Blog

07 Mar
0

Tulsa Equality Center Vandalized

For Immediate Release
March 7, 2017
 
Media Contact:
Angela Allmond, Communications Director
405-536-2417
Oklahoma Democratic Party

Tulsa Equality Center Vandalized

OKLAHOMA CITY Statement by Oklahoma Democratic Party Executive Director, Sarah Baker, on the Tulsa Equality Center vandalization:

“The the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center, headquarters for Oklahomans for Equality, was vandalized last week . This Tulsa community center is the state’s main organization serving the LGBTQ community in Northeastern Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Democratic Party stands with our friends at the Equality Center and its staff and volunteers. We call on people across the state to stand up and speak out against acts of hatred and terrorism such as this and similar acts of vandalism at least three other LGBTQ organizations around the country this past weekend.

“Often these types of events happen in other places and many of us, even in Oklahoma, never imagine that they will happen in our own backyard. This attack comes at a time where our own LGBTQ community is experiencing some of the most vitriolic and systemic hatred in decades. The recent actions of individuals and groups from the extremist far-right is not just a violation of one community; it is a violation of all communities in our state and across our country. This behavior goes against the very fabric of the principles of freedom which we claim to stand for as a nation.

“Now is not the time for silence. Now is the time to stand up and speak out against intolerance. Now is the time to stand up for our friends and neighbors. We must not let actions like this go unnoticed or ignored. We must be vigilant in our efforts to protect those in our community.”

###

The mission of the Oklahoma Democratic Party is to represent working people in Oklahoma and the best way to accomplish that is to elect Democrats to all areas of government. Oklahoma Democrats are progressive and sensible. We are optimistic about the future, and we are determined to see Oklahoma’s traditional values upheld. More information about the Oklahoma Democratic Party can be found at www.okdemocrats.org or by calling (405) 427-3366.

07 Mar
0

RELEASE: House Democratic Caucus – Lottery ‘Tweak’ Projected to Produce More Money for Schools

House Gambles on Lottery Bill to Raise More $$, Approves More Court Fees and Higher Mining Fees, Passes Several Education-Related Measures

 

OKLAHOMA CITY (7 March 2017) – On the fifth attempt, the state House voted Tuesday to modify the allocation of proceeds from the state lottery. The Representatives also sanctioned still more court fees, and endorsed a fee increase on mining operations in Oklahoma.

The legislators also authorized remediation for students who receive a low score on a college entrance exam, supported modification of financial literacy courses, approved a dyslexia task force, endorsed substitution of a language course for a computer course, and voted to require the State Department of Education to publish an annual report on emergency teaching certificates issued by the agency.

Lottery ‘Tweak’ Projected to Produce More $$ for Schools

Finally, on the fifth try, legislation to lift a mandated cap on the state lottery was approved in the House of Representatives.

The first $50 million of net proceeds from the lottery would be earmarked for the Oklahoma Education Lottery Trust Fund, under House Bill 1837.

Existing state law requires 35% of the net proceeds from the lottery to be dedicated to education. Removing that mandate would enable more money to be allocated to prizes, which in turn would generate more lottery ticket sales and thus more money for education, said Rep. Leslie Osborn, author of the bill.

The Lottery Commission estimates that HB 1837 could produce an extra $110 million for educational programs over the next five years, said Osborn, R-Mustang.

HB 1837 provides that net proceeds which exceed $50 million would be devoted to pre-kindergarten through third-grade reading initiatives, and to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs.

The legislation also stipulates that the annual maximum percentage for administrative costs of operating the lottery may not exceed 3% of sales.

HB 1837 cleared the House on a 70-25 vote Tuesday and now advances to the Senate. The bill was endorsed by 47 Republicans and 23 Democrats, and was opposed by 24 Republicans and one Democrat.

Former state Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, introduced similar legislation for four consecutive years, 2013-2016, and all of his bills died in House committees: once in Rules and three times in Appropriations and Budget.

HB 1837 “still has to continue through the legislative process,” Shelton, who “termed out” of the Legislature last year, said Tuesday. “I hope, for the good of our schools, that the bill passes the Senate, too, and is signed into law.”

Shelton praised Osborn for “helping me when I ran my bills; I owe her a debt of gratitude,” he said.

“I just wish that politics hadn’t interfered with my bills all those years. It cost us millions of dollars that could have helped our school kids and our classroom teachers.”

More Court Fees Proposed

The House narrowly approved a proposal to impose two new civil court fees.

House Bill 2306 by Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, would create a $25 fee for each subpoena issued in a civil case. Last year 2,600 subpoenas were issued in civil cases in Oklahoma, court records reflect. Thus, House fiscal analysts estimated that $65,000 in additional revenue would be generated by HB 2306 for county court funds.

