Thursday, April 30, 2009

Governor Opposes Effort to Rein in Insurance Increases

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 30, 2009) – Gov. Brad Henry has vetoed legislation that could prevent sudden, arbitrary increases in health insurance rates.

“By opposing this sensible reform, the governor has left the door open for future Legislatures to arbitrarily drive up insurance prices for Oklahomans,” said state Rep. Lewis Moore, R-Arcadia.

“This bill would have simply required the Legislature to carefully consider any changes to state law that could increase insurance prices. Evidently, the governor would prefer to shoot from the hip and act without a prudent and wise screening process allowing us to know of any potential collateral damage our actions may have on our constituents.”

House Bill 1975, by Moore, would give lawmakers more financial information about health care mandates before they vote on them.

The bill would have required any legislation affecting health insurance mandates to be introduced in odd-numbered years, giving lawmakers a year to study the issue before voting on it in even-numbered years.

“This legislation would have guaranteed a high level of scrutiny on mandate legislation so lawmakers know the actual costs before casting a vote,” said House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa. “Given how many families already struggle to afford health insurance, it makes sense to carefully consider proposed changes to state law that could drive up prices and increase the number of uninsured Oklahomans.”

Three years ago, a similar law was enacted to put in place the same scrutiny for bills with a negative fiscal impact pertaining to the state’s retirement systems, and that bill passed overwhelmingly in the House and Senate.

Gov. Henry vetoes bill restricting consideration and passage of insurance mandate legislation

(Oklahoma City) Saying it would hinder the state’s ability to respond to emergencies, Gov. Henry today vetoed a bill that would have placed tight restrictions on the consideration and passage of legislation dealing with insurance mandates for health care coverage.

House Bill 1975 would have mandated that such insurance legislation could only be introduced in odd-numbered years and approved in even-numbered years of a legislative session. The bill would have also required a 75 percent super-majority vote to lift the mandate in case of an emergency.

In related action, Gov. Henry signed into law Senate Bill 822, legislation that will create a task force to study the insurance mandate issue.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Rep.Tad Jones Comments on Veto of SB 1111

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 29, 2009) House Floor Leader Tad Jones, author of Senate Bill 1111, comments on Gov. Brad Henry's questioning of the legislation's constitutionality in his veto of the bill today:

"The Legislature separated Teacher Prep from the State Department of Education and our state is known to have some of the highest quality teachers in the nation," said Jones, R-Claremore. "I hope Gov. Henry is truly dedicated to working with legislative leaders this session to reform education in such a way that we see the results we know our students and teachers can achieve."

Oklahoman Runs Story on Problems at Yukon Adoption Agency

Yukon adoption agency faces complaint (link to story)

YUKON — Adoptive couples who used a Yukon agency could be owed thousands of dollars in refunds, a complaint to the state Department of Human Services alleges.

The complaint filed April 15 requests an investigation of ABC’s of Adoption. The agency’s former accountant filed it.


(OKLAHOMA CITY) State Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, issued the following statement in response to a story in today's Oklahoman ("Adoption agency faces complaint") detailing allegations that the ABC's of Adoption agency in Yukon has failed to refund money to adoptive parents.

"I believe this story represents the tip of the iceberg," said state Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. "Every time a news story runs regarding the adoption reform efforts at the Capitol, I receive calls and emails from people who have experienced what is wrong with the system. I think there must be many more people who have had terrible experiences, but are too concerned about potential negative consequences to their adoptions to speak up. These types of issues cause families to think twice about adoption, and that is not good for these vulnerable children.

"The Adoption Reform Task Force needs to hear these stories," said Nelson. "We are working to recommend changes in the state's adoption code that we hope will dramatically reduce, if not eliminate, these kinds of negative stories. There are many ethical adoption agencies and attorneys, but we have to address those bad actors who take advantage of families under the cloak of confidentiality and with the threat of losing a child."

