Tuesday, April 16, 2013

School Security Measures Signed by Fallin

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin today signed four bills into law designed to improve school security and keep Oklahoma children safe. She was joined at a public bill signing by Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb, who served as chairman of the Oklahoma Commission on School Security, other commissioners, and legislative leaders.
“The state of Oklahoma has a duty to do everything we can to keep our children safe,” Fallin said. “The bills signed into law today will ensure that schools are well prepared for emergencies of all kinds. They’ll also help to provide more training and better coordination between law enforcement and education professionals. These measures could help to save lives. My thanks go out to Lieutenant Governor Lamb, the Legislature, and all the members of the Oklahoma Commission on School Security who worked to develop this legislation and send it to my desk.” 

The bills signed today by Fallin included:

  • SB 256, requiring school districts to conduct lockdown drills in addition to fire, intruder, and tornado emergency drill
  • SB 257, directing the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security to designate a division within the agency as the Oklahoma School Security Institute. The Institute would act as a central hub of information and resources related to school security and risk assessments to campuses. Objectives and goals of the Institute include: maximization of school security and training; implementation of safety drills and facilitation of information related to school safety.
  • SB 258, creating an annual deadline of Nov. 1 for institutions of higher learning to provide reports to emergency responders and agencies with details of updated plans for protecting students, faculty and visitors from disasters and emergencies.
  • SB 259, requiring school authorities to immediately report to
    law enforcement if a firearm is discovered on a student that is not a minor or an adult that isn’t authorized to possess a firearm on school property. Also, the bill dictates the weapon in question to be delivered to law enforcement.

“I thank the Governor for her signatures on these bills which stemmed from the recommendations from the Oklahoma Commission on School Security,” Lamb said.  “I thank the members of the commission that came from all across Oklahoma and sacrificed their time and provided expertise.  The primary goal of any government is to protect its people.  These bills will do just that.”

Governor Signs Community Service for Child Support Bill

OKLAHOMA CITY – Gov. Mary Fallin recently signed into law a measure that officials hope will encourage parents to stay up to date on their child support payments.

Rep. Jon Echols
R-Oklahoma City
House Bill 2166, by state Rep. Jon Echols and state Sen. Brian Crain, authorizes courts to require individuals who are willingly unemployed and who owe child support to work two eight-hour-days per week in a community service program administered by the county commissioners.

“This bill will encourage personal accountability among able bodied parents,” said Echols, R-Oklahoma City. “Your children, whether they live with you or not, are your responsibility alone. If a person cannot or will not provide the financial support the court has required of them, there needs to be consequences.”

Crain said every parent has a responsibility to take care of their children.

“It is saddening and infuriating that people are more interested in their money than their family,” said Sen. Crain, R- Tulsa. “This creates a method for the judiciary to protect the children and hopefully instill right-thinking in the dead-beat parent.”

Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan, whose SHINE community service program inspired the legislation, said giving judges the authority to sentence deadbeat parents to community service will provide a potent new tool to encourage them to meet their child support obligations.

“Working two days a week picking up litter or painting over graffiti might just provide the motivation some of these non-paying parents need,” said Maughan. “We are ready and eager to start enrolling any parent sentenced by the judges in SHINE as a way to encourage them to get to work and live up to their responsibilities.”

Maughan said other counties have inquired about ways to emulate the successful SHINE program, and that the new legislation will add to that urgency.

“This is a model program that can save jail costs, teach offenders important lessons about personal responsibility and improve our community at the same time,” said Maughan. “I am grateful to Rep. Echols and Sen. Crain for sponsoring this important bill and to Gov. Fallin for signing it.”

HB 2166 passed overwhelmingly out of both chambers of the Legislature, including votes of 97-1 in the House and 47-1 in the Senate.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Four School Safety Measures Head to Governor

OKLAHOMA CITY – Four bills authored by House Speaker T.W. Shannon related to the issue of school safety passed full votes of the House Thursday.

In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., late last year, Speaker Shannon, President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman and Lt. Governor Todd Lamb created the Oklahoma Commission on School Security. The Commission submitted a report to state leaders detailing suggestions on things the state of Oklahoma can do to make its schools safer and more secure. These four bills are a direct result of that report.

