Friday, February 25, 2011

Erin Elizabeth Swezey Act bill passes committee unanimously; Family announces Erin's Hope Foundation

Family of 20-year-old killed by drunk driver seeks to increase penalties for drunk driving

One day after the Senate Public Safety Committee passed Senate Bill 529, the Erin Elizabeth Swezey Act, the family of Erin Swezey announced it has established the Erin’s Hope Foundation. Erin Swezey was hit and killed by a drunk driver on April 4, 2009. She was a 20 year old student at Oklahoma State University.

Erin’s parents, Keith and Dixie Swezey, contacted State Sen. Clark Jolley and Rep. Jason Nelson who authored the bill that would significantly change the penalties for DUI convictions, including requiring a "brand" of "DUI conviction" be put on driver licenses or identification cards of people convicted and requiring an ignition interlock on the first conviction.

“While we are very happy to see this important legislation pass through the committee unanimously, this is just the first hurdle,” said Keith Swezey. “I want to remind everyone to continue to spread this message and contact their legislators in support of the bill.”

Part of funds from the settlement, including a contribution by the Hudiburg Auto Group, will be used to contribute to the work of a foundation in Erin’s honor. The Erin’s Hope Foundation, founded last year, will be used to educate the public and legislators concerning legislation to prevent drunk drivers from causing accidents like this in the future. The foundation will also be used to honor God and Erin's memory by providing scholarships and funding for missions activity in the United States and abroad.

Erin Swezey
“By establishing the Erin's Hope Foundation, we hope legislation will be enacted that will prevent this horrible tragedy from happening to another family,” said Keith Swezey. “It is a way for us to honor Erin and keep her memory alive.”

“On behalf of the entire Hudiburg family and our employees, we are so sorry for this tragedy that shortchanged this beautiful life,” said David Hudiburg, president of the Hudiburg Auto Group. “Driving under the influence of alcohol or any substance is wrong and this loss is senseless. We are in support of the Erin Elizabeth Swezey Act, Senate Bill 529, and encourage the state legislature in both houses to pass it and send it on to the Governor for signature.”

The Swezey’s have launched a Facebook page, “Erin Swezey Act,” to educate the public about the bill and its progress in the legislature. There is also a website dedicated to the legislation, Updates on the legislation are also being posted on Twitter.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

House Lawmakers Vote to Give School Grades

Member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives voted today to implement a new grading system – for schools, not just students.

Under House Bill 1456, by state Rep. Lee Denney, Oklahoma’s public schools would be given an annual grade of “A” to “F” based on student performance on state tests.

Rep. Lee Denney
“For too long, people have simply talked about education reform; today, the members of the House actually did something to move our state forward, and I appreciate their support for this bill,” said Denney, a Cushing Republican who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee on education. “The new letter-grading system will provide a measurable, concrete way for parents to obtain a true apples-to-apples comparison between local schools.”

Under the legislation, annual reports would be issued giving letter grades to schools based on student performance on the Oklahoma School Testing Program.

The grades would be as follows:

  • “A”  means schools making excellent progress;
  • “B”  means schools making above average progress;
  • “C” means schools making satisfactory progress;
  • “D” means schools making less than satisfactory progress; and
  • “F” means schools failing to make adequate progress.

Schools receiving an “A” or those that improve at least two grade levels in a year would be rewarded by granting them greater authority over the allocation of the state-funded portion of the school’s budget.

Each school’s grade would be based on a combination of student test scores on all criterion-referenced tests and end-of-instruction tests, student learning gains in reading and mathematics, and improvement of the lowest twenty-fifth percentile of students in reading and mathematics.

For high schools, 50 percent of the school grade would be based on the above-listed factors and the other half of the grade would be graduation rates, student performance on the ACT and SAT, and similar factors.

“Assigning each school a letter-grade will help clearly identify success stories in our education and encourage other schools to duplicate their strategies, improving student performance across Oklahoma,” Denney said. “AllOklahoma children deserve access to a quality education, and this bill will help make that possible.”

House Bill 1456 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a 65-32 vote.

Parents hope ‘Erin Elizabeth Swezey Act’ will save lives

An Edmond couple is hoping stronger DUI laws can help prevent other families from enduring their heartbreak.  Keith and Dixie shared their story at a State Capitol press conference Wednesday.

