Hand-Picked Group to Begin Wielding Powers over State Agencies

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A small group of unelected citizens, all appointed by Republican state leaders, will soon be exercising significant powers to decide how the state’s top agencies spend their funding and which services they should provide.
Legislators and Gov. Mary Fallin added $2 million to the state budget this year to pay for state agency audits to be conducted by a private firm and overseen by a commission of Oklahoma business leaders.
Conservative lawmakers say this private-sector approach work will uncover waste, fraud and unnecessary spending that goes beyond agencies’ legislative or constitutional directives.
But the new funding has drawn critics from both Republicans and Democrats, who say the audits are expensive and are likely to reveal little beyond agencies’ need for more money to carry out their core missions.
A larger concern, they argue, is that the state is potentially politicizing the audits and giving a group of businessmen undue influence over how the state spends taxpayer dollars.
A Focus on Cost-Cutting
The task of overseeing the audits falls to the newly formed, nine-member Agency Performance and Accountability Commission. The general concept of the group was spelled out in a billapproved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Mary Fallin last year. Appointed by Fallin and GOP House and Senate leaders, the commission is in the process of hiring a firm that will conduct the first round of performance audits. Performance audits are designed look at how effective and efficient programs are.
Instead of just forwarding cost-saving recommendations to the audited agencies – the case with traditional audits – the law creating the commission says the agencies “shall implement the recommendations” unless otherwise directed by the Legislature.
That gives the group more powers than those of other private-led commissions that the Legislature created in the past. For example, the Incentive Evaluation Commission, charged with making recommendations on many business tax breaks, only had an advisory role and could not instruct agencies on what to cut or keep.
Rep. David Perryman, D-Chickasha, said he believes this is an attempt by lawmakers to circumvent the Legislature and agency directors who control spending decisions, with the goal of cutting budgets and shrinking government.
“Theoretically, under Oklahoma law, when an agency head is hired, they’re supposed to have expertise in wherever they are serving,” Perryman said. “So we are basically taking away their ability to function in their own areas of expertise and, instead, having this group come in and dictate that something needs to be done a certain way.”
Perryman said because just three Republicans – Fallin, Senate Pro Tempore Mike Schulz, R-Altus, and House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka – had any say in selecting the members, he questions how objective and non-partisan the commission will be. The commission could “conceal” findings that might not coincide with the views of those leaders, giving political cover to cut budgets or reduce services, he said.
State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones, a Republican who is running for governor, said he’s also concerned.
A request for proposal, which set out the scope of work for companies that wanted to bid, is proof that the audits won’t be independent or meet the standards his office must meet, he said.
Instead of honestly evaluating whether an agency is performing correctly, needs more money or can cut costs, the document specifically requires the firm to identify cost-cutting moves.
Among other things, the request says the firm “will be expected to explore savings” by identifying areas where the level of service exceeds what is necessary, or by consolidating agencies and privatizing services.
Jones said it’s improper for such a request to require the auditor to assume that costs need to be cut.
“You can’t have pre-determined outcomes,” he said.
Jones said his office was invited to bid on the audits or recommend who should do the audits. But he declined because he didn’t believe the request for proposal would allow him to perform a truly independent audit.
“We didn’t want any of our fingerprints on this,” he said.
He said concerns over politicizing the process would have been moot had Fallin not vetoed a billin 2013 to create the Joint Legislative Committee on Accountability.
Jones said his office would likely be able to perform the audit more cheaply than a private firm could. The state auditor’s office does not make a profit, and would be better qualified than a company that may not even be located in Oklahoma, he said.
 ‘A Fresh Look’
Republican leaders have defended the commission and expressed confidence in its members, who are volunteering without pay.
At the commission’s first meeting in December, McCall, the Speaker, called the effort a “fresh look” and said taking a “very private-sector approach” can be more productive than a traditional government audit.
“The vision for this commission is not to just look at financial matters – those are currently reviewed,” he said. “But this will look at the processes agencies use, the programs they are involved in and their structure and other various things.”
Senate leader Schulz added, “There never can be too much oversight” when it comes to deciding how taxpayers’ dollars are spent.
In a recent email to Oklahoma Watch, Schulz said, “It’s not surprising that Capitol insiders would reject the infusion of common sense and business acumen (the commission) will undoubtedly bring. Legislators, agency directors and taxpayers should expect (the commission) to provide actionable ideas and best practices that will ensure more efficient delivery of government services and expenditure of taxpayer dollars.”
Bob Sullivan, who heads the Tulsa-based oil and gas firm Sullivan and Company, is among those on the accountability commission. He also said commission members will bring a fresh perspective. The language requiring agencies to follow the recommendations is necessary because it gives “teeth” to their work.
“It makes me feel better that we are going to be spending time on something that has some chance of being implemented here,” he said.
Outlook for Audits 
The company that wins the bid to do the audits will face tight deadlines. A preliminary report is due Sept. 28, and a final one is due Dec. 31.
Only a small number of agencies will get a look this year. The commission is to audit the 20 largest state agencies on a rotating basis, but the $2 million in funding for fiscal year 2019 will only go so far.
The request for proposal, issued well before the 2019 budget was approved, says agencies that could be audited in the first year are the Oklahoma Tax Commission, Office of Management and Enterprise Services, the Department of Corrections, the Department of Public Safety, the District Attorneys Council and the Office of Juvenile Affairs.
The commission planned to meet May 9 to discuss its next steps and review proposals from five bidders. It also was expected to discuss when the Department of Education would be audited and how to pay for it.
But the meeting was called off when the group was told that its notice didn’t comply with the state Open Meeting Act. Another meeting will be scheduled.
The commission is required to publish its final report and a follow-up report online. The reports track whether agencies are following audit recommendations.

