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07 Apr
0

Oklahoma Democrats Respond to Rand Paul’s Announcement

Oklahoma Democrats Respond to Rand Paul’s Announcement

In response to Senator Rand Paul’s announcement today, Oklahoma Democrats released the following statement, detailing how terrible Rand Paul’s record and policies are for Oklahoma:

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)

[APRIL 7, 2015, OKLAHOMA CITY] – Rand Paul’s announcement today should be alarming for every Oklahoman, including women, college students, those who need health insurance, and hardworking people all across the state.

If Rand Paul had his way, nearly 400,000 Oklahoma residents would not benefit from increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10. Oklahoma women make 76 cents for every dollar a man makes, and yet Rand Paul opposes efforts to close the pay gap.

Rand Paul opposes legislation that would allow student loan borrowers to refinance their loans at lower rates, benefiting 269,000 of Oklahoma’s student loan borrowers.

Rand Paul wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act and opposes expanding Medicaid. If Oklahoma should choose to expand Medicaid, 123,000 more Oklahoma residents are projected to have insurance coverage by 2016.

On issue after issue, Rand Paul has extremist views. Rand Paul is bad news for Oklahoma, and he definitely won’t do what is best for the country.

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06 Apr
0

Commentary on Justice Reform

The following article can be attributed to Kevin McCray and is republished with consent. 

Kevin McCray President, ODP Veterans Committee

Kevin McCray
President, ODP Veterans Committee

For those of us working on the front lines of the criminal justice system, it’s encouraging to hear that the Governor’s newly appointed Justice Reform Steering Committee is once again giving the Justice Reinvestment Initiative the attention it deserves. The initial implementation group, convened in 2012 to develop policies aimed at curbing an estimated $259 million in additional spending needed to fund the Department of Corrections over the coming years, dissolved in a blur of resignations, finger pointing, and accusations hurled at the Governor’s Office which left much of the law undeveloped and unfunded. Although it’s a positive step that the Governor is recommitted to adopting a progressive attitude toward becoming “smart on crime”, years of legislative shortsightedness leaves us little choice beyond decriminalizing certain behaviors or doubling the budget and building more prisons.

More than a decade of “tough on crime” legislation has seen our prison population rise faster than the growth of our general population. While other states were developing progressive policies aimed at reducing crime and recidivism, Oklahoma’s corrections budget was increasing by 30 percent. Currently, the Department of Corrections is at 119% capacity to the tune of $19,000 a year per inmate, and dangerously understaffed. Given the State’s current budget woes, it’s unlikely the Steering Committee and the Legislature can be creative enough to find the revenue necessary to implement the policies needed for the Initiative to fulfill its purpose. However, it remains vitally important for the fiscal health of our State that policies be adopted to give the Initiative substance despite being problematic to fund.

A centerpiece of the Initiative is to reduce the rate of recidivism, or the number of people who return to prison either for reoffending or not complying with the terms and conditions of their release. On any given day, the state’s courthouses spend an inordinate amount of time and money dealing with defendants struggling to cope while on probation. The list of conditions a criminal defendant must comply with or end up back in jail can be overwhelming particularly for someone with addiction issues, undeveloped skills, and limited transportation and employment opportunities. For the Initiative to achieve reductions in recidivism, policies must be developed to address these issues. In addition to providing enhanced substance abuse treatment and services, a major focus of the Steering Committee must be advancing policies that provide job placement opportunities to those routinely excluded because of a criminal record and the use of criminal history screening on job applications.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, referencing a 2010 study by the Society of Human Resource Management, reported that 92% of employers subjected all or some of their job applicants to criminal background checks. Under the Oklahoma Open Records Act, employers may request criminal records, including arrests, for prospective job applicants regardless of the nature of the job. Although the breadth of the information requested by employers varies, there are no restrictions in Oklahoma on the extent to which an employer can delve into the criminal history of a prospective job applicant. Let’s consider this in light of certain facts.