The bill also would create a $25 fee for filing a “motion to enter” in a civil case. The amount of revenue that would be generated by that proposed fee “is contingent upon the amount of motions filed,” House fiscal analysts reported.

Rep. Chris Kannady, R-Oklahoma City, who carried the measure on the House floor, said the proposed fees would not be applicable to small claims cases nor to victim protection orders.

Just to be certain, House Minority Leader Scott Inman made a motion to attach an amendment that would expressly decree that the fees proposed in HB 2306 would not extend to VPOs. The Republican-dominated House spurned the motion on a 22-62 vote.

Inman, D-Del City, pointed out that access to Oklahoma courts is growing progressively more expensive.

Rep. Meloyde Blancett, D-Tulsa, said the cumulative effect of court fees is “putting the system in favor of those who have financial resources, regardless of the merits” of their cases.

And Rep. Jason Lowe, a criminal defense attorney, said his clients and their families “go downtown, asking the state for help.” It is “just not right … for us to impose a fee for them to bring witnesses to court to protect them,” said Lowe, D-Oklahoma City.

Kannady, a practicing attorney, maintained that “it’s expensive” to operate Oklahoma’s courts.

It’s certainly expensive to use the courts, said Rep. David Perryman, who also is an attorney. Filing a small-claims petition costs “a couple of hundred dollars by the time you add in additional court fees and costs of service,” he said. A court summons requires a fee, getting the summons served costs a fee, and requesting a jury trial at the county courthouse requires the applicant to post a $349 fee, he said.

“Before you even start to talk about attorneys’ fees, you’re out several hundred dollars,” the Chickasha Democrat said. “All of these fees are an impediment to justice.”

HB 2306 passed in a bipartisan split vote, 51-42. The proposal was supported by 50 Republicans and one Democrat, and was opposed by 25 Democrats and 17 Republicans.

The bill now moves to the Senate.

Raising Mining Fees

A measure that would increase the fee on the production of minerals other than coal mined in Oklahoma passed the House of Representatives in a split vote Tuesday.

House Bill 1844 would require operators of non-coal mining operations to pay the state Department of Mines a fee of one and one-fourth cents per ton of minerals they produce; the current fee is a penny per ton.

State statute defines “minerals” to mean limestone, gypsum, asphalt, clay, copper, granite, gravel, lead, marble, salt, sand, shale, chat, tripoli, caliche, volcanic ash and zinc, but not oil or gas “and any other mineral found naturally in a liquid or gaseous state.”

In response to a question from Rep. Brian Renegar, D-McAlester, Jim Rodriguez, executive director of the Oklahoma Aggregates Association (OKAA), told the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Natural Resources and Regulatory Services that the industry supports the measure.

“The appropriated amount going to the Department of Mines has been cut significantly over the past several funding cycles, and federal funds the department receives have been reduced, too,” Rodriguez said later. “The industry wants to ensure that the Department of Mines can operate in a reasonable manner. We want to support their operations, in order to protect workers and the state.”

The proposed fee increase will generate “around $188,000 to $200,000” per year, Rodriguez estimated.

The state Department of Mines was appropriated $775,772 by the Legislature for the current Fiscal Year 2017. That was 11.7% less than the agency was appropriated for FY 2016, and 22.26% less than the agency was appropriated 10 years ago, ledgers reflect. During that same period, revenue from agency fees increased 35%: from $850,000 in FY 2007 to $1,149,000 in FY 2017.

Production in Oklahoma of minerals other than coal totaled 78 million tons (primarily limestone, sand and gravel, granite, gypsum and clay) in 2015 (the latest year for which statistics are available), according to the state Department of Mines website.

The aggregates industry employs more than 3,500 people in Oklahoma, the OKAA reports. Its member companies produce more than 90% of the crushed stone and 70% of the sand and gravel consumed annually in Oklahoma, and OKAA producers export 15 to 25 million tons of aggregate materials each year for use in other states and countries, the organization says.

HB 1844 passed the House, 62-33. It was supported by 10 Democrats and 52 Republicans; opponents included 14 Democrats and 19 Republicans.

Now the bill will be referred to the Senate for consideration.

School Credit Proposed for ‘World’ Languages

One credit of “world” language would count toward graduation in lieu of one credit of computer education, under House Bill 2156.

“World” language is a more appropriate term than “foreign” language, said Rep. Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs, author of HB 2156, because it encompasses not only foreign languages (such as Spanish) but also classical languages (Latin and Greek) and native languages (i.e., tribal languages such as Cherokee, Choctaw, etc.). As a general rule, a world language is spoken internationally, as a second language, by a large number of people; English is a world language, and so are French, Arabic and Chinese.