Rep. Nelson and Sen. Steve Russell are the co-chairs of the Adoption Reform Task Force that began work earlier this year on a comprehensive review of state laws regarding adoption of minors in Oklahoma. The task force will make recommendations to the legislature for consideration in the 2010 and 2011 legislative sessions.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Autism Provider Network Moves to Governor’s Desk

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 27, 2009) – Legislation improving the provider network of autism specialists in Oklahoma is headed to the governor’s desk following House passage today.

Senate Bill 135 mimics House Bill 2027, which originally passed the House unanimously. The bill calls for enactment of a licensing process for national Board Certified Behavior Analysts and enhancement of existing state programs that would train doctors to diagnose and treat autism.

During a legislative study conducted last year, lawmakers learned that a shortage of trained providers has made it difficult for families to obtain autism services, even when they have financial assistance.

"Currently, children with autism in our state only have a handful of providers to turn to for their treatment," said House Speaker Pro Tem Kris Steele, R-Shawnee and author of the bill. "Our emphasis with this legislation is on increasing access to autism service providers, which will ensure much-needed services are available to these children in Oklahoma."

When a recent state pilot program provided families over $12,000 a year to obtain autism-related services, much of the money went unspent because there were not enough professionals trained to work with children with autism.

If signed into law, the bill would increase the number of trained specialists to treat autism spectrum disorders while allowing the open market to adjust coverage based on the demand of services.

"This legislation addresses our immediate need, which is a lack of providers," said House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa. "I am pleased this legislation received bipartisan support in both the House and Senate and am hopeful the governor will sign it into law so we can begin work on building the state’s provider network as soon as possible."

The bill passed the House without a single ‘no’ vote and now moves to the governor for his signature into law.

Senate Bill 135 includes the following provisions:

• Establish a state license for national Board Certified Behavior Analysts and create a professional standard for Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

• Increase training for the evaluation and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders.

• Enhance Sooner Start by providing professional training for the treatment of children with autism spectrum disorders. Sooner Start is an early intervention and treatment program for children with disabilities and developmental delays age birth to three.

• Secure funding for an ABA Research Project to provide supervision to college students seeking licensure, quantify the effects of applied behavior analysis and offer parental training and support.

• Provide intensive early intervention for more children by replicating Early Foundations. Early Foundations is an autism treatment and outreach model that offers behavior intervention through trained providers.

Governor Signs Major Adoption Reform Bill

The Oklahoman article regarding the signing of HB2174 by Rep. Jason Nelson:
"A measure to crack down on law firms charging excessive fees — which follows through on findings of a state grand jury three years ago — and a bill to change the way Oklahoma’s school year is calculated were signed into law during the weekend."

HB2174 is the first House Bill by Nelson to be signed into law and represents the first step toward comprehensive adoption reform in Oklahoma. SB1029, which is set to be amended in a conference committee, will follow in the next few weeks completing the reform efforts for this legislative session.

Rep. Nelson also serves as the House Co-chair of the Adoption Reform Task Force with Sen. Steve Russell. The task force was created last session by former State Rep. Susan Winchester. The task force began its work earlier this year and will likely work throughout the end of next year. Ideas for legislation developed by the task force will be considered during the 2010 and 2011 legislative sessions.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

House Finishes Work on Senate Bills

The House of Representatives finished the first round of work on Senate bills this last week. We will now focus on conference committee work as we seek to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate in the bills that remain. The budget will also move to the top of the heap as we get close to the end of session and get a better understanding of the impact of the Federal Stimulus.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Governor Signs Bill to Strip Pensions from Disgraced Politicians

State Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, issued the following statement today in response to Gov. Brad Henry’s signing of Senate Bill 899. The legislation, carried in the House by Nelson, forces 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 their office.

“Oklahoma has seen more than its fair share of crooked politicians. Now those individuals will not have a golden parachute financed by the taxpayers when they are finally caught and convicted. I appreciate Gov. Brad Henry’s support of this important reform.

