April 1, 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!!

 

March 25,2010

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

One of the worst-timed bills this Session is SB 1328 by Senator Jay Paul Gumm (D-Durant), which proposes to eliminate the sales tax on groceries.  This may be a popular idea with consumers, but it will be the ?death? of municipalities.  The most popular argument is that in almost every state, there is no sales tax on groceries, which is true.  However, in every other state, the cities and towns receive ad valorem revenue for general operating expenses, but not in Oklahoma.  This bill has a provision that the State will rebate the municipal sales tax to the municipalities.  I ask with what?  Oklahoma is struggling to pay its obligations now.  I guess there is hope that the State will win its own lottery.

 

What about local municipalities that voted to tax themselves to pay for new jails and animal shelters?  Here is a novel idea: Maybe we should allow county voters to ?opt out.?  Does that ring a bell?  The rebate part of this bill would require the Oklahoma Tax Commission to ?estimate? the loss from the grocery tax.  I think the accuracy would be questioned.  Honestly, folks, where is the rebate money coming from?  This is really bad timing considering the state of our economy!

 

I apologize for the brevity of this week?s Capitol Greeting, but I have suffered from a flu bug of some sort and have not been well.  I have received several good comments in regard to my Capitol Greetings; I am glad that you like to read them and appreciate the update from the Capitol.    

 

Those visiting this week from McAlester Public Schools were James McFarland, Gary Short, Martin Donaldson, J. Paul Lane, Peggy DeFrange, Valerie Wilson and Brenda Calahan.  It is always good to see McAlester?s Boys and Girls Club represented at the Capitol; thanks to Lynn Edwards, Gregory Brown, Crystie Wesley, and Sheila Martin for their work.

 

May God bless each of you. 

 

March 18, 2010

03/20/10 | by Brian | Categories: Welcome
This week has been quiet compared to last week?s hectic schedule. We have received 535 bills from the Senate, which will now go through the House committee process before consideration on the House floor. Since we did not vote on legislative measures this week, I will highlight a few more House bills that passed last week. HB 2907, Danny Morgan (D-Prague), allows certain pregnant women who are under a doctor?s orders to have Handicap Placards, which will allow them to park in designated handicapped parking areas. HB 3123, Joe Dorman (D-Rush Springs), will allow tax credits for Volunteer Firefighters who participate in additional annual training. Finally, a tax credit that is not corporate welfare! HB 2686, Richard Morrissette (D-Oklahoma City), is the Eastern Red Cedar Initiative. I was so impressed with this bill that initiates the harvesting of Red Cedars that I co-authored the bill. HB 3384, Randy Terrill (R-Moore), will require all Oklahoma public schools to verify the immigration status of ALL students and to report those findings to the State Department of Education. No funding goes with this mandate. The author says he has no firm plans for using this certain data. I thought the mission of our schools was to educate, not gather information for political purposes! HB 3397, Skye McNiel (R-Bristow), will extend tax credits to year 2017! These same tax credits have contributed to Oklahoma?s declining economy. It is not prudent to move this bill forward. Remember: We gave the multi-millionaire owner of the NBA Oklahoma City Thunder Basketball Team tax credits of 60-90 million dollars. Folks, there is a saying around the Capitol, ?Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.? With that in mind, I attended a meeting last night with the lobbyist for Tarrant County Water District, who is suing the State of Oklahoma for forced sale of water to Texas. I flat out asked, ?How much is Tarrant County willing to pay Oklahoma for our water?? His answer: 1 cent per 1,000 gallons. That comes to $3.26 per acre foot. T. Boone Pickens is getting $1,200 per acre foot from Forth Worth. Canyon City, Colorado, is paying $5,000 per acre foot. Albuquerque, New Mexico, is paying $20,000 per acre foot to an Indian tribe. However, Texas is only offering to pay $3.25 per acre foot. Now, we know why Texas doesn?t want to build reservoirs within its own borders. On top of the amount they are willing to pay, they also have the audacity to say that they need a 50 year contract for a one time price! The next day after the meeting, I asked the other Representatives who were in attendance what they thought. I almost died when they said, ?We might as well; we aren?t getting any money for water running out of the State right now!? I guess I have a job educating these colleagues. I would like to personally thank Joseph Morgan, a FFA student from Hartshorne. Joseph brought a Hampshire gilt to this week?s Youth Expo in Oklahoma City. During the Youth Expo, the Legislature has a ?Legislative Showmanship Class? where the legislators choose a hog, lamb, or calf to show. I chose to show a hog, and I showed Joseph?s Gilt. Long story short, I won Champion Showman in the Hog Division, only because Joseph had worked with this hog, making it easy for me to keep the hog in front of the judge! Visiting this week were: Diana Buck, Leela Patterson and Margie Williams from Krebs School; Deborah Stone and Cecilia Miers from McAlester Child Advocacy Center; and Greg Contreras from McAlester Youth Emergency Shelter. If you would like to visit, please come by Capitol office, Room 504; call 800-522-8502 extension 381; or e-mail me at brian.renegar@okhouse.gov. May God bless each of you.
 