Erin Swezey
On April 4, 2009, the Swezey’s 20-year-old daughter, Erin, was hit and killed by a drunk driver whose blood alcohol content (BAC) was more than three times the legal limit.  The driver, a 32-year-old metro man, had just rear-ended another car.  In an attempt to flee that accident, he turned his vehicle around and began driving over 100 miles per hour on the wrong side of the Kilpatrick Turnpike, hitting Erin’s car head-on.  He also died in the collision.
“The fact that his BAC was .29 was shocking enough, but a quick search on the Internet revealed he had a history of drunk and reckless driving arrests starting when he was just a teen,” said Swezey, Professor of Mass Communications at the University of Central Oklahoma.  “Even though his license was suspended for six years and he couldn’t get insurance, he continued to drive drunk.  Somewhere along the way, he should have been stopped.”
The Swezey’s contacted State Sen. Clark Jolley and Rep. Jason Nelson to push for tougher DUI laws in Oklahoma.      
Keith and Dixie Swezey
“This is not an easy process for us, but we’re willing to share our story for Erin in the hopes of passing legislation that may prevent another family from going through such a senseless tragedy,” said Dixie Swezey.
Jolley is the principal author for Senate Bill 529, the “Erin Elizabeth Swezey Act.”  Under the bill, anyone convicted of DUI would be required to have an ignition interlock device for a period of two years on a first offense.  On a second offense, the device would be required for five years.  Subsequent offenses would mean 8 years of driving with an interlock device.  In addition, the words “DUI conviction” would be on their driver license for as long as the person was required to have an interlock device.
“As a parent, I cannot even begin to imagine what the Swezey’s have endured—but I do know that we have an opportunity to honor Erin’s memory by strengthening our DUI laws,” said Jolley, R-Edmond. “The goal of this legislation is simply to save lives.”

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has announced its support of the measure, calling it their number one priority in the Oklahoma State Legislature.
“Oklahoma has the opportunity to take a giant step forward in its fight against drunk driving with the passage of the Erin Swezey Act,” said Laura Dean-Mooney, MADD’s National President. “MADD commends Senator Jolley for authoring this life-saving legislation to help eliminate drunk driving — a 100 percent preventable crime.”
The bill is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Public Safety Committee on Thursday, February 24 at 9:30 a.m. in rooms 419 A and B of the Capitol.  If the measure wins approval, it will next be heard by the full Senate.  Rep. Nelson will serve as principal author of the bill in the House.

“Our hearts go out to the Swezey’s.  This could have happened to any of our families,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City.  “Our task is to do everything in our power to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
The Swezey’s have launched a Facebook page, “Erin Swezey Act,” to educate the public about the bill and its progress in the legislature.  Launched less than a week ago, the page already has more than a thousand followers.  Updates on the legislation are also being posted on Twitter.

Changes to the State Board of Education Pass House Committee

House Speaker Kris Steele authored legislation to reform the structure and responsibilities of the State Board of Education. The Common Education Committee unanimously approved House Bill 2139 today (Tuesday, February 22) which modifies the administration of the State Department of Education. It transfers the administrative control and direction of the Department from the State Board of Education to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

“The Superintendent of Public Instruction is an elected official who is accountable to the people and should be allowed to direct the Department’s budget and personnel,” said Steele, a Shawnee Republican. “The Superintendent should be given the ability and prerogative to make personnel decisions in order to carry out her function and goals.”

House Bill 2139 also:

• Allows the State Superintendent to establish divisions and positions within the Department.
• Removes the State Board as the governing board of the Department.
• Requires the State Superintendent to prepare a departmental budget and submit division reports.
• Clarifies and updates language relating to the administrative duties of the State Superintendent.
• Establishes powers and duties of the Superintendent related to the Department.

The State Board of Education would remain in charge of supervising public instruction; overseeing curriculum and implementing education policies advanced by the Legislature.

“According to the constitution, the State Board of Education is given the authority to supervise public instruction,” stated Steele. “We‘re making sure those responsibilities remain intact and feel it’s appropriate that the state superintendent manage the department. We now have a checks and balances in the system in which the superintendent and board will share in responsibilities.”

Steele concluded, “It is important to advance this necessary reform so we can truly begin the important work of improving Oklahoma schools to benefit all children of this state.”

The measure now moves to the full House.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Governor Mary Fallin’s Statement on State Revenue Certification

Governor Mary Fallin today released the following statement after the state Board of Equalization met to certify the latest revenue estimates. New revenue figures show the state will have $106.4 million more than estimated at a previous board meeting in December.
“The revenue estimates certified today show lawmakers will have a budget shortfall of approximately $500 million to make up during the coming fiscal year which is an improvement over previous estimates and gives us hope the economy is slowly recovering,” Fallin said. “But to make sure Oklahoma fully recovers from the national recession, we must continue to streamline and modernize state government, eliminate unnecessary spending and implement pro-business reforms to attract new jobs and more opportunities for working Oklahomans.”

The revenue estimates certified by the Board of Equalization were enough to enact the income tax trigger in state law, meaning the individual state income tax rate will drop from 5.50 percent to 5.25 percent.

“I’m encouraged that revenue collections were enough to ensure the state income tax rate will be lowered to 5.25 percent. These tax cuts will provide relief to Oklahoma families and small businesses and continue to make Oklahoma a more competitive state in today’s global economy,” Fallin said.

