Caretaker Abuse, Workers’ Comp Coverage for Roofers, Protecting Children, Elderly and Veterans Debated by State House

Caretaker Abuse, Workers’ Comp Coverage for Roofers,

Protecting Children, Elderly and Veterans Debated by State House

OKLAHOMA CITY – Pointing a laser beam at an airplane or helicopter in flight would be a state offense as well as a federal crime under legislation the House of Representatives endorsed Tuesday.

Other measures considered by the House would provide protections for senior citizens, military veterans, and for children, for employees of roofing contractors, and celebrate the 800th anniversary of a document that’s a foundation of our democratic government.

Watch Where You Point That Thing

Pointing a laser beam at an aircraft flying overhead would be a state misdemeanor offense, under Senate Bill 62. An initial violation could be punished with a fine of up to $100; the penalty for a second or subsequent offense would be a fine of up to $500 and/or a six-month county jail sentence.

Aiming a laser beam at a flying aircraft is a felony offense under federal law, a crime subject to investigation by the Department of Homeland Security. However, making the act a misdemeanor state offense would allow local authorities, such as a police department or a county sheriff’s department, to investigate the crime, the House sponsor of the measure explained.

The bill was approved by wide margins in both the House and the Senate and will be sent to the governor for her consideration.

No Rewards for Caretaker Abusers

Anyone convicted of abuse, neglect or exploitation of a senior citizen, a developmentally disabled individual, or any other vulnerable adult, would be barred by Senate Bill 725 from profiting from the victim’s estate, investments, joint accounts, jointly held property, life insurance or disability benefits.

The House embraced the measure, 87-0, and it also passed the Senate unopposed, 44-0.

SB 725 is similar to House Bill 1031 by Rep. David Perryman, D-Chickasha, which died in the House Judiciary and Civil Procedure Committee, and House Bill 1349by Rep. Wade Rousselot, D-Okay, which received a “do pass” recommendation from the same committee.

Defining ‘Failure to Protect’ a Child

Legislation that its author said “gives a bright-line definition” of failure to protect a child from abuse was endorsed by the House.

Senate Bill 292 modifies the statutory definition of “failure to protect” to mean failure to take reasonable action to remedy or prevent abuse, or lying, concealing, or failing to report the identity of a person known to be committing abuse and/or neglectful acts.

Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, an attorney, suggested that the term “responsible” would be more appropriate than “reasonable” action.

And Rep. Ben Loring, D-Miami, cast the lone vote against the proposal. “I agree with the bill in principle, but I convicted plenty of folks under the existing language,” the former county prosecutor said.

The measure sailed through the House, 98-1, and was sent back to the Senate for consideration of a relatively routine technical amendment.

Fraud Prevention

Senate Bill 338 will allow the state Tax Commission to disclose an individual’s confidential tax information to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, to enable the HCA to determine whether an applicant qualifies for Medicaid benefits.

The House passed the proposal by an overwhelming margin, 86-8; every “nay” vote was cast by a Democrat. The bill, which previously breezed through the Senate, 40-0, was sent to the governor for her signature.

Safeguarding Military Veterans

Criminal background checks would have to be performed on nurse aides prior to their employment at medical foster homes in which care is provided exclusively to three or fewer veterans, and which is approved by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, under Senate Bill 115.

The proposal passed both the House and the Senate without a dissenting vote and was sent to the governor for her signature.

Workers’ Comp Coverage for Roofers

All contracts for commercial roofing projects, and any maintenance or repair to an existing residential structure, would have to require all employees working on that job to be covered by worker’s compensation insurance “as employees of the person registered under the Roofing Contractor Registration Act.”

No roofing contractor required to be registered with the state Construction Industries Board would be allowed to hire any out-of-state company or individual, or use any person or independent contractor, unless they have worker’s compensation insurance coverage.

SB 378 also provides that “in no event” could a homeowner be held liable for injury or death to anyone who is working for a registered roofing contractor that’s required to have workers’ compensation insurance coverage for all of its employees.

