Thursday, February 28, 2013

House Working Group to Address Home Visitation Programs

OKLAHOMA CITY – To better service Oklahoma families in need, House Speaker T.W. Shannon has asked Representatives Mark McCullough and Jason Nelson to form a bi-partisan working group to examine the state’s Home Visitation Programs.

“The first order of government is to protect our citizens,” said Speaker Shannon, R-Lawton. “We must ensure the safety of our children and do what we can to help strengthen the family unit. Strong families build a strong nation.”

Programs like the Children First Home Visitation Program currently visit the homes of at-risk families to evaluate living conditions of children.  Recently, Rep. McCullough, R-Sapulpa, and other House members have voiced concerns over the decline in families being serviced and the effectiveness of the program over the past decade.

“It’s time to see what modern standards we can implement and how we can best serve and protect children in at-risk homes,” Rep. McCullough said. “I fear we are wasting funds on an old system that does not address modern issues.  Our tax dollars should go towards home visitation methods that truly protect our vulnerable young Oklahomans.” 

Members will look at each state visitation program over the next year and consult with affected constituents and local and national experts.

“We will concentrate on efficiency, effectiveness and possible alternatives,” said Rep. Nelson, R-Oklahoma City.  “It’s time we take a serious look at how we can help strengthen families so Oklahoma children in need can have a better future.”

Working group members will be announced within the next several weeks.

Rep. McCullough will not pursue passage of House Bill 1063 this session to allow the working group to study the issue and develop recommendations. HB1063 would have suspended all home visitation programs and required an audit of the effectiveness of each program. 

Dorman Bill to Increase School Safety Advances

OKLAHOMA CAPITOL – Oklahoma schools could increase school safety and security by expanding the use of fingerprint background checks of adults who regularly interact with students, according to one state lawmaker.

House Bill 2228, by state Rep. Joe Dorman, would allow schools to authorize fingerprint background checks on anyone interacting with students in school-sponsored activities, including volunteers. Currently, schools cannot conduct these checks unless specifically authorized by state law.

The legislation was approved by the House Public Safety Committee and now advances to the House Calendar Committee.

“I have consulted with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and local school administrators on the need for this legislation,” said Dorman, D-Rush Springs. “I feel we need to better protect our students from pedophiles and other criminals who are slipping through the cracks by providing false identities to schools.”

Last year, House lawmakers approved a similar bill, but it did not make it to the governor’s desk. This modified bill address concerns expressed last year by lawmakers in opposition, Dorman said.

State Sen. Kyle Loveless, who will carry the legislation in the Senate, said that parents who entrust their kids to public schools expect their children to be in a safe environment.

“At the legislature, not only are we responsible for providing our students with the highest quality of education, but we must also look out for their safety while at school,” said Loveless, R-Oklahoma City. “This bill will help ensure that those working with and around our students are not criminals or people who would put our youth’s safety in danger. I’m hopeful that this bill makes its way through the legislative process quickly so schools can start instituting this important safety measure.”

OSBI provided information showing individuals have applied for employment at schools in previous years by providing falsified identities in order to seek a job. Those applying for jobs must submit to this type of background check, but schools are not currently allowed to apply this type of background check to volunteers due to federal prohibitions requiring authorization by the state. Oklahoma law does not provide this option, but House Bill 2228 corrects that, Dorman said.

“House Bill 2228, nicknamed the Protect Against Pedophiles Act, is not a mandate, but voluntary,” Dorman said. “The use of this type of background check will be up to the discretion of the local school administration and costs associated with the background check will be assumed by the school district if they decide there is a need to do background checks of this nature.”

Thursday, Feb. 28 is the final day for committee approval of House bills.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Senate Education Committee Passes “Parent Empowerment Act”

The “Parent Empowerment Act,” has passed its first hurdle in the Legislature. The bipartisan bill, SB 1001, authored by Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, and Sen. Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa, will give Oklahoma parents a new tool to accomplish dramatic and positive change in their child’s underperforming school. The bill was approved 7-3 by the Senate Education Committee on Monday.

