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01 Feb
0

RELEASE: House Bill Proposes Minimal Paid Sick Leave for All Workers

House Bill Proposes Minimal Paid Sick Leave for All Workers

OKLAHOMA CITY (1 February 2017) – A measure by which all workers in Oklahoma would accrue up to at least one week of earned paid sick leave annually has been filed in the state House of Representatives.

House Bill 1310 by Rep. Collin Walke would enact the “Healthy Families and Workplaces Act.”

It proposes that all employees, private- and public-sector alike, accrue a minimum of one hour of earned paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, but no more than 40 hours per year “unless the employer selects a higher limit.”

A requirement of this nature is needed because many Oklahomans, particularly in low-paying jobs, have no paid time-off for illness or emergencies, Walke said Wednesday.

Four in 10 private-sector workers are not accorded paid sick leave, and seven in 10 low-wage workers whose earnings are in the bottom 25% of earners lack access to paid sick time, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Among those employed in the accommodation and food service industries, 75% must choose between losing pay or showing up to work sick and/or leaving a sick child at home alone, the DOL says.

“Studies show that individuals who are paid for time off to seek medical care, including preventive medical care, are more productive and actually save employers money,” said Walke, D-Oklahoma City. Requiring an employee who’s sick from a cold or the flu, or some other contagious illness, to come to work jeopardizes the health of other employees and customers, which is counterproductive, the first-term legislator said.

HB 1310 specifies that an employee could use the paid leave for several health-related reasons, including treatment of a physical or mental illness, injury or health condition; a worker’s “need for preventive medical care”; taking care of a family member who’s ill or injured; or to attend a meeting at a location where a child is receiving care for a health condition, disability or some other critical matter.

Another justifiable reason would be absence “necessary due to domestic violence, sexual assault, harassment or stalking,” to enable the employee or a family member to receive medical attention, aid from a victim services organization, psychological or other counseling, relocation or “taking steps to secure an existing home” or securing civil/criminal legal services due to domestic violence, sexual assault, harassment or stalking.

Walke’s bill includes a proviso that if/when an employee needed three or more consecutive days off, the employer could require “reasonable documentation” that the paid sick leave was used for a legitimate reason.

Any employer that offers a paid leave policy and “makes available an amount of paid leave sufficient to meet” the requirements of HB 1310 would not be required to “provide additional paid sick time,” the bill stipulates.

Employees who are exempt from overtime requirements pursuant to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act “shall be assumed to work 40 hours in each work week” unless their normal work week is less than 40 hours, in which case earned paid sick leave would accrue according to their shorter schedule.

An employer’s “absence-control policy” would not be allowed to count used paid sick leave as an excuse to discipline, discharge, demote or suspend an employee nor take any other “adverse action” against the worker, HB 1310 decrees.

No employer would be required to provide financial compensation to any employee who is fired or resigns or retires and has any unused sick leave.

The proposal will be among 1,340 House bills that will be considered when the Legislature convenes in earnest Feb. 6 to start its four-month regular annual session.

There is no federal legal requirement for an employer to provide paid sick leave, the U.S. Department of Labor acknowledges. However, “Evidence is mounting that providing workers with time off when they or their family members are ill reaps enormous benefits,” the agency contends.

Employers that offer paid sick time know that this benefit “improve[s] worker morale and productivity, attract[s] talented employees, and reduce[s] costly turnover,” the DOL reports. In addition, paid sick-time policies “help prevent the spread of contagious illness to co-workers and customers, allow workers to get preventive care, and curb unnecessary and costly emergency-room visits” by allowing employees to seek medical attention during regular business hours.

Paid sick leave is “a basic building block of family economic security,” which benefits the entire economy, the DOL maintains.

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

01 Feb
0

STATEMENT: DNC Statement on Black History Month

For Immediate Release
February 1, 2017

Contact: DNC Press – 202-863-8148

DNC Statement on Black History Month

WASHINGTON – DNC Interim Chair Donna Brazile and DNC Black Caucus Chair Virgie Rollins issued the following statement:

“This Black History Month we honor the heroes of our shared past and recommit ourselves to the ongoing fight against discrimination and racial inequality. From the brutal shackles of slavery to the profound achievements of President Barack Obama, ours is a story of both tears and triumph.