Those conditions are proposed in Senate Bill 378. The bill narrowly passed the House on Tuesday, 53-43, and was sent back to the Senate for consideration of an amendment.

Notaries Must Be Law-Abiding Legal Citizens

An applicant for notary public would be required by Senate Bill 215 to be a U.S. citizen who has never been convicted of a felony, and is capable of reading and writing English. The proposal also would allow the Secretary of State to refuse to authorize or renew, or even revoke, a notary commission. The legislation also would prohibit an applicant from notarizing any document until the bond, seal and oath have been approved and returned by the Secretary of State.

The bill was approved by the House, 77-1, and by the Senate, 44-0, and was sent to the governor.

Overweight Truck Limits

Certain vehicle weight limit calculations would be changed by Senate Bill 638 from a schedule to a formula, requiring total gross weight to be determined using the Federal Bridge Formula. The legislation provides for an annual special overload permit that could be purchased, at a cost for $350, for vehicles hauling certain materials under certain conditions.

Vehicles transporting certain aggregates, oilfield equipment, or raw agricultural products, are currently required to purchase a special overload permit each year from the Corporation Commission, at a cost of $100. This fee is apportioned pursuant to the Oklahoma Vehicle License and Registration Act.

Under SB 638, operators of those same vehicles would be required to pay a $350 overload permit fee to the Department of Public Safety, and the funds would be deposited into the State Highway Construction and Maintenance Fund.

Besides redirecting the apportionment of the fee revenue, the change also would likely result in an increase in total collections, House analysts reported. Assuming the same number of permits issued in 2015 as in 2014 at 2,487, multiplied by the fee of $350, would produce fee revenue of $870,450 – an increase of $621,750 over 2014. This figure would increase or decrease depending on the number of permits issued.

SB 638 was approved by the House, 70-12, and was sent back to the Senate for consideration of an amendment.

Commemorating the Magna Carta

House Concurrent Resolution 1005 notes that this year marks the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215.

The Magna Carta “gave expression to a political settlement between rebellious English barons and a recalcitrant king,” but since then this historic document “came to be considered a ‘talisman of liberty’, giving impetus to the rule of law and constitutional government,” the resolution relates.

The Magna Carta was one of the earliest written expressions of natural and inalienable rights, “laying some of the theoretical groundwork” for the English Bill of Rights of 1689, the American Declaration of Independent in 1776, the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights, and the Oklahoma Constitution.

The Oklahoma State Capitol is hosting the “Magna Carta: Enduring Legacy 1215-2015” exhibit through April 5. The event is free and open to the public. The exhibit is displayed in the Supreme Court Hallway on the second floor of the State Capitol.

The Magna Carta is considered to be the founding document of English liberties and hence of American liberties. Because of the Magna Carta, the divine right of kings was superseded by government of and by the people and legal principles such as habeas corpus.

The Magna Carta stands at the heart of English and American law and has influenced the legal systems of many other democratic nations. For example, it “embodied the concept of right to due process of law” and “contained the idea of consent of the government, leading eventually to representative government,” HCR 1005 notes.

“There’s a direct link between the Magna Carta and our state government,” Oklahoma Secretary of State Chris Benge said.

HCR 1005 was adopted by the House without dissent and was referred to the Senate for their consideration.

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MIKE W. RAY

Media Director, Democratic Caucus

Oklahoma House of Representatives

(405) 962-7819 office

(405) 245-4411 mobile

Democratic Leader Advises Legislators Must “Make Our Children Their Top Priority”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Democratic Leader Scott Inman

Capitol: (405) 557-7370

Legislators Must ‘Make Our Children Their Top Priority,’
House Democratic Leader Advises Rally Participants

Rep. Scott Inman (D-94)
Rep. Scott Inman (D-94)

OKLAHOMA CITY – Supporters of public education who assembled by the thousands at the State Capitol on Monday should “demand that their legislators make our children their top priority,” House Democratic Leader Scott Inman asserted.

