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21 Mar
0

Is Corporation Commission Considered Archaic?

Is Corporation Commission Considered Archaic?

OKLAHOMA CITY (21 March 2017) – A task force to evaluate whether the Oklahoma Corporation Commission is “properly structured to efficiently operate in the 21st Century” would be established by legislation the state House of Representatives endorsed Tuesday evening.

House Bill 1377 would create a “Twenty-first Century Corporation Commission Task Force.” The bill would direct the panel to conduct:

  • a performance assessment of agency workload levels, time required to process its workload, and the agency’s reputation among its stakeholders;
  • a structural assessment of the composition of the commission the impact of Open Meetings Act requirements, trends related to the commissioners’ six-year terms of office, the “appropriateness” of the current number of commissioners (three), and the “effectiveness” of leadership and authority;
  • an assessment of the state mission to determine accuracy “in light of modern-day agency functions,” “appropriateness and necessity,” and whether performance of certain functions would be better suited in other agencies;
  • a funding assessment to determine whether the agency is properly funded, the current funding mechanisms that are available to the agency;
  • a staffing evaluation to determine whether the agency is “properly staffed” to meet its mission, whether the staffing structure of the agency is efficient, and whether the staff has “the autonomy needed to perform their duties.”

Although an amendment to HB 1377 specifies that the panel would be comprised of 14 members, the author of the legislation, Rep. Weldon Watson, indicated that number may increase. The intent of HB 1377 is to “develop a dialogue between the Corporation Commission and those they regulate, advocacy groups, ratepayers and others,” the Tulsa Republican said.

At a minimum the task force is expected to include state legislators, representatives of the oil/gas industry, someone from a pipeline utility or pipeline company, plus representatives and customers of the electricity utility industry, the telecommunications industry and the transportation industry.

The task force would be instructed by HB 1377 to prepare and deliver its final report by 1 December 2018 to the Governor, the House Speaker and the Senate President Pro Tem.

The Corporation Commission was established at statehood in 1907, by Article IX, Section 15, of the Oklahoma Constitution.

Today the state agency has approximately 57 field personnel in its Oil and Gas Conservation Division who are responsible for monitoring 200,000 oil, natural-gas and wastewater disposal wells, and has approximately 18 fuel specialists (field inspectors) who monitor 44,000 fuel storage tanks (primarily at service stations) throughout the state. The agency has 15 inspectors to oversee 255 natural-gas and hazardous liquid pipeline operators, more than 39,000 miles of natural gas pipelines and more than 3,800 miles of hazardous liquid pipelines. The commission regulates approximately 400 utilities such as electricity, natural-gas and telephone companies, cotton gins, and a few small, privately owned water companies. And the Corporation Commission has a Railroad Department that has jurisdiction over railway crossings of roads, streets and highways in Oklahoma.

HB 1377 passed the House without opposition, 91-0, and will be transmitted to the Senate. The bill’s title was stricken, which will enable the House and the Senate to fine tune the measure before a finished product is ready for consideration in both chambers.

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MIKE W. RAY
Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
(405) 962-7819 office
(405) 245-4411 mobile

21 Mar
0

RELEASE: Renew Tax Credit for High-End Economic Development Projects

House Supports Legislation That Would Renew Tax Credit for High-End Economic Development Projects

OKLAHOMA CITY (21 March 2017) – Economic development legislation that would enable the state Tourism and Recreation Department to offer inducements to private companies to create or expand high-dollar “tourism attractions” received overwhelming support from the House of Representatives.

House Bill 2131, the Tourism Development Act, was endorsed 84-5 by the House on Tuesday and will be transmitted to the Senate for consideration. Two dozen House Democrats joined 60 Republicans in support of the proposal.

The bill is intended to “take facilities that are not generating any taxes” – including the now-vacant First National Bank building in downtown Oklahoma City – “and make them tax producers” via public-private partnerships, House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols said.

HB 2131 stipulates that a qualifying project must attract at least 25% of its visitors from out-of-state, cost at least half a million dollars, have a “significant and positive impact” on this state, be open and operating to the public on a “consistent basis” and not adversely affect employment.

The bill defines a “tourism attraction” to mean:

  • a cultural or historical site
  • a recreational or entertainment facility
  • an area of “natural phenomena or scenic beauty”
  • an indoor or outdoor play or music show
  • a botanical garden
  • a cultural or educational center, or
  • a destination hotel whose location and amenities make the hotel itself a destination for tourists.