Senate Committee Passes Governor’s Workers’ Compensation Bill

Gov. Mary Fallin
Legislation designed by Governor Mary Fallin’s Workers’ Compensation Study Group and authored by Senator Anthony Sykes and Senator Patrick Anderson was unveiled and passed today at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. The legislation, SB 878, is a comprehensive overhaul of the current workers’ compensation system and would reduce costs to businesses while maintaining a fair playing field for both workers and employers.

“Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation system is one of the most expensive, least efficient systems of its kind in the nation,” said Governor Fallin. “Unfortunately, it represents a real obstacle to business recruitment and retention and drives jobs out of state. The reforms we are offering today will change that, by reducing medical and legal costs so that employers can spend their money on job creation and business expansion instead of litigation. Our plan creates a system that is fair to both workers and employers, lowers costs and helps us in our mission of creating a better environment for business growth and job creation in Oklahoma.”

The new law offers the first rewrite of Title 85, the statute outlining the current workers’ compensation system, in 34 years. SB 878 would:

· reduce medical and legal costs to Oklahoma businesses
· bring quicker resolution to cases
· require all parties within the system to be held accountable
· shorten the timeline for resolution of cases
· collect accurate data to measure cost-drivers within the system and to aid in future reform efforts
· reduce litigation with an emphasis on alternative dispute resolution such as mediation and the Ombudsman Program

SB 878 Fact Sheet

Foster Care System Improvement Task Force Bill Passes House

Rep. Ron Peters
A House bill that creates the Foster Care System Improvement Task Force passed the full House today 92-1. 

The purpose of HB 1359 by Rep. Ron Peters, R-Tulsa, is to review the state’s foster care system and to make recommendations to the Legislature and Governor on the areas of the system that need improvement.

The recommendations will include identification of desired outcomes for children and families in the system, best practices to assist in achieving the outcomes, accountability standards used to measure success in meeting the outcomes and an estimated cost for implementing the recommendations.

The measure now goes to the state Senate for consideration.

Subcommittee Approves Bill to Shift Education Funds to Classroom

Legislation that would require schools to devote a minimum percentage of their spending on direct instructional activities was passed by a House appropriations subcommittee today.
House Bill 1746, by state Reps. Jason Nelson and David Brumbaugh, would require school districts to spend at least 57 percent of total yearly expenditures on direct instructional activities in the 2011-2012 year, at least 60 percent in the 2012-2013 year, at least 63 percent in the 2013-2014 year, and at least 65 percent in the 2014-2015 year and thereafter. School districts could file for a one-year exemption if they could show that they had reduced administrative expenses.

“Education is vital to our success as a state and I am committed to ensuring that taxpayer dollars go directly to benefit Oklahoma students,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “My legislation will simply ensure instructional spending is prioritized over other expenses, as most Oklahomans would expect it to be.”

Rep. David Brumbaugh
R-Broken Arrow
“We’re setting a percentage of all taxpayer dollars that have to be used in the classroom on direct instructional costs and requiring more fiscal responsibility in the way our schools use our hard-earned tax dollars,” Brumbaugh, R-Broken Arrow, said. “We want to get the resources to the kids that the schools are supposed to be educating.”

The legislation would also require school districts to gain approval for any plan to dismiss or lay off teachers.

“Unfortunately, some school districts address financial pressures by cutting in the wrong places,” Nelson said. “The idea behind this provision would be to ensure teachers are protected instead of administrators or other non-essential staff.”

Nelson said that total yearly expenditures would not include capital construction, debt or bond payments.

“School bonds are a local source of funding and the state should have no say over how local funding is spent,” Nelson said. “My legislation is focused on operating costs.”

The legislation would require school districts to file an annual report to the State Board of Education that would include the percentage of total expenditures that had been used to fund direct instructional activities, the percent of total expenditures used to fund direct instructional activities related to courses that are subject to assessment pursuant to the Oklahoma School Testing Program and the percentage of full-time employees in the district whose job function was to directly provide classroom instruction to students.

“Obviously, accountability needs to be a part of any reform and the reporting ensures that school districts are doing what the new law requires,” Nelson said.

“We spend hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes and in bond issues, but the money never gets to our teachers, students and principals who make our schools succeed,” Brumbaugh said.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

House Bill 3393 Petition Created

I became aware of a petition supporting House Bill 3393, the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships, from a google alert this afternoon. I'm not sure who created the online petition but, of course, I  signed. Click here if you would like to visit the online petition

The petition language reads: 
Sign this petition if you want every special needs kid to be able to go to the best school for them. House Bill 3393 was a bill started in Oklahoma and modeled after laws like it in Florida and Utah. It states that any autistic child can go to any school of their choice-even if it is outside of their district. If they choose to go to a private school, they would get a scholarship to go there.

