Sunday, January 31, 2010

Seven Weather Related Fatalities Reported By Medical Examiner

The Oklahoma Emergency Operations Center has just posted a list of seven weather related fatalities. Please be careful. If you are going to be outside in the weather and walking on the snow and ice remember to take your mobile phone - even if you are just getting something from your car and going back inside.

The Office of the State Medical Examiner reports:

-- An 86-year-old Yukon man died today due to injuries sustained Friday when he slipped and fell while shoveling snow.
-- A 79-year-old Harmon County woman was found dead in her house where there was no power and the inside temperature was 30 degrees on Saturday.
-- A 59-year-old Geary woman was found dead outside her home Saturday.
-- A 62-year-old Anadarko man was found dead today in his travel trailer where there was no power and the inside temperature was 28 degrees.
-- A 73-year-old Pontotoc County man died Saturday in a house fire after using a wood-burning stove due to power outages.
-- A 70-year-old Ada woman died Friday after a propane tank exploded at her home. The propane tank was being used to fuel a generator due to power outages. Her husband was hospitalized in critical condition due to the incident.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol (OHP) reports:
-- A 33-year-old Holdenville man died today in a one-vehicle crash one mile north of US 270 on SH 48 in Hughes County. A passenger in the car, another Holdenville man, was treated and released from Holdenville General Hospital.

Last Session for Governor, Legislative Leaders is Filled with Challenges

The Oklahoman's Michael McNutt has two stories that discuss the last legislative session for Governor Brad Henry, Speaker Chris Benge and President Pro-Tem Glenn Coffee.

Oklahoma lawmakers’ final term holds hard choices and Oklahoma governor’s final year is similar to his first takes a look back at their accomplishments and what's left to do in their remaining year in office.

Bond Indebtedness Slight in Oklahoma Study Shows

OKLAHOMA CITY – An interim study held this week by the House Appropriations and Budget Committee shows that Oklahoma has less tax-supported debt than most other states.

The study, requested by state Rep. John Wright, focused on a comparative review of the state’s bond indebtedness and let lawmakers know what debt obligations the state would have in 2010. Interim state bond advisor Tim Martin and Assistant Attorney General Lynn Rogers both spoke at the study.

“The state’s relative bond position was so strong that last year we got a better bond rating,” Wright, R-Broken Arrow, said. “Our adjusted annual payments as a percentage of appropriations is projected to be 3.76 percent in fiscal year 2010.”

Wright noted the importance of understanding the state’s position in regards to bond indebtedness in a tight budget year.

“I thought it was important that we be fully informed of the state’s current economic position, which includes its debt obligations,” Wright said. “Our strong position may give the Legislature additional options when it comes to how we approach budget decisions this year.”

Friday, January 29, 2010

Gov. Henry seeks federal aid for Oklahoma |

Gov. Henry seeks federal aid for Oklahoma

Slips and Falls Prompt Caution

The Oklahoma State Department of Health warned today that slips and falls on ice account for more storm-related injuries than all other injuries. Thus far state health department winter storm injury surveillance reports indicate 188 injuries related to slips and falls. Everyone, especially the elderly, should avoid walking on ice. A short trip to the mailbox or to pick up the paper off the driveway could result in a longer trip to the hospital should you slip and fall. It is also a good idea to carry a cell phone at all times so that if you do fall, you can call for help. Additional winter weather precautions are available on the Oklahoma State Department of Health Web site at

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Winter Weather: What to Do When Your Home or Car is Damaged

Following are some guidelines from Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland to help you deal with a property damage claim or automobile accident.

What to Do if Damage Occurs to Your Home

• Call your insurance company or agent with your policy number and other relevant information as soon as possible. Cooperate fully with the insurance company, and ask what documents, forms and data you will need.
• Take photographs/video of the damage.
• Make the repairs necessary to prevent further damage to your property (i.e., cover broken windows, leaking roofs and damaged walls). Do not have permanent repairs made until your insurance company has inspected the property and you have reached an agreement on the cost of repairs.
• Save all receipts, including those from the temporary repairs covered by your insurance policy.
• If your home is damaged to the extent that you cannot live there, ask your insurance company if you have coverage for additional living expenses incurred while repairs are being made. Save all receipts to document these costs.
Get more information by clicking here.

