Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Stiles Bill Protects the Custody Rights of Deployed Military Personnel

Rep. Aaron Stiles
State Rep. Aaron Stiles praised Gov. Mary Fallin for signing legislation designed to ensure deployed parents will not lose the custody of their children while serving the country.

House Bill 1603, by Stiles (R-Norman), bans military deployment as a reason to modify custody, bans courts from entering final orders while the deployed parent is deployed, provides for remote electronic hearings and allows deployed personnel to designate a family member to exercise visitation and enforce custody.

“I’ve seen in my law practice where a service member will be deployed and will come home to find his son or daughter trained to call someone else his ‘new Daddy’,” Stiles said. “This is a sad occurrence. This bill will give the service members more power to stop this type of scenario from happening. The legislation ensures service members’ custody and visitation rights are protected while they are deployed.”

Stiles said that losing custody and visitation rights should not be one of the sacrifices service members have to make to serve the country.

“Our military men and women already sacrifice time with their families,” Stiles said. “They shouldn’t have to lose their rights to see their families when they are home because they were not present to defend those rights.”

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan Announces Summer Reading Sweepstakes

Two Oklahoma organizations are ready to reward two avid summer readers each with a college savings account worth $2,529 during the 2011 Summer Reading Program. As National 5-29 College Savings Day approaches, Sunday, May 29th, State Treasurer Ken Miller announced the Destination College Savings Sweepstakes, a partnership between the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan (OCSP) and the Oklahoma Department of Libraries (ODL), designed to give program participants the chance to win a college savings account while continuing to broaden their knowledge over the summer.

Treasurer Ken Miller
“The state’s Summer Reading Program offers Oklahoma children well-planned, exciting programs to expand their knowledge through reading and other activities throughout the summer months,” said Treasurer Miller, chairman of the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan Board of Trustees. “While kids are engaged in these activities, the sweepstakes reminds parents and grandparents about the importance of saving early for their child or grandchild’s college education.”

The sweepstakes will award $2,529 for an Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan account to two lucky Summer Reading Program participants. One winner each will be selected from the Children program and Teen program. Plus, each library of the winning readers will be given $1,000 to help fund its summer reading programs.

Governor Signs Special Needs Scholarship Modifications

Changes Will End Continued Defiance by Rogue Districts

Gov. Mary Fallin has signed legislation modifying the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Act to ensure children with special needs receive scholarships in a prompt manner.

House Bill 1744 by State Rep. Jason Nelson (R-Oklahoma City) and State Sen. Patrick Anderson (R-Enid) changes the law so school districts will no longer administer the program. Instead, the Department of Education will administer it.

“Last year, several school districts failed to provide scholarships to eligible special needs students, flagrantly violating the law,” said Nelson. “Thanks to the modifications in this bill, the State Department of Education will administer the program rather than local school districts. This will provide consistency and certainty for students and parents who choose to participate in the program.”

Last year, lawmakers voted allow a student with a disability (such as those with Down syndrome or Autism) who has an individualized education program (IEP) to receive state-funded scholarships to attend a private school. The scholarships come from the amount of money already designated for the education of those children.

After the program went into effect last August, several Tulsa-area schools voted to break the law, leading lawmakers to adjust the program this year.

The Department of Education will have the authority to reduce state aid to school districts that have failed to comply with provisions of the program since it went into effect nine months ago this week. This will allow the Department of Education to pay scholarships for the current school year if it is determined that a local district has failed to follow the law.

“I’ve been stunned by the contempt some school districts have shown toward the law and these children,” Nelson said. “I’m told by parents that some local districts, in addition to ignoring the new law, are attempting to ignore existing transfer laws in order to deny scholarships to eligible students and have resorted to telling parents that the scholarships are taxable, hoping that will keep them from participating in the program. House Bill 1744 will ensure rogue officials don’t continue to cause problems for these students and their parents.”

Earlier this year State Superintendent Janet Barresi was forced to send a letter to the superintendent of Union Public Schools informing her that a new transfer policy passed by the school board was in conflict with existing student transfer laws.

There is a pending request for an opinion from Attorney General Scott Pruitt to determine if scholarships are taxable as income. However, opinions from other attorneys state that the scholarships are not taxable including one from an attorney with a law firm that represents several school districts.