Lawmakers Look to Rein in State’s Legal Bills

Legislation approved by a House committee this week could ultimately reduce runaway legal costs for state government.
Rep. Mark McCullough
"When millions of taxpayer dollars are being expended on private law firms, the public should have confidence that those expenditures are legitimate and that contracts are not a sweetheart deal for a politically connected law firm," said state Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa. "The reforms contained in my legislation will provide greater safeguards against such potential waste of public money."
House Bill 1223, by McCullough, would create the "Legal Services Reform Act." Under the proposed law, state agencies would have to gain the approval by the Office of the Attorney General for all outside attorney contracts.
If an agency receives permission to seek outside counsel, the contract would then have to go through a Request For Proposal (RFP) process.
In addition, all outside attorney contracts would have to be posted online on the agency’s website within four months. Under current law, contracts of $20,000 and less were exempt from public posting requirements.
"The intent of this bill is to return legal representation of the agencies back to the attorney general’s office, where it was originally vested and intended to reside – not with contract lawyers," McCullough said. "That authority has gradually eroded over the years due to agencies asking for and getting statutory exemptions, and the price tag associated with those outside attorneys has continued to climb."
McCullough, an attorney, previously worked in the Civil Division of the Illinois Attorney General’s office. His role in that office was to defend a variety of state agencies against a wide range of claims.
In recent years, he noted Oklahoma has been criticized by the Wall Street Journal in an editorial noting the lack of transparency in the state’s hiring of private attorneys.
"I know from my own experience that the vast majority of claims filed against an agency can, or could be handled by the agency’s attorney of record – the Office of the Oklahoma Attorney General," McCullough said. "And in those cases where outside counsel is necessary, we should have a transparent process that prevents political influence from impacting a hiring decision."
House Bill 1223 passed out of the House Government Modernization Committee this week. It now proceeds to the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

List of Education Bills Tracked by the State Department of Education

Click here to link to education bills currently being tracked by the State Department of Education.

Barresi discusses National Certification funding and grading schools on an A-F scale

Weekly Message from Supt. Janet Barresi 2-18-2011 from OK Dept. of Education on Vimeo.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Legislative Session Week in Review

Bill Would Grade School Performance

Under legislation approved this week, Oklahoma students won’t be the only ones receiving a grade; their schools will as well.

Under House Bill 1456 Oklahoma’s public schools would be given an annual grade of “A” to “F” based on student performance on state tests.

The legislation is based on a similar plan in Florida.

In 1999, the first year Florida issued letter grades for schools, there were 616 schools that received an A or B, while 877 received Ds or Fs. Performance continually improved until 2,317 schools received As or Bs in 2009, and just 217 received Ds or Fs. Under the legislation, annual reports would be issued giving letter grades to schools based on student performance on the Oklahoma School Testing Program.

The grades would be as follows:

• “A” means schools making excellent progress;
• “B” means schools making above average progress;
• “C” means schools making satisfactory progress;
• “D” means schools making less than satisfactory progress; and
• “F” means schools failing to make adequate progress.
Schools receiving an “A” or those that improve at least two grade levels in a year would be rewarded by granting them greater authority over the allocation of the state-funded portion of the school’s budget.

Each school’s grade would be based on a combination of student test scores on all criterion-referenced tests and end-of-instruction tests, student learning gains in reading and mathematics, and improvement of the lowest twenty-fifth percentile of students in reading and mathematics.

For high schools, 50 percent of the school grade would be based on the above-listed factors and the other half of the grade would be based on

• the district’s high school graduation rate;
• performance and participation of students in College Board Advanced Placement courses, International Baccalaureate courses, concurrent enrollment courses, Advanced International Certificate of Education courses, and national industry certification;
• students’ SAT and ACT scores;
• the high school graduation rate of students who scored as limited or unsatisfactory on eighth-grade criterion-referenced tests in reading and mathematics; and
• student performance on the end-of-instruction tests.
House Bill 1456 passed out of the House Common Education Committee. It will now proceed to the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

Speaker Names Investigatory Committee Members

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Legislature Working on Chronic Pension Problems

By state Rep. Mark McCullough
Rep. Mark McCullough
One of the greatest financial challenges facing Oklahoma is the status of our state pension systems.

The total unfunded actuarial accrued liability of all seven Oklahoma pensions systems is over $16 billion – about $4,275 per Oklahoman and more than twice the size of the entire state budget.

Oklahoma’s major pension systems are only about 60 percent funded on average. The most recent information available for the firefighters’ plan shows a 53.4 percent funded level. For police, it is 74.9 percent.

The actuary soundness for a private plan is a minimum of 80 percent.

The soundness of all major plans has declined over the last decade, and Oklahoma ranks among the worst five states in the nation according to the Pew Center on the States.

House lawmakers are committed to enacting reforms that will begin to shore up the system so retirees are protected and other citizens are not unfairly punished.

