Blog

25 Mar
1

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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24 Mar
0

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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23 Mar
0

‘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

23 Mar
1

Republicans’ Attempt to Punish Retired Employees Thwarted by House Democrats

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Republicans’ Attempt to Punish Retired Employees Thwarted by House Democrats

Rep. Seneca Scott (D-Tulsa)

Rep. Seneca Scott (D-Tulsa)

[OKLAHOMA CITY, OK, MARCH 23, 2015] Republicans once again attempted to punish retired state employees by proposing House Bill 1711, authored by Rep. Glen Mulready (R-Tulsa).

Currently the Oklahoma Employees Insurance and Benefits Board sets the monthly premiums for active and retired state employees; however, under HB 1711, this oversight would have been eliminated and consequences would include increased health insurance premiums by as much as $300 per month per person.

House Democrats, Reps. Seneca Scott (D-Tulsa) and Johnny Tadlock (D-Idabel) led the effort to keep this legislation from becoming a reality. “This is another example of the continual effort on behalf of Republicans to change to a defined benefit system, a system that has little proof of success in other states when utilized for this demographic,” said Scott. “Since being elected in 2008 I have fought alongside Democrats to protect retired Oklahoma employees and will continue to do so for as long as the people of District 72 will allow.” Scott is term-limited in 2020.

Rep. Johnny Tadlock (D-Idabel)

Rep. Johnny Tadlock (D-Idabel)

Tadlock, a freshman Democrat, expressed frustration by saying, “Retired state employees haven’t seen a cost-of-living adjustment in years and are already expected to do so much with so little. I will not stand by and allow this legislature to impose even more expenses on our retirees. If we could provide a fair cost of living adjustment that takes premium increases like this into account, then fine, but that’s not something the Republicans are willing to do.”

“Oklahoma is behind practically every other state in the country on education funding and teacher pay. Young teachers look at what they would get at the end and are already discouraged. Why would we want to add insult to injury?” stated Tadlock.

Scott summed it all up by saying, “It should be the responsibility of the legislature to protect working Oklahomans. I and fellow democrats are committed to doing everything we can to protect state employees, even into retirement.”

The Oklahoma Public Employees Association and the American Federation of Teachers also made efforts to block this legislation which would directly affect their memberships.

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20 Mar
0

Income Tax Exemption for School Teachers Proposed by Rep. David Perryman

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: State Rep. David Perryman

Capitol: (405) 557-7401

 Income Tax Exemption for School Teachers Proposed by Rep. David Perryman

Perryman, DavidOKLAHOMA CITY – Incentives are provided in Oklahoma to encourage doctors to practice in rural areas, Tinker Air Force Base sponsors a high-tech educational incentive program that promotes science and engineering, and a measure introduced in the Legislature this year would authorize a tax exclusion for anyone from another state who moves to any Oklahoma County experiencing a population decline.

State Rep. David Perryman contends the state should provide school teachers with a financial incentive to remain in Oklahoma even though surrounding states offer more money.

The Chickasha Democrat has proposed an amendment to Senate Bill 20 that would exempt from state income taxes the first $40,000 in salary earned by any teacher “employed in an instructional capacity by a public school district located within this state…”

“Everyone at the State Capitol gives lip service to the claim that they are going to give classroom teachers a raise, but unfortunately it just never gets done,” Perryman said. “Frankly, it makes a good sound bite, but as soon as the cameras are turned off, it becomes evident that lip service is all that they want to give. This proposal is a genuine attempt to help classroom teachers. If we cannot afford raises, then we should provide income tax relief to teachers throughout the state. It would be a fair, across-the-board benefit.”

Oklahoma has approximately 42,000 classroom and resource (special ed) teachers, records indicate.

SB 20, which pertains to certification of educators from other states to teach in Oklahoma schools, passed the Senate in a unanimous vote Feb. 25 and was endorsed March 17 by the House Committee on Common Education. Now it will be placed on the House calendar for a vote by the full House.

Oklahoma teachers have not received an across-the-board pay raise in six or seven years, Perryman related. Oklahoma’s average annual teacher salary ranks 48th in the nation, making it difficult to attract and retain quality teachers, state school Superintendent Joy Hofmeister told a Senate committee recently.

Public schools collectively have about 1,000 teaching vacancies, and the problem of teacher shortages will worsen if the State Department of Education budget is cut again this year, as expected, Hofmeister said.

Oklahoma universities produce graduates in education, but often they leave for higher paying teaching jobs in other states, Hofmeister lamented.

State Rep. James Lockhart, D-Heavener, noted that a LeFlore County school lost a teacher (a librarian) to Fort Smith recently. “She got a $21,000 raise to do the same job in Arkansas,” Lockhart said. Another eastern Oklahoma school lost a science teacher to Arkansas. “He got a $15,000 raise, just by moving across the state line,” Lockhart said. “These teachers have college degrees, and most have college loans to pay off. Many have family obligations, as well. The best teachers will go where the money is.”

The incentive Perryman proposed would not be unique.

The Physician Manpower Training Commission, for example, provides financial incentives to recruit doctors and nurses to practice in areas that have a shortage of health professionals.

The PMTC sponsors a rural medical education scholarship loan program, a community physician education scholarship loan program, an intern-resident cost-sharing program, a physician placement program, a nursing student assistance program, and community match incentive programs. There have been 633 physicians recipients of PMTC assistance since 1976, the agency reports.

Similarly, select employees at Tinker Air Force Base in the Air Force Sustainment Center’s Engineering and Technical Management Directorate attend the University of Oklahoma or Oklahoma State University to earn master’s degrees in science or engineering. The students’ tuition, fees and textbooks are paid for up to three semesters, and some students draw full salary while enrolled full-time in school.

Advanced degrees are essential for scientists and engineers who hope to advance in Tinker’s Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex.

The State Chamber of Oklahoma, in its Educated Workforce Initiative, supports bonuses or loan forgiveness programs for teachers who are certified to teach in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) areas of study. “Match public dollars invested in STEM with private dollars to encourage public/private partnerships and alignment between education and workforce needs,” the State Chamber recommends.

Perryman also pointed to House Bill 1747, which he co-authored. That measure would provide a five-year, 100% state income-tax exemption to persons who move from another state to one of a number of rural Oklahoma counties that a recent Department of Commerce study identified as projected to experience a long-term population decline. That bill passed the House, 64-11, and is assigned to the Senate Finance Committee.

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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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