HB 2131 “would not cost the state anything,” said Echols, R-Oklahoma City. A developer would be allowed to retain sales tax proceeds equal to 10% of the approved costs on any project that was priced at less than $1 million, or 25% of the sales tax proceeds from any tourism project costing more than $1 million, HB 2131 provides.

The tax credits would be capped at a collective total of $15 million per year and would expire after two years, although the executive director of Tourism and Recreation could extend the credits for up to four more years under certain circumstances.

The bill specifies that approved costs would include obligations incurred for labor and to vendors, contractors, subcontractors, builders and suppliers in connection with the acquisition, construction, equipping and installation of a tourism attraction project; the cost of procuring real estate or rights in real property in connection with a tourism attraction project; all costs of architectural and engineering services; costs associated with the installation of utilities in connection with a tourism attraction project, including water, sewer, sewage treatment, gas, electricity and communications.

HB 2131 would restore, at least in part, tax credits that expired two years ago, Echols indicated.

Renovation of the First National Center will be a catalyst for “bringing life to the heart of downtown” Oklahoma City, said Gary Brooks president of Cornerstone Development and owner of First National Center.

Redevelopment of the 33-floor building will create an estimated 1,585 construction, hotel, and retail/commercial jobs from the start of construction through operations, Echols said. In addition, more than 700 people “will permanently live and work in the renovated building,” Brooks said.

Cornerstone Development, in a partnership with Rose State College and the City of Oklahoma City, will provide environmental training to produce applicants to work on the First National site during the renovation. “This training could act as a catalyst for Rose State College in their proposal to combine asbestos abatement training with the wastewater training in their 2017 grant application to EPA for Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training,” said Amanda Alewine, associate planner with the City of Oklahoma City.

Cornerstone also has pledged to reserve space within the project for a business incubator “that can assist both entrepreneurial startups as well as existing small businesses,” Brooks said. Discussions are under way for the Small Business Development Center of Oklahoma, headquartered at Durant, to assist in operating and supporting the incubator, he said.

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MIKE W. RAY
Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
(405) 962-7819 office
(405) 245-4411 mobile

21 Mar
0

RELEASE: House Supports Spending and Performance Measures

House Supports 3 Measures to Require Spending/Performance Audits of State Agencies

OKLAHOMA CITY (21 March 2017) – State agencies would be subjected to spending and performance audits under three measures approved this week in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

Performance audits of the 20 state agencies receiving the largest appropriations from the Legislature would be performed no more than once every four years, under House Bill 1690.

The Legislative Service Bureau would contract with the State Auditor & Inspector’s Office or an outside company to conduct the audits.

The bill describes an “Independent Comprehensive Performance Audit” (ICPA) as “a review and analysis of the economy, efficiency, effectiveness and compliance of the policies, management, fiscal affairs and operations of state agencies, divisions, programs and accounts” to enable the Legislature to “implement the best budgeting and policy-making practices for government services to run in the most cost-effective way.”

An ICPA would address policies that include constitutional mandates, statutory mandates, statutory authorizations, administrative rules or policies of the agency, all sources of funding received by the agency, and management of the agency, including its governance, capacity, divisions, programs, accounts, information technology systems, plus agency operations.

Results of the proposed analyses would be presented to state officials and then reported to the general public.

The Republican author of the measure said his bill is modeled after Ohio legislation.

An audit of the State Department of Education would cost an estimated $500,000 to $800,000, the bill’s author said. The SDE received 35% of all state appropriated dollars for Fiscal Year 2017, and 34.6% in FY 2016, House fiscal reports show.

Pointing to the projected cost of performance audits, opponents of HB 1690 noted that the State of Oklahoma has a budget deficit calculated at about $900+ million this year, and had a shortfall last year of $1.3 billion.

The House embraced the bill Tuesday, 70-25. Every vote against the measure was cast by a Democrat and every vote in favor of the proposal was cast by a Republican. Now the bill will be referred to the Senate for consideration.

A similar Republican measure, House Bill 1425, would create a Joint Committee on Accountability to conduct performance audits, identify assets owned or services provided by the state government that could be privatized, and delve into suspected fraud, waste and corruption in state government.

A performance audit would determine whether the targeted agency, division or program is “engaging in activities or programs which go beyond” its statutory authorization, and whether the agency, division or program is “efficiently and effectively administered.” That assessment would include whether it is operated under “the best practices of this state or other comparable entities” and whether its functions are “duplicative of, or could be better provided by,” other state agencies or the private sector.

The nine-member bipartisan committee would be composed of two members appointed by the Speaker of the House and two appointed by the Senate President Pro Tempore, one appointed by the House Minority Leader and one by the Senate Minority Leader, plus the State Auditor and two people appointed by him/her. The joint committee would replace the Legislative Oversight Committee on State Budget Performance.

