May 6th, 2010

05/08/10 | by Brian | Categories: Welcome

On Monday, a group of motorcyclists named the Patriot Guard was recognized on the House Floor.  These men and women volunteer their services to provide a "buffer zone" at military funerals of our fallen soldiers.  They attend to shield the families from anti-war protesters and funeral pickets.  Their two main goals: To show sincere respect to our fallen heroes, their families and their communities; and to stop any interruptions in the funeral service of soldiers who have died serving their country.  The group was started by a husband and wife from Broken Arrow who saw a genuine need for these services.  They quickly drew members from the Rolling Thunder, ABATE, and other motorcycle groups.  The Patriot Guard members are heroes to families who have lost loved ones in military service.  The next time you see a large group of motorcyclists, they may not be just touring bikers; they may be answering another noble calling.

 We honored various Department of Corrections officials who were being recognized for their outstanding service to their department.  Being recognized as D.O.C. Supervisor of the Year was Virgil Young from Oklahoma State Penitentiary.

 I am also happy to report HB 2696 passed the house and now goes to Governor Henry for signing.  This bill names highways and bridges.  A major importance to our area is the naming of a bridge near Blanco in honor of E.F. "Doc" Coker, who is considered by many as the "Godfather of Conservation" for Pittsburg County.

 Do you remember my rant last week about fees?  Well, another bill is coming our way to increase driver license fees from $23 to $30.  Hey, it's not a tax, but it is permanent!  

     We have three weeks left in the 52nd Session.  This week, we did not have much floor activity; next week it will increase, and the last two weeks will be 12-14 hour days.

 I am sad to report that my resolution HCR 1061 has not been called up on the House Floor.  This resolution calls for a moratorium on permitting the sale of Sardis Lake water until the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Study is completed.  It also stipulates that any transfer of Sardis Lake water be approved by the Legislature.  I will keep you posted on any change of this legislation.

 Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the State FFA Banquet.  I was hosted by the Hartshorne FFA advisor Ira Brinlee and the Chapter Sentinel Marla Ichord.  Marla is an exceptional student.  I assumed she was a senior because of the way she carried herself, only to find out she is a sophomore!  It is with great comfort that I observe what FFA and 4-H do for our next generation.  I don't think you will find any "couch potatoes" there! 

 This week visiting were: Stuart Superintendent Bill SanMillan and Bradley Hamilton from the Soil Conservation office. I always enjoy visiting with home folks.  If you are in Oklahoma City, please come by for a visit.

 May God bless each of you.

 

April 29, 2010

05/08/10 | by Brian | Categories: Welcome

It is time to rescue the State of Oklahoma from itself.   As we are into the third year of declining revenue, we need to take a serious look at the tax credits that have been given to corporations and to Oklahoma's wealthiest citizens.  This year, for the second straight year, we will be telling state agencies to take appropriate cuts, plus an additional 10%.  Why not cut tax credits to corporations at the same percentile?

            Some say there is fat in almost every agency.  That may have been true a couple of years ago, but not now.  Folks, what I'm concerned about is the following and in no particular order: senior citizen centers; Medicaid reimbursements to our medical community including nursing homes, home healthcare agencies, pharmacies, public hospitals and doctors; the reduction of teachers; and the furloughing of state employees, particularly devastating to both a husband and wife who work for the State.  Tell me why are we cutting vital services and not cutting the huge tax credits given to corporations?

            In 2007, the state gave a $54 million tax credit to a Southeast Oklahoma Lumber Corporation, which came out to $300,000 per employee - so much for the free enterprise system.  We have also given a $150 million dollar tax credit to a bank institute.   Talk about a bailout!   Do you see where I am going with this?  The tax exemptions and tax credits for fiscal year 2008 came to $5.6 billion.  The State Tax and Equalization Board has projected our 2011 revenue to be $5.4 billion dollars; can you see where our money is going?   This amounts to one half to run the State of Oklahoma and the other half to tax credits and exemptions.  This has absolutely nothing to do with how the nation as a whole is doing; it has to do with our choices.  Our federal government isn't the only guilty party giving bailouts.