“We celebrate history’s great champions of the Civil Rights movement – extraordinary leaders like Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks. We recall those who broke barriers and earned a seat at the table of power, like Senator Hiram Revels, the first African American to serve in Congress, Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress, and Carol Moseley Braun, the first Black woman elected to the Senate. And we fight shoulder to shoulder alongside living legends like Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton who was arrested for leading sit-ins as a young organizer in the South, and Rep. John Lewis who marched peacefully across the Edmund Pettus Bridge as a young activist toward a blockade of club-wielding men.

“These heroes paved the way for countless other great thinkers, innovators, inventors, athletes, artists and entrepreneurs whose contributions to our nation are unquantifiable, and who will continue to shape our shared future.

“Black History Month is also a time to remember all the ordinary Americans that the towering heroes of our past represent. We remember the many victims of violence and brutality, we remember that Black lives matter, and we honor all the nameless, faceless citizens whose personal stories would tell us that the struggle for economic and racial justice continues. That’s why it is our sacred responsibility to pick up the torch and fight alongside today’s champions of justice for good jobs, a living wage, greater access to decent health care, and not least of all, better schools.

“In fact, the central theme of this year’s Black History Month is ‘The Crisis in Black Education.’ In too many districts across the country, and especially in predominantly minority communities, schools still lack the resources needed to close the racial achievement gap. Tragically, that gap has barely narrowed over the past 50 years. So let us work together to harness the great equalizing power of education, reignite the spirit of the Civil Rights movement, and march forward together to build a brighter future for all of our children, no matter their zip code, no matter their race, color or creed.”

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31 Jan
0

Black History Month 2017

The month of February is designated as Black History Month to celebrate and recognize the role of African-Americans in United States’ history. Every year a new theme is chosen to represent that month’s main focus. The Crisis in Black Education is 2017’s theme, addressing the important role of education in the history of African-Americans.

Black History Month evolved from the 1926 Negro History Week in which Carter Woodson who founded the Journal of Negro History and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, created. The second week of February was chosen because Black communities across the United States, had already been celebrating Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglas’s birthdays for years.

Kent State’s Black United Students proposed extending Black History Week to Black History Month in 1969 and celebrated in the month of February in 1970. Black History Month was officially recognized by President Gerald Ford in 1976, coinciding with the Bicentennial.

Resources – Oklahoma Black History Month Events:

List updated 1/31/17

31 Jan
0

RELEASE: House Bills Would Prohibit Jail for Inability to Pay Fines

House Bills Would Prohibit Jail for Inability to Pay Fines,
Seal Arrest Records of Victims of Mistaken Identity

OKLAHOMA CITY (31 January 2017) – No Oklahoman should be jailed for inability to pay a debt, and arrest records of anyone jailed “as a result of mistaken identity” should be sealed, a state legislator believes.

House Bill 1476 by Rep. George E. Young, Sr., declares that, “It is the policy of this state that no person shall be incarcerated for debt,” including a fine, cost, fee or assessment, that he/she is incapable of paying.

Debtors’ prisons were banned by federal law in 1833, and by U.S. Supreme Court decrees in 1970, 1971 and 1983. Nevertheless, many Oklahomans are behind bars today simply because they cannot afford to pay their fines and/or court fees, Young said.

For many of those people, the accumulated fines and fees http://oklahomawatch.org/2015/01/31/list-journey-into-debt/ amount to several thousand dollars, an Oklahoma Watch investigation showed.

At Hearing, Views Vary on Rising Tide of Court Fines and Fees

“A lot of Oklahomans who are in jail are there because they were unable to pay some fee or fine,” Young said. “That is not what the record says; they are probably there for some violation connected to the cases.”

Another reason, he said, “is that the judiciary has been forced into making their budgetary needs meet their expenses on the backs of those who are least able to afford to pay. The Legislature has some blame in this, by failing to give our judicial system the funds it needs to operate. In the midst of our current budget deficit, we have to start somewhere, and a good place is to encourage all of our citizens to be part of the solution instead of forcing them to be part of the problem.”

