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17 Mar
0

Oklahomans Denied Valuable Legislation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 17, 2015

Oklahomans Denied Valuable Legislation

[OKLAHOMA CITY, OK] The beginning of Oklahoma’s 55th Legislative Session has seen many issues appearing in national headlines, but rarely issues that Oklahomans want to see elected officials discussing.

The Oklahoma Legislature has spent countless hours debating items that don’t directly impact or address issues such as the $611 million budget hole, public education funding, poor teacher pay, teacher and school resource shortages, crumbling roads and bridges, criminal justice reform, and prison overcrowding, to name a few.

“The Republican legislature is overly preoccupied with talking about gays, marriage licenses, and attempting to legalize child abuse. Their refusal to deal with issues that Oklahomans are demanding answers for is yet another example of their complete lack of leadership to conduct business and pattern of  bad behavior,” said Wallace Collins, Chair of the Oklahoma Democratic Party.

Oklahoma Democrats attempted to get legitimate legislation moved through this year, but numerous roadblocks by the Republican-led legislature were, once again, thrown up to prevent real progress. Small victories were made; however, sweeping improvements were continuously thwarted.

A few examples of legislation authored by Democrats that failed to make it past the Republican-controlled committees are:

  • HB1831 by Rep. Seneca Scott (D-Tulsa) would have allowed Oklahoma to receive $150 million to underwrite health-care services for Native Americans.
  • HB 1429 by Rep. Jerry McPeak (D-Warner) would have reduced the number of high-stakes tests.
  • HB1345 by Rep. Jason Dunnington (D-Oklahoma City) would have made it illegal for an employer to refuse or terminate employment based on an individual’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
  • HB 1571 by Rep. Cory Williams (D-Stillwater) would have required insurance policies to offer coverage for earthquake damage. According to geologists, Oklahoma experienced 5,418 earthquakes in 2014.
  • SB426 by Sen. Kay Floyd (D-Oklahoma City) would have given a procedure to determine if a piece of legislation could be in violation of the Constitution. Each year, numerous pieces of legislation are challenged in the Supreme Court costing the State millions in revenue.
  • SB87 by Sen. John Sparks (D-Norman) would have provided a cost of living increase for certain state employees.
  • SB651 by Sen. Randy Bass (D-Lawton) would have protected local economies impacted by tourism by requiring that the Department of Tourism and Recreation provide at least 60-days notice when there is to be a significant change in the park service or pending closure of a state park.

Oklahomans want to see meaningful legislation, but the Republican-controlled legislature has demonstrated that they are not interested in addressing the issues that directly affect their constituents and local business. Instead of focusing on the people of Oklahoma, the Republicans have continued with their standard rhetoric and national talking points; all the while, Oklahomans suffer.

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12 Mar
0

Myriad Proposals by Democrats Died Without Ever Receiving a Hearing

Myriad Proposals by Democrats Died Without Ever Receiving a Hearing

 

OKLAHOMA CITY – House Democrats saw a host of their proposals in the areas of health care, energy production, education, politics, insurance, and motor vehicle operations die in Republican-controlled committees this year.

Those measures included proposals to exempt purchases of hearing aids from sales taxes, outright bans on texting while driving, allowing “death with dignity, imposing limits on college tuition increases, establishing barriers between oil/gas wells and nearby homes, raising the minimum wage, and a measure that would have produced perhaps $150 million in federal funds for Native American health care at no cost to the state.

Following is a sampling of the Democratic proposals that died without ever receiving a hearing:

Public Health

  • Sales of hearing aids used by a hearing-impaired individual would be exempt from sales taxes if the devices were prescribed by a state-licensed audiologist or hearing-aid dealer or fitter, under House Bill 1138 by Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa. That measure died in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Revenue and Taxation without ever being discussed.

    It was no surprise that the proposal died on the vine, since the Legislature faces a $611 million budget gap this year. However, the subcommittee chairman, Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, has tried unsuccessfully for seven consecutive years to secure a tax exemption for hearing aids, especially for senior citizens on fixed incomes.