“Our children are precious and we must take the necessary steps to protect them while they are spending the day at school learning,” said Speaker Shannon, R-Lawton. “Recent tragedies like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary remind us that we must remain vigilant in the protection of our children. As a father, this is a particularly important issue to me.”

Senate Bill 256 would require school districts to conduct lockdown drills in addition to fire, intruder, and tornado emergency drill.

With the passage of Senate Bill 257, the “Oklahoma School Security Institute” is one step closer to reality. SB 257 directs the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security to designate a division within the office as the OSSI. The Institute would act as a central hub of information and resources related to school security and risk assessments to campuses. Objectives and goals of the Institute include: maximization of school security and training; implementation of safety drills and facilitation of information related to school safety.

Creating a hard deadline date for school administrators of Nov. 1 annually, Senate Bill 258 requires institutions of higher learning to provide reports to emergency responders and agencies with details of updated plans for protecting students, faculty and visitors from disasters and emergencies.

Senate Bill 259 would require school authorities to immediately report to law enforcement if a firearm is discovered on a student that is not a minor or an adult that isn’t authorized to possess a firearm on school property. Also, the bill dictates the weapon in question to be delivered to law enforcement.

“With the passage of these four measures, it is my hope that we’re doing right by our children to ensure they have a safe and secure environment in which to learn and grow,” Speaker Shannon said. “It is vital to protect our children properly and I believe these bills will improve the safety environment of our schools.”

Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb in early March released the policy recommendations of the Oklahoma School Security Commission.

“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," Lamb said. "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.”

President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman praised the work of the Commission.

“It is rare to see any policy proposal receive near-universal support at the state Capitol," said Bingman, R-Sapulpa. "I think it’s a testament to the seriousness with which the Commission went about finding common-sense ways to respond in the face of an agonizing national tragedy.

“I want to thank Speaker Shannon, Leader Burrage, and Leader Inman for their dedication to making the Commission recommendations successful. But most importantly, I want to thank the members of the Commission for their service, their time, and their expertise. Lt. Governor Lamb deserves our appreciation for his leadership of the Commission, and I believe I echo the thoughts of the Commission members when I say his sound judgment was essential to the formulation and passage of today’s legislation.

The measures now move to the governor’s desk for final consideration.

STATEMENT on DHS Director Ed Lake Decision to Cancel Contracts for Recruitment, Retention of Bridge Resource Families

OKLAHOMA CITY – The bipartisan group of four members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives who constituted the working group on the state Department of Human Services reforms created in 2011, issued the following statement today in response to the cancelation by Oklahoma Department of Human Services Director Ed Lake of recently awarded contracts for the recruitment and retention of foster care Bridge Resource Families:

“We are in complete agreement with the decision today by Oklahoma DHS Director Ed Lake to cancel recently awarded contracts for the recruitment and retention of Bridge Resource Families.

“The reasons cited by Director Lake as the basis for his decision to cancel the contracts are the same problems we identified and shared with the agency. 

“Our biggest concerns are the arbitrary geographic boundaries which ignore the reality of what it takes to recruit a foster family and that only one vendor was selected for each geographic area. These concerns were shared by everyone we heard from concerning the results of this contracting process. 

“We realize that this move by the department will unfortunately further delay the essential step of partnering with private organizations to recruit, train and support foster families. However, we believe moving forward with the current process would yield significantly worse results over the long run compared to a delay in the short run necessary to address these significant issues. 

“This public-private partnership is the centerpiece of recent DHS reforms including the Pinnacle Plan.

“We have no concerns with any of the entities that were awarded contracts and the canceling of these contracts are not a reflection on those private agencies. We understand that every vendor who submitted a bid is a licensed child placing agency each with impressive credentials.

“We believe the action taken today by Director Lake is a bold and necessary step for the success of this public-private partnership which is vital to meeting the goals of the Pinnacle Plan. 

“We support this action and commend the employees of the Department for their extraordinary commitment to recent reforms.”

