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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

27 Jan
0

RELEASE: House Democratic Leader Discusses Education Issues

House Democratic Leader Discusses Education Issues,
Taxes, Politics, Health Care, Criminal Justice Reform
During First ‘Newsmakers’ Program of 2017

OKLAHOMA CITY (27 January 2017) – When it convenes to begin work on Feb. 6, the state Legislature will be confronted with yet another massive budget shortfall.

The combination of persistent revenue shortages and constant budget cuts dominated the first “Newsmakers” program of 2017, which was moderated by Arnold Hamilton and featured state Rep. Scott Inman. Hamilton is the owner/publisher of the Oklahoma Observer, and Inman, D-Del City, is the Minority Leader in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. The event was held Thursday evening at Full Circle Bookstore.

This year’s legislative session will be “all about money,” Hamilton predicted, and asked Inman, “Success or failure of this session depends on what?”

The last six to eight years “have been some really challenging times” in Oklahoma, Inman replied. During his first term in the Legislature (2007-08), he said “We had a billion-dollar surplus.” In contrast, 2017 will be the third consecutive year the state has experienced a severe budget shortage: at least $868 million this year (and perhaps as much as $960 million or more), $1.3 billion last year, and $611 million in 2015.

“The single greatest issue is whether we can pay our bills,” Inman said. Oklahoma “for the last six to eight years has not paid its bills.”

The Republican-controlled Legislature has chipped away at agency budgets in recent years.

As an illustration, the state Department of Veterans Affairs has been cut by about 23%, Inman said. Core services of state government have been “decimated,” he said. More than half of all appropriated state agencies – 39 of 73 – have experienced budget cuts of 20% or more since FY 2009.
Education Budgets Slashed

Even though virtually everyone agrees that a well-educated workforce is essential to sustain a prosperous economy, public schools in Oklahoma have been cut by 23.6%, more than any other state in the nation. Last year the Legislature reduced Higher Education’s budget by almost 17%, and Career and Technology Education was cut by 12.5%.

The budget of the State Department of Education has been reduced in four of the last nine years. The agency’s $2.426 billion appropriation for FY 2017 is $105 million less than the $2.531 billion the agency was appropriated nine years ago, in 2009, House Fiscal Division ledgers reflect.

Meanwhile, enrollment in public schools has grown by 48,000 students over the last eight years: from 644,754 in school year 2008-09 to 692,670 in school year 2015-16, an average increase of 6,000 students per year during that period. Conversely, per-pupil expenditures have declined 8.6% since 2010 relative to increasing enrollment, records show.

When Hamilton asked whether a teacher pay raise is conceivable this year, Inman answered, “I think there’s a chance for a $1,000 pay raise, but the devil is in the details.” With a budget hole approaching $1 billion, the likelihood of a significant pay raise is “pretty slim.”
School Administration Expenditures Limited by Law

Hamilton mentioned the contradiction between the Republican mantra of “local control” and GOP efforts to limit salaries of school superintendents across the state and to force smaller school districts to consolidate.

Compulsory consolidation of school districts is a political ‘third rail’, Inman observed. He also pointed out that school districts are limited by law on the amount they can devote to administration, including principals as well as the superintendent. Districts with fewer than 500 students are capped at 8% of the total school budget; schools with 501 to 1,500 students are limited to 7%; and administrative expenses in districts with 1,500+ students are capped at 5%.

“What’s offensive is trying to take that decision away from the local school board,” Inman asserted.

When asked about the status of school vouchers and school choice proposals, Inman said, “I think we still have the votes to defeat that, but each year we get closer” to its passage.
Even GOP Now Concedes ‘We Have a Revenue Problem’

Gov. Mary Fallin and her Republican colleagues insisted for years that Oklahoma had “a spending problem,” Inman pointed out. Last year, though, she and her top executives conceded that “we have a revenue problem.”

“We have a structural budget deficit problem,” Republican State Treasurer Ken Miller said Thursday during the fourth annual budget summit sponsored by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. And David Blatt, executive director of the institute, projected that by 2030 the state budget deficit will soar to $2 billion “based on current policies.”