            On Tuesday, our Democratic Caucus called on leadership to roll back 10% of selected tax credits in the form of moratoriums or freezes to save the State of Oklahoma.   To put it in the simplest of terms, the State of Oklahoma collects $11 billion per year, gives $5.6 billion in tax credits and exemptions, and then spends $5.4 billion to run the State of Oklahoma.  The purpose of tax credits is to stimulate new jobs, but guess what?  There are no checks and balances to insure that these credits produce new jobs.  If there is ever an investigation into this landslide of tax credits, it will be an eye-opening experience for the State of Oklahoma.

            Now let's talk about fees.  Last year we increased fees in the state totaling over $16 million - mostly paid by the average Joe.  This year we are passing fees at a record pace, but no one will call them what they really are, new taxes.  They are permanent, but they are not taxes!   On Monday at our Democratic Caucus meeting, a representative from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission came asking for support for a $300 yearly fee for all gas and oil well owners.  This will net the Corporation Commission about $3 million annually.  They are not considered taxes, but they are permanent.  Everyone says they are taxed to death; however, here in Oklahoma we fee people to death. 

            Those visiting this week were:  Chester Dennis, Wilburton; Danny Baldwin, KEDDO; Dr. Steve Smith, President of Eastern Oklahoma State College; and Ms. Peggy DeFrange, Bryn Greer and Jolene Waller with a group of 4th Graders from McAlester Will Rogers Elementary School.  Of course, it was a great privilege to be part of honoring the McAlester Lady Buffaloes 5A State Championship Team from the House Floor on Monday. 

            May God Bless You. 

 

 

From the Mouths of Babes - April 22, 2010

05/08/10 | by Brian | Categories: Welcome

     On Wednesday morning, I had breakfast with my two pages from Red Oak High School, Tori Young and Jennifer Morgan, who are delightful young ladies and who have enjoyed the Page experience.  While having breakfast, two other Pages came and asked me probably the best question that I have ever been asked by a Page. The question was: Why do representatives introduce certain bills on the House Floor that are unconstitutional?  I asked them what bills they were referencing.  Their response was the bills that allow Oklahoma to opt out of federal laws.  They had learned in their American Government Class that the 10th Amendment states that federal laws supersede state laws.  I simply advised the girls that these bills are filed as political statements.  They followed up with "this is a waste of taxpayers' money" (to run these unconstitutional bills).  We have been told at the Capitol that it costs approximately $20,000 to run a bill.  As I previously noted, "From the mouths of babes."

      On Tuesday, the House passed SB 421 by Seneca Scott (D-Tulsa) to allow school districts in Oklahoma to raise money by selling advertisements to be placed on school buses.  As a note of interest, the bill did exclude political advertisements. 

      If you don't think the insurance lobby is a powerful lobby, take a look at Senate Bill 2163, which I did NOT vote for.  This bill creates a "Health Care Indemnity Trust Fund" from which damages will be paid to victims of medical malpractice when a jury finds the level of negligence great enough to justify removing the $400,000 cap on non-economic damages.  These include matters such as reduced quality of life or pain and suffering.

      Folks, this fund is financed by you and me by using our tax dollars to fill the fund.  Instead of fixing our roads, buying school books, and making sure our senior citizens have decent meals, we are going to subsidize insurance companies.  I don't say this very often, but did I mention this is a Republican bill?  We need to re-think how we want state government to serve the working people of Oklahoma.