“Elected officials will be held to a higher standard under this law.”

Monday, April 20, 2009

Email Added to Overseas Absentee Voting Act

Senate Bill 458, coauthored by Rep. Jason Nelson, passed the House of Representatives today 92-0.

SB 458 relates to the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986.

The measure provides that the secretary of the county election board may transmit balloting materials to an electronic mail address if the voter is a federal postcard application registrant, is eligible to receive an absentee ballot, provides a current address that is located outside the United States and an electronic mail address, and requests that balloting materials be sent by electronic mail.

"This bill will make it easier for our men and women in the armed services to excersize their right to vote."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Adoption Reform Clears Both Chambers of Legislature

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 16, 2009) – Both the Oklahoma House of Representatives and state Senate voted today to increase financial transparency during the adoption process and prevent crooked lawyers from extorting adoptive families.

One of the measures – House Bill 2174, by state Rep. Jason Nelson – passed the state Senate today and now goes to Gov. Henry to be signed into law.

The other bill – Senate Bill 1029, by state Sen. Steven Russell and Nelson – passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives today and returns to the Senate.

"I am very pleased this legislation has received such broad bipartisan support," said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. "For too long, Oklahoma has been known as a state that does not protect adoptive parents, adoptive children or birth mothers. We have allowed unethical lawyers to sell children and it’s a black eye for the state. This legislation will help end those abuses and identify the bad actors."

House Bill 2174 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.

Senate Bill 1029 would require the courts to conduct a home study for all non-kinship adoptions to ensure adoptive parents are able to support an adoptive child.

The measure also requires that a written full-disclosure statement be provided to both the birth parent and adoptive parents by all attorneys or individuals involved in a direct-placement adoption in Oklahoma. The full-disclosure statement would include information such as the name and address of the attorney involved; the scope of services provided by the attorney; a procedure for grievances; a list of the fees charged for an adoption and refund policy; provisions informing those involved that coercion of birth parents is prohibited; provisions for avoiding conflicts of interest among birth parents, adoptive parents, and the attorney; and the specified time frame for completing an adoption.

Although the Department of Human Services has a code that adoption agencies must follow, there is currently no oversight of the attorneys involved in adoptions.

A May 2006 multicounty grand jury report found that some 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 created an atmosphere where some women and their attorneys effectively sold children.

House Bill 2174 passed the state Senate on a 44-2 vote today and will become law with the governor’s signature.

Senate Bill 1029 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives today on an 88-10 vote. It now returns to the Senate for consideration of House amendments.

The passage of both bills comes a day before a meeting of the Oklahoma Adoption Review Task Force, which Nelson now co-chairs with Russell. The group will meet at the state Capitol at 1 p.m. on Friday.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bill to Strip Disgraced Politicians of Pensions Headed to Governor

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 14, 2009) – Disgraced and crooked Oklahoma politicians would lose their state pensions under legislation that now awaits the governor’s signature.

Senate Bill 899, by state Sen. Glenn Coffee and state Rep. Jason Nelson (see video), 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.

"This legislation sends a simple message: Elected officials will be held to a higher standard and crooked politicians who violate the public trust will not have a golden parachute when they get caught," said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City.

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

Senate Bill 899, which is similar to House legislation also authored by Nelson, passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives today on a 91-3 vote. It previously passed the state Senate 46-0. It now proceeds to Gov. Brad Henry to be signed into law.

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 after five decades in office.

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 more than $7,000.

"Any public official involved in criminal activity has proven himself unworthy of state benefits," Nelson said. "It’s time Oklahoma instituted a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to public corruption. Crooked politicians should not receive any monetary award from the state, let alone a retirement income that dramatically exceeds the average earnings of most Oklahomans."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sunday Oklahoman Editorial on Adoption Reform

The Sunday Oklahoman main editorial focused on adoption reform efforts being advanced by me and Sen. Steve Russell, R-Oklahoma City.

