Thursday, March 21, 2013

Fallin Appoints Members to Blue Ribbon Panel to Address Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities Waiting List

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin today appointed the members of a Blue Ribbon Panel for Developmental Disabilities. Fallin created the panel by executive order, and announced its formation last month at the Governor's Conference on Developmental Disabilities in Norman.

There are almost 60,000 men, women and children with intellectual disabilities in Oklahoma. Currently, the state has a waiting list of over 7,000 people requesting services from the state’s Developmental Disabilities Service Division (DDSD).

The new panel will develop a comprehensive plan to support individuals with intellectual disabilities and their families, starting with recommendations to address the state’s growing waiting list for DDSD services. It will also research and analyze best practices for the comprehensive delivery of high quality services. 

“Our goal as a state is to be a resource that allows men, women and children with intellectual disabilities the ability to realize their full potential, to live their own lives, and to do so as independently as possible,” said Fallin. “This new panel is composed of people with personal and professional experiences that can help us to pursue this goal and improve services.”

Panel members include:

James Nicholson of Oklahoma City. Nicholson is retired from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, where he served for more than four decades. He served most recently as the Director of DDSD.  He will serve as chairman of the panel. 

Ann Trudgeon of Oklahoma City. Trudgeon is the executive director of the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council (ODDC). She has been with the ODDC since 1989. She will serve as an ex officio member on the Blue Ribbon panel.     

State Representative Jason Nelson of Oklahoma City. Nelson was elected to the Oklahoma House of Representative in 2009 and represents District 87. He currently serves as the chairman on the A&B Human Services committee. Nelson is also on the conference committee on human services and human services committee. 

State Senator Greg Treat of Oklahoma City. Treat was elected to the Oklahoma Senate in 2011 and represents District 47. He currently serves as the vice chairman on the health and human services appropriations subcommittee.  

Wanda Felty of Norman. Felty is the community leadership and advocacy coordinator for the Oklahoma LEND (Leadership Education for Health Care Professionals Caring for Children with Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities). She is also on the board of directors at the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council to which she was appointed by Governor Fallin in August 2012 and she has a daughter with an intellectual disability.

Rene’ Daman of Edmond. Daman is the director of the Oklahoma Autism Network at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. She has been with the Department of Rehabilitation Science since 1999. She has provided training and technical assistance for providers who support children with autism and their families in early intervention, educational, and community settings.

Michael Upthegrove of Norman. Upthegrove is an adult with an intellectual disability. He previously served on the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council from 2001 to 2009.

Deanna Banta of Shawnee. Banta is an adult with an intellectual disability and is president of Oklahoma People First, a non – profit self advocacy group that promotes equality for people with developmental disabilities.

Robin Arter of Duncan. Arter is the executive director of Duncan Group Homes, a nonprofit agency that provides assistance for people with intellectual disabilities. She is on the Governor’s Advisory Committee at the Oklahoma Office of Disability Concerns. 

Nancy Ward of Oklahoma City. Ward is co – chair of the Oklahoma Self Advocacy Network (OKSAN), which seeks to strengthen the self-advocacy movement in Oklahoma and to increase the inclusion and independence of people with disabilities. She is an adult with an intellectual disability.  

Deborah Decker of Norman. Decker is a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a parent of a child with an intellectual disability. She is the current president of the Sulphur Springs Special Needs Retreat and a parent leader at, a support network for parents with children with special needs.  

Fallin Creates Blue Ribbon Panel on Developmental Disabilities (March 5, 2013)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

New Measure Would Encourage Donations to Support Orphan Care

OKLAHOMA CITY – A measure focused on helping orphaned children has passed out of the House of Representatives.

House Bill 1919, by Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon, would allow for Oklahomans to deduct contributions to churches if those funds are used by the church for the care of orphaned children. 

“Ensuring proper care for Oklahoma’s orphans is important,” said Speaker Shannon, R-Lawton. “These children face tough situations not having a true home environment for safety, security and sustenance. Oklahomans should be motivated to help our faith-based institutions take care of these children so that they can live in a loving, secure environment. I believe this new deduction will do just that, so churches all over the state will have more financial options available to care for these children.”

Under the proposed legislation, a single person could deduct up to $2,500 in donations a year and married persons filing jointly up to $5,000. The proposed deduction would take effect Jan. 1, 2014.

HB 1919 will now move to the state Senate for further consideration.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Senate bill would provide resources to combat child abuse

OKLAHOMA CAPITOL -- The state Senate this week approved legislation that would strengthen the ability of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) Child Abuse Response Team (CART) to combat child abuse.