March 11, 2010

03/11/10 | by Brian | Categories: Welcome
This is deadline week at the State Capitol. All House bills must receive action by Thursday, March 11, or they are ?dead? for the session. There are some really bad bills that I will address this week. It could honestly take me five days to report, but I will try to squeeze it into just one. First, I want to clear up a huge misunderstanding. On Monday, Bradley Hamilton, A.J. Bristow, and Wayne Sexton came by after attending a district cattlemen?s meeting. While at this district meeting, they were told that Governor Henry was going to remove the agriculture sales tax exemption. The origin of this comes from Governor Henry?s State of the State Address, when he presented the state budget. He presented the shortfall of funding and then noted that tax credits given to corporations and individuals have contributed significantly to the budget deficit. Nowhere in his speech did he include agricultural sales tax exemptions. This is false information given out to our local cattlemen, and I just wanted to clear the air. As I report on the following bills, keep in mind that Oklahoma has a $1.3 billion deficit in this year?s budget and is looking at $1.6 billion for 2011. These projected numbers will lead to double digit cuts in state agencies. Furloughs will occur, and teachers will be terminated. Teachers who still have a job will see their class size balloon. One of the biggest ?bad? bills is House Bill 3220 by Speaker Chris Benge(R-Tulsa). This bill authorizes a new turnpike for Tulsa. Speaker Benge said, ?Tulsa is one of the most under-developed areas of the State of Oklahoma.? What an incredulous statement! He needs to visit Southeast Oklahoma. This bill is nothing more than a special deal for a special district. This will allow unelected officials (Turnpike Authority) to build new roads. This is horrible public policy! House Bill 2649 by Representative George Faught (R-Muskogee) creates the Oklahoma Music Trails Act. This Act will place signs at notable music sites throughout Oklahoma. The cost will be $1 million over the next five years. Just the signs will cost $10,000.00 each! I would rather see that money go to our REAP Grant Programs. This bill is a huge boondoggle and certainly not a wise use of tax dollars in the current budget picture. House Bill 2753 by Representative Lee Denney (R-Cushing) is this year?s Charter School Bill. In the past, charter school statutes allowed for charter schools only in Tulsa and Oklahoma Counties. This bill will allow any school that is on the need for improvement list to become a charter school. The author said she thought there was only one school on the improvement list when there are actually 12 schools in rural Oklahoma on that list. Charter schools take money from public education at a time when we are cutting funding for our schools. A really good bill that passed the Senate Floor was Senate Bill 2087 on which Lieutenant Governor Candidate and Senator Kenneth Corn (D-Poteau) added an amendment. His amendment will reduce salaries of state elected officials if there is a reduction of state employees pay. I agree with this and look forward to this Senate bill arriving on the House Floor. Now to the consolidation of state agencies: The Governor and Speaker Benge both said in their early addresses to the Legislature that they wanted to ?streamline? government by combining certain agencies. They crawled out on this limb before they knew how much weight this limb could handle. Speaker Benge first wanted to combine the Conservation Commission under the Department of Agriculture. Unfortunately, the Speaker didn?t realize that the Conservation Commission is in the State Constitution, and he can?t change the Constitution on a whim. The Speaker then wanted to combine the Liquid Petroleum Gas Commission with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. He didn?t realize that the propane lobby was as strong as it is. It would only save the State $200,000; even that amount is questionable. Finally, they combined the Scenic Rivers Commission with the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department. The huge irony about the consolidation of these two agencies is that it is not saving ?money? but rather saving ?face.? I apologize for the length of this Capitol Greeting, but you need to know what is going on. A reliable source informed me of important information in regard to Lake Sardis. Oklahoma City is going to file a permit requesting an additional 51,000 acre feet per year (a/f/yr), adding to a 2007 request of 85,000a/f/yr, which would bring their total to 136,000a/f/yr. From the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pertinent Data Book, Sardis Lake total yield is 156,000a/f/yr. Including the amount of water that has already been permitted, this means Oklahoma City is applying for 90.8% of available water. The reason I will be filing a protest with the Oklahoma Water Resources Board is not only for the large volume Oklahoma City is requesting but also because a large number of residents, within close proximity of the lake, live on pond water. I urge a large scale letter writing campaign by those who share my views. Please address complaints to the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, Permitting Division, 3800 N. Classen Blvd., Oklahoma City, OK 73118-2862. Visitors this week were: Jim Grego, Wilburton Soil Conservation; Bradley Hamilton, Wayne Sexton and A.J. Briston; Ernie and Kaye Cauthron of Wister OREA; Kent Wilkins of McAlester OWRB; Brandon Lopez, O.S.P., Kenny Smith, O.S.P. and Randy Lopez, D.O.C.; Dr. Jeff Duff, McAlester; Danny Balwin and crew from Wilburton KEDDO; Steve and Cynthia Henrichs from McAlester CWA/OSWU; Sheila Martin from McAlester National Association of Social Workers. Thanks for the visit. Please come by my office in Oklahoma City, Room 504, or call my Capitol Office at 405-557-7381 May God bless each of you.
 