House Bill 1744 clarifies that parents can use the scholarships to pay private schools for assessment fees, services and therapies to address the needs of the student. Upon acceptance of the scholarship, parents assume full financial responsibility for the education of the student and transportation to and from the private school.

The measure instructs the Department of Education to establish a toll-free number and website where parents can get information and assistance.

According to the State Department of Education 52 students from 18 school districts are currently using the scholarship to attend a private school of their choice.

The legislation also creates a Special Education Statewide Cooperative Task Force to study ways to improve special education and related services.

House Bill 1744 easily passed both chambers of the Legislature, receiving bipartisan support. The bill passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives 64-25 and passed the State Senate 36-9.

Link to interview

Friday, May 27, 2011

OK-WARN Provides Weather Alerts to Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Oklahomans

The State of Oklahoma web portal provides a service for deaf and hard-of-hearing people to receive timely notification of weather hazards in the state of Oklahoma.

OK-WARN is a customized database program that sends out critical weather information to alphanumeric pagers and e-mail addresses.

The program was created to help ease the fears of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals who may have difficultly receiving life saving warnings.

When the National Weather Service issues a weather alert, the program will automatically send a message to all participating pages, so notification is nearly instant.

In addition to all that, the program also provides multiple data sources and attempts to deliver the critical message so you can be sure you'll never miss a warning.

You get only the warnings you request:
  • Tornado Watch and Warning
  • Severe Thunderstorm Watch and Warning
  • Winter Storm Warning
  • Winter Storm Watch
  • Winter Weather Advisory
  • Flash Flood Watch and Warning
  • Civil Emergency Message
  • Special/Significant Weather Statements
  • Severe Weather Statements
  • River Flood Warning
  • Non-Precipitation Advisory

Task Force to Study Special Education, Propose Statewide Plan

A task force has been created by the legislature to study how special education and related services are provided to students and to develop a plan to implement a special education statewide cooperative. The Special Education Statewide Cooperative Task Force was included in House Bill 1744 that was signed by Gov. Mary Fallin on Thursday.

"I'm asking for anyone with suggestions of individuals who may be qualified for appointment to the task force to submit those names to me or to the respective appointing authority listed in the legislation," said State Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, author of HB1744. "The work of the task force begins in July so it is important to identify potential task force members quickly so all the positions can be filled in time."

Below is the text of the task force language of HB1744:

A. There is hereby created until May 31, 2012, the Special Education Statewide Cooperative Task Force.

B. The Task Force shall study and develop a plan to provide for the delivery of special education and related services to students with disabilities for whom an individualized education program (IEP) has been developed in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) through a statewide special education cooperative which will result in improved outcomes. The Task Force shall study, review and make recommendations on the following:

1. The appropriate governance and organizational structure for a statewide special education cooperative;
2. What resources are needed and available to support a statewide special education cooperative;
3. Which students should participate in the statewide special education cooperative;
4. How special education services can be improved through improved economies of scale;
5. How students will be enrolled in or provided services through the statewide special education cooperative;
6. How the services of teachers and other related personnel will be provided by the statewide special education cooperative;
7. How equipment and other resources that support and benefit students with an IEP will be provided by the statewide special education cooperative;
8. How partnerships with school districts, technology center school districts, higher education institutions, and any other public or private entities will benefit students with an IEP;
9. The relevant federal IDEA compliance issues;
10. How assessments for placing students on an IEP can be improved; and
11. Any other relevant issues.
C. The Task Force shall consist of sixteen (16) members as follows:

1. The State Superintendent of Public Instruction or designee;
2. The Secretary of Education or designee;
3. An executive director of a special education cooperative, appointed by the Governor;
4. A special education director of a special education cooperative, appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives;
5. A service provider of special-education-related services, appointed by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate;
6. A special education teacher, appointed by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction;
7. A parent representing the federally funded parent training and information center for Oklahoma known as the Oklahoma Parent Center, appointed by the Governor;
8. A parent representing a private association which advocates for individual with disabilities, appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives;
9. A person representing a sheltered workshop, appointed by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate;
10. A private employer who employees individuals with disabilities, appointed by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction;
11. A disability coordinator for a higher education institution, appointed by the Governor;
12. A representative of a technology center school district, appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives;
13. A representative of the federally funded protection and advocacy system for Oklahoma known as the Oklahoma Disability Law Center, appointed by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate;
14. A self advocate, appointed by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction;
15. A member of the House of Representatives, appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives; and
16. A member of the Senate, appointed by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate.
D. The member of the House of Representatives and the member of the Senate shall serve as cochairs of the Task Force. Appointments to the Task Force shall be made within thirty (30) days after the effective date of this act. Meetings of the Task Force shall be held at the call of either cochair of the Task Force. Members shall serve at the pleasure of their appointing authorities. A majority of the members of the Task Force shall constitute a quorum to transact business, but no vacancy shall impair the right of the remaining members to exercise all of the powers of the Task Force. A vacancy on the Task Force shall be filled by the original appointing authority. Staff support for the Task Force shall be provided by the staff of the House of Representatives, Senate and State Department of Education. The Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education, Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, Office of Disability Concerns, State Department of Rehabilitation Services, Oklahoma Health Care Authority, Department of Human Services, and the State Use Committee for the Department of Central Services shall provide support and information as requested by the Task Force.

E. Members of the Task Force shall receive no compensation for serving on the Task Force, but may receive travel reimbursement, contingent on the availability of public or private funds for this purpose.

F. The Task Force may seek the assistance of the Legislative Service Bureau or the State Board of Education to contract with an independent consultant as necessary to fulfill the duties specified in this section contingent on the availability of funds.

G. The Task Force shall submit a preliminary report by December 31, 2011, and a final report by May 31, 2012, to the Governor, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Governor Mary Fallin Signs Bills into Law to Aid Military Personnel and Families

Governor Mary Fallin today announced she signed into law measures to aid Oklahoma military personnel and families. House Bill 1603, House Bill 1343 and Senate Bill 115 all received unanimous support in the Oklahoma Legislature.

“As the legislative session comes to a close and Memorial Day approaches, this is a fitting end to a constructive and historic legislative year,” said Fallin. “I’m proud of our lawmakers for working in a bipartisan manner to get these bills to my desk and ensure that we are honoring the brave Oklahomans in the United States military.”

HB 1343 grants college scholarships to the children of military personnel killed in the line of duty after January 1, 2000. Scholarships will be administered through the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program (OHLAP).

HB 1603 prohibits the use of military deployment as a cause for changes in child custody agreements, ensuring that military deployment cannot be used as a negative factor in determining custody.

SB 115 protects military voting rights by ensuring state election law complies with federal law relating to voting practices for active duty military personnel.

“We owe our very freedom to the servicemen and women who risk their lives to defend this state and this nation,” Fallin said. “I am proud to be able to sign into law a series of bills that protect their families and their rights. They deserve nothing less.”

Today is the last day Fallin has to act on legislation passed during the 2011 legislative session.

Governor signs Erin Swezey Act into law

Gov. Mary Fallin has signed The Erin Swezey Act into law.

Erin Swezey
Thursday, the governor approved Senate Bill 529 which is named for the 20-year-old Oklahoma State University student from Edmond who was killed in 2009 by a drunk driver with numerous DUI arrests and convictions.

“Public Safety is a top priority for Oklahoma, and I believe the Erin Swezey Act will help us save lives,” Fallin said. “My own daughter is only a little bit older than Erin would have been. My heart goes out to the Swezeys and all Oklahomans who’ve been victims of drunk drivers. I’m proud to support legislation that will help us prevent such tragedies.”

Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, is principal author of SB 529. He said the bill was requested by Erin’s parents, Keith and Dixie Swezey.

“I am extremely grateful to Governor Fallin for her support of this measure, and to my House author, Representative Jason Nelson, for all of his hard work securing passage of the Erin Swezey Act,” Jolley said. “I also want to express my thanks to Keith and Dixie for bringing this important issue to the forefront, and having the courage to fight for it so that other parents will be spared their loss.”