Members of the House working group on DHS:

House Majority Floor Leader Pam Peterson
Representative Jason Nelson
Representative Pat Ownbey
Representative Wade Rousselot

Read the letter sent to contractors by OKDHS Director Ed Lake

OKDHS Cancels Bridge Resource Family Contracts, Plans New Approach

OKLAHOMA CITY -- OKDHS Director Ed Lake has canceled recently awarded contracts for the recruitment and retention of foster care Bridge Resource Families due "serious problems with the approach" of the RFP. Below is the letter sent today to entities who had been awarded contracts:

I am writing to alert you that I have advised the Office of Management and Enterprise Services Central Purchasing Division of my decision to cancel the contracts which were recently awarded from the Request for Proposals for the recruitment and retention of Bridge Resource Families (830-1065).  You will receive an official notice of cancellation from OMES in the near future.

Although the RFP construction, evaluation and contract negotiation processes were carried out faithfully in accordance with state purchasing rules, I believe that the result of this effort will not fully achieve the goals we established and there are enough serious problems with the approach that it is better to restart the process than to continue on this path.  

Please know that my decision has nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of the agencies awarded contracts. Further, I clearly understand the difficulties this termination places on the agencies who have already received contracts. However, I firmly believe the downside of going forward under these conditions outweigh the benefits for both your agency and the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.    

I did not undertake this decision lightly and you deserve a full explanation as to how I arrived at this point. When I was named Director of OKDHS and arrived in Oklahoma, all of the bids for this RFP had already been submitted.  I immediately began hearing complaints from the provider community that they were not consulted in this process, concerns about the harshness of the “liquidated damages” provisions, and confusion about some of the terms and conditions.  

I reviewed the RFP personally, consulted with Casey Family programs, and sought additional feedback from the provider community.  I concluded that, while the RFP was not ideal, it was an important step to help our agency meet critical goals and that together we could make it work.  

Unfortunately, by the time the bids were evaluated and contracts awarded, it was evident to me that the problems which had been created were serious enough to impede our future progress.  These are the primary concerns that have brought me to this decision: 

  • The language in the RFP is too prescriptive for performance-based contracts and works against provider creativity, flexibility and capability--all of which are critical to adding value to the services.  
  • The catchment (service) areas in some parts of the state were artificially defined, working against the reality of how resource homes could be recruited and supported.  
  • The awarding of one contract per service area does not allow us to take maximum advantage of the universe of agencies capable of providing high quality services. 
  • The process did not fully allow for partner input to the service delivery design and details.

We will begin immediately to reconstruct a new solicitation process that engages the provider community, incorporating your best thinking and most creative ideas.  Our goal is to construct a process that will better enable OKDHS and its partners to provide high quality recruitment, support and retention of resource homes that meet the needs of the children entrusted to our care.  

We will work with the providers who were awarded contracts to provide payment for service of completed placements until the actual termination date. 

I apologize for the hardships this may have created for you and sincerely hope you will continue to partner with us as we create this new system.  


Ed Lake, Director
Oklahoma Department of Human Services

Statement by the DHS reform working group in the House of Representatives

Human trafficking bills go to Gov. Fallin

The growing problem of human trafficking has resulted in Senate passage of two bills aimed at helping the victims of this crime. House Bill 1058 by Sen. Nathan Dahm and Rep. Sally Kern and House Bill 1067 by Sen. A.J. Griffin and Rep. Lee Denney were approved in the Senate on Thursday.

A crime that affects mainly women and children, the State Department has identified the United States as the #1 destination for child sex trafficking. With Oklahoma at the crossroads of I-35 and I-40, the state has seen a tremendous increase in this crime, with several notorious cases making headlines in recent years. Dahm said HB 1058 is intended to help survivors of human trafficking.

“It allows a charge to be expunged if that person was forced into prostitution as a victim of human trafficking,” said Dahm, R-Tulsa. “What happens to these victims is not their fault. They need to be able to have their record expunged in order to move on with their lives.”

Kern said the legislation was an important step forward in how Oklahoma deals with human trafficking.

“I think it is a necessary bill that will protect the victims of this crime as they seek to rebuild their lives without having the unnecessary burden of a criminal record,” said Kern, R-Oklahoma City.

Griffin said HB 1067 is aimed more specifically at minor victims of human trafficking who are forced into the sex trade.

“It does several things—it requires peace officers to notify those victims of the services that are available and make sure the proper authorities with the Department of Human Services are notified. It also assumes that individuals who are minors involved in the crime of prostitution have been coerced to participate in that activity,” said Griffin, R-Guthrie. “They are survivors of a horrible crime and as such we need to help, not punish them.”