The bill passed the House, 86-6.

“I don’t think our students are getting enough computer exposure,” said Rep. George E. Young, Sr., one of those who opposed the measure. HB 2156 “seems to be a ploy to offer something less significant for the future,” the Oklahoma City Democrat said.

Remediation Authorized

House Bill 1790 would authorize school districts to offer a remediation course for high-school students who score below a 19 on the American College Testing (ACT) exam or below an equivalent score (990-1020) on the SAT exam.

The bill, by Rep. Ed Cannaday, D-Porum, a retired school teacher/administrator, passed the House unanimously, 93-0. The measure now will be transmitted to the Senate, where it’s sponsored by Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, a retired educator.

Dyslexia/Education Task Force

The House unanimously endorsed a measure to create a Dyslexia and Education Task Force that over the next year and a half would create a handbook that would serve as a guidebook for schools on intervention and identification of the reading disorder.

House Bill 2008 by Speaker McCall breezed through the House, 96-0, and will be referred to the Senate for consideration.

Dyslexia is characterized by trouble with reading despite normal intelligence. Different people are affected to varying degrees. Problems may include difficulties in spelling words, reading quickly, writing words, “sounding out” words in the head, pronouncing words when reading aloud, and understanding what one reads. Dyslexia can be managed through early identification, researchers say.

Two-thirds of Oklahoma fourth graders read below proficiency levels in 2015, records reflect; blame was attributed at least in part to suspected dyslexia.

Teaching Students ‘Financial Literacy’

Personal financial literacy courses in public schools would include education about managing a bank account, rather than simply balancing a checkbook, House Bill 1694 provides. The legislation also would boost fees to underwrite the program.

Other areas of instruction include understanding interest, credit card debt, and online commerce; rights and responsibilities of renting/buying a home; savings and investing; planning for retirement; bankruptcy; banking and financial services; understanding the Free Application for Federal Student Aid; loans and borrowing money, including predatory lending and payday loans; understanding insurance; identity fraud and theft; charitable giving; understanding the financial impact and consequences of gambling; earning an income; and understanding state and federal taxes.

Fulfilling the requirements for a personal financial literacy “passport” is a requisite for achieving a high school diploma in Oklahoma.

Beginning with the 2020-21 school year, school districts “shall provide instruction in personal financial literacy to students during grades 9 through 12,” HB 1694 mandates. Until then, financial literacy will continue to be taught in grades 7 through 12.

The bill also dictates that beginning with the 2020-21 school year, teachers of financial literacy will be required to undertake “ongoing professional development training” in the subject.

HB 1694 would increase from 5¢ to $1 the fee assessed against each lender on every deferred deposit loan it issues. The legislation stipulates that 75¢ of the levy would be earmarked for a new Personal Financial Literacy Education Revolving Fund and the other 25¢ would be deposited in the Consumer Credit Counseling Revolving Fund.

The proceeds deposited in the financial literacy fund would be used by the State Department of Education “for the purpose of developing and providing guidelines, materials, resources, including online curriculum, training and professional development of teachers in the area of personal financial literacy…”

The House endorsed the measure, 88-10, and transmitted it to the Senate.

Tracking Emergency Certifications

The State Department of Education would be directed by House Bill 1362 to publish an annual report about emergency teaching certificates. The measure passed the House Tuesday on an 87-8 vote.

The report would include the total number of certificates issued throughout the state, the school district and the specific school in which each of those teachers was assigned, the subject matter taught by each of those teachers, the total length of time in which the teacher taught under an emergency certificate, and demographic information, including student poverty levels, racial composition, and disability percentages at the specific school in which he/she was assigned.

Carolyn Thompson, chief of government affairs for the SDE, said the department already compiles this information but it’s not assembled in one unified report.

“We need to know where teachers who receive emergency certification are being placed,” Rep. Regina Goodwin, author of HB 1362, said earlier this year. “I want to know what kind of impact certified teachers have on student performance,” the Tulsa Democrat added.

Because of the rash of vacancies in teaching ranks across Oklahoma, the number of emergency certifications has skyrocketed: from 32 in the 2011-12 school year to 1,063 emergency certifications requested by 265 school districts during the 2015-16 school year, and 1,082 issued from July through December 2016, ledgers reflect. The SDE estimates more than 52,000 students are being taught by an emergency certified teacher.

The principal areas in which emergency certifications were issued the last two years were elementary education, early childhood education, mathematics and social studies. Applicants for certification must pass a test in their requested subject area(s).