Gov. Henry declares emergency as winter storm approaches

Oklahoma City — With a dangerous winter storm headed for Oklahoma, Gov. Brad Henry tonight declared a State of Emergency for all 77 Oklahoma counties as state officials continued their emergency response preparations.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fred Morgan to Head the State Chamber

The State Chamber of Oklahoma announced yesterday that Fred Morgan will become the organization’s next president and CEO. Morgan will succeed longtime chamber executive Richard Rush, who announced in September 2009 that he will retire effective March 31, 2010.

Morgan, a small businessman and attorney, is serving as general counsel and senior policy advisor to the Oklahoma State Senate Leadership. He served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1994-2006.

Senate President Pro-Tem Coffee wished Morgan well in new role, "Fred Morgan is a respected former legislator as well as a trusted and valued Senate staffer. His experience and knowledge of the inner workings of the State Capitol and his history of bipartisan cooperation will serve the State Chamber well. I wish my friend, Fred Morgan, all the best in his new endeavor."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

State leaders reach agreement on FY ’10 budget fix

(Oklahoma City) Gov. Brad Henry, House Speaker Chris Benge and Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee today announced that they have reached an agreement on a plan to address the $1 billion shortfall in the current fiscal year budget.

The governor and legislative leaders will use a combination of targeted cuts and reserve funds to balance the Fiscal Year 2010 budget.

Under the proposal, the monthly allocation for state agencies will continue to be reduced by 10 percent for the rest of FY 2010 to reflect slumping revenue collections.

In an effort to protect some priority areas, a handful of agencies in education, health and public safety will subsequently receive additional appropriations to supplement their budgets this year and reduce their share of the overall reduction. Even with that action, every state agency will receive some level of targeted cut for the current fiscal year.

Because the level of cuts is not sufficient to fill the $1 billion shortfall, state leaders also agreed to use reserve dollars from the Rainy Day Fund and the state stimulus account to help balance the budget.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Revamp of Rainy Day Account, Other Budget Proposals to be Considered

News Channel 9 reports today that Governor Henry will propose increasing the amount of money that can be deposited into the state’s rainy day account.

According to the story, the Governor suggests that the state be able to deposit 15 percent of general revenue receipts into the account every year. The current limit is 10 percent.

I agree that we should deposit more money into the account but that only partially addresses the fiscal challenges the state faces every seven to ten years due to normal cycles in the economy.

We must also be disciplined about not spending every dollar that comes in the door of the state treasury immediately. Speaker Benge mentioned recently that he is considering proposing an energy stabilization fund designed to smooth-out the peaks and valleys of the state's budget.

The state's budget volatility is due in large part to the volatility of tax revenue generated from Oklahoma's energy industry. The up-and-down cycle of energy tax collections follows the fluctuations in energy prices. The fund would function by setting aside a portion of the revenue from energy industry taxes while prices and tax revenues are high so that when the prices fall the financial reserves can be tapped to stabilize the budget.

I also support transitioning to a two year budget cycle to further stabilize the budget. Several other states already budget for two year periods.

These ideas and more will be proposed and debated during this session. It’s obviously too late for such solutions to be helpful this year. But considering that each of these proposals seem to have some level of bipartisan support we should be expected to be better prepared when the state faces the next budget shortfall which hopefully will not return soon.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Loved Participating in the Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking

I loved participating again this year in the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s annual advocacy training program for persons with disabilities and their family members called Partners in Policymaking.

Participants meet one weekend a month between September and May to learn how to work with policymakers to create the most effective service and support systems for persons with disabilities and their families.

The January session features a mock legislative hearing as part of this training. I’m told past participants in the class (about 235 people) considered this session to be the single most important because they learned how to research issues, think on their feet, and work with their elected officials.

The panel of legislators serves as a mock committee listening to the presentations, asking follow-up questions, and scores the presentations. I was very impressed by the participants and their presentations. I look forward to participating again next year.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ethics Commission Will Meet to Address Supreme Court Decision

The AP reports that the Oklahoma Ethics Commission will meet this Friday to make changes to its rules regarding corporate campaign expenditures in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision this week allowing such expenditures. Read the AP story at

Friday, January 22, 2010

Oklahoma Should ‘Fast Forward’ Workers Comp System

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma has an opportunity to “fast forward” how the state provides workers’ compensation benefits, state Rep. Lewis Moore said today.