Senate Bill 1002 would provide a funding mechanism for CART, and the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force. ICAC agents investigate technology-driven crimes against children including child pornography, child abuse and human trafficking.

Sen. Dan Newberry, author of the proposal, said the bill would provide law enforcement with the resources to protect children and prosecute some of the state’s worst offenders.

“As lawmakers, we have a responsibility to ensure the safety of our most vulnerable citizens, and guarantee that crimes against them are prosecuted efficiently,” said Newberry, R-Tulsa. “To do so, we must give law enforcement the resources and preventative tools they need. Crimes like this permanently impact the lives of far too many people. This bill will strengthen our ability to combat child abuse in Oklahoma.”

Newberry said he was motivated to file the proposal after learning about the shocking amount of uploading of child pornography being detected by the ICAC Task Force. ICAC agents report that as many as 1500 such crimes occur daily.

Newberry’s legislation states that any person convicted of a crime punishable by a fine of $25 or more, or by incarceration, will be ordered to pay a $10 fee. Funds collected through the fee would then be distributed to the Internet Crimes Against Children Prosecution Revolving Fund and the OSBI Revolving Fund for use by CART and the Internet Crimes Against Children Unit.

Approved by a vote of 46-0, the measure now advances to the House for consideration.

“I’m proud that my colleagues unanimously stood in support of this bill,” said Newberry. “This law would allow Oklahoma parents to rest easier, and make a difference in the lives of children who need help.”

Senate approves “Parent Empowerment Act”

OKLAHOMA CAPITOL -- The full Senate has given its approval to the “Parent Empowerment Act.” Senate Bill 1001, authored by Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, and Sen. Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa, would enable parents to petition to make dramatic changes in their child’s underperforming school. The bill was approved 30 to 12 on Wednesday. Holt said the bill was based on a “parent trigger” concept that has been enacted in at least seven other states.

Under the provisions of the bill, 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.

“If there is an underperforming school where the parents want to organize and affect positive change, I want us to empower that,” Holt said. “I don’t want to make them wait another year to have that opportunity. Our children can’t wait. The Parent Empowerment Act is an important new tool for parents and students, and I commend the Senate for taking this important step forward in its passage.”

Holt said 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.

“I have consistently been inspired by the parents in my district who have fought for a better education for their kids,” said Shumate. “Oftentimes, this has led them to stand up for more choices and more tools, and I have stood with them. The Parent Empowerment Act gives the parents in my district a new tool, and that’s a good thing for our kids.”

SB 1001 now moves to the House of Representatives, where Rep. Jason Nelson is the primary House author.

Senate Education Committee Passes “Parent Empowerment Act” Feb. 27, 2013

OKDHS Gets Final Approval of Pinnacle Plan

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) has received final approval from outside child welfare experts on its improvement plan for the state's foster care system.

The plan, referred to as the “Oklahoma Pinnacle Plan” is part of a settlement agreement reached in January 2012 in a federal, class action, civil rights lawsuit. OKDHS agreed in the settlement to make targeted performance improvements related to the way it cares for children in foster care. As part of the settlement agreement, three out-of-state child welfare experts (referred to as co-neutrals) were selected to oversee the state’s improvements. 

The plan was first submitted to the co-neutrals on March 30, 2012 and was subsequently endorsed on July 25, 2012. Since the plan was endorsed, Child Welfare Services (CWS) staff have been diligently implementing the initiatives outlined in the plan. Quarterly reports are posted on the agency website for public review. The last step of the approval process was to finalize the baselines, targets, and measures for the 15 performance areas. This final approval lays the foundation for the monthly required public reporting.

"OKDHS was challenged to improve its child welfare program and is committed to this plan," says Deborah G. Smith, Director, OKDHS Child Welfare Services. "We appreciate the support of Oklahomans, especially the foster parents who are caring for these precious children. Even more important than the plan though, we care about every child in our foster care system and know they deserve our very best. They are not just numbers or cases to us. They are the future of our state."

OU expert to discuss origins of violent behavior at Sooner SUCCESS public seminar

OKLAHOMA CITY -- (From seminar website) "Childhood Experiences Correlated to Adult Murderers: Are killers conditioned and created or are there just bad seeds destined to cause suffering?   

"These are among the many questions we all share given the recent media featured events involving school shootings, bullying, or violence.  

"Many of these questions influence much of our public policy, communities and families daily. We, like you, are determined to find answers and begin to address through our local communities, the increasing incident of violence among children.  