Young, D-Oklahoma City, also filed House Bill 1479 to expunge arrest records of anyone jailed due to mistaken identity.

The bill defines “mistaken identity” as “the erroneous arrest of a person for a crime as a result of misidentification by a witness or law enforcement, confusion on the part of a witness or law enforcement as to the identity of the person who committed the crime, misinformation provided to law enforcement as to the identity of the person who committed the crime, or some other mistake on the part of a witness or law enforcement as to the identity of the person who committed the crime.”

The bill also defines “expungement” to mean sealing the aggrieved person’s criminal records “as well as any public civil record” arising from the “arrest, transaction or occurrence” blamed on mistaken identity.

Young’s measures are among 1,340 House bills that will be considered when the four-month annual legislative session starts in earnest on Feb. 6.

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

30 Jan
0

RELEASE: Legislation to Restore Tax Credit Would Benefit

Legislation to Restore Tax Credit Would Benefit
Approximately 220,000 Families Statewide

OKLAHOMA CITY (30 January 2017) – A measure has been filed to restore a provision that the Legislature deleted from the earned income tax credit last year to help plug a $1.3 billion state budget deficit.

House Bill 1474 was introduced by Rep. George E. Young, Sr., to counter the adverse effects of Senate Bill 1604 enacted last year.

The Oklahoma EITC previously was “refundable,” which meant that families received the full value of the tax credit even if it exceeded their income-tax liability. “Refundability is critical to the success of the EITC because it allows the credit to reward work and support families even if workers have small state income-tax bills,” the Oklahoma Policy Institute reported.

SB 1604 eliminated the refundability feature, effective with the 2016 tax year, and thereby will increase state income tax collections by an estimated $29 million.

SB 1604 reduced or eliminated the benefit for nearly two-thirds of the 334,000 Oklahoma families who claim the tax credit, and thus slashed its value for working families by almost three-quarters. More than 5,400 of those families live in Representative Young’s legislative district.

Oklahoma’s earned income tax credit is equal to 5% of the federal EITC. The maximum tax credit for a family with two children has been $277; for a family with three children, $312. The credit is designed to encourage work by supplementing earned income from lower-wage jobs.

The state’s EITC was created in 2000 during the administration of Republican Gov. Frank Keating, and had enjoyed bipartisan support as a means of keeping working families out of poverty.

However, because of SB 1604, a single mother with two children and working full-time at $10 an hour will experience a tax increase of $231, and a married couple with three children and earning $20,800 a year will realize a tax hike of $313, the Oklahoma Policy Institute calculated. The average loss will be $91 per family, according to an analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

Young said SB 1604 had a detrimental effect in multiple ways on his House District 99, which stretches from northeastern to northwestern Oklahoma City.

District 99 receives the largest state EITC benefit payments: $737,600 in 2013 (the latest year for which data is available).

The district has the greatest number of families receiving the EITC: 5,487 in 2013.

81% of the EITC recipients in House District 99 are “families raising children,” Young said.

The financial loss to the district attributed to enactment of SB 1604 is more than half a million dollars; the benefit in 2013 was $545,182, ledgers reflect, “the largest EITC amount of any legislative district in this state,” Young said.

“Why this burden should be placed on the people of my district – where the very benefit of this credit has been doing the most good – is beyond any sensible reasoning.”

The Earned Income Tax Credit can be claimed only by people who have earned income – that is, employment income from a job. They pay income taxes through payroll deduction. The credit helps low-wage workers avoid paying a disproportionate percentage of their income in taxes and is the single most effective “program” to lift people out of poverty, Young said.

Athough EITC recipients don’t owe additional taxes at the end of the year, payroll taxes are withheld from their paychecks throughout the year, he added.

The EITC was created with bipartisan support from Republicans and Democrats alike “to encourage working families struggling in low-income jobs,” Young said. Its purpose, in part, was to help working families climb out of poverty, he said.

EITC recipients pay their “fair share,” Young emphasized. They pay income taxes and sales taxes, and many pay property taxes, too. The people who qualify for the earned income tax credit pay a higher percentage of their annual income in taxes than do the wealthy, 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

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