“We have a provision in place now that allows for an exciting option in how we currently offer coverage for on the job injuries and sickness – 24/7 coverage,” Moore, R-Edmond, said. “It combines the best of both group health and workers’ compensation coverage. Currently, group health insurance covers you when you’re asleep and not at work, or about 16 hours a day. Workers’ comp covers you when you’re at work.

As much as both types of coverage cost, we can’t help but be able to save a great deal of money, give our businesses an opportunity to be much more competitive, reduce the animosity and adversarial relationship promoted by the current system and help more people become insured. By reducing the cost and streamlining the benefits, we will save employees and employers a great deal of time and money.”

Moore has filed House Bill 2886 to make it possible for the Oklahoma State Employees Benefits Council and the Oklahoma State and Education Employees Group Insurance Board to begin a pilot program that state agencies and employers can participate in to take advantage of the 24/7 provision in Title 85.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Gov. Henry signs order prohibiting state employees from ‘texting’ while driving state vehicles

January 21, 2010 --Oklahoma City -- In an effort to ensure safer roads and highways, Gov. Brad Henry today signed an executive order barring state employees from “text messaging” while driving state vehicles. The Governor said he wants the directive to serve as a model for all Oklahoma motorists.

Newberry Measure Would Enable Electronic Monitoring of Sex Offenders

Sen. Dan Newberry has filed legislation that would allow Oklahoma law enforcement officials to monitor the state’s most dangerous sex offenders through electronic tracking devices. Senate Bill 2301 would make electronic monitoring devices mandatory for all Level Two and Three sex offenders who have been released from custody, and provides penalties for removal of the device. Under the state’s tiered system, Level Two and Three offenders are considered a significant threat to society, having been convicted of crimes such kidnapping for sexual exploitation, rape in the first degree and soliciting sexual conduct with a minor.

Newberry said tracking devices could assist law enforcement in ensuring that sex offenders are properly registered, while providing an important preventative tool against predators.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Rep. Ownbey Files Legislation to Prevent Tornado Deaths

OKLAHOMA CITY (January 19, 2010) – State Rep. Pat Ownbey has filed legislation to help protect Oklahomans from the type of devastating tornado that struck Lone Grove last year.

House Bill 2835 would require the owner of a mobile home park to provide tenants a plan for the sheltering or evacuation to a safe place of shelter of the tenants of the park during a tornado, high winds or flooding. The legislation requires the plan be developed with the assistance of the municipality where the mobile home park is located or the county emergency operations office or the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.

“The Lone Grove disaster resulted in the death of several Oklahomans,” Ownbey said. “Lives could have been saved if there had been more access to tornado shelters. Mobile home parks are particularly vulnerable and I think this legislation will save lives.”

Ownbey said that because the legislation has no cost, it can be approved even in a tight budget year.

“I deliberately chose a cost-free solution because I know it will be hard to get bills passed with price tags attached,” Ownbey, R-Ardmore, said. “I had looked at a tax credit for mobile home parks to install shelters, but I think this legislation moves us in the right direction by ensuring mobile home park residents have a safe place to go and know how to get there.”

Pittman, Nelson Leading Bipartisan Effort to Empower Special-Needs Students

State Rep. Anastasia Pittman has filed several measures this year to provide new protections and benefits to Oklahoma’s most vulnerable citizens, including children with disabilities.

“I believe government’s core functions include protecting our most vulnerable citizens from exploitation and ensuring all children have access to a quality education, particularly those with special needs,” said Pittman, D-Oklahoma City.

House Bill 3327, by Pittman, creates the Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program.

Pittman noted that state Rep. Jason Nelson (R-Oklahoma City) has filed similar legislation and the two will be working together in a bipartisan fashion to advance the proposal.

“Children with disabilities such as Down's syndrome or autism often require specialized instruction,” Pittman said. “The parents of these children should be able to select the school that does the best job meeting a child’s needs. We should not force children with disabilities to go to a school that is not equipped to educate them.”