"With this we invite you to join us March 19th, from 11-1:00pm for our next SUCCESSforlife event with opening remarks by Rep. Jason Nelson as we begin to address these poignant unanswered questions."

Click here to learn more and register for the seminar

House Passes Antipoverty, Marriage Measure

OKLAHOMA CITY – A measure drafted to fight poverty and promote marriage in Oklahoma passed a full vote of the House of Representatives today.
House Bill 1908, authored by House Speaker T.W. Shannon, will set aside dollars to create a statewide public service campaign promoting marriage as a tool to fight poverty and decrease the likelihood of child poverty. 

Oklahoma receives a total of $145 million in federal TANF funds. The public service campaign could be created and run using less than one percent of those federal funds.

“Strong families are our best hope for winning the war against generational poverty,” said Speaker Shannon, R-Lawton. “If we can promote the value and benefits of seatbelts and quitting smoking, we should also promote the societal benefits of marriage.”

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. 

HB 1908 now advances to the state Senate for consideration.

Legislation to Deter School Lawsuits Against Students, Parents Passed House

OKLAHOMA CITY –Legislation that would discourage “abusive and frivolous” lawsuits by schools districts passed out of the House of Representatives today and now heads to the Senate.

House Bill 2160, by State Rep. Jason Nelson, would require school districts to pay students’ and parents’ court costs and attorney fees when they initiate civil action or proceedings against students or parents.

“We saw a disgusting abuse of power when the leaders of Jenks and Union schools targeted the parents of special-needs children with a completely bogus lawsuit that could only be understood as an intimidation tactic,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “I’ve visited with numerous people who shudder at the idea of a school district suing parents. These two districts eventually lost the case upon appeal with the Oklahoma Supreme Court, but it still angers me that they put these families through such an ordeal. The only thing that the parents could have been guilty of was doing what they thought was best for their child with special needs.”

The Jenks and Union school boards voted to sue the state attorney general to challenge the successful Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Act. They never filed that lawsuit, but instead, without ever specifically voting to do so, sued parents who legally obtained scholarships through the new program.

“These two school boards had earlier voted to ignore the new State law and later voted to sue the attorney general to get their question in front of a judge,” Nelson said. “When that didn’t work they sued the parents without ever voting to do so specifically. They left that decision to the school superintendent and the school’s law firm. They didn’t even have the courage to vote in a board meeting to sue parents – it was shameful.”

Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships allow a student with a disability (such as Down syndrome or Autism) who has an individualized education program (IEP) to receive state-funded scholarships to attend a private school that parents believe can better serve their child. The scholarships come from the amount of money already designated for the education of those children.

Nelson said his legislation would deter schools from filing such lawsuits, which are inappropriate because schools serve the public and should not be persecuting students and parents.

“I never doubted that the lawsuit was inappropriate and the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s ruling confirmed that a school board should not be suing parents. My bill says that if a school district sues parents again, they will have to pay the court and attorney costs,” Nelson said.

HB 2160 passed out of the House by a vote of 55-37. The measure now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Lamb, Oklahoma Commission on School Security Release Policy Recommendations

OKLAHOMA CAPITOL—Lt. Governor Todd Lamb joined the 22 members of the Oklahoma Commission on School Security on Tuesday to announce their policy recommendations that stem from a several week comprehensive analysis of Oklahoma school security issues.  These policy recommendations were formally released in the 2013 Report of the Oklahoma Commission on School Security.

The Oklahoma Commission on School Security was formed after the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut last December.  President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman and Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon asked Lt. Governor Lamb to chair the statewide commission.  Lt. Governor Lamb is a former United States Secret Service Agent and as a State Senator was the principal author of the 2008 Oklahoma School Security Act.  Commission agendas included speaker testimony and discussion on the various factors related to school security including but not limited to public safety, mental health, training, engineering and local control.

“The members of this commission sacrificed their time and provided their expertise to this very important issue,” said Lt. Governor Lamb.  “As parents we want all children to do well academically, but our first priority is for our children, our students to be safe and secure during their school day.  No policy can prevent evil from occurring, but our hope is that these recommendations will mitigate and lessen the potential of future large scale school violence.”

The Oklahoma Commission on School Security was given a March deadline in order for recommendations to be placed in bills this legislative session.

After hearing expert testimony and completing their study, the Oklahoma Commission on School Security submitted the following legislative recommendations:

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

House Votes to Protect Students From Severe Allergy Attacks

OKLAHOMA CITY – Severe allergy reactions can quickly end a life, according to the author of a House bill approved today by the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

House Bill 2101, by state Rep. Will Fourkiller, would allow school nurses to administer an epinephrine shot to students having a severe allergic reaction.