-30-

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008135227880&sk=photos&collection_token=100008135227880%3A2305272732%3A69&set=a.1769385150009309.1073741885.100008135227880&type=3

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

06 Mar
0

RELEASE: DNC Statement on Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban

Trump’s New Muslim Ban Just as Un-American and Dangerous As the First One

WASHINGTON – DNC Chair Tom Perez released the following statement after Donald Trump signed his second Muslim ban:

“Trump’s obsession with religious discrimination is disgusting, un-American, and outright dangerous. Don’t be fooled – he promised again and again during his campaign that he would single out and persecute a specific religious group, and that’s exactly what he’s trying to do now.

“This second Muslim ban is just as unconstitutional as the last one and it isn’t making us any safer. A memo leaked by Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security flatly contradicts his unfounded claim that citizens of the countries targeted are more likely to pose a terrorist threat. A number of terrorism experts opposed to this ban have also made it clear that it only fuels radicalization and extremism, increasing the likelihood of terrorist attacks.

“These bans cause chaos at our airports, costs our economy billions, and worst of all, it’s fueling discrimination against the Muslim community. This is not who we are as a country.

“It’s obvious today that Trump hasn’t read the constitution and couldn’t care less about the facts. We look forward to the day the courts once again rule against President Trump.”

###

06 Mar
0

RELEASE: Rep. David Perryman – Legislature Needs to ‘Do the Right Thing’

Legislature Needs to ‘Do the Right Thing’

By State Rep. David Perryman

There is a line in C.S. Lewis’s book, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” in which Susan, one of the children who discovered the Kingdom of Narnia through the back of a wardrobe, expressed fear when she learned that King Aslan, whom she would be meeting, was not a man but instead was a lion, the lion, the Great Lion…the King of the Beasts. When she inquired if he was safe, she was told, “Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King.”

Susan was one of the four Pevensie siblings who were evacuated from London to the safety of the English countryside during the aerial blitz by the German Luftwaffe. It is little wonder that Susan’s main concern when she was told of the Lion was whether she would be in danger.

Culturally, we are taught to avoid risks and potential danger by making safe choices that best protect and preserve ourselves and our self-interests. This instinct is so strong that from an early age we automatically weigh danger and safety and assess risk and reward.

When it comes to politics and the politicians whose lives are immersed in the political process, the instinct of self-preservation is paramount.

Most times, the right choice is not the safest choice and currently Oklahoma and Oklahomans are suffering the consequences of that fact.

For a dozen years Oklahoma politicians have pandered to wealthy campaign contributors and corporate interests that know how to use money to manipulate elected officials. As a result, the top income tax rates have been cut, costing Oklahoma’s state government more than $1 billion per year.

During that same period, energy companies that use their funds to “make legislators’ worlds go round” have been rewarded with tax credits and incentives and the lowest gross production tax rate in the country. According to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, these subsidies cost the state $427 million last year and are projected to top $500 million in 2018.

Every core service of state government is on life support. Oklahoma teacher pay is among the lowest in the country and again this year education in our state has suffered the deepest cuts in the nation. Like teachers, most other state employees have gone a decade without a raise.

Joe Allbaugh, Oklahoma’s director of the Corrections Department, says that more than one in three of his employees; families qualify for food stamps, and when he spoke in Lawton last week he reported that he is seeing a 40% turnover, primarily because DOC employees can earn more money working for 7-Eleven. He reports that his budget has been “cut to the bone” and inmates who serve their time are released without receiving programs to assist them to become productive citizens, increasing the chances that they will re-enter the correctional system.

Mental health, health care, child welfare, senior nutrition, roads and bridges are all in crisis mode, and the ability of the state to respond is virtually non-existent.

During the past week Oklahoma experienced another revenue failure, meaning that receipts were less than 95% of the budgeted amount. In response to that, our overall weak revenue collections and our reliance on one-time sources of revenue, S&P Global Ratings lowered the state’s general obligation bond rating and the state’s appropriation debt rating. The lowering of Oklahoma’s credit rating could lead to higher interest rates on the state’s bond debt.

Finally the State Finance Director and the State Treasurer have admitted that Oklahoma has a revenue problem and not a spending problem. Treasurer Ken Miller went so far as to write in the Oklahoma Economic Report that, “It’s The Revenue, Stupid” and “the long and short of it is Oklahoma needs more recurring revenue” and not “falsely propped up budgets that have exacerbated the problem.”

Disappointingly, the Speaker of the House announced this week that his focus was not on revenue but he was instead looking at ways to decrease expenses, sending a clear signal that Republicans in the House have no plan to solve the state’s budget problem.