By allowing parents to select a school that provides appropriate services for a child with special needs, Pittman said the legislation will prevent lawsuits that occur when a currently designated school system is not prepared for special-needs students and accidents occur.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Parents of special-needs children should have greater choice and control

Bill Provides Scholarships for Students with Special Needs

Legislation Would Not Require New Spending

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma school children with special needs -- such as those with Down's syndrome or autism – would have new education choices under legislation filed by state Rep. Jason Nelson and state Sen. Patrick Anderson.

The bill will also expand the Self-Directed Care Program to provide greater benefits to all developmentally disabled Oklahomans receiving state support.

“I believe the parents of special-needs children should have greater choice and control when it comes to their child’s education,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “These kids have unique challenges that are not always properly addressed by local schools. I believe the state should give those children the opportunity to attend the school that provides the best learning environment for them.”

“The intent of this bill is to focus on the needs of the student,” said Anderson, R-Enid. “This legislation will open the door for many families to have options when it comes to providing educational opportunities for their special-needs children.”

House Bill 3393, by Nelson and Anderson, creates the Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program.

Under the bill, students with disabilities who have an individualized education program (IEP) would qualify for a scholarship to attend any school which meets the accreditation requirements of the State Board of Education.

The scholarship program would not require new spending during the downturn, but would merely redirect existing funds that are currently being spent on the student.

“Instead of having the child’s educational options limited to what the local school can provide, the scholarships would allow parents to select schools based on the child’s needs,” Anderson said.

Andrea Kersey, mother of a child with high-functioning autism, has founded Heartland Academy in Tulsa, scheduled to open in 2010, which is dedicated to the education of students from 6th grade through 12th grade with high-functioning autism and Asperger's syndrome.

“Social issues, difficult for normal teens to navigate, can become completely overwhelming to the teen with autism,” Kersey said.

Kersey’s teen son needs the type of education she plans to bring to Tulsa.

“My son, Ryan, works hard to be social. It's difficult for him, but with practice it's a skill he is trying to master. All students with special needs deserve every possible educational option and House Bill 3393 will give them new and better choices so they can achieve to their full potential,” Kersey said.

House Bill 3393 also amends the Self-Directed Care Pilot Program administered by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services by expanding the program statewide and making it permanent. Under the program, individuals with developmental disabilities are given a budget allowance in which they direct services rather than a third party. This creates a saving that is shared by the individuals directing and receiving the service and with the Department of Human Services.

“What is so exciting about this approach is that the savings generated allow the state to serve more people on the five-year long waiting list for services, and it allows the individual directing their own services to better afford the help they need,” said Nelson.

Money for the current program, the home- and community based services, is funneled through third-party provider agencies that direct the care, rather than the family. Because of the expense associated with third-party directed services, there is less money available to pay for those services. HB 3393 will allow the state to expand services to more people even in the middle of the state’s budget crisis.

Under House Bill 3393, families will be provided a monthly budget and allowed to directly hire care staff at lower – but still market-based – rates. Families can also use the program to get much needed respite care. Nelson said.

“I have visited with families who tell me they sometimes get close to a breaking point while caring for their family member with disabilities and that the ability to take an evening off and focus on their marriage makes all the difference,” Nelson said. “The importance of this became even clearer when I learned that 80 percent of parents with a special-needs child end up divorced.”

Wanda Felty, parent of a child with multiple disabilities, said the cost of care could be just $10 per hour, providing significant savings compared to using a third-party provider.

“House Bill 3393 would help families obtain direct-care staff at a much lower rate, stretching dollars further and potentially allowing more families to come off the waiting list,” Felty said. “It will allow a better use of limited state dollars and support a greater number of families at the same price.”

Felty noted there are over 5,000 people on the waiting list for the home- and community-based services and some have been on the list for more than five years.

“This plan will not increase costs for the state; it will expand services for Oklahomans with special needs,” Felty said.

Nelson noted he wanted this legislation to provide a benefit to all children with autism and other special needs.

“I wanted families to be able to use both education and DHS streams of money in concert to get the most complete and robust set of services and education possible for their child,” said Nelson.