      This week I attended the Public Health Appropriations Committee meeting. The Director of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority addressed the expected 10% cut to his agency.  This agency gets a 3 to 1 match of federal dollars for Oklahoma's Medicaid program.  Therefore, this will result in an actual 30% cut to his agency.  He stated that prescription payments would cease, impacting numerous hometown pharmacies that receive as much as 80% of their income from Medicaid. This reduction could also close nursing homes, which receive 70% of their income from Medicaid.  Additionally, other services will take drastic cuts.  This will affect almost all physicians and public hospitals in our state.

      Representative Mike Ritz (R-Broken Arrow), who is also a practicing physician, told me that last year 25% of all practicing physicians over the age of 55 either left the state or ceased practicing.   It seems we are already in a health care crisis.  And we talk about opting out of the federal health program.  When we forfeit our 3 to 1 federal match, people will notice the absence of home health workers to assist in the care of their loved ones.  When the nursing homes close, we will be forced to retrieve our loved ones and attempt to meet all their needs in our homes.  Are we seriously ready to give up Medicare?     

    Visiting this week were:  John and Dorothy Turnauckas of Stuart; Sally Hanway of McAlester; Shelley Free and Eddie Coleman, Kiamichi Technology Center; and Margaret Goddard with Haileyville BPA students.  If I can be of assistance to you, please call me at 405-557-7381, e-mail me at brian.renegar@okhouse.gov, or come by my office at the State Capitol, Room 504.

      May God bless you.

 

April 15th, 2010

05/08/10 | by Brian | Categories: Welcome

 Governor Brad Henry proclaimed April 13th to be National Guard and 45th Thunderbird Infantry Day in Oklahoma.  The Oklahoma National Guard Commander, Adjunct General Myles L. Deering, spoke on the House Floor as the Senators joined us for the third Joint Session this year.  We also had a large contingent of uniformed men and women from the Oklahoma National Guard join for a very patriotic day!  There was a tremendous amount of pride in our state militia displayed by all those that spoke. 

Ironically, on the same day, the Oklahoman Newspaper ran a three quarter page article on a political action group that is considering the idea of forming a state volunteer militia.  This is a slap in the face to the men and women who volunteer to be a part of the Oklahoma National Guard. 

 To further add insult to injury, gubernatorial candidate Senator Randy Brogden (R-Owasso) and Representative Charles Key (R-Oklahoma City) said they would be supportive and would introduce legislation next year to establish a state-authorized militia.  This all comes six days prior to the anniversary of the militia-led bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building by right-wing extremist Tim McVeigh. The "militia movement" portrayed the bombing as an attack on the federal government, but in reality it was an evil act of terrorism that left 168 Oklahomans dead and had no effect on the federal government.  I am one legislator who will not be voting for any such militia as long as we have the "OKLAHOMA NATIONAL GUARD."

 The State Equalization Board announced the projected revenue for 2011.  They estimate the general revenue to be $5.4 billion, which is $1.5 billion less than 2010.  Even with the balance of the Rainy Day Fund for 2011, the state will have a shortfall of approximately $850 million.  This will result in an 11-12% reduction of funding to state agencies.  The Oklahoma Health Care Authority gets 3 to 1 federal monies; therefore, they could not see a cut in their state budgets.  The Department of Corrections has been held harmless in the past.   Due to these agencies being held harmless, there could be as much as an 18% reduction of some state agencies.  Hopefully, these projections will not be realized, but we need to be ready just in case they come true. 

           The bills being heard on the House Floor are Senate Bills.  There is a bill coming up that will help state agencies in an early retiree buyout.  There is a slight catch; the agency can not fill that position for 3 years, and the employee can not be employed by any state agency for 3 years. 

 On Wednesday morning, I attended a Natural Resource Appropriation Committee meeting with state agencies under Natural Resources in attendance.  All agencies attending said the same thing about a 10% plus reduction for 2011.  There will be reduction in employees and their response time will be a great deal slower.  There is one employee cut that will affect us the most in Eastern Oklahoma, and that is the cutting of 10 forestry firefighters.  I suppose they anticipate our Volunteer Fire Departments will take up the slack.           