HB 1425 was approved overwhelmingly Tuesday, 87-3, and will be referred to the Senate.

Another related proposal was debated in the House on Monday. All state agencies would be evaluated at least once every four years “in order to identify agency-specific efficiencies,” House Bill 2311 stipulates.

A 10-member Agency Spending Review Commission would be authorized to contract with a private company, a non-profit or academic institution to assist with the spending audits.

Opponents noted that every year the Legislature examines the budgets of all appropriated state agencies (which number approximately 70). Opponents also pointed to the potential cost of the proposed audits.

State Sen. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, wrote recently that state agency chiefs testifying in Senate committees have said that examinations of their agencies by the State Auditor & Inspector have cost “from $8,000 to as much as $26,000.”

Similarly, Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater, provided a document which showed that the Payne County Commissioners paid the State Auditor & Inspector’s Office almost $362,000 over the past four fiscal years for audits of the county’s ledgers.

Objections notwithstanding, HB 2311, by Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, passed, 64-24, and was sent to the Senate. As with HB 1690, all votes in support of HB 2311 were cast by Republicans and all votes against were cast by Democrats.

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MIKE W. RAY
Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
(405) 962-7819 office
(405) 245-4411 mobile

20 Mar
0

RELEASE: House Dem Caucus – State House Unanimously Endorses Daycare Tax Credit for Military Families

Daycare Tax Credit for Deployed Military Families Endorsed Unanimously by State House

OKLAHOMA CITY (20 March 2017) – Legislation that would authorize a state income tax credit for daycare expenses incurred by families of deployed military personnel sailed through the House of Representatives on Monday.

House Bill 1312 by Rep. Collin Walke would authorize a tax credit for daycare expenditures on a qualifying dependent child during any period when a member of the armed services is deployed “to another location in support of combat, contingency operation, or natural disaster” for 30 or more consecutive days, during which time the service member is unable to be accompanied by his/her family at government expense.

The proposed credit would start in tax year 2018 and could not be used to reduce the claimant’s tax liability “to less than zero,” HB 1312 decrees.

Also, the legislation would apply to dependent children 12 or younger at the time the daycare expenses were paid, and permissible expenses would be limited to the care of a child “for not more than 12 hours per day.”

The bill defines “servicemember” to mean a member of the Armed Forces of the United States, the Reserve Corps of the nation’s Armed Forces, or the Oklahoma National Guard.

“This credit would be a valuable benefit to military families whenever a parent is deployed to a combat zone or a disaster area for an extended period,” said Walke, D-Oklahoma City.

HB 1312 was approved 89-0 by the House and will be referred to the Senate for consideration.

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MIKE W. RAY
Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
(405) 962-7819 office
(405) 245-4411 mobile

20 Mar
0

RELEASE: State House Floor Activity Monday 3-20-2017

House Debates State Agency Spending Audits, Dilapidated/Abandoned Property, Military Veterans Registry, Tax Credit for Military Families, Safety ‘Halo’ for Bicyclists, Nursing Home Administrator Requirements, Handguns on Buses

OKLAHOMA CITY (20 March 2017) – An ad hoc commission to audit expenditures of state government agencies “in order to identify opportunities for savings” would be created by a bill the House of Representatives approved Monday.

The legislators also endorsed measures that would target dilapidated or abandoned properties, create a registry of all military veterans in the state, authorize a tax credit for military families, modify requirements for nursing home administrators, establish a religious holiday, enlarge a safety “halo” for bicyclists, allow handguns on buses, and resurrect a measure that appeared dead last week.

Audits of State Agency Spending Proposed

All state agencies would be evaluated at least once every four years “in order to identify agency-specific efficiencies,” House Bill 2311 stipulates.

The commission would be authorized to contract with a private company, a non-profit or academic institution to assist with the spending audits.

Opponents noted that every year the Legislature examines the budgets of all appropriated state agencies (which number approximately 70). Consequently, “That information is already available, isn’t it?” asked Rep. Shane Stone, D-Oklahoma City.

Opponents also pointed to the potential cost of the proposed audits.

State Sen. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, wrote recently that state agency chiefs testifying in Senate committees have said that examinations of their agencies by the State Auditor & Inspector have cost “from $8,000 to as much as $26,000.”

Similarly, Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater, provided a document which showed that the Payne County Commissioners paid the State Auditor & Inspector’s Office almost $362,000 over the past four fiscal years for audits of the county’s ledgers.

Objections notwithstanding, HB 2311, by Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, passed, 64-24. All votes in support of the measure were cast by Republicans, and all votes against were cast by Democrats.