  • A proposed task force to “study senior issues and make recommendations on ways to improve the lives of the increasing number” of senior citizens in Oklahoma wasn’t considered. House Bill 2041 by Rep. George Young, D-Oklahoma City, died in the House Rules Committee.  According to the AARP, more than 530,000 Oklahomans are aged 65 or older, and Social Security is the sole source of income for one-third of them.
  • A “Death With Dignity” measure, House Bill 1673 by Rep. Steve Kouplen, D-Beggs, expired in the Public Health Committee from total neglect. It would have allowed any adult Oklahoman deemed to be mentally “capable” but suffering from a terminal illness to submit a written request for medication “for the purpose of ending his or her life in a humane and dignified manner…”
  • House Bill 1341 by Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, would have made it illegal to smoke in a motor vehicle transporting a child 16 or younger. That proposal was snuffed out in the Alcohol, Tobacco and Controlled Substances Committee. A similar measure – Senate Bill 747 by Sen. Randy Bass, D-Lawton – was spurned by the Senate in a floor vote Tuesday.
  • State employees who are on maternity leave would have been eligible to receive short-term benefits from the Disability Insurance Program administered by the Oklahoma State and Education Employees Group Insurance Board, under House Bill 1850 by Democratic Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City. That bill received no hearing from the State Government Operations Committee.
  • Insurance carriers would have been compelled by House Bill 1336 to provide coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of autistic disorders. “Insurers pay for Viagra but not for autism medications,” said Rep. James Lockhart, D-Heavener, author of the proposal. “That’s nuts. HB 1336 was never considered by the Insurance Committee.
  • Rep. David Perryman wanted to prohibit any caretaker convicted of abuse, verbal abuse, neglect or exploitation, or exploitation of an elderly person or disabled adult, from inheriting from the victim, or receiving any portion whatsoever of the victim’s estate. Nevertheless, his House Bill 1031 died in the Judiciary and Civil Procedure Committee without being discussed.
  • A measure by Rep. Seneca Scott, D-Tulsa, that would have enabled Oklahoma to receive an estimated $150 million to underwrite health-care services for Native Americans died in the House Committee on Public Health without ever receiving a hearing.

    The Oklahoma Health Care Authority would have been authorized by House Bill 1831 to submit a waiver to the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services for care provided in Indian Health Service facilities, Native American health facilities, and Urban Indian Organization health facilities. The waiver would provide payments to those facilities for formerly reimbursable services, “and more generally to cover otherwise uncompensated care.”

State Government

The Republican-dominated House opted to exempt itself from a couple of restrictions the Legislature has imposed on others.

  • House Bill 1038 by Perryman, D-Chickasha, would have banned “robocalls” that solicit funds or support for or opposition to a political candidate, cause or organization. The House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Procedure hung up on the proposal.
  • And Rep. Ben Loring, D-Miami, proposed in House Bill 1049 to include the Legislature and the state judiciary in the definition of a “public body” subject to the state’s Open Records Act. However, that measure died in the House Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability.
  • House Bill 1631 by Rep. Mike Brown, to impose limits on the amount of money that can be transferred from state agency revolving funds to the General Fund, died quietly in the House Committee on Rules. Last year the Republican-controlled Legislature diverted $291 million from 29 revolving funds and savings accounts in order to balance the state budget, Brown, D-Tahlequah, recalled.

Education Issues

  • House Bill 1429 by Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner, would have reduced the number of high-stakes tests that Oklahoma school children are required to take. In addition, high school seniors who have met the graduation requirements mandated by the State Board of Education could receive a diploma, regardless of their scores on an end-of-instruction exam, under procedures that would have been established by HB 1429. The bill died in the Common Education Committee.
  • House Bill 2043 by Young, which would have empaneled a Minority Teacher Recruitment Advisory Committee, died in the House Rules Committee.
  • The amount that a retired school teacher could earn upon returning to a public school classroom, and still qualify for state pension benefits, would be doubled from $15,000 to $30,000 by House Bill 1112 by Rep. Chuck Hoskin, D-Vinita.
  • Similarly, House Bill 1364 by Rep. Claudia Griffith, D-Norman, would have allowed a retired teacher to earn up to $25,000 yet still continue to receive state pension benefits. Both measures died in the Business, Labor and Retirement Laws Committee without ever receiving a hearing.