As of November 1, 2011, an interlock device will be required for 18 months on a first conviction for those with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .15 or higher. For a second or subsequent offense, the interlock will be mandatory for those with a BAC of .08 for a period of four years, and for five years on subsequent offenses. Under the new law, those convicted will have the designation “Interlock Required” on the face of their driver licenses as long as they’re required to have an interlock device.

Visiting with Keith and
Dixie Swezey after final
House vote
“Arizona has a similar law and they’ve reduced drunk driving deaths by 46 percent,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “I know we will save lives in Oklahoma as well.”

Speaking on behalf of his wife Dixie, Keith Swezey said they were elated that the Erin Swezey Act has been signed into law.

“We are so thankful to Governor Fallin for signing this bill, and to Senator Jolley and Representative Nelson who made its passage a reality,” Swezey said. “The glory belongs to God. We give thanks to Him for our beautiful daughter, and for the enactment of this law which honors her life by helping protect other innocent Oklahomans.”

For more information please visit:


http://www.facebook.com/#!/ErinSwezeyAct or


Governor Fallin Declares State of Emergency Due to Tornadoes and Severe Storms

Governor Mary Fallin declared a State of Emergency yesterday for 68 Oklahoma counties due to tornadoes, severe storms, straight line winds and flooding that began Tuesday.

The counties included in the declaration are: Adair, Alfalfa, Atoka, Blaine, Bryan, Caddo, Canadian, Carter, Cherokee, Choctaw, Cleveland, Coal, Comanche, Cotton, Craig, Creek, Custer, Delaware, Dewey, Garfield, Garvin, Grady, Grant, Haskell, Hughes, Jackson, Jefferson, Johnston, Kay, Kingfisher, Kiowa, Latimer, LeFlore, Lincoln, Logan, Love, Major, Marshall, Mayes, McClain, McCurtain, McIntosh, Murray, Muskogee, Noble, Nowata, Okfuskee, Oklahoma, Okmulgee, Osage, Ottawa, Pawnee, Payne, Pittsburg, Pontotoc, Pottawatomie, Pushmataha, Rogers, Seminole, Sequoyah, Stephens, Tillman, Tulsa, Wagoner, Washington, Washita, Woods and Woodward.

These Oklahoma counties were east of a dry-line and in an area which experienced tornadoes, straight line winds, damaging hail and flooding. Damage assessments are ongoing.

Under the Executive Order, state agencies can make emergency purchases and acquisitions needed to expedite the delivery of resources to local jurisdictions. The declaration also marks a first step toward seeking federal assistance should it be necessary.

Bill Benefiting Classroom Teachers Signed into Law

OKLAHOMA CITY (May 25, 2011) – Oklahomans will have a new way to financially support teachers thanks to an income tax checkoff program signed into law today.
Rep. Jabar Shumate
House Bill 1852, by state Rep. Jabar Shumate and state Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre, creates the income tax checkoff and the “Public School Classroom Support Revolving Fund.”
“This new law gives Oklahomans a way to provide direct financial support for educational improvements in our school systems,” said Shumate, D-Tulsa. “I am pleased this legislation received such strong bipartisan support from lawmakers and the governor.”
Under the bill, money donated through the voluntary income tax checkoff would be deposited in the “Public School Classroom Support Revolving Fund.”
The State Board of Education, headed by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, would use the money collected to provide annual grants to public school classroom teachers for supplies, materials, or equipment. 
Applications will be considered on a statewide competitive basis. 
“The legislation was a request from teachers associated with Professional Oklahoma Educators, and in a tough budget year, this was an innovative way to provide extra funds for the classroom while also encouraging innovation,” Shumate said.
House Bill 1852 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a 93-2 vote and passed unanimously in the state Senate before being signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Governor Fallin Statement on Oklahoma Tornadoes

OKALAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin released the following statement today regarding the storms in Oklahoma:
“It is obvious the State of Oklahoma has experienced a large tornado outbreak today. I am in constant contact with our State Emergency Operations Center and I know local authorities are doing everything they can to respond to the storm and keep our citizens safe.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those already affected by these storms.

“Unfortunately, this event will likely continue for some time. I am asking all Oklahomans to stay aware of the weather and to take proper precautions to keep themselves out of harm’s way.”