Last year an estimated 25,000 teachers assembled at the Capitol to rally for two things in particular, the Del City Democrat related:

  • Enactment of House Bill 2642, which would have guaranteed $600 million in new funding for public schools over the next decade, or $60 million per year;
  • “A halt to irresponsible tax cuts that did little to improve the lives of Oklahoma’s citizens but did a great deal more to erode funding for our students.”

“That’s why you rallied” at the Capitol a year ago, Inman said. “But today you rally because your elected officials … cavalierly ignored your top two demands…”

In fact, less than 24 hours after the education rally concluded and the teachers drove back home, “before the parking lot had been swept and the port-a-potties had even been hauled away,” the state Senate Finance Committee passed a measure to cut personal and corporate income taxes by $200 million per year, Inman recalled.

Simultaneously the Legislature was coping with a $188 million budget shortfall, and funding for public education had been reduced by more than $200 million – “more than any other state in the nation,” Inman said. In addition, HB 2642 died in a House/Senate conference committee on the last day of the 2014 legislative session.

Meanwhile, enrollment in public schools has grown by 40,000 students over the past six years, to 681,000 students; Oklahoma has the third-lowest average per-pupil funding level in the nation, leading only Nevada and Utah; and Oklahoma schools are coping with about 1,000 teaching vacancies.

Instead of injecting more money into school classrooms to alleviate these problems, the Republican-dominated Legislature has introduced voucher legislation “that will only serve to divert more money away from public education instead of toward it,” Inman said.

“And just as depressingly, the way they show their support for Oklahoma teachers is by passing House Bill 1749,” which would forbid any state agency from making payroll deductions “on behalf of a state employee for membership dues in any public employee association or organization or professional organization that … collectively bargains on behalf of its membership.” That measure cleared the Legislature last week and will be sent to the governor.

Inman exhorted his audience to “seek out and find your Representatives and Senators” and “call upon our governor” to “put an end to the fiscal insanity that has plagued our school children these last five years.”

Inman acknowledged that “these are tough budget times.” The Legislature has $611 million less to spend this year than it did last year. Nevertheless, he said, supporters of public education should demand three things this year:

  • The Legislature “must do more than pass another flat education budget, or worse yet, pass another budget that cuts funding for our schools.”
  • Raising Oklahoma’s “dismal” teacher salaries must be a priority among state lawmakers. Oklahoma’s average annual teacher salary is the fourth-lowest in the nation, ahead of only Mississippi, Idaho and South Dakota.
  • Curtail increased government mandates and high-stakes testing “that only serve to eliminate local control, not foster it.”

In response to those who ask how those proposed reforms would be financed, Inman offered three suggestions:

  • “Put a halt” to the looming state income-tax cut, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2016. The Oklahoma Tax Commission has calculated that the reduction will cost the state treasury $57 million in Fiscal Year 2016, $147 million in FY 2017, nearly $199 million in FY 2018, and $267 million in FY 2019. Some or all of that revenue should be devoted to education, Inman indicated.
  • “Get a handle” on the billions of dollars in tax credits and exemptions “our state gives away.” Offering incentives to businesses is important, he conceded, but it’s not more important than educating children. “What have we accomplished,” he asked rhetorically, “if we entice businesses to our state but have failed to properly educate the workforce they need to fill their jobs?”
  • As the State of Oklahoma “grows out of this economic hole,” the Legislature “should treat our schools just like it has treated our roads and bridges,” Inman said. Since the Legislature has pumped an extra $59.7 million into state roads and bridges each of the last two years, and is tentatively scheduled to do the same for the next two years, as well, “then we certainly can see fit to spend $60 million to improve the lives of our kids,” the father of two young girls said.

“A lack of accountability” has enabled Oklahoma’s education shortcomings to fester, Inman said. Every legislator who was responsible for the failure of HB 2642 “and for passing those irresponsible tax cuts” was re-elected last year and sent back to the Capitol.

Inman urged those participating in the rally to confront their legislators and tell them, politely but bluntly, “If you can’t find a way to make educating our children YOUR top priority, then I’ll find a way to make replacing you MINE!”

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

Is Governor Fallin to Blame for Pancoast?