For the third consecutive year, an eastern Oklahoma legislator filed a measure to “rein in the skyrocketing cost of college tuition.” :

  • House Bill 1334 by Lockhart decrees that no state agency would be allowed to increase “any fee, fine or tuition in the same year the state agency received an increase in funding” from the Legislature. The bill defines a state agency to mean “any constitutionally or statutorily created state board, bureau, commission, office or authority.”

    “The cost of a college degree has gotten out of hand,” Lockhart said. “These young adults are just starting out in life, and usually they start at the bottom of the pay scale in their respective professions. It’s tough to succeed when you’re saddled with student loan debts that are literally the size of a home mortgage.”

    HB 1334 collected dust and died in the House Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability.

Energy Production Setbacks

  • Rep. Ed Cannaday, D-Porum, introduced legislation to impose setbacks on oil/gas wells drilled near homes or domestic wells.

    House Bill 1107 would have prohibited the wellbore of a vertically or horizontally drilled oil or gas well within a radius of 500 feet from “any occupied structure” or 300 feet of “any producing freshwater well.” It would have prohibited a “fracked” well from being established within a radius of 2,000 feet of any occupied structure or any producing freshwater wells.

    It also would have prohibited siting an oil or brine storage tank, or compressors, heaters, separators, etc., within a radius of 100 feet of any occupied structure.

    HB 1107 died in the Environmental Law Committee without ever being debated.

    Under existing state law, there is no minimum distance for drilling equipment or energy production wells to be set back from any habitable structure.

    However, state law requires structures to be sited a minimum distance from any drilling operation: no closer than 125 feet of the wellbore of an active well, or 50 feet from the center of any surface equipment necessary for the operation of an active well, including oil storage and brine storage tanks.

Insurance

  • House Bill 1571 by Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater, would require all new or renewed residential property insurance policies to offer coverage “for loss caused by the peril of earthquake.” The coverage would be optional, but carriers would be compelled to notify their customers of its availability. That bill died in the Insurance Committee without ever being discussed.

    State and federal geologists counted 5,418 earthquakes throughout Oklahoma last year, ranging in intensity from barely perceptible by seismographs to a magnitude-4.2, Oklahoma Geological Survey data show.

    A record 567 of those ’quakes registered magnitude-3 or greater. In comparison, U.S. Geological Survey data reflect that Oklahoma experienced an average of fewer than two magnitude-3 ’quakes per year for 30 years, from 1978 through 2008.

  • Mandatory minimum vehicle liability coverage for property damage in car wrecks would have been raised from $25,000 to $35,000 in House Bill 1671, by Brown. The bill died in the Insurance Committee without receiving a hearing.

Texting-While-Driving

  • In House Bill 1136, McDaniel proposed to outlaw a motorist’s use of a cellular telephone or other electronic communication device to “write, send, or read a text-based communication” – texting, emailing or instant messaging – while the vehicle is in motion.

    A related measure, House Bill 1009 by Perryman, would have made it unlawful for any person to operate a motor vehicle on any public street or highway of this state while using a cellular telephone or electronic communication device “to compose, send or read a text-based communication while the motor vehicle is in motion.”

    Both bills (HB 1136 and HB 1009) died in the Public Safety Committee.

    Instead, the House passed House Bill 1965. Under current state law, texting while driving is not a primary offense. A law enforcement officer cannot pull over and ticket a driver for texting while driving unless the motorist is speeding, driving recklessly such as weaving across lanes, or has a wreck.

    That would not be changed by HB 1965. The bill decrees that enforcement of the proposed new statute “must be accomplished only as a secondary action when an operator of a motor vehicle has been detained for a suspected violation of another traffic law…”

Campaign Contributions

  • Legislation that would have given shareholders control over political contributions from corporations died in the Business, Labor and Retirement Laws Committee. House Bill 1056, the “Shareholders Bill of Rights Act,” would have allowed shareholders to control corporate political donations in Oklahoma.

    “If campaign and ethics laws cannot limit the amount of money that a corporation can pour into a political campaign, then its shareholders should be able to,” asserted Perryman, author of the measure. “After all, the money in a corporate treasury belongs to the shareholders.”