Friday, May 20, 2011

Governor Fallin, CLO Announce Record-Breaking Distributions for Education

Governor Mary Fallin and Secretary of the Commissioners of the Land Office Harry Birdwell announced earlier this week a record-setting year for the money provided by the CLO to K-12 schools, colleges and universities.

The agency is expecting to distribute a total of $124 million to schools over the course of fiscal year 2011, the largest annual distribution to schools in state history and over $10 million more than was distributed in FY 2010. As of now, the CLO has distributed $112 million to education, including $84.9 million to common education, and is expected to distribute another $12 million total by the end of the fiscal year in June.  

In addition, CLO officials report that all indications point to another record disbursement year in fiscal year 2012 if state oil and gas drilling activities continue at a strong pace. CLO distributions continue to climb, with education distributions reaching $82.6 million in FY 2009, $114.3 million in FY2010 and a projected total of at least $124 million in FY 2011.

“With the recession leaving Oklahoma with a $500 million budget shortfall, every dollar is important,” Fallin said. “We’re extremely pleased to be able to direct a record-setting amount of money from the CLO towards education, especially during these tough times. These dollars come without any mandates and will provide our schools and universities with another flexible source of funding to help deal with the budget cuts they are currently facing.”

Created at statehood, the CLO controls 1.3 million mineral acres, approximately 750,000 acres of land and a $1.8 billion trust fund.  Monies from oil and gas exploration and land leases on CLO-controlled property and dividends from investments made by the trust fund are distributed monthly by the CLO to state schools.

Under the state budget agreement reached last week, common education would receive a funding decrease of 4.1 percent and higher education would receive a funding decrease of 5.8 percent. Legislative approval of proposed education supplemental appropriations would put common education’s funding decrease at about 3.8 percent and higher education’s funding decrease at about 4.8 percent.

The CLO disbursements will further offset those funding reductions.

Legislature Adjourns For The Year

The Legislature adjourned today for the year following a historic session that saw successful passage of a sweeping, pro-growth, conservative agenda.
Speaker Kris Steele
“This was a very successful legislative session,” said House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee. “The Legislature laid an ambitious foundation for the state this year that will allow us to reach our full potential.”
The House recessed today and will not convene next week unless there is an emergency. The formal Sine Die will occur May 27 at 5 p.m. The Legislature will not have to convene for Sine Die to occur.
“The breadth of the accomplishments by the Legislature and our other statewide leaders this year is remarkable,” said House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee. “Oklahomans can take pride in knowing the state is set up to grow and thrive in the 21st century.”
Steele praised lawmakers for their work this year to advance major agenda items.
“We succeeded in creating an environment where businesses can succeed and families can prosper,” Steele said. “We made landmark reforms to our civil justice, workers’ compensation, pension and corrections systems. We also started to roll back the size of government while increasing the efficiency of important government services through modernization and consolidation. We advanced legislation defending family values and constitutional rights. And finally, we passed a balanced state budget that did not raise taxes and protected core services.
“To do all this and still be able to adjourn early is a testament to the dedication and hard work of all our legislators and staffers.”
The following were among the major agenda items passed out of the House this year:

A balanced $6.5 billion state budget;

  • Lawsuit reform that reduces harmful, frivolous lawsuits by placing limits on damages awarded through civil actions;
  • Workers’ compensation reform that provides increased savings to employers and puts injured workers back on the job faster;
  • Education reforms that improve student reading skills and place more accountability on schools and teachers;
  • Corrections reform that alleviates the fiscal and social strains caused by high incarceration rates;
  • A well-received legislative redistricting plan that fairly redrew the boundaries of all 101 House districts;
  • Government modernization that makes the state’s technology operations more efficient;
  • Government consolidation that streamlines duplicated services, saves money and increases the efficiency of all government services;
  • Pension reform that reduces unfunded liabilities by $5 billion;
  • A closing fund that will help the state attract new businesses;
  • Policies that protect the Second Amendment rights of citizens;
  • Policies that protect the sanctity of life;
  • Policies that uphold family values.
In addition to the legislation the House passed this year, several changes were made to legislative process that resulted in increased transparency and accountability.
For the first time, conference committees were required to meet publicly and bills to be heard in conference committees had to be posted publicly beforehand.
Also, new tools allowing the public to follow the legislative process online continued to be added to the House website.
“These changes brought a higher level of transparency to the Legislature so the public can be better-informed about the good work conducted on their behalf,” Steele said.