Identifying Expenditures to Meet Program Requirements

State agencies would be required by House Bill 1942 to include in their annual budgets a description of all federal funds received for any program in which the agencies participate, the requirements of those programs, and the amount of “expenditures spent to meet the requirements of” those programs.

The GOP-sponsored bill passed in split vote, 65-23. The measure was supported by 64 Republicans and one Democrat; all 23 “nay” votes were cast by Democrats. Now the bill will be referred to the Senate for consideration.

Eliminating Municipal Eyesores

A municipality would be empowered by House Bill 1381 to require the owner of dilapidated or abandoned property to “provide the name, physical address and telephone number” of an individual designated to “receive and respond to communications concerning the property” that’s targeted for abatement. The municipality “shall not assess any additional charge when requiring the information,” HB 1381 specifies.

Rep. Eric Proctor, D-Tulsa, asked whether it is accurate that approximately half of the rental properties in Tulsa are deemed to be substandard. The author of the bill, a Tulsa Republican, confirmed that estimate.

HB 1381 passed the House by a vote of 69-20. Two dozen Democrats, including Proctor, joined 45 Republicans in support of the measure; every vote against the proposal was cast by a Republican. The bill will now be transmitted to the Senate for consideration.

Under a House bill enacted in 2014, registration of any real property by any municipality is “declared to be a statewide concern and shall be prohibited.”

No municipality is allowed to enact or attempt to enforce through fees, civil fines or criminal penalties “any ordinance, rule or regulation to require the registration of real property,” the law decreed. That derailed programs in Del City, Midwest City, Oklahoma City, Stillwater and Bartlesville that were designed to eliminate blighted buildings and neighborhoods, House Democratic Leader Scott Inman and Reps. Cory Williams and then-Rep. Kay Floyd lamented.

However, a municipality is not barred from enacting and enforcing rules and regulations to require owners of real property to comply with established occupancy standards spelled out by ordinance and state law.

Veterans Registry

The Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs (ODVA) would be directed by House Bill 1198 to create a registry of all military veterans in this state.

The information would include each veteran’s name, dates of service, branch of military service, rank, and, if applicable, the date of the veteran’s death and the location of his/her burial.

The data sought would apply only to anyone who was on active duty and received an honorable discharge from the armed services.

The bill passed the House, 90-0, and was referred to the Senate for consideration.

A companion measure, Senate Bill 456, would require the ODVA to create and administer a registry of military veterans who are totally service-disabled. That bill passed the Senate, 45-0, and was transmitted to the House.

Daycare Tax Credit for Deployed Military Families

The House unanimously endorsed a measure that would create a state income-tax credit for daycare expenses incurred by families of deployed military personnel.

House Bill 1312 by Rep. Collin Walke would authorize a tax credit for daycare expenditures on a qualifying dependent child during any period when a member of the armed services is deployed “to another location in support of combat, contingency operation, or natural disaster” for 30 or more consecutive days, during which time the service member is unable to be accompanied by his/her family at government expense.

The proposed credit would start in tax year 2018 and could not be used to reduce the claimant’s tax liability “to less than zero,” HB 1312 provides.

The legislation would apply to dependent children 12 or younger at the time the daycare expenses were paid, and permissible expenses would be limited to the care of a child “for not more than 12 hours per day.”

“Servicemember” is defined in the bill to mean a member of the Armed Forces of the United States, the Reserve Corps of the nation’s Armed Forces, or the Oklahoma National Guard.

“This credit would be a valuable benefit to military families whenever a parent is deployed to a combat zone or a disaster area for an extended period,” said Walke, D-Oklahoma City.

HB 1312 was approved 89-0 by the House and will be referred to the Senate for consideration.

Nursing Home Administrator Requirement Modification

The statutory requirements for would-be administrators of nursing homes is subject to amendment by House Bill 1551.

The bill would bar the State Board of Examiners for Long-Term Care Administrators from requiring a nursing home administrator to have a four-year college degree in order to be licensed or certified if the candidate has “10 years of experience in administrative management, with five years of experience as a certified assistant administrator in a long-term care facility.”

Brett Coble, administrator of Meridian Nursing Home in Comanche, OK, said prospective nursing home administrators in this state have to complete two exams. One is a 100-question state standards test, and students must achieve a score of at least 75. Administrator candidates also must undergo a National Association of Long-Term Care Administrator Boards Exam of 150 questions, on which a minimum score of 113 (75%) is required.

Nursing home administrator candidates in Oklahoma also must complete a 16-week Administrator University course.