Energy Conservation

  • An energy conservation measure projected to save state taxpayers $100 million over the next decade was shelved. House Bill 1340 by Dunnington would have expanded an energy conservation program that has saved millions of dollars in utility bills at state-owned properties by implementing comprehensive energy-saving plans. HB 1340 would extend the same program to public school buildings, and thus has the potential to return millions of dollars to classrooms via “smart energy” policies.

Minimum Wage Measures

  • At least three proposals designed to raise the minimum wage in Oklahoma have been derailed this year by House Republicans.

    Dunnington’s House Bill 1343 would have repealed the statute which the GOP-dominated Legislature approved last year, forbidding any municipality from establishing a minimum wage rate that an employer would be required to pay his/her employees. As a matter of public policy “and due to an overriding state interest,” Senate Bill 1023 declared, the Legislature “pre-empts the entire field of legislation in this state touching in any way” the mandated minimum wage.

    HB 1343 was suffocated in the Economic Development, Commerce, and Real Estate Committee.

    So was Dunnington’s House Bill 1344, which proposed to raise the minimum wage in Oklahoma from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour.

    In addition, an amendment to House Bill 1375, proposed by Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, to raise the minimum wage in Oklahoma over the next three years to $10 per hour, was overwhelmingly spurned by House Republicans on March 2.

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MIKE W. RAY

Media Director, Democratic Caucus

Oklahoma House of Representatives

(405) 962-7819 office

(405) 245-4411 mobile

12 Mar
0

Florida Congressman Alcee Hastings Addresses Oklahoma Democrats

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 11, 2015

Florida Congressman Alcee Hastings Addresses Oklahoma Democrats

16601934409_1778e20107_q[March 11, 2015, OKLAHOMA CITY, OK] On Tuesday, March 10th, Congressman Alcee Hastings, Democrat from Florida’s 20th District, addressed a full room during a mid-afternoon event at the Oklahoma Democratic Party headquarters.

Congressman Hastings spoke on key Democratic issues such as the importance for a fair minimum wage, the need for a sustainable economy, and the obligation for states to provide adequate care for their citizens by expanding Medicaid. Hastings also stressed the obligation to get involved, “Democrats, you stand up for the values that made this country. We should have a candidate for every single race where there is a candidate that has different views than you.”

The key highlight, however, was the urgency to put education at the top of the priority list. Hastings, a champion for early childhood education, stressed that children that have access to programs like Head Start are more likely to become productive members of society as adults. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, over 2.3% of the entire African-American population is incarcerated, but the African-American Congressman pointed out that more than 90% of African-American boys that complete the Head Start program are never incarcerated.

“It was such an honor to have the opportunity to hear from Congressman Hastings. His talking points rang true to our base which is comprised of the working people in this state. The middle class is constantly under attack from Republican members of the legislature through efforts that would take away defined benefits from retirement packages or banning local municipalities from raising their own minimum wages. Congressman Hastings reminds us that the Democratic Party is here to serve as a voice for those who do not have one at the Capitol under Republican leadership,” said David Scott, Interim Executive Director of the Oklahoma Democratic Party.

The mission of the Oklahoma Democratic Party is to elect good Democrats to public office at all levels of government. Democratic organizational meetings begin this week with precinct meetings on March 12th, followed by County Conventions on April 11th, and then Congressional district meetings and State Convention in May. For more information about the Oklahoma Democratic Party please visit www.okdlive.wpengine.com, facebook.com/okdemocrats, or by calling (405) 427-3366.

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04 Mar
0

Abuse of Power

February 26, 2015 was the deadline for reporting Senate bills from committee in the Senate but that didn’t stop Sen. Nathan Dahm from introducing Senate Bill 829, a new piece of legislation, at the last minute. According to the Senate Rules, you’ll see that on page 14 in section 6-23 there is a provision to allow committees to “author” measures:

RULE 6-23. COMMITTEE AUTHORSHIP OF BILLS

A member who introduces legislation after the deadlines established in Rule 6-22 may file the legislation and upon assignment by the Majority Floor Leader to committee may ask the committee Chair to allow for the measure to be heard as a measure authored by the committee. Upon majority vote of the committee, the authorship of the measure shall be transferred to the committee from the individual Senator and the deadlines established in Rule 6-22 shall not be applicable. In the event a measure is dually assigned, each committee Chair and committee must agree to assume authorship for the deadlines to not apply.