The Parent Empowerment Act establishes an Oklahoma version of a concept often called a “parent trigger.” If a majority of parents in an underperforming school sign a petition, they may transition the school to a charter school or terminate the administrators. The option to terminate administrators is only available in Oklahoma or Tulsa counties. An underperforming school is defined as a school that has received a ‘D’ or an ‘F’ for at least the last two years under Oklahoma’s new grading system, or a ‘D’ or an ‘F’ for two of the last three years, as long as the most recent grade was a ‘D’ or an ‘F’. If the parents choose the charter school option, the charter school will first serve all students in the existing attendance boundaries of the school.

Holt praised the Education Committee for its action.

“I think the Parent Empowerment Act provides an important new tool for Oklahoma parents,” Holt said. “It won’t be the right answer in every circumstance, but where it is, it has the potential to change the trajectory of thousands of young lives.”

Holt explained that charter schools provide more flexibility, and the goal of chartering an underperforming school under the Parent Empowerment Act would be to provide the flexibility needed to improve student performance at the school in a manner led jointly by motivated parents and school district leaders. The process of creating a charter school outlined in the Parent Empowerment Act is designed to create a collaborative relationship between the parents and the school district, rather than an adversarial one.

Parent triggers have been enacted in at least seven other states, most notably California, where the first schools are now in the implementation process. Oklahoma State Superintendent Janet Barresi, The Oklahoman, and noted education reformer Michelle Rhee have all endorsed a parent trigger law for Oklahoma.

SB 1001 now advances for consideration by the full Senate.

‘Food Stamp’ Program Modification Passes Committee

OKLAHOMA CITY – A House committee voted this week in favor of a bill that would disqualify those convicted of a drug felony from receiving “food stamps.”

“State lawmakers voted in 1997 to allow convicted drug felons to receive food stamps, and this legislation would reverse that decision,” said state Rep. Sean Roberts, R-Hominy. “This will not only ensure that tax dollars are not going to criminals but that our law is the same as those of our neighbors – Arkansas, Texas and Missouri – all of whom do not allow drug felons to receive food stamps.”

The federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996 contains a provision disqualifying individuals who have been convicted of a felony involving a controlled substance from receiving Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program benefits, but also allows states to opt out of the provision. 

In 1997, Oklahoma lawmakers enacted House Bill 2170, which allowed convicted drug felons to qualify.

House Bill 2014, by Roberts, reverses the decision. Individuals applying for benefits must state at the time of application or reapplication whether they or anyone in their household has been convicted of a drug-related crime.

“I wasn’t here in 1997 when that decision was made, but I can tell you that my constituents do not approve,” said Roberts. “We are going to undo this mistake and restrict the food stamp program to appropriate recipients.”

House Bill 2170 was approved by the Oklahoma House of Representatives Human Services Committee by a vote of 6-2. It now advances to the House Calendar Committee.

House Approves DHS Reform Requiring Family Impact Statements

OKLAHOMA CITY – Legislation to give lawmakers more information about proposed Oklahoma Department of Human Services rules has been approved by the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

House Bill 2219, by state Rep. Tom Newell, would require a family impact statement tied to every proposed rule prior to or within 15 days after the date of publication of the notice of proposed rule adoption.

“Rules, if lawmakers approve them, have the effect of law,” said Newell, R-Seminole. “Lawmakers need to oversee the rule-making process and DHS rules effect a lot of people in Oklahoma.”

Newell said the family impact statements would inform lawmakers about how a rule would impact the status of marriage and parenting and if it helped a family to function better or substituted a government activity in place of parenting.

“We want to know the long-term effects of the proposed rule on the intuition of the family,” said Newell. “For example, a proposed rule might only apply to single parents but might actually encourage an individual to forgo a traditional family structure. This legislation helps us make an informed decision.”

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Restoring Private School Local Control Passed Committee

OKLAHOMA CITY – Legislation that would give private schools the ability to set policy in regards to firearms received unanimous support by a House committee last week.

House Bill 1622, by state Rep. Sally Kern, was approved by a 12-0 vote in the House Public Safety Committee. Kern said private schools would be able to arm teachers to defend the school if they so choose, under her bill. 