As part of that effort, I have introduced House Bill 1221, which deals with the Oklahoma Firefighters Pension and Retirement System, and the Oklahoma Police Pension and Retirement System.

In its current form, House Bill 1221 would adjust benefit levels for new workers entering the system starting in November 2011. Benefits for current firefighters or police would not be impacted.

The bill, which passed out of committee this week, contains four major changes for new members entering the system. First, it would change the multiplier from 2.5 percent to 2 percent. The bill would increase the retirement age for those entering the system starting next year so retirement would occur in 25 years instead of 20. It would also raise the employee contribution from 8 percent to 12 percent. And, finally, the bill would eliminate the Drop plan, which impartial and independent research indicates is a fiscal drain on the pension system.

I believe this is a fair way to begin reform. Promises made to current firefighters and police officers would be kept, and those entering the profession in the future would do so with a clear knowledge of promised benefits.

This bill is only an initial proposal. I will be meeting regularly with all concerned parties throughout session. We will work hard to craft a plan that is financially sound, but also fair and attractive to future police and firefighters.

I appreciate the firefighters who visited the Capitol this week to express their views, especially those from Sapulpa. It was a great example of democracy in action.

This is the first major legislative acknowledgement of the need to address structural funding problems in our police and fire pension systems.

By making specific adjustments today, we can chip away at the unfunded liability while dealing with beneficiaries in an open and transparent way that allows them to properly plan for retirement.

This process will not be easy or pain free, but if we do not act now, the pension plan for crucial public state employees will be in peril. This is a result that none of us should find acceptable.

State Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa, represents the people of House District 30.

State Agency Consolidation Approved in Committee

Rep. Jason Murphey
A significant consolidation of state government administrative overhead could be set to take place following today’s approval of House Bill 2140 by the House of Representatives Government Modernization Committee.

House Bill 2140 proposes to consolidate seven of Oklahoma’s central service state agencies into one agency.

“We are committed to right sizing state government,” stated House Speaker Kris Steele who serves as the author of the legislation. “Consolidating central services agencies is a great first step toward the goal of making state government more efficient and responsive to the needs of Oklahoma taxpayers.”

Steele authored the legislation after an interim study found that Oklahoma could realize millions of dollars of savings if Oklahoma followed best practices that are occurring in other states.

The legislation is patterned after the central services governance structures used in Montana, Indiana and Utah.

“This vote represents the first time in recent history that a significant consolidation of state agencies has been approved by a standing House committee,” said state Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie and chair of the Government Modernization Committee. “The consolidation of these seven state agencies will save the taxpayers millions of dollars every year.”

Murphey said the bill will also set the stage for future significant consolidations.

“This bill makes the case for consolidating state agencies based on similar mission and subject matter,” he said.

House Bill 2140 was approved by a vote of 11-2 and now heads to the full House for additional consideration.

The State Government Administrative Process Consolidation and Reorganization Reform Act of 2011 consolidates the following agencies into the Office of State Finance (OSF):

-Department of Central Services
-Office of Personnel Management
-Oklahoma Merit Protection Commission
-Oklahoma Department of Libraries
-Oklahoma State Employees Benefits Council
-Oklahoma State and Education Employees Group Insurance Board

The bill directs the Director of OSF to consolidate all of the agencies’ administrative functions by December 31, 2011, and to demonstrate a 15% overall cost reduction as a result.

A 15% cost savings from consolidation of the above agencies based on their total operating budget figure would be $22,173,934.

Where the specific cost savings will come from in the consolidation is left to the discretion of the Director of OSF who shall provide recommendations to the Legislature.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lawmakers to Consider Major Pension Reforms

Rep. Randy McDanial
State lawmakers will vote today on major reforms that will shore up Oklahoma’s state pensions and provide opportunity for participants to have increased personal control.

“For decades, this problem has been passed on to future generations to address,” said state Rep. Randy McDaniel, who has nearly 20 years’ experience in the financial services industry. “No more. This year we will finally begin addressing one of the state’s most significant financial challenges.”

Many important reform bills have been filed and will be heard. Nonetheless, House Speaker Kris Steele and McDaniel have filed four major bills to reform state pensions.

“This is a fair and comprehensive approach,” said Steele, R-Shawnee. “We must take action on this issue. Reforms must be implemented if we are going to improve the state pension plans and fulfill our obligation to current retirees.”

House Bill 1004, by McDaniel, creates the “Leadership by Example Act” and would place all new members of the Oklahoma Legislature and statewide officials into a new defined contribution plan.

“As we reform the system, I believe legislators should lead by example,” McDaniel said. “Some groups oppose reform, especially if it requires moving their future employees into a defined contribution plan. The Legislature should not ask other groups to do something that we are not willing to do ourselves. Defined contribution plans provide workers greater control and personal choice. I believe affording that freedom to workers is a key component of reform.”