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 25, 2015

Is Governor Mary Fallin To Blame?
Pancoast Investigation Should Go All The Way To The Top

Pancoast[OKLAHOMA CITY, OK] Oklahoma Democratic Chair, Wallace Collins, calls out failed leadership of Governor Mary Fallin and her office in the hiring of Steven Pancoast, Jr. as safety programs administrator and occasionally serving as lead investigator on multiple cases for the Oklahoma Veterans Affairs Department. The Oklahoma Democratic Party further calls for formal investigations to commence immediately pertaining to possible neglect and/or willful misconduct on behalf of not only Steven Pancoast, Jr., but also the Office of the Governor and Governor Fallin. All instances of Governor Fallin’s direct or indirect involvement in cases of veteran neglect and/or death in the past five (5) years should be examined thoroughly by a neutral party.

“We are currently preparing to file for numerous records requests from the Oklahoma Veterans Affairs Department, the Office of the Governor, and any additional associated departments under the jurisdiction of the Governor,” stated Collins. “Our veterans deserve to have the best representation and a convicted thief is not acceptable.”

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Vulnerable Adult Death and Injury Review Board Amendment

OKHouseSeal

State of Oklahoma
House of Representatives
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 24, 2015

Rep Richard Morrissette, District 92
2300 N. Lincoln Blvd.
State Capitol – Room 543
Oklahoma City, OK 73105
Contact: Jacklyn Brink-Rosen
(405) 557-7404

Amendment to Protect Seniors and the Disabled Killed in Committee
Vulnerable Adult Death and Injury Review Board Defeated 3-3 Split Vote

(Oklahoma City, OK) Half of the voting members present at today’s Long Term Care & Senior Services Committee meeting Chaired by Republican Rep. Jadine Nollan voted to kill a vital missing link in the death and injury investigation process for Oklahoma’s most vulnerable senior and disabled populations.

Rep. Richard Morrissette (D-Oklahoma City)
Rep. Richard Morrissette (D-Oklahoma City)

“The legislature would not pass a bill this session to increase staffing levels in our #1 Worst Nursing Homes and now they won’t even vote to at least provide answers to the families as to why their loved ones were beaten, tortured and died. Vulnerable adults in Oklahoma are being abused at record levels. What is wrong with us? We claim to be law abiding god-fearing people but our state has become a place just too unsafe for children, the elderly and the disabled!” declared Oklahoma City Democrat, Rep. Richard Morrissette, District 92 upon the defeat of his amendment to establish a board similar to the Child Death Review Board.

“Just because people are frail and elderly doesn’t mean we as a culture are free to adopt a mindset of rationalizing away their demise with such callous disregard…to say that these lives are going to end soon and that the nature of their death when suspicious is not of any consequence. I am appalled, APPALLED, that 3 of the members of this committee saw fit to take away this opportunity to establish an independent arm to assist our existing agency bureaucracies that are both overworked and underfunded.”

“Rep. Bobby Cleveland, District 20 (R-Norman) had the courage and compassion to vote for the amendment along with Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, District 78 (D-Tulsa) and Rep. George Young, District 99 (D-OKC) and on behalf of all of our seniors and the disabled, I thank them.” said Morrissette.

Those who voted against the measure were Chairman Jadine Nollan, District 66 (R-Sand Springs), Rep. Chuck Strohm District 69, (R-Jenks) and Rep. Mike Ritze, District 80 (R-Broken Arrow).

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‘Efficiency’ in Schools, ‘Grading’ the Legislature, Zero Base Budgeting Debated in ‘Your Vote Counts’

‘Efficiency’ in Schools, ‘Grading’ the Legislature, Zero Base Budgeting Debated in ‘Your Vote Counts’

OKLAHOMA CITY – Improving “efficiency” in education funding was the principal topic of the latest episode of “Your Vote Counts.”

Sen. Kyle Loveless (R-Oklahoma City)
Sen. Kyle Loveless (R-Oklahoma City)

State Sen. Kyle Loveless continues his crusade for an evaluation of school administrative costs and has proposed a task force to examine the issue in-depth. This state has too many school districts, the Oklahoma City Republican contends. During the 2013-14 school year Oklahoma had more than 520 superintendents whose total income approached $50 million, he said.