Senate Pro Tem happy about the direction of Oklahoma

The Oklahoma State Senate adjourned today capping off a year of legislative victories that will mark the most successful session for government reform and conservative goals in the history of the state. Leading an ambitious caucus that aggressively delivered on goals that have been on Republicans’ agenda for decades, President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, said he was proud of the accomplishments.

Sen. Brian Bingman
“I am very happy about this session and all that the Senate accomplished this year,” said Bingman. “As a state, Oklahoma is moving in the right direction.”

Mentioning the sweeping reforms passed into law this session, Bingman said that the Senate began its work with an aggressive agenda. “Our Republican caucus agenda was big and bold; it was easy to criticize because it went after so many reforms that conservatives have pushed for decades in Oklahoma but have been unable to accomplish until now because of our GOP majority and Republican governor.”

The current legislature is the most Republican in state history, which along with a Republican governor has given the GOP an opportunity that Senate Republicans did not pass up. “We live in a conservative state, the people have spoken and we are listening,” said Bingman. “Our priorities were to reform state government in a way that eliminates inefficiencies and duplication so that government size and costs are reduced. The federal government should follow our lead in cutting government, including the tax cuts that we enacted.”

“When is the last time the legislature saved as much as it spent,” asked Bingman referring to the massive cost savings that resulting in this years historic pension reform that erased more than $6 billion from the unfunded pension liability. “Oklahoma is an example to the rest of the country; the days of no fiscal accountability and liberal tax and spend policies that left our state with billions of debt are over. We cut taxes despite the $500 million budget shortfall. We then balanced a budget that is the same size as the amount of money we saved on pension reform.”

Bingman included praise to the Senate Democrats. “I firmly believe that this is a body of 48 valuable members that have all added greatly to the process this year. While we have a majority and a minority caucus, both have contributed by offering their life experiences and expertise as a unique perspective and conscious on every issue that we addressed. Our strong finish is a result of diligent work from Democrats and Republicans alike.”

“I cannot thank my colleagues enough; they all did such a great job this session working hard and diligently to the end.

Governor Fallin Praises Historic 2011 Legislative Session

Governor Mary Fallin

The last pieces of Governor Mary Fallin’s legislative agenda passed and were sent to her desk today, as the historic 2011 session came to a close. While the legislature will officially declare the session over next Friday (5/27), legislative leaders have indicated that no more bills are to be considered this year.

In what was one of the most productive legislative sessions in Oklahoma history, Governor Fallin signed into law hundreds of bills, and received on her desk landmark legislation focusing on:

• Creating more and better jobs by promoting a business friendly environment
• Building a smaller, smarter government that better serves our citizens
• Fighting the federal health care law while pursuing Oklahoma solutions for better health
• Improving Oklahoma schools and delivering quality education
• Protecting children and the lives of the unborn
• Protecting gun owners and defending the Second Amendment

Governor Fallin and legislative leaders also reached an agreement on a fiscally responsible, balanced budget that closed a $500 million revenue shortfall without raising taxes. While making cuts of up to 9 percent for various government agencies, the budget agreement makes lesser cuts to areas of government dealing with core services like education, health and human services, public safety and transportation.

“At the beginning of this legislative session, I asked lawmakers to focus on legislation that would bring more and better jobs to Oklahoma, make government smaller and more efficient, and improve our quality of life,” said Fallin. “I’m happy to see they responded by sending a series of important, landmark bills that accomplish these goals. This has been a historic legislative session that will lay the groundwork for long term prosperity and job creation in Oklahoma. It was perhaps the single most productive legislative session in state history, and one which every conservative lawmaker can be proud of.”

Click here to see Governor Fallin's report about the 2011 legislative session.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

State House buries effort to weaken government transparency provisions

By Patrick B. McGuigan, www.capitolbeatok.com

Legislative allies of advocates for openness government operations turned back an attempt to weaken Oklahoma’s transparency provisions.