So what committee was SB 829 assigned to? The Senate General Government Committee, chaired by none other than Senator Dahm himself. In a perfect world the author has to convince not only the chair of a committee but the majority of the committee as well. But this isn’t a perfect world and he simply had to convince himself to allow it. That must have been tough.

And what would this piece of legislation do? Further dilutes the powers of the legislative branch – the branch closest to the people as provided in our Constitution – and gives the Governor “sweeping new powers.” SB 829 fires the following people, effective January 1, 2016, and would give authority directly to the Governor in appointing new people in their place:

  1. The Executive Director appointed by the Oklahoma State Board of Podiatric Medical Examiners;
  2. The Executive Director appointed by the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry;
  3. The Executive Director appointed by the State Board of Pharmacy;
  4. The Executive Director appointed by the State Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision;
  5. The Executive Director appointed by the State Board of Osteopathic Examiners;
  6. The Executive Director appointed by the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners;
  7. The Chief Operating Officer appointed by the Board of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority;
  8. The Commissioner of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services appointed by the Board of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services;
  9. The Commissioner of Health appointed by the State Board of Health; and
  10. The Executive Director appointed by the Office of Juvenile Affairs.

When asked about this piece of legislation Sen. Dahm said he “selected the ten agencies because the executive director of each one has access to a state prescription drug database.” Although Governor Fallin supposedly did not request this bill, she is generally supports bills that giver her more power. We’re all shocked.

Shouldn’t we all fear that these appointments would become less about competency and more about political aspirations and reciprocity? Yes we should. What would stop Governor Fallin from appointing her campaign supporters to these positions?

Do you think Sen. Dahm would be proposing this legislation if the Governor were a Democrat, say Brad Henry or Joe Dorman? Unequivocally no.

As a reminder, in Fallin’s first term she pushed for changes to giver her more power over certain agencies; one of those was the State Board of Education and look where that got us.

Sen. Dahm said that he “likely” won’t seek to bring this issue to the Senate floor this year but the freshman legislator seems unable to follow the rules so why should we believe him?

What can you do?

Call or write your Senator and tell him/her to VOTE NO on SB 829 should it come to the Senate floor. Don’t know who your Senator is or how to contact them? Find out here: http://www.oksenate.gov/FindMyLegislature.aspx

 

04 Mar
0

School Sexual Assault Education/Prevention Measure OK’d by House

OKLAHOMA CITY (March 4, 2015) — The state House of Representatives on Tuesday passed House Bill 1362, legislation to provide sexual assault prevention and response training to public school teachers and staff. The vote was 95-1.

“We need to do everything in our power to make sure that our students are taught in a safe and sound environment,” said Rep. Claudia Griffith, D-Norman, author of the bill. “This bill will give school districts the opportunity to create their own programs to give their teachers, staff, and administrators the training to correctly prevent and respond to acts of sexual assault.”

HB 1362 amends the Safe School Committee provisions to include training for programs that may be implemented at the school site that would inform students and school staff on the appropriate emotional response and victim support needs and treatment following a rape or sexual assault incident that occurs at school or involves a student.

“Four months ago we had an incident in Norman schools where a student was charged with assaulting three young women,” Griffith said. “Two weeks ago three teens were arrested in connection with a sexual assault at Westmoore High School. This is a problem in our schools and we need to give teachers and other staff the tools to handle these situations. As a nurse, I know how hard it is to treat a victim of rape and I know the training needed to help those victims emotionally as a first responder.”

The assaults in Norman sparked a movement among students, parents, teachers, and community members called YES All Daughters. They advocate for all victims of sexual violence and bullying and aim to raise funds to start a non-profit organization for their advocacy efforts.

“Today is another step forward in the fight against sexual assault in Oklahoma,” said Stacey Wright, organizer of YES All Daughters. “We hope HB 1362 will continue this trajectory and move swiftly through the Senate and on to being signed into law by Governor Fallin. Oklahoma House legislators showed us today that our children’s health and safety is a priority in our state. We thank Claudia Griffith and all those who voted for this important legislation today, as well as all those who stand with YES All Daughters against sexual violence.”

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

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