“The bill allows private schools to set a policy for arming faculty to protect students and themselves if an active shooter were to come on campus. The bill does not mandate private schools do this. It just leaves the decision up to each governing board to make that determination. Private schools are private entities and the state has no business telling them who can and cannot carry a firearm on their property,” said Kern.

Churches are a good example of a private property on which a law-abiding gun owner might be charged with a crime for carrying a weapon on a Monday, during a church-run school’s hours, or have no charge on Sunday, when they are attending a service, Kern said.

Current law punishes gun owners who carry a firearm onto private school property with a felony charge, a fine of up to $5,000 and two years in prison. Under Kern’s bill, the penalty would be a misdemeanor charge, a fine of no more than $250 and zero jail time.

“Although we now have open carry, there are a number of laws still on the books that severely penalize what could easily be a simple mistake by a law-abiding citizen,” said Kern, R-Oklahoma City. “Lawmakers are working to lower the penalties for some of these infractions, so that we are not jailing citizens that mean no harm.”

If approved by the House Calendar Committee, the legislation will be available for a hearing on the House floor.

State House Republicans, Democrats Differ on States’ Rights Committee

OKLAHOMA CAPITOL – This week House Democrats made a barrage of statements condemning the House States’ Rights Committee created by House Speaker T.W. Shannon.

House Democrats complained that the “Committee entertained as fact internet myths and tinfoil hat fantasies” during a meeting of the Committee last Tuesday.

Marriage, Antipoverty Measure Gets Committee Approval

OKLAHOMA CAPITOL – A measure drafted to fight poverty and promote marriage in Oklahoma overwhelmingly passed out of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee Wednesday.

House Bill 1908, authored by House Speaker T.W. Shannon, will use funds from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to create a statewide public service campaign promoting marriage as a tool to fight poverty and decrease the likelihood of child poverty.

According to the Heritage Foundation, marriage reduces the chances of child poverty by 80 percent. This is an important statistic, as the country has spent over $16 trillion in taxpayers’ money on poverty-related programs since the 1960s “War on Poverty” started. Today, 80 different welfare programs spend almost $1 trillion annually on poverty-related issues.

“The connection between poverty and the breakdown of the American family cannot be denied,” said Speaker Shannon, R-Lawton. “For thousands of years, the institution of marriage has been a key cornerstone to a civilized society. In recent decades, I believe we’ve lost sight on just how important it is to keep a married couple together – especially if they have children. A stable, safe and comfortable home environment fostered by a loving, solid marriage will give our children a better chance to succeed at life when they become adults.”

HB 1908 now advances to the House Calendar Committee.

Lamb Champions Replacement of Work Comp System

OKLAHOMA CAPITOL -- Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb continues his push to change Oklahoma's workers' compensation system in his most recent monthly column. Lamb is not promoting further reform but a complete replacement of the current system. 

Lamb relays what he has heard while traveling the state as Small Business Advocate:

"... business owners across the state made it clear that their biggest impediment and barrier to growth is Oklahoma’s current workers’ compensation system. The call to replace the current workers’ compensation system is an issue we can no longer ignore. Oklahoma is currently the sixth most expensive state to do business. By replacing our current adversarial system, which immediately pits an employee against an employer, with an administrative model of governance we will find savings that will result in more jobs."

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

State Revenue Certified for 2014 Fiscal Year

OKLAHOMA CITY – Revenue figures approved Tuesday by the state Board of Equalization showed an additional $34 million available for appropriation for Fiscal Year 2014 than was used in Gov. Mary Fallin’s executive budget proposal.

In all, an extra $212.6 million in growth revenue is available for Fiscal Year 2014 appropriations than was appropriated for FY 2013, the current fiscal year ending June 30, according to figures approved by the seven-member board, which is chaired by the governor. The board approved revenues for appropriation topping $7 billion for FY 2014.