House Bill 1559, by Republican state Rep. Fred Jordan of Jenks, was buried this week when the state House rejected the conference committee report (CCR) 64-35. (Two members did not vote.)

Mark Thomas of the Oklahoma Press Association (OPA) said Jordan told him he was “through with the bill and would not be bringing it back up this session.” The bill would have expanded attorney-client privilege provisions for public bodies and, Thomas told CapitolBeatOK, would have devolved decisions over privilege decisions to attorneys rather than judges.

Thomas and other observers credited state Rep. Harold Wright, a Weatherford Republican, for passionate debate against the measure as “bad public policy.” Thomas was unstinting in his praise of Rep. Wright, telling members of the OPA, “As a former mayor, member of the news media [radio station owner] and as an elected representative, Rep. Wright clearly understood the impact of this legislation.”

When debate on the proposal began, state Rep. Don Armes of Faxon was presiding officer in the chair at the front of the House chamber – and thereby addressed throughout the joust as “Mr. Speaker.”

Just before questions and debate on the bill commenced, Rep. Armes said to Jordan, the sponsor, “A lot of people want to whack this piñata.”

As more than a dozen legislators lined up to pose questions, most of them clearly indicating opposition, Rep. Jordan good naturedly played along with the dynamic, saying to some questioners, “OK, representative, now you’ve got the stick.”

Many points against the bill were made seriously, including the comments of state Rep. Jason Nelson, an Oklahoma City Republican, that he was not inclined to give the Tulsa Public School administration more ability to claim attorney-client privilege. Nelson noted he had been seeking information from the district for months and was still not satisfied with the system’s responsiveness.

State Rep. Mike Reynolds, in floor discussion with Jordan, said that when debate began he was 95% against the proposal, but as it progressed, he was more inclined to be 95% in favor. As Reynolds finished that comment, an unknown speaker, his voice amplified on the House floor was overheard to mutter, “It’s going down.”

Others participating in debate and questioning included Republican Reps. Mike Ritze of Broken Arrow, John Bennett of Sallisaw, Randy Grau of Edmond, Pat Owenby of Ardmore, Aaron Stiles of Norman, and Mark McCullough of Sapulpa; and House Democratic Leader Scott Inman of Del City.

Most of the group that spoke up on the floor broke against the bill, voting may, but Reps. Stiles and Grau backed it. Despite his “95 percent” comments, Rep. Reynolds voted with the majority against the bill.

Thomas told CapitolBeatOK, “This legislation caused much confusion because the entire section of that statute is poorly worded. Supporters of the legislation have promised to try and simplify and clarify the entire section of law in future legislative sessions.”

He continued, “This vote makes it clear the House of Representatives does not want to expand attorney-client privilege for public bodies unless there is clear and convincing reasons to do so, and they do not want to pass a law where the practical application and implications of this bill are not clearly understood. We commend the House for taking this stand on behalf of the taxpayers.”

The bill was favored by the Oklahoma Municipal League and the Tulsa Public Schools, an alliance that presented a daunting challenge to prevent erosion of access to public records.

In a discussion with CapitolBeatOK, Thomas had previously explained, “Current law limits their privilege to pending litigation and investigations when the court has ruled they can keep those communications confidential.”

In the end, that legal status quo remained in place as a result of the House vote on Tuesday (May 17). Because the vote was actually on the conference report and not “fourth reading” (final passage), Rep. Jordan could bring the measure back in the 2012 legislative session, but he indicated to Thomas and others that is unlikely.

Senator Reynolds prepares for new public service role

State Sen. Jim Reynolds has submitted his resignation from the State Legislature, effective July 1. Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, will begin his first term as Cleveland County Treasurer the first week of July after winning the post in the November 2010 election. Reynolds has represented the people of Cleveland and Oklahoma counties in Senate District 43 since 2000.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Health care compact heads to Governor Fallin

The Oklahoma state Senate this week (Wednesday, May 11) passed Oklahoma’s health care compact. Oklahoma became the fourth state to pass such a proposal. It authorizes an accord among participating states and, according to a leading national advocate, would allow Oklahoma to create its own health care policies. Supporters contend the compact could trump prior federal law. 