"One bill would halt the practice of attorneys shopping around for judges who don’t question adoption-related fees. Another would require attorneys to disclose their adoption-related expenses. Those proposals seem sensible for a reason: they are."

The editorial is refering to HB 2174 and SB 1029.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Tax Incentive Legislation Passes House Committee

AP story in the Oklahoman

"Legislation to expand tax incentives for energy efficient homes and give tax relief to the victims of the Feb. 10 tornado has cleared a state House committee."

Tax Relief for Tornado Victims, Military Widows and Energy Efficient Homes

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 9, 2009) – Legislation to expand tax incentives for building energy efficient homes and give tax relief to the victims of the Feb. 10 tornado and spouses of fallen servicemen has been passed out of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee.

Senate Bill 481, by state Sen. Todd Lamb and state Rep. Jason Nelson, would expand the existing credit for construction of energy efficient residential property, so that the credit can be used on the construction of property of any size beginning Jan. 1, 2010. Currently, the eligible residential properties are limited to 2,000 square feet.

The bill would also give tornado victims an income tax credit for tax years after Dec. 31, 2009 and a credit for registration fees and the excise tax for any vehicle purchased to replace a vehicle destroyed by the Feb. 10 tornado.

Larger residential properties stand to gain the most from energy efficiency, Nelson said.

“Large buildings consume the most energy and therefore it is common sense to include them as eligible for this tax incentive,” Nelson said. “My legislation would save builders a total of $2.4 million, allowing them to focus on lowering the energy costs for Oklahomans who purchase their homes.”

Nelson said tornado victims were in need of tax relief and that he was glad they would be supported by his measure also.

“The February 10 tornado was devastating to some Oklahoma families and individuals and I am proud to include tax relief for them in my bill,” Nelson said.

An amendment to the bill also added an income tax exemption for the spouses of fallen servicemen and women.

“These brave men and women have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country,” Nelson said. “Their spouses, who have suffered a great loss, deserve our consideration. My hope is that the legislation will help honor their memories.”

Senate Bill 481 now proceeds to the full House for debate and a vote.

Federal Stimulus Funds Update from the State Capitol

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 9, 2009) – Members of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee called the state treasurer and the agency heads eligible for stimulus funds before their committee today to report how they plan to use the federal money.

Earlier this session, House Speaker Chris Benge designated House A&B Chairman Ken Miller and the members on his committee to serve as an oversight board to ensure federal stimulus dollars are not spent without legislative direction.

“We want to ensure these dollars are spent in a responsible way that will not obligate future legislatures to fill budget holes once the federal funds are exhausted,” said Benge, R-Tulsa.

“Cooperation between legislative members, the executive branch and agency officials is critical to make sure we utilize these funds in a manner that is efficient and transparent to those footing the bill—the taxpayers.”

Members of the committee and other legislative members attended the meeting seeking clarification from the agency heads about the intent for the funds and possible strings that may or may not be attached to spending stimulus dollars.

Rep. Miller said Oklahoma is more fortunate than many states, some of which are looking to use much of their stimulus dollars to fill gaps in their current fiscal years. “It is our duty as the appropriating body of government to account for how these funds are spent,” said Miller, R-Edmond. “To the extent possible, we must concentrate these dollars on one-time expenditures that will not create a budget hole in years to come.”

Additional meetings of the A&B committee will continue as stimulus funds are released and decisions are made on how those dollars will be spent.

“The public deserves to know exactly what these agencies are doing with the federal money, and we will meet as often as necessary to help encourage agency officials to be prudent with taxpayer dollars,” said Miller.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Channel 9 Coverage of Response to Opposition to Adoption Reform

Watch the Channel 9 story.

I Respond to Opposition to Adoption Reform Bill

Click the headline to link to the NewsOK story and video reporting my response to opposition to adoption reform efforts proposed by me and State Senator Steve Russell.

My goal with adoption reform is to make adoption the most attractive option to the mother of an unborn child.
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