Friday, May 22, 2009

Bill to Crackdown on Deadbeat Parents Passes State House, Headed to Governor

The State House passed a bill today that will crackdown on deadbeat parents. Senate Bill 1126, by Senator Clark Jolley and Rep. Jason Nelson, tightens statutory language related probation for failure to pay court ordered child support.

“Current law allows a parent to fall further and further behind on child support payments by allowing them to pay a little here and a little there,” said Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “SB 1126 makes it clear that a parent who is placed on probation for failure to pay child support has only ninety days to pay current and back child support or lose their professional license and driving privileges.”

SB 1126 will now go to the governor for his consideration.. Senate Bill 1126, by Senator Clark Jolley and Rep. Jason Nelson, tightens statutory language related probation for failure to pay court ordered child support.

“Current law allows a parent to fall further and further behind on child support payments by allowing them to pay a little here and a little there,” said Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “SB 1126 makes it clear that a parent who is placed on probation for failure to pay child support has only ninety days to pay current and back child support or lose their professional license and driving privileges.”

SB 1126 will now go to the governor for his consideration.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Government Agency Accountability Bill Headed to Governor for Signature

OKLAHOMA CITY – Legislation preventing agency officials from using regulatory threats to pressure citizens into engaging in political activities is headed to Gov. Brad Henry to be signed into law. (Video Link)

“Anyone who can revoke your license and prevent you from earning a living should not be allowed to use that power for political purposes,” said state Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “This legislation will penalize any state official or bureaucrat who tries to abuse his or her power.”

House Bill 2176, by Nelson, makes it illegal for any chief executive officer or other administrative head of a state agency to use licensing authority (and the threat of revocation or nonrenewal) to pressure citizens into acting on the official’s behalf by “directly or indirectly” requesting “support or opposition” to legislation impacting the agency.

“While citizen input is crucial to the legislative process, Oklahomans should not be coerced into any political activity or lobbying efforts,” Nelson said. “We need the honest opinion of citizens, not the second-hand views of a bureaucrat.”

The bill also creates penalties for state agencies that fail to file reports required by the Oklahoma Program Performance Budgeting and Accountability Act.

“Most of our fee-based agencies are supposed to file financial reports with the state, but many never do and there’s no penalty for noncompliance,” Nelson said. “If a small business owner refused to submit information to those same agencies, they would not hesitate to punish that individual. We need to hold our state agencies to the same standard.”

Under the legislation, any state agency failing to comply with reporting requirements would face significant financial penalties. First violations could result in the loss of 1 percent of an agency’s fee revenue, 2 percent of fee revenue for a second violation, and 5 percent of fee revenue for subsequent violations.

Agencies that repeatedly violate the law could ultimately be forced to pay for an outside firm to conduct an independent audit of the agency.

House Bill 2176 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives unanimously and cleared the state Senate today. It now goes to the governor to be signed into law.

Years of Dedication Lead to Historic Lawsuit Reform

OKLAHOMA CITY (May 21, 2009) – House Republicans lauded the signature of landmark lawsuit reform legislation today, which will help reduce health care costs for all Oklahomans, reverse a doctor and nurse shortage trend and attract business and economic development to our state.

For over a decade House and Senate Republicans have sought reforms to Oklahoma’s justice system, where frivolous lawsuits have increased health care costs, driven talented doctors out of our state because of high malpractice insurance rates and told companies to look to more business-friendly states when considering relocation or jobs creation.

“The days of Oklahoma being known as a jackpot justice state are over,” said House Speaker Chris Benge. “This legislation will change the economic landscape of our state and will say to companies that we welcome their business in Oklahoma. Our goal throughout the years was to find a solution that would keep the doors of the courthouse open to those with legitimate claims, but reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits that do nothing but drive up costs for all Oklahomans and this legislation is true reform that does just that.”

House Bill 1603 contains the following major provisions:

2009 Oklahoma Lawsuit Reform Agreement

The major reforms agreed upon include the following:

Legislation Protecting Oklahoma’s Water Interests Passes House

OKLAHOMA CITY (May 20, 2009) – Legislation ensuring Oklahoma’s current and future water needs take precedence over any other considerations overwhelmingly passed the House today.

House Bill 1483, co-authored by Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, asserts Oklahoma’s claim to its waters under federal interstate compacts, which have been agreed to by the state of Oklahoma and its neighboring states and have been approved by Congress. It also further restates existing law providing legislative oversight pertaining to water decisions.