In comparison, he claimed Sunday on “Your Vote Counts,” Oregon has a population roughly equivalent to Oklahoma’s, but has 10,000 more school students, half as many school districts, half as many superintendents and support staff, yet its teachers are paid “about $12,000 a year more” than Oklahoma’s are.

Loveless filed two measures this year that targeted school administrative expenses.

Senate Bill 15, a school administrative consolidation measure, was shelved by a Senate committee. But Loveless’s Senate Bill 18, creating a task force to study school administrative costs “and identify efficiencies” passed the Senate and has been assigned to the House Rules Committee.

Rep. Richard Morrissette (D-Oklahoma City)
Rep. Richard Morrissette (D-Oklahoma City)

Schools need more money, not more task forces, Rep. Richard Morrissette countered. “We’re $200 million below the funding level of 2008” for public schools, while enrollment has grown by 40,000 over the past six years, to 681,000 students, he said. The Republican-controlled Oklahoma Legislature has cut public education funding by 23%, more than any other state in the nation, the Oklahoma City Democrat said. “We’re 49th in the nation” in teacher pay.

Loveless said the State of Oklahoma “spends 52 cents of every dollar on education.” That figure includes higher education and the Career Technology system, not just public primary and secondary schools, Morrissette pointed out.

“If we run our state as a business, finding a 5% cut should not be that difficult to do,” Loveless said. “There are ways we can get more money into the classroom and get more teachers without raising taxes.”

“We are down to the bone,” said Morrissette. “There’s nothing much left to cut.” The GOP has to “run this government responsibly, and that takes money.”

During a recent episode of “Your Vote Counts,” Morrissette and Rep. Leslie Osborn were asked by moderator Scott Mitchell to evaluate the Legislature’s performance this year. Morrissette gave it a “bad” rating, while Osborn gave it “a passing grade of C.”

Osborn mentioned “a lot of bills that have sucked the air out of the room,” including the so-called “hoodie” bill. The Mustang Republican also referred to Senate Bill 329, the attempt by Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, to repeal legislation signed by former Gov. Brad Henry in 2007 that designated the watermelon as the state vegetable of Oklahoma; the watermelon is a fruit, not a vegetable, Dahm believes. SB 329 generated headlines but died in the Senate’s General Government Committee.

The primary focus of state legislators should be the $611 million budget deficit, asserted Osborn, a member of the House Committee on Appropriations and Budget. She hastened to add that budget shortfalls have occurred “every six to seven years” since statehood in 1907 because of “the volatility of oil and gas prices.”

Osborn recommended that the Legislature adopt zero base budgeting. “Until we meet 12 months out of the year with those budget committees and empower our members to dig into agency budget, building from the ground up instead of looking at the previous year’s budget and saying, ‘Let’s go up 2% or 4%,’ nothing changes,” she said.

Morrissette concurred. Zero base budgeting “is the way to go.” If the Oklahoma Legislature were evaluated as a business, he said, “At best we’d be in Chapter 11 reorganization, and at worst we’d be in Chapter 7 liquidation, ending the business.”

Mitchell asked Osborn and Morrissette about various measures introduced in the Legislature this year to hobble or evade judicial ruling that have sanctioned same-sex marriage.

Osborn singled out House Bill 1125 by Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell. “It would take county clerks from handing out marriage licenses to only accepting them from an officiant,” she related. However, the legislation “may just add more confusion” because of the “constitutionality issue.” The legality of gay marriage ultimately “will be decided on the federal level, like abortion was in Roe vs. Wade,” Osborn predicted.

Morrissette, an attorney, concurred. Same-sex marriage is “going to be decided by the United States Supreme Court,” he said. The issue has already been heard in several federal circuit courts, he noted. “It’s out of the hands” of legislators.

“Your Vote Counts” is a 10-minute program that features a point-counterpoint format. It airs Sunday mornings on KWTV-9 in Oklahoma City; afterward, the show is uploaded to the Internet at www.news9.com/yourvotecounts.

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