Secretary of Finance and Revenue Preston L. Doerflinger issued the following statement:

“Three years of impressive economic expansion have Oklahoma back at pre-recession revenue strength. That growth has generated $34 million more for appropriations than we used to build the governor’s proposed budget. Our priority now is to begin immediate work with the Legislature to set an honest state budget that uses these growth revenues to reduce income taxes and boost funding for core services like education and other priorities. Today’s picture is bright, but the looming federal sequester is anything but. There is no doubt it could hit our defense sector hard. Oklahoma’s best path forward is to continue emphasizing fiscal restraint and enacting policies that spur the type of impressive economic expansion enjoyed for these past three years.”

Doerflinger is director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, which prepares the revenue estimates the Board of Equalization certifies each year. Highlights of Tuesday’s revenue certification include:

·         The General Revenue Fund will have a surplus of $83.3 million to deposit in the Rainy Day Fund in July, increasing the amount in the state savings account to $660.8 million, an all-time record.
·         Oklahoma’s steady economic growth since the Great Recession has led to total state revenues increasing by 2.6 percent each of the two past fiscal years and projected to rise 3.1 percent next year.
·         Personal income tax collections are projected to generate $2.1 billion for fiscal year 2014, which is $155.2 million more than fiscal year 2013 – a 7.8 percent increase.
·         Sales tax collections are projected to generate $2 billion for fiscal year 2014, which is $106.5 million more than fiscal year 2013 – a 5.5 percent increase.
·         Economic snapshot: Oklahoma has added more than 62,000 jobs in the past two years, resulting in the nation’s sixth-lowest unemployment rate, 5.1 percent, and second-strongest manufacturing job growth rate.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Sherrer Accepts Original Art Work from Bee’s Knees

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Ben Sherrer (D-Chouteau) accepted an original mixed-media piece created by David Blose of El Reno and Lindsey Pluess of Oklahoma City today. Blose and Pluess are artists for the organization Bee’s Knees, a program of Youth and Family Services Inc. and Autism Oklahoma that gives young artists with developmental disabilities the opportunity to create and sell art.

“I was first introduced to Bee’s Knees through Leadership Oklahoma where I met Dee Blose, who came to speak to us about Youth and Family Services, Inc.” said Sherrer. “Throughout my time in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, I have been a supporter of several organizations that work with people with disabilities, and it was truly an honor to work with Bee’s Knees.” 

Bee’s Knees was founded about three years ago by Dee Blose, executive director of Youth and Family Services, Inc., as a class to teach young adults with disabilities about entrepreneurship. From there it grew into a program that basically functions as a small business that creates handmade products such as notecards and calendars and original one-of-a-kind masterpieces and then sells them through various exhibits and venues. The program is designed to promote self-sufficiency, and allow these adults to have work in an environment that is more conducive to their needs.

Sherrer worked with Brandon Smith, Bee’s Knees coordinator, to commission the piece. 

“The only direction I gave was that I wanted the piece to reflect the various state symbols of Oklahoma,” said Sherrer. “I wanted it to be a painting that I could hang in my office and remember the people I am here to serve and protect. I could not be happier with the way it turned out. It is a beautiful piece that evokes a smile.”

Sherrer commissioned a work in 2011 that was a mixed-media piece painted on local newspapers depicting Oklahoma state symbols.  The 2013 piece also contains familiar state symbols but features a three-dimensional presentation in which the symbols appear to float above a field of brightly-colored puzzle pieces, symbolic of the puzzle of Autism. 

Sherrer is a graduate of Oklahoma Partners in Policymaking, a disability advocacy program, and serves on the House of Representatives Human Services Committee. He has also been appointed to the Governor’s Council on Developmental Disability.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Bill that expunges human trafficking records passes Committee

OKLAHOMA CAPITOL -- House Bill 1058, authored by State Rep. Sally Kern, was passed by the Public Safety Committee last week. 

The bill passed the Public Safety Committee on a 10-0 vote. The bill would allow those kidnapped and forced into human sex trafficking who have had a charge or conviction of prostitution filed against them to have their record expunged from law enforcement and court records. 

House Bill 1058 will now move to the House for approval. 

Voters May be Asked to Further Limit State Spending

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Elise Hall is concerned that without a more appropriate spending limitation, Oklahoma’s public sector could grow too fast in “boom” years.