According to the Governor’s 2015 State of the State Address, 1 in 11 Oklahomans have done some time in prison (approximately 380,000 Oklahomans). Nationally, we have a working age population that includes up to 14 million people with felony records, or about 1 in every 15 between the ages of 18 and 64. If you include misdemeanors and arrests, that percentage rises to about 1 in 5. As the number of people being released from U.S. prisons increases every year, the use of criminal history screening by employers is having a negative impact on our economy and the ability of many to reintegrate into the community. Criminal history questions on job applications not only result in excluding someone otherwise qualified from much needed employment, but also discourage someone from filling out an application to begin with. As a consequence, criminal history screening becomes a significant roadblock to reducing recidivism.

Several states that saw reductions in recidivism rates developed strategies within reform initiatives to get people recently released from prison into jobs and working. Kansas instituted policies to connect released individuals to housing and workforce development services. Michigan created a program that not only provided community based housing for parolees, but also subsidized employers who hired them. Absent the investment needed to implement these types of policies however, the Committee must be creative in identifying solutions. One approach, known as a “ban the box” or “fair chance” policy, is a program that removes the stigma of a criminal record from the application process and increases the pool of qualified applicants.

Combined, nearly 100 cities, counties, and states have adopted policies requiring employers to consider the applicant’s qualifications prior to conducting any criminal background check. Some jurisdictions extend this requirement to private contractors doing business with a city. San Francisco expanded its “fair chance” policy to apply not only to city jobs, but also to private employers, vendors and most housing providers. Boston went so far as to list “ex offender status” as a classification protected under the civil rights laws of the city. The EEOC is of the view that an employer’s neutral policy or practice of using criminal history background checks to screen job applicants can disproportionately affect (i.e., have a disparate impact on) groups protected under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Right Act, and communities such as Boston and San Francisco have taken progressive steps to eliminate such discrimination.

Because the arrest and incarceration rates for Hispanic and African American men are two to three times higher than the general population, an employer’s use of an individual’s criminal history in employment decisions may violate Title VII prohibitions against employment discrimination. The EEOC recommends employers eliminate policies that exclude people from employment based on any criminal record. In addition, employer’s should narrowly tailor written policies and procedures that limit criminal history inquiries to records for which the exclusion would be job related for the position in question, and consistent with a business necessity. Most “fair chance” policies are adapted from the EEOC guidelines established to help protect employers against discrimination claims.

Beyond protecting employers, adopting “fair chance” policies will reduce recidivism, increase public safety, and bolster the economy. According to the National Employment Law Project, employment has been shown to be the single most important factor in reducing recidivism. Two years after release from prison, nearly twice as many employed people with criminal records had avoided contact with the law compared to their unemployed counterparts. People formerly incarcerated with one year of employment had a 16% recidivism rate over a three year period as compared to 52% for all those released from the Department of Corrections. Providing employment opportunities to those with criminal records also increases public safety. For instance, a1% drop in the unemployment rate reduces burglary 2%, larceny 1.5%, and auto theft 1%. Finally, adopting a “fair chance” policy is good for the economy. The Economy League of Greater Philadelphia found that putting 100 formerly incarcerated people back to work would increase their lifetime earnings by $55 million, raise their income tax contributions by $1.9 million, and boost sales tax revenues by $770,000.

“Fair chance” policies protect employers from discrimination claims, reduce recidivism, increase public safety, are good for the economy, and don’t cost a dime. Although having a job is not a guarantee that someone released on parole or probation will not reoffend, unemployment predictably provides opportunity and motive to reengage in criminal activity. Access to employment opportunities is critical for those recently released from prison to make the choices necessary to stay out of the criminal justice system. A steady job not only helps to change ones environment and provide financial support, but also instills a sense of self- worth, dignity, and hope for the future. Providing a large segment of the working age population with criminal records the opportunity to compete for jobs based on their qualifications would kick start justice reform in this State. Let’s join the hundreds of other municipalities, counties, and states that have benefited from similar initiatives. Giving someone a fair chance to work is an Oklahoma value on which we can all agree.