“This legislation could save a life,” said Fourkiller, D-Stilwell. “Anyone who has ever known someone with a severe allergy knows how important it is for them to be treated before they go into anaphylactic shock. There are young people out there who may not know everything they are allergic to and we need to have something on hand in schools to address a severe allergic reaction.”

House Bill 2101 was approved by a vote of 73-18 and now advances to the state Senate.

House Votes to Provide State Employee Performance Incentive

OKLAHOMA CITY – Legislation that would make state jobs more competitive with the market was approved by the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

“The intent of the legislation is to address understaffing due to low pay in areas such as corrections, public safety and child welfare,” said Osborn, R-Mustang. “My legislation creates a one-time bonus of $1,000 as an incentive to help retain critical employees such as those who man our corrections facilities and haven’t received a raise since 2006, but it’s the study this bill authorizes that is really going to help create a market-based system that will address the need to make salaries more competitive.”

House Bill 1717, by state Rep. Leslie Osborn, would authorize a $1,000 performance-based bonus to state employees and initiate a study of state employee compensation for fiscal years 2013-2014. 

According to the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, entry-level child welfare specialists are paid on average at 23 percent below the market and that corrections officers begin at $11.83 per hour.

“The state can’t keep jails adequately staffed at the current level of pay,” said Osborn. “We have to start making those salaries more competitive with the other job opportunities that are available for potential employees.”

House Bill 1717 was approved by a vote of 94-4 and now advances to the state Senate.

Fallin Creates Blue Ribbon Panel on Developmental Disabilities

Governor Mary Fallin today signed an executive order authorizing the creation of a new Blue Ribbon Panel for Developmental Disabilities. The announcement came today during the Governor's Conference on Developmental Disabilities in Norman, Oklahoma.

The new panel will develop a comprehensive plan to: support individuals with developmental disabilities and their families, address the state’s growing waiting list of thousands of individuals hoping to receive services from the state’s Developmental Disabilities Service Division, and research and analyze best practices for the comprehensive delivery of high quality services. The panel will also act in an advisory capacity to the governor on all issues related to providing community services for individuals with developmental disabilities.  

“There are nearly 60,000 men, women and children with developmental disabilities in Oklahoma,” Fallin said. “While the state is providing high quality services to many of these individuals, we are still experiencing a waiting list of over 7,000 people. This panel will help the state reduce that waiting list while improving the quality of the services it offers.”  

Click here to read a copy of the executive order. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Governor's ACE Awards Given to 188 School Districts

Updated March 4; Posted March 1
OKLAHOMA CAPITOL – Governor Mary Fallin, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi, Former Governor Brad Henry and State Legislators honored 188 school districts with the Governor’s ACE Award at a celebratory luncheon today at the Oklahoma History Center.

The Governor’s Ace Award was given to school districts in which 100 percent of the seniors of the Class of 2012 met all graduation requirements, including Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE). ACE, which was enacted in 2005 under Gov. Brad Henry, requires that high school seniors, beginning with the Class of 2012, prove proficiency on four of seven end-of-instruction exams before graduation.

“To continue to create jobs and grow our economy, it’s critical to raise Oklahoma’s academic performance and develop a highly skilled workforce," Gov. Mary Fallin said. "The ACE requirements help ensure that upon graduation Oklahoma’s students are ready for success at the college level and beyond. The schools receiving the Governor’s ACE Award are great examples of what we can achieve when we raise our expectations for students. Congratulations to the teachers, administrators, parents and students of these schools for achieving academic excellence. These schools not only are giving our students a great education, but they are helping us develop the workforce we need to compete in the global economy.”

Superintendent Barresi said, "I am very proud of this achievement by so many of our school districts. The educators in these schools, the students and the parents worked hard to achieve proficiency on core end-of-instruction exams. This bipartisan reform has ensured this hard work will be rewarded with students better prepared for the rigors of college, careers and life."

Former Gov. Brad Henry said, "I am thankful to have been involved from the beginning with this significant legislation. Making sure students learn basic math, English, history and science skills before they graduate high school will give them a better chance of success in their next phases of life."

School districts receiving the Governor’s ACE Award are:

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Rep. Murphey Highlights Open Records Reform Legislation

OKLAHOMA CAPITOL -- State Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, posted a great update on his committee's work last week. Murphey, who chairs the House Government Modernization Committee, mentions an important reform to the state's open records law. 