“This legislation protects Oklahomans and the water resources within our state,” said House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa. “Our neighboring states have agreed to our interstate compacts. This legislation asserts our claims in direct accordance with those compacts.”

The state of Oklahoma is currently being sued by Dallas and Tarrant County, Texas, who are seeking a water permit to access clean Oklahoma water. At issue is a current statewide moratorium on out-of-state water sales, which the lawsuit claims contradicts the federal Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

The moratorium is set to expire this November, and the trial is currently on the docket for December.

“This bill helps us control our own destiny,” said Rep. Dale DeWitt, R-Braman and author of the bill. “This bill is not about selling water; it is about protecting Oklahoma’s interests and taking care of our present and future water resources.”

The legislation passed the House with a bipartisan vote of 91-5 and returns to the Senate for final consideration.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Legislation Streamlining Information Technology among State Agencies Passes House

OKLAHOMA CITY (May 20, 2009) – Legislation that will streamline state information technology services and purchases while also working to prevent technology security breaches passed the House today.

House Bill 1704 would create a Chief Information Officer (CIO), who would direct technology purchases for state agencies. The consolidation of technology contracts will help the state pool its purchasing power to help drive down costs and improve services.

Instead of each state agency having its own small information technology (IT) contract, this legislation would allow the state to better leverage its purchasing power by buying IT equipment in bulk for agencies that have similar needs.

Oklahoma is only one of four states in the country without a centralized technology officer.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Government Agency Accountability Bill Passes House 92-0

House Bill 2176 by Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives today unanimously. The bill is designed to hold state agencies and agency directors accountable to the tax payers and protect licensees from intimidation.

HB 2176 contains amended language from House Bill 2187 which failed to get a hearing in the Senate Rules Committee earlier this session. The Bill provides for financial penalties for agencies that fail to file required financial reports. The measure also prevents agencies from asking their licensees to support or oppose legislation.

"This bill will prevent agency directors from using their licensees as a lobbying force for the agency," said Nelson. "It also provides a financial incentive to agencies to comply with existing laws requiring annual financial reports to be filed by assessing a monetary penalty on agencies that fail to do so. It also provides for an auditor to prepare the financial report and charge the agency for the audit. If a taxpayer fails to file required documents on time agencies are ready to pounce but many agencies regularly fail to file financial reports as required without any penalty. This bill will change that. These agency financial reports provide a way to hold agencies accountable for the revenue they take in and how they spend this money."

HB 2176 is now headed to the Senate for a vote.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Republican Leaders Identify Funding for REAP

House Budget Chairman Ken Miller and Senate Budget Chairman Mike Johnson have announced a budget development on Rural Economic Action Plan funding. House and Senate leaders have identified a revenue source to fund the REAP at last year’s level less a standard 7 percent cut for the program. The revenue source will come from Senate Bill 658 by Sen. Aldridge and Rep. Nelson. SB 658 is set to increase the fine for delinquent tag renewal from $0.25 to $1 a day.

“REAP funding has always been a priority of the Senate Republican caucus and I am proud we have found a way to provide these funds to this program,” said Johnson, R-Kingfisher.

“Because of the vast infrastructure needs of rural Oklahoma, the House has been fighting for REAP funding since day one. Unfortunately, at the end of budget negotiations the funding was removed. This solution was found within the current budget agreement framework by redirecting monies to the program. This will enhance the economic development of the rural areas of our state, and in turn our state as a whole,” said Miller, R-Edmond.

"REAP is an important program for our rural communities," said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, "and I'm pleased our bill is able to provide the funding needed next year. I commend Rep. Miller and Senator Johnson for their committment to this program and their hard work to find the appropriate funding source."

Lawmaker to Discuss Adult Stem Cell Developments

WHO: State Rep. John Enns, R-Enid

WHAT: Press conference to discuss the latest developments on legislation authorizing state funding of adult stem cell research.