Read full story by Patrick B. McGuigan at www.capitolbeatok.com.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Transportation Transparency Act One Step From Gov’s Desk

House lawmakers voted this week to increase public scrutiny of state road revenue.

House Bill 1489, the Taxpayer Transparency Act, passed unanimously today in the Oklahoma House of Representatives and goes to the state Senate for final approval.

Rep. David Brumbaugh
R-Broken Arrow
“Road funding is complicated and most Oklahomans don’t really understand how their taxpayer dollars translate to road projects,” said state Rep. David Brumbaugh, a Broken Arrow Republican who authored the measure. “If this bill becomes law, we will have a system of transparency for citizens that is identifiable, accessible, understandable, and usable through a single state website.”

Brumbaugh noted that over half of some transportation-generated revenue, such as motor vehicle fees, currently goes to non-transportation sources and agencies.

“The fact that road funds have been raided for so many other projects and agencies is not well-known and the public needs to be able to hold lawmakers accountable when fuel taxes and motor vehicle collections go to fund such groups as the Corporation Commission and public education rather than what they are designed for – the maintenance and repair of our roads. Oklahoma citizens need to have complete transparency on how their hard earned dollars are used.”

He noted that the issues of transparency and accountability were significant issues in recent statewide elections and House Bill 1489 advances that cause significantly.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Senate redistricting plan unveiled

 Staff Report 
Published: 11-May-2011 

The Senate Committee on Redistricting has completed its task of redrawing Senate district boundaries based on the 2010 U.S. Census.  Sen. Clark Jolley, an Edmond Republican, and Sen. Bryce Marlatt, a Woodward Republican, are co-chairs of the committee.

While the measure is widely expected to pass, it will draw some opposition votes, according to the Senate minority leader. 

Jolley said it was a painstaking and difficult process, but in the end, the final boundaries were the result of a bipartisan effort and reflect a strong commitment to civil rights. The committee approved the proposal Wednesday afternoon (May 11).

“We had to make sure the each district has approximately the same number of people and that we preserved districts where a majority of citizens are minorities. Oklahoma’s population grew by some 300,000 people over the past ten years, but there’s also been a major shift from rural areas to metropolitan suburbs,” Jolley said.

“In addition, we’ve had significant demographic changes with the growth of our Hispanic population. After much work and negotiations, we’ve developed a comprehensive and fair approach which meets our constitutional and statutory mandates.”

The current district boundaries were designed so that each would have approximately 72,000 people. Oklahoma’s population increased by 8.7 percent from 2000 to 2010, which meant each Senate district had to be redrawn to expand those districts to approximately 78,000 people.

“We’ve had changes in both size and concentration of populations that had to be taken into account. We didn’t want to divide smaller communities, and we also wanted to avoid dividing counties into different districts whenever possible. It was difficult, but we succeeded,” Marlatt said. “Ultimately, the districts we drew came within one percent of a completely even population division, even though the law allows up to a five percent variance. The final product is a testament to the hard work and professionalism of our staff and our members.”

Sen. Sean Burrage, a Democrat from Claremore, served as co-vice chair of the redistricting committee. He said the final proposal is the product of common sense and bipartisanship.

“I am very pleased that many of the district lines have changed as a result of the work we have done with Senator Jolley and Senator Marlatt,” Burrage said. “It has been a tough and intense process and I commend people on both sides of the aisle for improving the bill.”

“I want to express my thanks to Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman for his great leadership throughout this process,” Jolley said. “I also want to acknowledge the hard work of my co-chair, Senator Marlatt, and vice co-chairs, Senator Andrew Rice and Senator Sean Burrage, as well as our outstanding staff -- their commitment, patience and experience have been invaluable.”

In response to question from CapitolBeatOK, Senate Minority Leader Andrew Rice, an Oklahoma City Democrat from District 46 in the MidCity area, commented, "In the end they were fair to Senate District 46 and many other Democratic districts, but I will be voting NAY on the overall bill to show solidarity with members of my caucus who are unhappy with the process, and who will vote against the bill. However, there will be enough bi-partisan votes for the bill to pass."

Note: Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.
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