just 45 hours left in session!
You are not going to believe what happened in the State Legislature this week. History was made! The Republicans voted for President Obama's education reforms in SB 2033, which is Race to the Top. The majority of Republicans voted for it, and the majority of Democrats voted against Obama's reforms. This just goes to show you it is not all partisan politics here in Oklahoma. This legislation is simply a merit pay bill for teachers. I have spoken before on the deficiencies and problems of merit pay, and I have not changed my mind.
With all the cry for openness and transparency in government, it is ironic that Representative Randy Terrill (R-Moore) is trying to insert language into two different bills that would suppress information that is in the Open Records Act. The first bill, HB 3383, was not met with support, so he tried to bury the same language on Page 56 in the second bill, HB 3379. HB 3379 is a long Department of Corrections bill. This bill came out in the last 48 hours, and Representative Terrill thought we would be tired of reading bills and miss this "Wooly Booger." We will be voting on HB 3379 late Thursday night, after this article has been sent out.
With this being an election year, we knew that there would be a lot of "Look What I Passed" legislation. I believe that this has been counter productive to Oklahoma's real problems: the budget, Oklahoma's economy, and protecting our water.
I want to report that HB 3061 by Representative Dale Dewitt (R-Braman) passed out of the House this week. This bill sets up a "Water Infrastructure Revolving Fund." This fund is no more than setting up an account at the Oklahoma Water Resources Board for any sale of water. I voted against it, as did all Eastern Oklahoma representatives. Even though it passed the House, Senator Kenneth Corn, who is a candidate for Lieutenant Governor, Senator Jerry Ellis, and Senator Richard Lerblance kept it off the Senate Floor, so it died.
There are concentrated efforts by a myriad of people and groups to keep Oklahoma City from gaining control of Lake Sardis, and I want to assure you the fight is not over. Even during the time we are not in session, I will still be fighting to safeguard Lake Sardis' future for the people of Southeast Oklahoma.
My reports may not be "laced with sugar," but I try to tell it as I see it. The Lord has truly blessed me this Legislative session, and I appreciate your prayers and thoughts. With session concluding tomorrow (Friday), I want you to know that you can find me at my Animal Hospital on South Main in McAlester, five days a week. Additionally, you can still call the Capitol office number with your issues Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (1-800-522-8502, ext. 381).
May God bless each and every one of you!
We are in the next to the last week and we are witnessing first hand, the good, the bad and the ugly of legislation.
HB 2658, Daniel Sullivan (R-Tulsa), has passed the bad. This bill is the privatization of CompSource. I voted NO! County government and schools, as well as Yours Truly, use CompSource.
HB 2698, Randy McDaniel (R-Oklahoma City) has passed the ugly. This bill is the Oklahoma Government Website Information Act. It will require all public bodies that have a website to make available all administrative rules that the public body uses to operate, as well as any and all statutes affecting its operations. Public bodies include municipalities, school boards, and government agencies. I voted NO! Just think of the cost of researching Oklahoma Law and Administrative Rules and entering it on all these Websites. I can see some of these public bodies abandoning their websites.
HB 2836, Earl Sears (R-Bartlesville), has passed the ugly. This bill is the performance pay (merit) for teachers. I voted NO! Hopefully, Governor Henry will VETO this bill. At a time when we are cutting first year teachers, we are creating merit pay? This is bad for public education. How do you test coaches, physical education, special education, agriculture, music and art teachers? This bill will build animosity among teachers. It will work against team teaching approach. In States that have merit pay, there is no evidence in improvement of student performance.
For the last three weeks, we have been pushing leadership to cut back all tax credits by 10% to balance the budget without any further cuts to state agencies. The leadership has responded by cutting tax credits by 100% to rural Oklahoma. A good example is the Coal Tax Credit that has actually created jobs in Representative Neil Brannon's District. This is a slap on the wrists to those of us who wanted equal tax credit cuts. Guess what? The leadership did not cut oil and gas credits or the tax credits to the NBA "Thunder" team.
On Thursday, we received the news that there was an agreement on the budget. On Monday there was an agreement on the budget, except on education. At that time the Leadership was seeking a 7% cut. However, the Governor and the Minority were holding out for only a 2% cut. Today an agreement was made on education for a 2.9% cut. I am happy to report moratoriums on some tax credits have enhanced our revenue in this year's budget. As is the case with most bills, the appropriation bill is not as good as most proponents think nor as bad as most opponents think.
Next week is the last week of session. I am looking forward to being back in my District.
Capitol visitors this week were: Wayne Singleton of Hartshorne, Wayne Sexton of Kiowa and Bradley Hamilton of McAlester, and Danny Baldwin (KEDDO) of Wilburton. It is always great to visit with folks from my District, The Good. May God bless each of you.
I would like to report that things are going well at the Capitol but, unfortunately, the State of Oklahoma is in a critical financial time. With the falling revenue, we have already cut agency budgets by 10% over last year, and we are currently looking at a similar reduction, which will totally reduce budgets by almost a quarter from levels two years ago. Very simply, this means that Oklahomans will suffer from cuts to our most basic services.
The overall picture of these cuts is staggering. With the cuts in Medicaid, recipients could lose coverage of prescription drugs, which would close down local pharmacies. Some pharmacies receive 80% of their revenues from Medicaid reimbursements. The loss of kidney dialysis treatment facilities will lead to devastating consequences for patients in need.
Provider rate reductions will force health care providers out of business. I guess we will wake up to what's going on when our local nursing home calls us to tell us to come get our loved ones.
Our students will face school closures and larger class sizes, as well as fewer programs. How will a four day school week work for you?
The budget is being decided behind closed doors; the only input that I will have is an up or down vote on the total budget. From reliable sources a good example of the constant changing of the budget is: on Monday, education was taking a 15% cut; Tuesday it was down to just a 3% cut; and then Wednesday it was back up to a 7% cut.
You are probably wondering why I am rambling on about these cuts in services. But how will we get along without hospitals in McAlester or Wilburton, and what will happen if we lose our pharmacies, nursing homes, and home health agencies? What if we lost 25% of our DHS, ODOT, and DOC employees? What about cuts to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, who are already limited to 500 miles per week? Think of the loss to our communities of these salaries alone, not to mention the loss of services to the handicapped and mentally ill.
The Department of Corrections currently is staffed at 73% of possible employment. We have overcrowding and the fourth highest incarceration rate. So what did the Legislature do? It has passed 21 new laws to incarcerate more or to keep inmates "locked up" for a longer period of time. I guess the Tough on Crime Guys here want to be #1!
On a personal note, I want to thank some individuals who sent me e-mails to vote against HB 3393. This bill is the voucher bill that will take more money from public education. Thank you; I will carry out your wishes.
The House Pastor of the Week was from the Broken Arrow First Baptist Church. His devotion was on the Apostle Paul, which reminded me how insignificant I am in the general scheme of things. I love my Lord, and I pray that you do too. May God bless the State of Oklahoma and each of you.
Capitol visitors this week were Superintendent of McAlester Schools Tom Condict and Wayne Sexton of Kiowa.