WHERE: 412C, Oklahoma Capitol, 2300 North Lincoln Blvd., Oklahoma City

WHEN: 3:15 p.m. on Tuesday May 19

THE STORY AT A GLANCE: State Rep. John Enns, R-Enid, will discuss the latest developments in his efforts to obtain state funding for adult stem cell research.
House Joint Resolution 1035, by Enns, would send a constitutional amendment to a vote of the people that would allow 10 percent of the interest earnings on the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Fund to be used for adult stem cell research. That would provide more than $1 million annually for research efforts.
Adult stem cell research does not require the destruction of embryos and has been successful in treating more than 70 conditions.
Enns, who previously taught college courses on microbiology, was in an accident several years ago that confined him to a wheelchair, making him a potential recipient of future stem cell therapies.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Adoption Review Task Force To Meet

The Adoption Review Task Force is scheduled to meet this Friday, May 15, 2009 at 1 PM in Room 412C of the State Capitol. This meeting is open to the public.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Government Reform Will Protect Citizen Information

NewsOK link to press conference video

Channel 6 News Story

OKLAHOMA CITY – State lawmakers and technology security experts today said reforms advancing in the Legislature will increase protection of citizens’ private data and reduce its theft from government computers.

In addition, the reforms would increase efficiency and reduce waste during a tough budget year.

“Because of outmoded policies, we have an information bottleneck that drives up costs and delays service at state agencies,” said state Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “Our agencies use different programs and literally cannot share information electronically from one department to another. Instead, agencies pay someone to re-enter data into the computer system. There are state employees whose only job is to hand-type data that should be downloadable with a click. We’re paying for hours of labor on a job that should take five seconds.”

In recent months, several state computers containing citizens’ private information were either lost or stolen, including a flash driver from the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission and laptops from the Department of Human Services and the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency.

“Because Oklahoma government continues to use an outdated information technology system that is spread across dozens of agencies, it is impossible to hold one person responsible for the data losses,” said state Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie. “The enactment of House Bill 1704 or Senate Bill 980 could not only save millions of dollars in leveraged IT purchases, but would put someone in charge of securing important data.”

Two bills introduced this session would streamline information technology services and increase data security in state government: House Bill 1704, by state Rep. David Derby, and Senate Bill 980, by Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee and Murphey.

Both measures would create a Chief Information Officer for state government, who would direct technology purchases and security policies for all state agencies.

Oklahoma is only one of four states in the country without a centralized technology officer.

Dan Yost, chief technology officer for Stillwater-based computer security firm MyLaptopGPS, said the legislation is a step in the right direction.

“When agency policies are not consistent, it generates more loose ends throughout the system – and it only takes one loose end to breach 1 million Oklahomans’ private information, as we have already seen,” Yost said. “Giving one person oversight of the system is a good way to increase accountability and better secure data throughout all of state government. If nobody’s in charge, you’ve really got a problem.”

According to a recent report by the Ponemon Institute, the average cost of a stolen laptop is roughly $50,000 per computer. Other studies suggest the cost may be greater – a 2002 CSI/FBI Computer Crime and Security Survey put the cost at $89,000 per laptop and the 2003 ACCSS said the average value of data on a laptop is $250,000.

“Even the $50,000 ‘best case’ scenario is very bad,” Yost said. “Oklahoma government had to spend $200,000 in mailing costs just for notification letters after the theft of only two laptops. More costs for those incidents will likely be forthcoming.”

Yost noted that another laptop is stolen every 12 seconds, at least 2.6 million per year. A 2006 survey by The Ponemon Institute showed that 80 percent of government agencies surveyed reported losing data via laptop theft in last 12 months.

In addition to creating security problems, lawmakers said the current system wastes money.

“Right now, each agency has its own IT department and the state spends $340 million a year on IT not including personnel and salaries,” Murphey said. “The current configuration is an antiquated system that other states have abandoned.”

“There is no need for each state agency to have a separate technology department and director when those needs are often similar,” Derby said.

It is estimated that Oklahoma employs close to 1,500 state employees dedicated to information technology across various agencies.

Some of those jobs are hard to justify given technological advances.

Lawmakers are also working on broader reforms. House Speaker Chris Benge has also asked state Rep. John Wright to conduct a review of state information technology policies. “Clearly, the security of citizens’ personal data must be a top priority for state agencies,” said Wright, R-Broken Arrow.