The new defined contribution plan, “Save Oklahoma,” will build on the existing and successful SoonerSave program. As of June 30, 2010, it had 35,134 participants with net assets of $458 million and no unfunded liability.

Another pair of bills would significantly improve the financial standing of state pensions in future years.

House Bill 2132, by Steele, would require that all COLAs be fully funded when authorized.

House Bill 1006, by McDaniel, would help stabilize state pensions by requiring that a pension system be at least 80-percent funded before a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) can be authorized for the system.

“One of the major causes of the current unfunded liability is that past COLAs were enacted without actually paying for them,” McDaniel said. “As a result, money was drained from pension systems, leaving them in an increasingly precarious position for future generations. Under the reforms we are now advancing, we will focus on paying current obligations first and then making sure we actually pay as we go when enacting future COLAs.”

House Bill 1011, by McDaniel, would provide a funding source for COLAs. Under the bill, a portion of the revenues received by the Commissioners of the Land Office would be dedicated to funding COLAs for retired teachers. If enacted into law, House Bill 1011 would be the first dedicated funding source for COLAs in state history.

The Commissioners of the Land Office, also known as the “School Land Trust,” manages state-owned public lands to produce income for education.

“While these four reform measures will not eliminate the system’s problems overnight, they will significantly improve the financial soundness of the retirement systems,” McDaniel said.

McDaniel noted that 10 years ago the state’s unfunded pension liability was just over $6 billion. According to official actuarial reports, the unfunded liability now totals more than $16 billion – more than twice the size of the entire state budget.

With a growing portion of the state’s budget being needed to fund retirement plans, there are fewer tax dollars available to support core government services, he noted.

In addition, the unfunded liability threatens the state’s bond rating.

“Failure to address Oklahoma’s pension problems will result in growing budget challenges in the future,” McDaniel said. “We cannot continue doing business as usual. The reforms we are advancing this year are a serious response to a serious financial problem.”

All four of these measures, along with several other important reform bills, will be heard today in the House Economic Development, Tourism and Financial Services Committee. The executive directors of the major pension plans are invited to make public comment regarding these reform proposals.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Senator Ford advances Education Board alternative

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Sen. John Ford
Chair, Senate Education
Oklahoma state Senate Education Chairman John Ford offered a second bill on Monday (February 14) to restructure the state Board of Education. The measure, Senate Bill 435, was approved by the Education Committee by a vote of 9 to 5.

“Up until 1971, the Board included the State Superintendent, the Governor, the Attorney General and the Secretary of State,” Ford explained. “After that time the law was changed to make the Board of Education appointed by the Governor. Senate Bill 435 would take the Board back to its original structure.”

Ford also authored SB 718 which was approved by the same committee last week. He said that measure had the same goal in mind — ensuring the Superintendent would have the authority to implement the improvements and reforms the public had supported when they voted for Superintendent Janet Barresi last November. That measure gave authority to make decisions to the Superintendent.

“What we’re trying to put in place is a process that adds some accountability to the will of the voters of this state, regardless of political party,” said Ford, who represents Craig, Nowata and Washington Counties. “We’ll continue to listen to members and individuals who have a vested interest so that we can develop a system that has checks and balances as well as accountability, and that will stand the test of time. At the end of the day we’ve got to make sure we’re providing a better education for our students.”

Both measures must next be considered by the full Senate.

Calls for changes in education department governance have grown intense since members of the board clashed repeatedly with Superintendent Barresi at her first meeting with them. Among other things, board members refused to approve her hiring decisions.

Published 14-Feb-2011

Miller says January data points to incremental recovery

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Treasurer Ken Miller
Note: Here is the January 2011 revenue report for Oklahoma, as summarized in a press release from the office of state Treasurer Ken Miller.

Oklahoma showed healthy economic activity at the start of the new year demonstrating the recovery is taking hold, State Treasurer Ken Miller said today (Monday, February 14) as he issued revenue reports for January.
Preliminary reports show General Revenue Fund collections in January are $490.3 million. That amount is:

• $79.9 million or 19.5 percent above the prior year; and,
• $23.9 million or 5.1 percent above the estimate.

Governor Mary Fallin’s Statement on the Death of John Bryant

Governor Mary Fallin today released the following statement on the death of former state Representative John Bryant:

“I was saddened to hear of the passing of John Bryant. John and I got to know each other well when we shared an office suite during my time in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. He was an effective and hardworking legislator and was dedicated to improving our state. He’ll be missed by his many friends at the Capitol. My thoughts and prayers are with John’s family during this difficult time.”

Bryant was 53.

Location:Oklahoma State Capitol

Speaker Steele Names Investigatory Committee Members

Speaker Kris Steele
House Speaker Kris Steele today announced the eight members of the special bipartisan committee that will investigate the allegations that led to state Rep. Randy Terrill being charged with felony bribery.