Kevin McCray is an attorney working in Oklahoma City, and President of the Oklahoma Democratic Party Veterans Committee.

02 Apr
0

Governor Signs Dues-Collection Legislation Deemed Ambiguous if not Unconstitutional

Governor Signs Dues-Collection Legislation Deemed Ambiguous if not Unconstitutional

Mary_FallinOKLAHOMA CITY – The governor’s signature on a measure that even several Republicans believe is intended to punish Oklahoma teachers was condemned Thursday by Democrats in the state House of Representatives.

House Bill 1749 was signed by the governor and goes into effect Nov. 1.

The bill forbids 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 on or after Nov. 1, 2015, collectively bargains on behalf of its membership.”

Similar legislation was introduced this year in Texas and Pennsylvania. HB 1749 purportedly was patterned after legislation enacted in Wisconsin.

The bill expressly states that the term “state agency” includes public school districts, the State Regents for Higher Education and the “institutions, centers, or other constituent agencies of the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education,” and state Career Technology centers.

“House Democrats are disappointed that Governor Fallin chose to play politics with the lives of our sorely oppressed public school teachers, by signing a patently unconstitutional measure,” said House Democratic Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City. HB 1749 “punishes teachers for standing up for their rights and the interests of the children they teach.”

Rep. David Perryman, D-Chickasha, said HB 1749 is ambiguous, at best, if not unconstitutional.

During House debate on the bill Feb. 18, Rep. Tom Newell, principal author of HB 1749, said the legislation would affect only those organizations “that collectively bargain against the state.”

Inman asked whether police officers and firefighters would be affected by the legislation. No, said Newell, R-Seminole, because, “They bargain collectively at the local level.”

But Perryman said that neither the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), nor the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), nor the Professional Oklahoma Educators (POE), nor the National Education Association, collectively bargains for Oklahoma’s 42,000 teachers. Collective bargaining “is done by the local entity that represents the teachers…”

“There’s zero cost” in the payroll deduction of educators’ dues “because it’s done by computer,” Inman said.

“It’s like a donation to a non-profit entity,” Perryman said.

Newell, though, said that the state withholding enables the OEA to “forego the cost of collecting their dues.” The state government is “subsidizing” teachers’ unions “by being the dues collection system for them.” Any teacher can contribute to a union by arranging an automatic payroll draft at his/her bank, Newell said.

If the Legislature intends to target subsidies, “Let’s be consistent,” said Rep. Eric Proctor, pointing to expensive tax credits issued to wind energy companies, among others.

As for inconsistency, Rep. David Dank pointed out current payroll deductions allowed under state law include 69 entities, not just the OEA.

They include more than two dozen credit unions, banks and savings associations; private insurance organizations for life, accident, and health insurance, private insurance organizations or service companies for legal services such as Pre-Paid Legal, and independent insurance agencies for retirement plans; statewide employee associations such as the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, Oklahoma State Troopers Association, and the Communication Workers of America / Oklahoma State Workers Union; the Correctional Peace Officers Foundation; the Oklahoma College Savings Plan; subscriptions to “Oklahoma Today” magazine; and educational employee organizations upon request by instructional personnel at the state schools for the blind and for the deaf.

“Let’s not be hypocritical,” said Dank. “We’re doing this to punish a group” that opposes charter schools and education vouchers, which are hallmarks of conservative education policy. The Oklahoma City Republican also informed his colleagues that the OEA does more than just lobby lawmakers. For example, when his late wife was a school teacher she secured health insurance through the union, he said.

If the intent of HB 1749 is to discourage lobbying by educators, the oil and gas industry “has more lobbyists in the Capitol than anyone,” said Proctor, D-Tulsa.

HB 1749 exacerbates the “morale problem” that has spread among school teachers because they are constantly “under attack,” said Rep. James Lockhart, D-Heavener.

“This is a thinly disguised and mean-spirited attempt to hinder the ability of teachers across our state to associate,” Perryman asserted on the House floor. The bill is “clearly a slap at educators” because they have “attempted to engage in the political process,” he wrote Friday in an email to an analyst in the state Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES).