Denney explained it is important to recognize that when human traffickers force children and teens into prostitution, it’s the traffickers who are the criminals.

“I believe it is vital to protect our children who have been drawn into human trafficking and abuse,” said Denney, R-Cushing. “We need to protect them from prosecution and focus instead on restoring their mental and physical wholeness.”

Both measures now go to Gov. Mary Fallin for her approval.

General Revenue Funds Shows Big Jump in Corporate Taxes

OKLAHOMA CITY – Corporate income tax collections continued climbing in March, while total collections to the General Revenue Fund (GRF) declined following an aberration in the normal flow of personal income tax receipts and ongoing reductions in natural gas revenues.

"The sharp upward climb in corporate income tax collections is extremely encouraging. Our economy is still expanding, although perhaps at a more moderate pace," said Secretary of Finance and Revenue Preston L. Doerflinger.

Collections to the GRF totaled $413.9 million in March, which is $20.6 million or 4.7% below collections for March of Fiscal Year 2012, and $61.6 million or 13% lower than the official estimate upon which the FY-2013 budget is based.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Heart Screenings for Newborns Bill Heads Back to House

OKLAHOMA CITY – Legislation to require a more effective heart screening of Oklahoma’s youngest residents is on its way back to the Oklahoma House of Representatives for a second vote before it can go to Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin’s desk.

The Oklahoma Senate approved House Bill 1347, by state Rep. Dan Kirby by a 44-0 vote. The legislation would require hospitals and other birthing facilities to perform a pulse oximetry screening on every newborn prior to discharge from the facility. The bill was previously approved by the Oklahoma House of Representatives by a 91-2 vote.

Title was stricken and then restored as the bill moved through both chambers, meaning that it will need a final vote in the House before going to the governor’s desk.

“Pulse oximetry screenings are the newest and best way to detect congenital heart defects that are often not identified by other methods,” said Kirby, R-Tulsa. “Requiring these screenings will ensure more newborns survive their first weeks of life and have fewer health problems as they continue to grow and develop.”

The pulse oximetry screening is a noninvasive test that measures the percentage of hemoglobin in blood that is saturated with oxygen.

Congenital heart defects are the No. 1 killer in infants with birth defects.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Bill supporting Schools for the Blind and Deaf heads to Governor

OKLAHOMA CAPITOL -- Having received unanimous approval from both the Senate and House, Senate Bill 251 is on its way to the Governor’s desk. The measure, authored by Sen. Earl Garrison and Rep. Arthur Hulbert, will give the Oklahoma School for the Blind and the Oklahoma School for the Deaf more leniency in making decisions for their students. 

“As the House author of Senate Bill 251, I’m very pleased with the bipartisan passage of this bill with a vote of 90-0 today in the House of Representatives. This is an example of common-sense legislation that will help save time and money, and that will gain efficiency for the School for the Blind, School for the Deaf, and their local school districts,” said Hulbert, R-Fort Gibson. “It has been a pleasure to work closely with Senator Garrison on this legislation for the betterment of these two schools along with our local public school districts.”

Under SB 251, the Oklahoma School for the Blind and the Oklahoma School for the Deaf will be considered local education agencies for the purposes of purchasing and administering tests required for high school graduation. The bill will allow the superintendents of the two schools to make decisions regarding reasonable testing accommodations for individual students’ disabilities. Garrison explained that, for example, if someone has an astigma, or jerky eye movement, and cannot track words on a page while reading a selection on a test, this bill will allow the superintendent to provide that student with a straight edge ruler to track the words. Currently, any accommodations have to be approved by the State Board of Education.

“I want to thank Rep. Hulbert for carrying this bill in the House as well as my colleagues in the Senate and House for their support of this important measure,” said Garrison, D-Muskogee. “This was a bipartisan effort to help these schools be able to decide how best to address the unique testing needs of their students instead of having to wait for approval from the State Board of Education.”

The measure has an emergency clause so it will go into effect immediately upon being signed by the Governor. 

Committee studying child abuse, neglect deaths issue report

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Special Review Committee studying child abuse and neglect deaths of Oklahoma children released its report today which includes both praise and criticism regarding the performance of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and many other entities responsible for the protection of children, and also disputes previous claims made by legislators against OKDHS.