Right now, if a government agency refuses to fulfill an open records request the only remedy is for the person requesting the records to hire an attorney, go to court and sue the agency. 

Last Thursday, the deadline for House bills to be heard in House committees, Murphey's committee passed legislation to address this problem.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Proposed Changes to A-F Report Card Rule Released

OKLAHOMA CAPITOL -- The Oklahoma State Department of Education recently released for public comment several proposed changes to the A-F Report Card rule. These proposed changes are the result of concerns previously expressed by education stakeholders across the state including board members, superintendents, administrators, teachers, parents and state legislators.

“I’m pleased with the changes we are proposing to the A-F rule and I understand that more changes may occur as we work through the public comment period and legislative session. The State Department of Education is committed to engaging state education stakeholders in conversations that result in improving the system now and in coming years,” says State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi, adding, “As always, my commitment is to a system that provides parents with information they can use to make the best educational choices possible for their children through a system of accountability and transparency.”

One of the more significant changes being proposed regards a concern raised by superintendents and administrators. Last year students enrolled in advanced courses were only counted once regardless of the number of advanced classes they were taking. With the new rule, schools will be given credit for each advanced class a student takes, meaning if a student is enrolled in three advanced coursework classes, the school will be given three credits as opposed to the one they were given last year.

Additionally, last year, AP and IB advanced courses were counted separately from other advanced coursework. This rule was of concern to smaller districts and rural districts that may not have access to AP and IB courses but do offer other advanced coursework opportunities. It is proposed that all advanced coursework receive the same level of credit. Advanced coursework includes Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, Advanced International Certificate of Education, concurrent enrollment classes and industry certification courses.

Another significant change made after input from school administrators is that the school climate survey has been removed as a bonus component within the system. The school climate survey was intended to measure the level of support within the school and community for the programs and administration of the district. Many felt this was a factor outside of their control and therefore an unfair measurement.

To allow districts more time to verify the data they submit to the State Department of Education, the process for districts to validate their data also will be different. There will be an ongoing process as data becomes available. With each data set submitted to the state, districts will have at least 30 days to review the information. In addition, prior to the release of the actual report cards, schools will have an additional 10 days to certify their final calculations as correct.

In addition to the above proposed changes, the State Department of Education is seeking legislative changes that address a number of concerns including the students that constitute the bottom 25 percent of student achievers. The statute currently measures academic growth among the bottom 25 percent of students scoring “unsatisfactory” or “limited knowledge” on state mandated tests. The change sought would define that group to be the true 25 percent of students scoring the lowest on state mandated tests.

A full narrative of the proposed changes to the A-F Report Card rules as well as other changes to other rules can be found by visiting the Oklahoma Register at or by going through the State Department of Education’s website at and clicking on “Proposed Administrative Rules” on the front page.

The public comment period for the A-F Report Card rule will be open until Monday, March 25 at 4:30 p.m. Written comments may be sent to Oklahoma State Department of Education, Room 1-18, Hodge Building, 2500 N. Lincoln Blvd., Oklahoma City, OK  73105 or submitted to A time for oral public comments will be available on March 25 at 10 a.m. at the State Department of Education, 2500 N. Lincoln Blvd., Oklahoma City in Room 1-20.

Gov. Fallin Statement on Sequestration

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin today released the following statement regarding sequestration and the looming federal budget cuts to the military and government agencies:
“Oklahoma agencies have had months to prepare for a reduction in federal funds. While it is still unclear how many dollars each state agency will lose, we do not expect an immediate loss in state services. Months ago, I asked my cabinet secretaries and state agency directors to plan ahead for sequestration. We believe the state is well-prepared.

“With that said, it is clear the sequester is creating a chaotic and uncertain environment for businesses looking to invest, state governments tasked with crafting budgets, and those who receive federal benefits or who work for or contract with the government. That uncertainty is bad for the economy and is destroying jobs. Furthermore, the large and seemingly haphazard cuts to military spending reduce the effectiveness of our armed services and hurt the economies of states with large military presences, such as Oklahoma.

“President Obama has said he doesn’t like the sequester, but he has not laid out a viable alternative.  It is now up to him to work with Congress and deliver solutions. That starts with getting serious about spending cuts.

“In Oklahoma, we faced a budget shortfall of over $500 million in 2011 – nearly ten percent of our total budget. Like other states, we made tough choices, cut spending and worked to make state government more efficient and effective. We balanced our budget. There is no reason the federal government cannot do the same.”
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