“The lawmakers who have agreed to serve on the committee are well-respected members of this body with the ability to undertake a task of this significance,” said Steele, R-Shawnee. “I am confident they will conduct a thorough review that complies with the rule of law, respects the rights of the accused, and fulfills our duty to the public, and then reach an appropriate conclusion based only on the facts of the case.”

The committee’s makeup is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.

State Rep. Fred Jordan, R-Jenks, will chair the committee. Jordan is a former Marine Corps Judge Advocate and attorney who chairs the House Judiciary Committee.

State Rep. Ben Sherrer, D-Pryor and an attorney, will serve as vice-chair.

The other six members of the committee are:

• State Rep. Gary Banz, R-Midwest City
• State Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove
• State Rep. Steve Kouplen, D-Beggs
• State Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa
• State Rep. Harold Wright, R-Weatherford
•State Rep. Purcy Walker, D-Elk City

The committee met briefly Monday morning to adopt the rules that will govern the investigatory process. The group is charged with gathering evidence and ultimately making a recommendation to the full House if the Committee finds sufficient evidence exists that the legislator in question “has engaged in conduct which impairs the ability of the member to perform the duties of his or her office, or substantially impairs public confidence in the Legislature.”

Under the rules adopted, the committee members cannot discuss the investigation while it is ongoing to protect the member under investigation and all witnesses, as well as to protect the integrity of the process.

However, all the group’s findings and recommendation will be released to the public.

The rules adopted call for a multi-part process.

In the first phase, the committee or its counsel will conduct an investigation and gather evidence. Upon completion of the gathering process, all information will be provided to members of the committee.

At that point, committee members will determine if the evidence is sufficient to warrant additional proceedings. If so, a written report outlining the evidence will then be provided to the member under investigation, who will then have 14 days to respond in writing and to request an opportunity to present additional evidence.

At the conclusion of that process, the committee will vote on whether or not to recommend disciplinary action to the full body of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

Throughout the process, the committee will have subpoena power to compel witness testimony and production of documentary evidence.

“The committee process has been designed to maintain decorum and gather information in a forthright and orderly fashion,” Jordan said. “While this committee is not conducting a criminal investigation, the decisions reached could still have lifelong implications for one of our colleagues, and this task will be treated with the seriousness a decision of that magnitude deserves.”

Upon completion of its work, the committee will submit a report of its findings to the House, which will be filed in the chief clerk’s office. The report will be made available to the public.

“The public has a right to know how a decision was reached and why, and the report will provide those answers at the appropriate time,” Jordan said.

The final decision would then be left up to the full membership of the Oklahoma House of Representatives during a floor session.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Governor Fallin's 2012 Executive Budget

Click here to view the FY2012 Executive Budget book.

Click here to view the FY2012 Budget and Roadmap to Prosperity Summary

Click here to view the FY2012 Budget chart by Cabinet

Click here to view the FY2012 Budget Shortfall Solutions chart

Click here to view the FY2012 Budget spreadsheet by agency

Friday, February 11, 2011

Superintendent Janet Barresi's Weekly Video Message

Weekly Message from Supt. Janet Barresi 2-11-2011 from OK Dept. of Education on Vimeo.

Attorney General E. Scott Pruitt Honors Work to Strengthen Families

Deaconess Pregnancy and Adoption Services highlighted for valuable service to pregnant women and families.

Attorney General E. Scott Pruitt today presented a check for $1,000 on behalf of Blue Bell Creameries for Deaconess Pregnancy and Adoption Services (DPAS).

“It is an honor to present this check on behalf of Blue Bell Creameries in support of the valuable services DPAS provides women and families,” Pruitt said. “Thousands of Oklahomans have been enriched and blessed by the generosity of DPAS and the dedicated people who care about strengthening families throughout the state.”

Deaconess executive director Dierdre McCool accepted the check during a ceremony at the service’s headquarters in northwest Oklahoma City.

“We deeply appreciate the generous contribution from Attorney General Pruitt,” McCool said. “Financial support is a crucial component for our agency to continue its life-altering services to the children, women and families of Oklahoma.”

Founded in 1900 on the unsettled plains of Indian Territory, Deaconess Pregnancy and Adoption Services is the premier, care-oriented adoption agency in the Oklahoma City area. Serving the entire state of Oklahoma, the service has helped more than 10,000 women in crisis and has created more than 5,000 new families through adoption.

Deaconess Pregnancy and Adoption Services helps women in crisis pregnancy, aids couples through adoption and works with adopted children to reconnect with their birth families.

For more information on Deaconess Pregnancy and Adoption Services, go online to or call (405) 949-4200, (800) 567-6631.

Location:NW 58th St,Oklahoma City,United States

Legislative Session Week in Review

The week started with Gov. Mary Fallin’s first State of the State speech where she outlined an ambitious agenda to improve Oklahoma’s economy.