In a 38-page report containing 50 findings and 37 recommendations which took 16 months to develop, the Committee found there were many individuals, agencies, and situations which were both ‘part of the problems and part of the solutions.’

Monday, April 1, 2013

Lawmakers, Parents Express Disappointment “Parent Empowerment Act” Will Not Advance in 2013

OKLAHOMA CITY – Lawmakers and parents who supported a measure that would have allowed parents to “trigger” major changes in their local underperforming schools are disappointed the bill did not receive more support in the House of Representatives. The measure will be laid over until the 2014 legislative session.

Senate Bill 1001, by state Senators David Holt and Jabar Shumate and state Rep. Jason Nelson, would have allowed a majority of parents in an underperforming school to sign a petition that would transition the school to a charter school or terminate the administrators. 

“It’s obvious that we have a lot more work to do, but the momentum is on our side,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “There is a growing coalition of parents and policymakers who are determined to ensure that the voices of our students and their parents are heard, so that is very encouraging. Parents want choice for their children. The parents are on the front lines; they know whether their local school district is failing their children or not. 

“Blaming parents, as was done by an education organization recently, is not constructive – it’s wrongheaded. It’s ironic that opponents of the bill complained the law would create an adversarial relationship between parents and educators when a statement by a teacher organization pointed the finger at parents by saying ‘Letting parents have more control over the schools when they don't have control at home is not the answer.’ 

“It’s important to remember that the bill only applies to ‘D’ and ‘F’ school sites. That negative and condescending attitude toward parents will create more division than this or any other legislative initiative at the Capitol, and I think it speaks to the need for programs like Senate Bill 1001.”

Under the measure, the option to terminate administrators would only have been available in Oklahoma or Tulsa counties. An underperforming school would be 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’. The bill provided that if the parents were to choose the charter school option, the charter school would first serve all students in the existing attendance boundaries of the school.

The measure was based on a concept that has been enacted in at least seven other states. 

“Opposition to this bill has little to do with the merits of the policy, because anyone would tell you that a failing school could use the parent involvement and regulatory flexibility this bill facilitates,” said Sen. Holt, R-Oklahoma City. “Opposition to this bill has everything to do with power – power that some apparently don’t want to share with parents. The title of this bill is the ‘Parent Empowerment Act,’ and I guess there’s nothing that scares some people more.”

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.
“It is unfortunate for parents and children across the state that we
have not found consensus on Senate Bill 1001,” said Shumate, D-Tulsa. “I am committed to working with other members of the legislature in the future to bring real empowerment to our parents.  I still believe that people support that which they help create; therefore, I hope that educators in the future will demonstrate better how to plan with and not for the parents and children they serve.”

Tulsa resident and parent Lauren Marshall made the decision to homeschool her children rather than allow them to attend the local middle school.

“I was fortunate enough to be able to quit my job and have been able to dedicate the past five years to ensure my boys had a quality education,” said Marshall. “But very few parents – especially where I live – can afford to quit their jobs in order to be at home with their kids. What about Gaven and Reagan and Evan – real kids in my neighborhood that my own children play with? They deserve better than a ‘D’ or ‘F-rated’ school.”

Nelson, who filed a similar measure two years ago that did not even receive a hearing, said he is encouraged by the progress the bill has made, but that supporters need to put more effort into educating other lawmakers and other parents on the issue.

“We’re trying to make real changes for our communities of Tulsa by giving the parents the power to save their children in places where the schools have failed them,” said Pastor Joyce A. Cooper of World Won for Christ in Tulsa. “We need to keep on standing up for our kids and giving our families the power to make the changes they need. Our children are stuck in these schools with no options, and so it is a shame that this bill is not going to be heard. All we can do is press on for real power for our parents and communities.”

Holt also believes the bill will become law in the near future as long as lawmakers remember who the bill is designed to protect.

“Unfortunately, real parents have no voice in the Capitol, especially parents in the kinds of communities where this bill would do the most good,” said Holt. “That’s why we as legislators have to speak for them. Our job is not to protect failure. Our job is to empower our parents to make positive change, because parents are who we represent, and improvement is what we should demand. I hope that when this bill returns in the future, we’ll remember that.”
Last month, SB 1001 was approved in the Senate by a vote of 30-12. It can be considered in the House of Representatives in 2014.
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