Since supporters of HB 1749 believe it is wrong for the state to withhold teacher union dues from their paychecks, then those same legislators should stop having their dental, health and life insurance premiums automatically deducted from their state paychecks, Proctor told his House colleagues. Instead, those legislators should pay their insurance premiums the same way they contend teachers should pay theirs: via automatic bank draft or by personal check or credit card.

HB 1749 cleared the Legislature on a 59-39 vote in the House on Feb. 18 and a 27-16 Senate vote on March 26. Eleven Republicans, including Dank and House Speaker Pro Tempore Lee Denney, R-Cushing, joined 28 House Democrats in opposition to the measure. In the Senate, 11 Republicans joined five Democrats in opposing the measure.

In his response to an inquiry from a senior analyst in the OMES Budget and Policy Division, Perryman urged the governor to veto HB 1749 and listed several reasons why he voted against the bill. Among them:

  • The legislation is “technically flawed because of bad verbiage,” he contended. The bill says it excludes political subdivisions, but in the very next sentence it says schools are state agencies. However, state statutes “clearly define a school district as a political subdivision,” Perryman, an attorney, pointed out. Also, he continued, Article X, Section 26, of the Oklahoma Constitution “makes it abundantly clear that a school district is a political subdivision.”
  • A section of existing state law that “specifically and expressly” requires school districts to make payroll deductions for professional organization dues and political contributions “was not amended nor repealed” by HB 1749 “and therefore remains law.”
  • So long as the State of Oklahoma “allows any automatic deductions from any paycheck for any employee benefit of any nature whatsoever,” the provisions of HB 1749 are “blatantly discriminatory” and violate state and federal constitutional rights of teachers.
  • The “retaliatory intent of the bill is transparent and it should be beneath the dignity of the Office of the Governor of the State of Oklahoma to lower itself to the crass pettiness of the authors of this bill and those senators and representatives who voted for it,” Perryman wrote.

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 MIKE W. RAY

Media Director, Democratic Caucus

Oklahoma House of Representatives

(405) 962-7819 office

(405) 245-4411 mobile

02 Apr
0

Legislation Targets the Scourge of Diabetes

Legislation Targets the Scourge of Diabetes

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Health Care Authority and the State Department of Health would be directed by Senate Bill 250 to collaborate on development of goals for reducing the incidence of diabetes in Oklahoma.

The measure received overwhelming bipartisan support in both houses of the Legislature. The House of Representatives passed the bill, 67-18, on Thursday, and the Senate approved it, 39-4, on March 5.

The bill was supported by 23 House Democrats. They included Reps. Will Fourkiller of Stilwell, Claudia Griffith of Norman and Mike Shelton of Oklahoma City, all of whom are members of the Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Health; Rep. Jeannie McDaniel of Tulsa, a member of the House Committee on Public Health who also co-authored the measure; and House Democratic Leader Scott Inman of Del City.

The goals suggested in SB 250 would include improvements in health care services and prevention services, better procedures to control complications, and statistics, including the financial impact of diabetes and the number of Oklahomans afflicted with the disease. According to the State Health Department:

  • More than 329,000 Oklahomans 18 and older were diagnosed with diabetes in 2012, according to the state Health Department.
  • Oklahoma ranked ninth in the nation in 2012 for the percentage of the adult population diagnosed with diabetes.
  • The percent of the adult population being diagnosed with diabetes has been growing at a faster rate in Oklahoma than in the nation.
  • Nearly one in every four senior citizens (65 years and older) in Oklahoma has been diagnosed with diabetes.
  • Oklahoma’s Native Americans have been diagnosed more frequently, and die from diabetes at the highest rate of any other race or ethnic group in this state. Diagnosis rates include American Indians, 16.4%; African Americans, 12.3%; Caucasians, 11.6%; multiracial individuals, 9.5%; and Hispanic, 7.6%.
  • Diabetes was the seventh-leading cause of death in the nation in 2010, but in Oklahoma it was the sixth-leading cause of death that year.
  • Hospital admissions with diabetes as a primary diagnosis numbered 7,007 in Oklahoma in 2012.
  • During the past decade, hospital admissions for diabetes increased 21%.
  • Oklahoma adults reported the sixth-highest percentage of obesity – a key risk factor for diabetes – in the nation in 2012. The national average was 28.1%; Oklahoma’s rate was 32.2%.
  • Besides the obese citizens, another 35.6% of Oklahoma’s adults reported they were overweight in 2012.
  • One-fourth of all Oklahoma adults did not participate in any leisure-time physical activity in 2012.
  • Adults with lower socioeconomic status reported higher percentages of obesity and less leisure-time physical activity.
  • Oklahoma ranks sixth in the nation for the percentage of adults who are obese, and eighth in the nation for the percentage of adults who forego physical activity.
  • The number of Oklahoma children aged 10-17 who were deemed overweight or obese in 2011-12, based on their body mass index, was estimated at almost 34%.

 

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MIKE W. RAY

Media Director, Democratic Caucus

Oklahoma House of Representatives

(405) 962-7819 office

(405) 245-4411 mobile

31 Mar
0

Legislation Endorsed by House Panel Would Help Veterans, Improve Access to Rural Health Care, Update Dental Statutes

Legislation Endorsed by House Panel Would Help Veterans, Improve Access to Rural Health Care, Update Dental Statutes

OKLAHOMA CITY – A trio of measures to help military veterans, along with legislation to update Oklahoma’s dental statutes and to expand the ability of physician assistants to practice medicine in remote areas, were all endorsed Tuesday by the Democrat members of a state House panel.

The House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Health approved Senate Bills 366, 398, 713, 753 and 781 on unanimous votes. Reps. Claudia Griffith, D-Norman; Will Fourkiller, D-Stilwell; and Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, supported all five bills, which now advance for consideration by the full A&B committee.

  • SB 398 would establish a burial assistance program for indigent military veterans. An amendment the subcommittee adopted would broaden the program to cover the costs of cremation, too.

Shelton voted for the measure, declaring, We should honor our veterans responsibly.” However, the Oklahoma City Democrat said, “There’s already a mechanism” for burying indigent citizens. “It’s the county’s responsibility.”

The provisions of SB 398 might involve perhaps four funerals a year, but the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs has no precise estimate on the number of burials/cremations nor the projected cost, the subcommittee was told.

The bill received a “do pass” recommendation on a 9-0 subcommittee vote.

  • The state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services would be instructed by SB 713 to fund seven “peer-supported, drop-in” centers for military veterans. Each facility would cost an estimated $35,000 to $40,000.

SB 713 would erect “the framework” for establishing the centers and involves no funding.

A drop-in center is euphemistically called “a coffee bunker” and is “a place where veterans can talk, share their concerns, receive job placement and get substance abuse referral,” the subcommittee was informed. A drop-in center in Tulsa accommodates up to 300 veterans a week, the panel was told.

  • SB 366 would create a grant program to help disabled military veterans buy or remodel housing that would be considered “disabled friendly.”

The Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs has $170,000 set aside to provide 170 eligible veterans with $1,000 grants each, ledgers reflect. The intent of SB 366, though, is to provide special housing grants of up to $5,000 per veteran “for the purpose of bearing the costs not borne by the federal government for a specifically designed home for disabled veterans.”

Raising the grant limit to $5,000 would cost an additional $680,000, which is highly unlikely this year since the Legislature is coping with a $611 million shortfall in the Fiscal Year 2015-16 budget.

  • SB 753 would increase the ability of physicians’ assistants to practice medicine in remote areas, by removing limitations of physical supervision. For example, it would allow a physician to provide supervision via telemedicine.
  • SB 781, which the subcommittee embraced unanimously, 9-0, would update the State Dental Act.

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 MIKE W. RAY

Media Director, Democratic Caucus

Oklahoma House of Representatives

(405) 962-7819 office

(405) 245-4411 mobile