 Those visiting the Capitol this week were:  Jeanna Howell, McAlester Community Sentencing and Shirley McBee from Hartshorne Dow Residential Care Facility.  I always enjoy the visitors from home. 

 May God bless each of you!

 

April 8, 2010

04/14/10 | by Brian | Categories: Welcome

A funny thing happened here at the Capitol this week; I sent a fact sheet over to the Senate to be distributed by the Senate Pages to all Senators.  Speaker Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee refused to allow the Pages to do so because it was ?of political nature.?  Folks, this Capitol is all about politics!  The fact sheet had nothing to do with Democrats or Republicans, but it was on a specific subject that he did not favor.  This is just another example of ?business as usual? at the Capitol. 

 

I am probably as upset as I have ever been since first arriving at the State Capitol. The payoff to the Corps of Engineers for Sardis Lake is about to be transferred from the State of Oklahoma to ?Central Oklahoma Water Group.?  The 27 million dollar balance will be paid by this group.  The four people making this decision will not be returning in 2011! These four individuals are Governor Brad Henry, Senate Pro-Tempore Glenn Coffee, and House Speaker Chris Benge (all term limited), and State Treasurer Scott Meacham, who is not running for re-election.  Along with the takeover of this contract, Oklahoma City has applied for 136,000 per acre feet of water from Sardis Lake, which is 87 percent of the available water.

 

When Governor Keating was in office, he tried to sell 10 percent of the water that flows over the Dam of Hugo Lake to Texas.  In a decade, the State of Oklahoma would have received several hundred million dollars for just 10%.  Oklahoma City is taking 87% of available water for a one time price of 27 million dollars.  This is insane.  From reliable sources, the Choctaws and Chickasaws offered to make the interest payment for the State of Oklahoma, but the ?Powers? at the Capitol have other plans. 

 

Senator Jerry Ellis (D-Valiant) and I have sent position statement requests to the County Commissioners of Oklahoma and the State Conservation Districts Associations.  We need to put pressure on these leaders to take a look at other alternatives. 

 

You know, we have passed Bond Issues here at the Capitol to build low water dams for Tulsa on the Arkansas River and for Endowed Chairs at OSU and OU.  We have given 60-90 million dollars to the owners of the Oklahoma City Thunder Basketball Team, yet we can?t pay off the building of a lake.  You can imagine my frustration.

 

As I end this article on Thursday before Easter, the House is still in session; the Senate adjourned yesterday for the week.  I guess they feel that they have earned an extra day off!  Maybe they furloughed themselves? Whatever the reason, the Senators missed ?Prayer Force One.?  This is a tour bus remodeled into a ?Prayer Bus.?  This is an outreach ministry of the Pecan Valley Baptist Church, which is just east of Oklahoma City.  This ministry is to emphasize that all things are possible through prayer.  The tour of the bus was a very heartwarming experience.  One could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit.

 

On Tuesday evening, I attended the Oklahoma Main Street Banquet, where many awards are presented.  The highlight of this evening was the announcement of the ?Program Manager of the Year.?  I am not ashamed to admit that I had a huge lump in my throat when they announced, ?The award goes to Mary Ellen Mooney of the Wilburton Main Street Program!?  Anyone who knows Mary Ellen and her ?never say die? attitude will agree that she is so deserving of this award.  I would also like to give a special thanks to her husband Mike, who helps her a great deal! 

 

Visiting this week was: Dr. Steve Smith from Eastern Oklahoma State College and Jody Jones with Oklahoma Correctional Professional of McAlester.  On Tuesday Oklahoma Farm Bureau Women (including local ladies from McAlester area) fed around 700 staffers and lawmakers at the State Capitol.  I also visited with Mayor Brinlee, Meg Meins, Mary Ellen and Mike Mooney of Wilburton.    

 

Folks, have a Happy Easter and praise God!!

 

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Weekly update from Oklahoma City on the status of Bills in the House.

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