The House Appropriations and Budget Chair lamented last week in The Oklahoman that most state agencies have already weathered 40% cuts in the past decade and she doesn’t want to take “Oklahoma down the path of Kansas, where draconian tax cuts have been devastating.” Unfortunately, she has already done just that by being the House author and/or lead debater on the House floor of two of Oklahoma’s last three “draconian tax cuts.”

There are cries of “do the right thing and raise the cigarette tax.” Oklahoma is not in a budget crisis because the cigarette tax is $1.03 rather than $2.53 per pack.

Doing the right thing is having the political courage to FIX THE BUDGET. The budget will not be fixed by an additional $1.50 in cigarette taxes that will generate less than 8% of the revenue that will be necessary to fix the budget problem.

Doing the right thing is having the political courage to reach a “Grand Bargain” to fix the budget problem so that teachers and other state employees will get raises and that mental health and DOC and child welfare and roads and bridges will be funded.

Doing the right thing is rolling back income tax cuts on the wealthy and raising gross production taxes to 5% and coupling that with a tax increase on all forms of tobacco.

Doing the right thing may not be the safe thing when it comes to being re-elected, but doing the right thing is ALWAYS the right thing.

(Representative Perryman is a Democrat from Chickasha.)

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

03 Mar
0

RELEASE: Oklahoma Public Education Attacked

Okla. Youth Expo Touts Report from Boston That Attacks Public Education in Oklahoma

By State Rep. Brian Renegar, D-McAlester

McALESTER (3 March 2017) – When charter school legislation started a few years ago I wondered how charter schools would infiltrate our rural schools and how they would put out propaganda to persuade rural citizens that they should abandon our public schools for charter schools and private schools.  I realized that first there had to be an attack on public education, and then a subtle “easing in” of charter schools to be a viable alternative.

I first saw the attack on public education from the agriculture community when I was sent a Farm Bureau brief outlining the problems with education in Oklahoma.  It was labeled “failing schools in Oklahoma.”  I thought, “Wow, Farm Bureau lobbyists are now experts on education, too.”

Now the Oklahoma Youth Expo (OYE) is touting a report by Bellwether Education Partners, a Boston, Mass., group pushing charter schools and private schools, according to Google.  The Bellwether report is labeled “Voices from Rural Oklahoma” and bears a picture of an old windmill out in a field.  It is subtitled, “Where’s Education Headed on the Plain.”  The foreword is written by Tyler Norvell, executive director of OYE.  By their own admission, they based this report on visiting with just EIGHTY rural Oklahomans.  The 80 people they interviewed consisted of high school students, college students, parents and business leaders; no teachers or school administrators were part of the study.  That sounds well rounded and impartial, right?!

In the report, they say the reason funding to education has declined is the lower prices of oil and gas since 2007.  However, in 2010 oil prices were $100 per barrel, yet the Oklahoma Legislature led the nation in cuts to education.  Bellwether did not mention that income tax cuts to the wealthy cost our budget about $1 billion per year.

The study also states that our rural students perform 6% lower than the national average in reading and 14% lower in math – but they did not compare Oklahoma’s education funding cuts to the national average.  I wonder why.

The study also stated we don’t have enough counselors to give students guidance in their career paths.  It could be that counselors were reduced in schools because of one of the nine cuts to education that schools have endured over the last 10 years.  One business owner says we’ve taken common sense out of schools.  He went on to say that he has hired 10 kids in the last two years to work over the summers and “they can’t pull a dipstick on a lawnmower!”  Hmmm, maybe because the mower has a two-cycle engine?  I am pretty sure I learned that at home, not at school, so how is a school at fault?  Xbox has replaced a lot of household chores that teach common sense.  Schools don’t provide Xboxes to kids.

The Bellwether study also reported students having to take remedial courses at college.  There is a big difference between high school and college.  The study habits in high school carry with the student into college, but who is responsible for home study habits?  Parents, that’s who, and parents don’t usually go to college with their children.

One of the last comments made in the report was that individuals who are not familiar with charter schools are somewhat fearful of them; however, individuals who are familiar with charter schools think they are a viable option to public education.  There is the “subtle easing in” or the introduction of charter schools.

In all honesty, I have never seen such a lopsided report full of “alternative facts,” and this report was presented to the House Rural Caucus, which is a bipartisan group of House members.  I will strongly urge the other legislators who received this report to take it with a grain of salt.

James 1:5 and Proverbs 2:6 – If you need wisdom, ask our generous God and He will give it to you.  For the Lord grants wisdom!  From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.

-30-

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