In addition, if an administrator candidate has a four-year college degree in a health care field, he/she must participate in a 560-hour “Administrator in Training” (AIT) internship program. If the nursing home candidate has no college diploma, or a degree in some field other than health care, he/she must complete an AIT program of 720 hours.

Former state Rep. James Lockhart of Heavener, who on Monday became administrator at the Heavener Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, said he spent more than $10,000 and worked and studied for more than a year to obtain his license and complete his requisite training.

“It can be a costly endeavor for someone doing it on their own,” Coble conceded, “but a lot of facilities will pay for their people to become licensed.”

HB 1551 passed in a split vote, 57-35, and will be referred to the Senate for consideration.

Christian Holiday Endorsed

“Good Friday,” the Friday preceding Easter Sunday, would be designated as a paid state holiday under House Bill 1444.

Good Friday is a Christian holiday commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his death at Calvary.

Paid holidays this year for state employees were/are New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, President’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and the day after, Christmas Day and the day after.

HB 1444 passed the House, 69-24 – it was supported by 46 Republicans and 23 Democrats, and was opposed by 22 Republicans and two Democrats – and was transmitted to the Senate for consideration.

Workers’ Compensation

Two bills that constituted 373 total pages of proposed amendments to the workers’ compensations statutes – House Bills 1462 and 1921 – strolled through the House uncontested Monday, because their titles were stricken. That’s a procedural motion which indicates the bills will be subject to House/Senate negotiations before a final product is presented for consideration.

But a third workers’ comp measure, House Bill 2242, which encompasses seven pages, triggered substantial floor debate and barely scraped by.

It provides that if a subcontractor fails to carry workers’ comp insurance on his/her employees, liability would devolve to the person or entity for whom the work is being performed, unless an intermediary contractor carries workers’ comp insurance.

Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, insisted that if a subcontractor fails to secure workers’ comp insurance, HB 2242 would shift the burden of paying for an injured worker’s medical treatment from the prime contractor to the person for whom the work is being performed: i.e., the homeowner.

HB 2242 squeezed through the House, 52-39, but was held for reconsideration of the emergency clause, which failed on a 49-25 vote.

Give Cyclists Some Space

The “lateral safe distance” between a motor vehicle and a bicycle on a two-lane road would be expanded by House Bill 2191 from 3 feet to 5 feet. On a multi-lane road, a motor vehicle driver would be required to move into another lane to safely pass a bicyclist.

The driver of a motor vehicle causing a collision, crash, fall or physical injury to a cyclist would be fined $500. If the mishap caused the cyclist’s death, the fine would be $5,000.

When asked whether HB 2191 would create a “special class,” Rep. Cory Williams, author of the measure, said that state Transportation Department workers are a specially protected class, and he noted that bicyclists are “highly vulnerable”. Oklahoma has “a huge cycling community,” the Stillwater Democrat added.

The bill passed in a split vote, 53-33, and will be transmitted to the Senate, where it is sponsored by Sen. Dave Rader, R-Tulsa.

Guns on Buses

State law provides that no one but an authorized law enforcement officer may board a bus while transporting a “dangerous or deadly weapon.” House Bill 1721 would authorize an exception for persons who have been issued a concealed-carry license “pursuant to provisions of the Oklahoma Self-Defense Act.”

State law further provides that it is illegal to discharge a firearm into or within any bus, terminal or other transportation facility. However, HB 1721 would authorize an exception in the event “such action is determined to have been in defensive force resulting from reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another.”

Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City, told the Republican author of the measure that he rides the bus virtually every day and has never encountered a situation where he thought a firearm was needed.

HB 1721 passed the House, 75-8. The opponents were Democrats Meloyde Blancett, Regina Goodwin and Monroe Nichols, all of Tulsa; Claudia Griffith, Norman; Cory Williams, Stillwater; Cyndi Munson, Collin Walke and George Young, all of Oklahoma City. Bennett said he was on the ’phone, trying to contact officials at EMBARK (formerly Metro Transit), Oklahoma City’s public bus system, about the measure, when the vote was closed; consequently, Bennett was officially listed as “excused” when the vote was recorded.

House Votes to Reverse Course

Legislation that was previously derailed squeaked by on reconsideration Monday.

The Republican measure, House Bill 1577, would require the State Department of Education to include on its website an itemized accounting of vacant or unused properties of Oklahoma’s school districts.

The House rejected the idea, 35-56, on March 13. But the Republican author of the measure succeeded in resurrecting the bill Monday and it passed on reconsideration, 51-36.

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MIKE W. RAY
Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
(405) 962-7819 office
(405) 245-4411 mobile