House Joint Resolution 1011 would ask voters to approve a constitutional limit on appropriations that would lower the current limit of a 12 percent increase on the previous year’s appropriations when adjusted for inflation.

The legislation has been approved 14-9 by the House Appropriations and Budget Committee.

“When lawmakers make large appropriations in revenue growth years, this leads to drastic cuts in revenue shortfall years, as we’ve witnessed firsthand in the last few years,” Hall, R-Oklahoma City, said. “I think the current spending limitation that restricts the annual growth of the state budget to 12 percent should be lowered to 7 percent to further restrict public sector growth.”

State government growth has regularly exceeded private sector growth in Oklahoma since voters approved a 1985 spending limitation, according to Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs fiscal analyst Jonathan Small. State employment grew by 8.57 percent from 2000 to 2010 while private sector employment grew by only 6.07 percent. Government expenditures have grown 72.20 percent from 2001 to 2010 while private earnings have grown by only 40.71 percent.

“Oklahomans overwhelmingly support the idea of shrinking state government, so I think it is especially appropriate to limit growth,” Hall said. “It is better to save surplus revenue for shortfall periods than to overcommit the state to expenditures that it cannot sustain.”

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Bill Allows Audits of State Appropriations to a Non-Profit

OKLAHOMA CITY – Last year, many lawmakers were not pleased when they discovered that appropriations they had approved for a state agency eventually were given to a non-profit organization.

House Bill 1323, by state Reps. Sally Kern and David Brumbaugh, would authorize the state auditor to audit any state-appropriated dollars passed through an agency to a non-profit.

The legislation was approved by the Oklahoma House of Representatives General Government Committee by a vote of 7-2.

“This legislation gives the auditor the discretion to do an audit; it does not mandate one,” said Kern, R-Oklahoma City. “This bill will ensure that there is transparency on all taxpayer money. I requested help from the auditor’s office to help write the bill. The idea for the bill arose by the public over the $2 million that was given to the Youth Expo last year that many legislators knew nothing about until after the fact. I’m not questioning the rightness or wrongness of a ‘pass through.’ I just want legislators and the public to be aware of them. They merit scrutiny.”

“Contracts entered into with our state should contain audit clauses. The public has the right of full disclosure of where their funds go. Good legislation is all about transparency and this is good legislation,” said Brumbaugh, R-Broken Arrow.

If approved by the House Calendar Committee, the legislation will be available for a hearing on the House floor.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Crafting a Vision for Digital Learning

OKLAHOMA CAPITOL -- Recently State Supt. Janet Barresi took State Board of Education to Howe Public Schools in southeastern Oklahoma for its regular meeting.

She wanted the board to see the cutting edge digital technology being used by students, teachers and administrators in this small, rural school district.

Here is Supt. Barresi’s report on the Board’s visit to Howe:

“Howe is truly at the forefront of the most dynamic learning in the state.

“In a science classroom, we saw girls huddled around a computer screen discussing ways to enhance their Prezi on the Bubonic plaque. A Prezi was described to me as a PowerPoint on steroids. It is intuitive, cloud-based technology. The thing that struck me most is these girls were mimicking the way you would expect to see professionals interacting before a big corporate presentation. They gathered data and used the technology to help them create an engaging and interactive report.

“The kindergartners at Howe use iPads for phonemic awareness and to play word games to help develop literacy skills. They don’t even realize they're learning. They think they’re having fun.

“In other rooms, teachers discussed the use of Edmodo, an interactive learning tool that allows students to upload homework and teachers to grade and return it. The technology also allows students to collaborate with peers thousands of miles from their rural district.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Legislation banning use of welfare cash cards in strip clubs, casinos, liquor stores passes committee

OKLAHOMA CAPITOL --The Senate Committee on Health and Human Services today gave unanimous approval to legislation that would ban the use of welfare cash cards at strip clubs, casinos, and liquor stores.

Senate Bill 667, authored by Sen. Rob Standridge, would ensure that funds provided through programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) are used to provide meaningful help for families who need it most.

