Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Nelson Coauthors DHS Reform Bill

OKLAHOMA CITY (March 10, 2009) – Legislation aimed at reducing the number of children removed from their home with the help of social workers and in-home services for parents passed the House today.

House Bill 1734 seeks to implement several recommendations of an audit of the Department of Human Services, including a requirement that law enforcement consult with DHS before removing a child; the creation of a passport program to allow information about a child’s physical and behavioral health and educational needs to be available electronically; implementation of a phase-out of public shelters; establishment of a centralized statewide hotline for all reports of abuse and neglect of children; and a reorganization of the department offices in Tulsa and Oklahoma Counties.

"The title is off this bill and we will continue to work with all interested parties to make sure this legislation keeps children in our state safe," said Rep. Ron Peters, author of the bill and chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Human Services. "We will make it safer for children to stay in their homes with improved risk and safety assessments and increased home services for parents who genuinely want to take care of their children. These changes will allow DHS workers to focus more of their time on the true cases of abuse."

The audit came after five months of extensive study by the independent auditing firm Hornby Zeller Associates.

House Speaker Chris Benge formed a bipartisan working group last year to study the issue made up of Reps. Peters, Kris Steele and Pam Peterson, Jeannie McDaniel, Wade Rousselot and Richard Morrissette. The group called for the performance audit as a way to determine what changes are needed to the system.

The legislation also calls for improved and expanded training for DHS workers to better assess the risk to and safety of a child. The change, coupled with the recommendation for DHS workers to be directly involved in child removals, would help to prevent children from being removed from the home needlessly, which puts undue burdens on the child and the system itself, said Peters, R-Tulsa.

In Oklahoma, the audit shows that 20 percent of children removed from their home are returned within one week of removal. In the Tulsa area, 40 percent of children removed are returned home in that same timeframe.

"The safety of our children is the utmost goal here, and I am hopeful we will be able to bring real change to the system with this legislation," said Benge, R-Tulsa.

The legislation passed the House today with a vote of 87-8 and will move to the Senate for consideration.

Major Adoption Reform Bill By Rep. Nelson Passes House 97-0

OKLAHOMA CITY (March 10, 2009) – Legislation increasing financial transparency during the adoption process to prevent the extortion of adoptive families gained the approval of the Oklahoma House of Representatives today.

House Bill 2174, by state Rep. Jason Nelson, would require public reporting of adoption expenses to increase transparency. The bill also requires that only one prospective adoptive family at a time may be billed for a birth mother’s expenses and that all adoptions must be conducted in one of four locations: the home county of the birth mother, the home county of the adoptive parents, or in Oklahoma or Tulsa Counties.

"The adoption process should be a happy event, but it has become an emotional nightmare for too many adoptive families because of the greed of a few unscrupulous attorneys," said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. "My legislation will help protect adoptive families from financial and emotional abuse, preventing fraud and extortion."

Although the Department of Human Services has a code that adoption agencies must follow, there is no oversight of the attorneys involved in adoptions. As a result of that lax regulation, some attorneys have allegedly bilked adoptive parents out of substantial sums of money.

A May 2006 multicounty grand jury report found that families can face dramatically different expenses when going through the adoption process. In fact, the grand jury found that adoptive parents have been forced to pay for automobiles, car parts, traffic tickets, court costs in unrelated criminal cases, driver’s license reinstatement fees, television sets and utility bills – all masked as adoption costs.

According to the grand jury report, the haphazard regulation of "adoption expenses" has actually created an atmosphere where some women and their attorneys effectively sold children.

House Bill 2174 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a 97-0 vote. It now proceeds to the state Senate.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Disgraced Politician Bill By Nelson Passes House 86-11

OKLAHOMA CITY (March 9, 2009) – Oklahoma politicians forced from office due to ethical violations would lose their state pensions under legislation approved today by the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

House Bill 2175, by state Rep. Jason Nelson, would force public officials to forgo a state pension if they are convicted of a crime related to abuse of office. The bill applies to any felony for bribery, corruption, forgery, perjury or any other crime related to the duties of office, or related to campaign contributions or campaign financing.

The bill’s provisions would apply to all state, county and municipal elected officials, appointees, and employees.

"Elected officials should be held to a higher standard and a politician who violates the public trust should face a harsh punishment," said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. "My legislation will ensure the taxpayers are not forced to pay the retirement expenses of a crooked politician."
The legislation is driven in part by the controversy surrounding the outsized pension benefits paid to former state Sen. Gene Stipe, a McAlester Democrat who resigned from office in March 2003.

Shortly after his resignation, Stipe signed a federal plea agreement related to charges that he funneled more than $200,000 in illegal contributions to the unsuccessful 1998 congressional campaign of Walt Roberts.

The state Supreme Court has since ruled that Stipe remains eligible for his state retirement benefits because the plea agreement contained a provision saying Stipe’s conduct did not relate to his duties as a state senator and were therefore not a violation of his oath of office.
Stipe is expected to receive a monthly benefit of $7,042.

"Any public official involved in criminal activity, whether conducted from his Capitol office or not, has proven himself unworthy of state benefits," Nelson said. "Politicians convicted of wrongdoing should not receive any monetary award from the state, let alone a retirement income that dramatically exceeds the average earnings of most Oklahomans."

Since Stipe’s resignation, several other elected officials have been involved in controversies that led to their resignation from office, including former Insurance Commissioner Carroll Fisher and former state Auditor and Inspector Jeff McMahan.

Unfortunately, those examples are just the latest in a long line of corrupt Oklahoma politicians.

"Oklahoma has an unfortunate history of political corruption including the Supreme Court scandal of the 1960s and the county commissioner scandal of the 1980s," Nelson noted. "It’s time for a zero tolerance policy. Perhaps officials who are tempted to violate the law will think twice if they know they will no longer receive a golden parachute on their way out of office when caught."

House Bill 2175 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on an 86-11 vote today. It now proceeds to the state Senate.

Video of Nelson Talking About Disgraced Politician Pension Bill

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