The 2010 legislative session will convene Feb. 1.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

1,153 bills filed in the Oklahoma House for the 2010 session

OKLAHOMA CITY (January 14, 2010) – At the conclusion of the filing process at 5 p.m. on Jan. 14 – the last day for state representatives to file legislation – there were 1,153 bills and 31 joint resolutions filed in the Oklahoma House of Representatives for the 2010 legislative session.

This is the second year members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives were able to file bills electronically, increasing efficiency and moving the state one step closer to a "paperless" government.

Last year, the House Chief Clerk’s Office reported that 1,270 bills and 46 joint resolutions were filed in the Oklahoma House of Representatives for the 2009 legislative session.

Of last year’s measures, 901 House bills carried over and remain alive this session, as do 48 joint resolutions.

Democrat Morgan, Republican Tibbs, join on cell phone, texting ban

OKLAHOMA CITY (January 13, 2010) New information indicating that 28 percent of all U.S. car crashes in 2008 resulted from cell phone use and texting dramatically underscores the need for legislative action to stem this swelling tide of carnage and death on our highways, state Rep. Danny Morgan, D-Prague, said this week.

A bipartisan effort to ban texting and cell phone use without a "hands free" device is being led by state Rep. Sue Tibbs, a Tulsa Republican, and Morgan, who has served as leader of the House Democrats since 2006. While a similar effort was narrowly defeated last year, Tibbs and Morgan are optimistic other legislators will find the new statistical information persuasive enough to gain passage the proposal.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The end of the downturn is not yet in sight

OKLAHOMA CITY – State revenue collections have fallen below prior year collections and the official estimate every month for the past year, and the end of the downturn is not yet in sight, State Treasurer Scott Meacham announced today.

December revenue collections are sufficient to fund allocations to state agencies for the month at the previously announced 10 percent reduction from appropriated levels.

“We were hopeful that revenues might begin to improve slightly; instead they continued their downward slide,” he said.

In August, State Finance Director Michael Clingman ordered monthly allocations to state agencies reduced by five percent. That reduced level of funding for state government continued through November. In December and this month, Clingman ordered the allocation cut doubled to 10 percent after Governor Henry and legislative leaders agreed to the increased reductions.

AG Opinion on Lobbyist Contributions During Legislative Session

(12/16/2009) It is, therefore, the official Opinion of the Attorney General (2009 OK AG 37) that:

1. The requirements of 21 O.S.Supp.2008, § 187.1(G), that no lobbyist or lobbyist principal shall make or promise to make a contribution to or solicit or promise to solicit a contribution for a member of the Oklahoma Legislature, or a candidate for a state legislative office during any regular legislative session and for five days thereafter, and the companion requirement that members of the Oklahoma Legislature and candidates for the Legislature may not intentionally solicit or accept contributions from lobbyist and lobbyist principals during the same time period:

Monday, January 4, 2010

Energy Stabilization Fund Suggested

According to an AP report today, Speaker Chris Benge is considering a proposal to create an Energy Stabilization Fund that would hopefully smooth-out the peaks and valleys of the state's budget.

I think this is a must.

The state's budget volatility is due in large part to the volatility of tax revenue generated from Oklahoma's energy industry caused by seismic fluctuations in energy prices. The fund would function by setting aside revenue from energy industry taxes while prices are high. And when prices fall the financial reserves can be tapped to stabilize the budget.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Autism School Serves Tulsa Area

Focuses on 'transition years' of middle and high school

12.23.2009 – TULSA, OK - Efforts to broaden awareness of autism have begun to take hold nationwide. One woman decided the time was right to launch a school in Tulsa dedicated to the education of children with high-functioning autism and Asperger's syndrome. Autistic children, even those who do well mainstreamed into public elementary schools, often struggle during the difficult transition to teen and young adult.

"Social issues, difficult for normal teens to navigate, can become completely overwhelming to the teen with autism," Andrea Kersey, school founder, said. Kersey knows from experience; her teen son, diagnosed with high-functioning autism, needs the type of education Kersey plans to bring to Tulsa.

Heartland Academy plans to open during the summer of 2010 at a midtown location. The school board includes local experts and involved citizens and has adopted the mission of providing an optimal educational and social environment for their students.
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