State Budget Update Story in Daily Oklahoman

"Budget After delays getting started, GOP-led Legislature isn’t surprised when governor rejects spending proposal" (link to story)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Editorial Column on Stem Cell Research in Oklahoman

Surrendering moral high ground

Published: May 2, 2009

As a research scientist involved in biomedical research, I have followed the developments in stem cell research and its ethical implications for more than a decade. (linked to column at

Friday, May 1, 2009

Bill to Reduce Uninsured Goes to Governor

A comprehensive plan to provide Oklahomans with increased access to affordable, quality health care and private insurance is one step away from becoming law.

House Bill 2026 will, among other reforms, strengthen and promote the state’s Insure Oklahoma program. The program, which is has been a national model for several other states, is a successful public-private partnership that gives premium assistance to small business workers and employers.

The House passed the final version of the bill with a vote of 95-0 and it now moves to the governor for his signature.

The legislation is based on the work last interim in the bipartisan House Health Care Reform Task Force, whose members sought ways to reduce Oklahoma’s high number of uninsured. The task force released a report that was unanimously endorsed by the Republican and Democrat members alike.

The plan is designed to improve Insure Oklahoma by offering more choices for coverage to eligible participants. It also authorizes the use of basic health plans with catastrophic coverage for people under 40 to help reduce costs and increase options for young people who fail to see the value in paying costly premiums for services not utilized.

In addition, HB 2026 establishes the Oklahoma Exchange, a website designed to assist, inform, and empower individuals seeking to enroll in an affordable insurance plan.

The comprehensive plan in HB 2026 includes:
  • Reform/improve Insure Oklahoma - Insure Oklahoma is an effective public-private model for providing assistance to Oklahomans who meet certain eligibility requirements and are seeking health care coverage. The program can be improved by offering more choices. HB 2026 directs both the employer-sponsored insurance and individual insurance plans to offer additional low-cost options, such as high deductible plans compatible with health savings accounts. Also, Insure Oklahoma would be modified to be more customer-friendly, especially at the point of eligibility determination and enrollment.

  • Reform the Individual Market – HB 2026 will enable insurance providers to offer basic preventative plans with catastrophic coverage by relaxing mandates so more low-cost choices can be offered to uninsured Oklahomans.

  • Establish the Oklahoma Exchange – The plan builds upon the current infrastructure to provide a service to assist individuals seeking to enroll in an insurance plan that would best meet their needs.

  • Establish Enrollment Options at Point of Access - In order to provide greater access to private health insurance and strengthen the marketplace for insurers, hospitals, physicians and other health care providers, cost-shifting must be reduced to moderate premiums. Under this model, the Oklahoma Exchange would be used to proactively connect individuals without health insurance to coverage options.

Oklahoma State Department of Health Issues Swine Flu Update

The Oklahoma State Department of Health announced today that it has expanded the hours of operation for its swine influenza toll-free hotline. The hotline will now be open from 8 am till 8 pm Monday through Friday. The toll-free number is 1-866-278-7134.

Currently, no cases of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection have yet been confirmed in Oklahoma.

Many hotline callers have asked about medicines to treat swine flu. Two antiviral drugs are available by prescription, Tamiflu and Relenza. They may make the illness milder and prevent serious flu complications, however, public health officials caution that persons should not request that their physician prescribe these drugs to take as a precaution or keep at home “just in case” they develop flu symptoms. The drugs should only be prescribed for those with life-threatening complications from the flu. Otherwise, overuse could result in limited supplies for those who need it most. In addition, overuse could lead to flu viruses becoming resistant to the drugs.

Some callers are also questioning the potential for school closures. Public health officials advise that school closures should not be considered until there are confirmed cases of swine influenza in the state. Faculty and students should continue to practice general health precautions and stay home if they are ill.

Health officials advise that all Oklahomans should be practicing the following recommendations to prevent the spread of flu:

- Wash hands often to protect yourself from germs.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth; germs are often spread when a person touches a contaminated object and then touches his or her eyes, nose or mouth.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- If you are sick, stay home from work, school, and running errands. You will help prevent others from catching your illness.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
- Contact your physician if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms. Some antiviral drugs may be used to treat persons who become ill with swine influenza.

Health officials also suggest that in the event the swine influenza A (H1N1) outbreak becomes more serious, persons should start now to be prepared. Store a supply of food and water. Have two weeks of your regular prescription drugs at home. Keep health supplies on hand, including pain relievers and cold medicines.

Additional information on swine influenza is available by visiting the OSDH Web site at and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention swine flu Web site at, or by calling your local county health department.
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