The GOP’s solutions last year for plugging the $1.3 billion budget gap, Inman recalled, included forcing all Oklahoma motor vehicle owner to buy a new license plate, which will produce $18.5 million, and cutting the earned income tax credit claimed by low-income working citizens, which will save the state treasury $29 million and will cost low-income working mothers an average of approximately $230 per year. “That was sinful, immoral,” Inman declared.

Meanwhile, the Republicans adamantly refused to delay or repeal the latest state income-tax cut, which carved $150 million more annually from the state treasury. Repeated cuts to the income tax – from 7% down to 5% – have sheared $1 billion out of the state treasury.

The Republicans also have spurned efforts to index the gross production tax to the market price of oil, which would increase the levy as crude oil prices rise and lower the tax when the price of oil declines.
Financing Government Via Fees and Debts, Not Taxes

Instead, the GOP continues to balance the state budget “on the backs of poor folks and retirees,” from one-time sources of revenue such as agency fines and fees, and with “a credit card,” Inman charged.

Last year, for example, Republican legislators approved $200 million worth of bonds for transportation improvements, which freed up cash that was used for other needs but created a long-term debt. More of the same is anticipated this year, Inman said ruefully.

In a related matter, Inman was asked about the impact of State Question 640, which voters statewide endorsed in a March 1992 special election. The constitutional amendment requires any state tax increase to be approved by either a statewide vote of the people, or by approval of three-fourths of both the House of Representatives (76 of the 101 members) and the Senate (36 of the 48 members).

No major tax increase has been enacted in Oklahoma in the nearly 25 years since SQ 640 was adopted, and Inman told the questioner that there’s “not enough sentiment” to repeal the stricture.
Health Care in Oklahoma is Precarious

Turning to the subject of health care, Inman was queried about the possibility that a cigarette tax increase will be resurrected this year.

House Democrats supported the proposed $1.50 per pack increase last year so long as it was directly tied to expansion of the state Medicaid program that serves low-income citizens.

Health care is critical in this state. Since 2011, nine Oklahoma hospitals have filed for bankruptcy, two have closed down, and two provide physician/diagnostic services only but no in-patient care nor emergency room services, according to Rick Snyder of the Oklahoma Hospital Association.

Just when it appeared that an agreement was about to be reached last year on the cigarette tax, former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn and the right-wing Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs expressed their opposition. Subsequently, Republican legislators shifted tactics and proposed boosting the tobacco tax but depositing the extra money in the state’s General Revenue Fund. As a result, House Democrats locked up against the proposed tax hike and it died.

Inman said he told Fallin, who refused to expand Oklahoma’s Medicaid program, “We’re here not because cigarettes are too cheap but because too many Oklahomans are uninsured.”

Criminal Justice Reforms Approved
O
n another matter, Inman said that although Fallin almost certainly will claim criminal justice reform as a signature achievement during her tenure in the Governor’s Office, it was House Democrats, not Republicans, who “pushed it across the finish line.”

Although the Legislature passed, and voters statewide endorsed, a package of reform measures last year, the changes are not retroactive, which explains why Oklahoma’s prisons are “chock full” today, Inman explained. He told the audience that Republican Gov. Frank Keating was the driving force behind enactment of legislation that requires certain criminals to serve 85% of their prison sentences before they can be considered eligible for parole. As a direct result, Oklahoma became “tough on crime” rather than “smart on crime,” Inman said.

Term Limits Here to Stay,
2018 Gubernatorial Election Eyed

In response to another question, Inman said there’s little chance that 12-year legislative term limits will be repealed any time soon, if ever. Term limits, which Oklahoma voters imposed by constitutional amendment in 1990, have cost the Legislature “institutional memory” and have increased the power of lobbyists and staff members. In addition, because they’re term-limited, legislators are not held accountable for the laws they propose and pass, Inman said. “It’s a horrible system.”

When asked about the national political scene and whether he intends to run for Governor in 2018, Inman said that Donald Trump “may be the greatest thing that’s happened to the Oklahoma Democratic Party in a long time.”

He noted that Republican Frank Keating was elected governor two years after Bill Clinton was elected president; Democrat Brad Henry was elected governor two years after George W. Bush became president; and Republican Mary Fallin was elected two years after Barack Obama was first elected president.

“I spent the better part of the last year traveling around the state,” talking to voters and political figures, Inman said. He said he’s “giving it strong consideration” and expects to make a decision “within a few months.”
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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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