March 4, 2010

03/06/10 | by Brian | Categories: Welcome
Folks, I would like to share a couple of items that may benefit you. First is the Oklahoma Honors Program. This is a privately funded program that is administered by the Oklahoma Department of Veteran Affairs. Their mission is to transport Oklahoma Veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the various memorials dedicated to honor their services and sacrifices. The goal is to help every Oklahoma Veteran, who is willing and able, to travel to visit their Memorial. Priority is given to Oklahoma?s Senior Veterans, survivors of World War II and veterans with a terminal illness. This is available at no cost to the Oklahoma Veteran; for information and an application, check this out at the following website: www.oklahomahonorflights.com. The second program that I want to share with you is the 211 Service. We all know about dialing 911 for emergency services, but there is another telephone number to dial for Health and Human Services in Oklahoma. This is the 211 number, which is free and available 24 hours a day 7 days a week. You can reach the 211 service by landline or cell phone. The phone call is confidential. In the Senate this week, Senator Susan Paddock (D-Ada), a candidate for Secretary of Education; Senator Kenneth Corn (D-Poteau), a candidate for Lieutenant Governor; and Senator Lerblance (D-Hartshorne) stood up for the Senior Citizens of Oklahoma. Under intense fire from leadership, they were instrumental in blocking emergency funding of a couple of agencies until funding was secured for Senior Nutrition Centers. As a result of their effort, Senior Nutrition Centers funding will be removed from the Department of Human Service (DHS) budget into an agency where it can be a line item such that it will be funded each year. HB 2662 by Representative Dan Sullivan (R-Tulsa) is a bill that will sell Compsource, which is the State?s Workers Compensation Insurance Program. I am against this bill. The private insurance companies are behind this bill because they can charge up to 30-40% more for the same coverage. This bill will cause havoc for County Government. Most counties have their Workers Compensation Insurance coverage through Compsource. Ask your County Commissioner if he has the extra money to pay a 30% rate increase. I had a great visit with Bob and Mary Bristow and Joeanne Vermillion of Pittsburg County AARP. Mary reminded me that we have greater needs for our Senior Citizens in rural areas than urban areas. Since I have been a member of AARP for the past 10 years, I listened well. This week?s visitors were: Dorothy Kennedy from McAlester, OK Women?s Coalition; Bob and Mary Bristow and Joeanne Vermillion from McAlester, AARP Group; Glenda Fowler, Jean Staples, Bethy Pruitt, Tonna Lovette, Betty Davidson, Polly Hamilton, and Charlie Hale from McAlester, Retired Educators; John Johnston, Ann Tobey, Ray Tobey, Marjorie A. Hass, Delores McElhany and Pat Wilcox, from Hartshorne, Retired Educators; John and Joyce McPhetridge, from Stuart, Retired Educators; Jack and Janis Wilson, from Stigler, Retired Educators; Nina Ritchie, Kaye and Ernie Cauthron, Treca Balentine, Audrey Balentine, James Lockhart, Joyce Mixon, Tony Malney, Gail Brannon from Leflore County, Retired Educators. Thanks to all of you who came by for a visit. Please come again, I always enjoy seeing each of you. May God bless you.
 

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

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