Although the budget shortfall and redistricting will obviously take up much of our time, we still have the opportunity to advance common-sense reforms as well.

At the start of this session, we face 1168 bills and 41 joint resolutions in the Oklahoma House of Representatives while lawmakers in the Senate filed 969 bills and 44 joint resolutions.

At the same time, we face a hole of $500 million to $600 million this year’s budget, which means some tough decisions lie ahead of us. To get a head start on those decisions, we held pre-session budget hearings with state agencies. Those meetings will help us determine where cuts can be made, where duplication exists, and how to best proceed.

Illegal immigration will also be a major issue this year. State House and Senate leaders have formed a special joint committee to develop immigration reform proposals. The group includes four members each from the House and Senate, as well as Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

Among other things, the committee will develop a reform package that addresses public safety issues and targets crimes associated with illegal immigration. As part of the effort, the group will also consider proposals to better protect taxpayer money from subsidizing illegal immigration.

While much work remains ahead of us, the House has already enacted one major reform. Under the rules of operation adopted on opening day, the public will now have greater opportunity to monitor activity at the Oklahoma Capitol.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Oklahomans Can Now Gather State Data in One Location at


OKLAHOMA CITY – February 10, 2011 – The Office of State Finance and, Oklahoma’s official website, have collaboratively launched an interactive, centralized data center for the State of Oklahoma at The new online data center provides Oklahomans with an unprecedented level of openness in Oklahoma’s state government.

“For state data to be truly open, we must provide our citizens with a platform that allows them to digest, evaluate, and consume data in a user-friendly format, “ said Governor Mary Fallin. “ will provide the level of openness and interactivity with government data that our citizens deserve.” is part of the “Oklahoma Information Services Act,” which will consolidate information, saving the user from having to travel to multiple websites. The website’s mission is to provide accessible information about the economy, public health, transportation, environment, and more, on one website. enables the public and media to utilize the state’s Open Records data in a variety of ways, including:

• View and download raw statistics
• Conduct research and analysis of data sets
• Build applications for use on websites
•Embed charts, maps, and other data on websites and blogs
•Share data on Facebook, Twitter, Delicious, Digg, and through email

Alex Pettit, State Chief Information Officer, said, “By publishing the information in different formats, Oklahomans have more freedom in how they lookup information. Our primary goal is to provide an efficient and effective way to gather Oklahoma based data. This centralized source of information will save time for its users and money for the state.”

The State of Oklahoma invites public feedback and dataset recommendations. To submit comments or ideas for new datasets visit and select the “Suggest” button at the bottom of the screen.

For other Oklahoma open government resources, please visit the following websites:

The state’s new online data center is a product of a partnership between the Oklahoma Office of State Finance, Socrata, a leading provider of open data services for federal, state and local governments, and, Oklahoma’s official website.

Location:NW 58th St,Oklahoma City,United States

KFOR: Will Schools Have to Make Up Snow Days?


The short answer is, Yes. Schools can make up the snow days by adding hours to the days or days to the school year. Each district will decide how they will make up the lost instruction time.

Rep. Earl Sears made National Review

Rep. Earl Sears
Oklahoma State Rep. Earl Sears is mentioned in the Feb. 21 issue of National Review. Check it out to learn about Rep. Sears new friendship with Gov. Jeb Bush. Thank you to the okschoolchoice blog for the information.

You can come listen to Gov. Jeb Bush when he's in town March 30th.

Rep. Bennett Calls for Drug Testing for Those on State Aid

Rep. John Bennett
Legislation filed by state Rep. John Bennett would require recipients of state aid to undergo routine drug tests as a condition of eligibility.

“I realize there will be legal challenges to this idea, but from a common-sense perspective, it’s a no-brainer,” said Bennett, R-Sallisaw. “If you work for me as a paid employee and test positive for drugs, I can fire you. Well, those receiving state services are being paid by the taxpayers of Oklahoma and we should have the right to fire you if you abuse drugs.”

House Bill 1083, by Bennett, would require those applying for state-provided assistance to undergo urine screening for illicit drugs upon initial application and then every six months following.

The cost of the test would be deducted from the first payment to the applicant if he or she passes.

Any applicant failing or refusing to take a drug test would forfeit eligibility for state-provided benefits for the next 90 days. An individual who fails a drug test while receiving benefits would be ineligible for further benefits for one year.

Under the bill, the decision to deny services could be appealed and overturned if the applicant can show the testing process was faulty.

Bennett, who previously worked on a Drug Task Force for the local sheriff’s department, said his constituents are concerned when they see local drug dealers receiving state benefits.

“Everyone knows who the local dopies are and it is extremely frustrating to law-abiding citizens to see those people subsidized with our tax payments,” Bennett said. “People should not get paid to do drugs on our dime.”

House Bill 1083 could be taken up soon after the Oklahoma Legislature convenes on February 7.
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