“Programs like TANF work best when the government establishes meaningful guidelines to ensure the funds are used to support families in need,” said Standridge, R-Norman. “If the government doesn’t establish those guidelines, welfare funds may subsidize harmful behaviors. This can have disastrous consequences for families, taking food from the table and furthering their need for assistance.”

Standridge said that by attaching common sense requirements to programs like TANF, they can serve as an effective safety net.

“Requirements like this help direct public assistance to where it is most needed, while discouraging destructive behavior,” Standridge said. “I’m pleased this legislation has advanced and I’m grateful to my colleagues for their support.”

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Senate Republicans Unveil 2013 Legislative Agenda

The Senate Republican Caucus on Tuesday released their agenda for the 2013 legislative session. Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman said this agenda represents Senate Republicans continued focus on the economy, education, and infrastructure.

“Senate Republicans are intensely focused on creating the best business climate possible,” said Bingman, R-Sapulpa. “Pro-growth policies are the guiding light for our caucus agenda – whether we’re talking about fixing our runaway workers’ compensation system, reducing the tax burden on Oklahomans, or putting additional dollars in the classroom.”

Senate Republicans identified six public policy areas important to the success of their pro-growth agenda.

House Committee to Examine Governor’s Plan for Education Savings

Rep. Jason Murphey
OKLAHOMA CITY – Members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives members are set to learn the details of Governor Fallin’s “Open Range” plan.

Fallin’s open range proposal seeks to place more money in common education classrooms by allowing school districts to take advantage of the savings from the state’s recent consolidation of information technology resources. The IT consolidation is already set to save Oklahoma state agencies approximately 40 million each year.

The House Government Modernization committee will receive testimony about the proposal from state CIO Alex Pettit during its 10:30 a.m. Thursday committee meeting in Room 412C of the Oklahoma State Capitol. The public is invited to attend.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Governor Mary Fallin’s 2013 State of the State Address

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin today delivered the annual State of the State address.  Below are the governor’s remarks, as prepared for delivery. 

2013 State of the State (As Prepared for Delivery)

Gov. Fallin Submits Executive Budget

To the Citizens of the Great State of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Legislature:

It is my pleasure to submit for your consideration the FY-2014 executive budget. The plan I have put forward is a responsible, transparent, gimmick-free budget that accomplishes the goals of reducing the tax burden on Oklahoma citizens and holding the line on spending while also improving core government services.

The tax reduction proposal submitted within this budget provides immediate tax relief for hardworking Oklahomans while setting the state on a course to continue reducing the personal income tax in the future. Allowing Oklahomans to keep more of their hard earned money stimulates job growth and makes Oklahoma a more attractive place to locate or expand businesses. This year’s tax cut proposal is a responsible, simple policy that benefits hardworking Oklahomans while still allowing for adequate funding of state services.

Reducing taxes in FY-2014 is only part of the important task that lies before us. My budget proposes strategic investments in Oklahoma’s mental health, substance abuse, child welfare and health systems. By addressing mental illness and addiction, securing safe homes for at-risk children, and providing quality health care for those in need, Oklahoma can ensure all its citizens are cared for in ways reflective of our compassionate spirit.

Continuing to improve our educational outcomes in order to build a more highly skilled, better educated workforce will be essential to maintaining Oklahoma’s impressive economic growth in years to come. That is why this budget includes support for critical education reforms that have been signed into law in recent years, as well as funding to satisfy the state’s commitment to provide health benefits for education employees.

The state’s financial commitment to its transportation infrastructure has increased dramatically in recent years, and this budget continues that trend by ensuring that all transportation funds are used for their intended purpose. Also included in this budget are proposals to address other infrastructure needs that, unfortunately, have been neglected in past years. This includes a $10 million supplemental appropriation to begin immediate repairs to the crumbling State Capitol. We must reach a point where the stewardship we show for the People’s House mirrors our commitment to all infrastructure across Oklahoma.

I ask the Legislature and the Citizens of Oklahoma to come together in support of this agenda. If we do so, I am certain we can continue to emerge as a stronger, healthier state. 


Mary Fallin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...