By Trevor Brown 
Oklahoma Watch

Ever wanted to own a herd of Bison? You can bid on them right now…..

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Have you ever wanted to own a herd of bison? If so, you can bid on 55 of them right now. The information can be found on the Oklahoma state surplus website (see link below).

The Bison have been wormed but have not had any vaccines and do not have any vet records. Therefore, you would be buying them as is.

If you happen to be the lucky one to have the winning bid you will be responsible for loading and removal of all the animals within 10 business days of the auction close.

The animals are located at the Foss State Park in Foss, Oklahoma.

Of course, that’s not all you can bid on. There are tons of other neat stuff there as well.  In the few short moments there I saw some air compressors, whistles, light poles, vehicles, travel trailers and lots of other things no person should be without.

If you are interested in the Bison, you will need to get your bid in before the deadline on May 16, 2018.

For more information visit: https://pay.apps.ok.gov/dcs/surplus/auction/index.php

 

Governor Fallin signs into law reforms to help pregnant women in jails and prisons

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OKLAHOMA CITY– On Thursday Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed into law reforms to health care for pregnant people in jails and prisons. The newly signed law will ban shackling women who give birth during incarceration, prevent dangerous restriction methods and provide a loved one or professional doula present during labor.

Advocate for mothers in the justice system, and mother who herself served time in the justice system, D’Marria Monday headed up the effort to pass HB 3393. As a member of the National Council of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, Monday wanted to help end the atrocity and include Oklahoma in the national movement to end shackling. In the summer of 2017, Monday brought the issue of pregnancy care in prisons to her House Representative, Regina Goodwin, who then sponsored the bill on Monday’s behalf.


“Working to pass this legislation is more than just a passion project for me because I know how this legislation will change women’s lives and help keep babies healthy.” Said Monday, “A child that comes into this world under distress is at a disadvantage, and these babies are our futures.”

Before the passage of this law, it was not explicitly illegal to shackle incarcerated women during birth and a number of women came forward with their own stories of shackled birth in prison as Monday organized this effort. The measure will protect the health and dignity of pregnant individuals behind bars, as well as increase safety for their babies. The new law will require the safest possible restraints for pregnant people, as a means of preventing falls which can lead to hemorrhaging and miscarriage.

“I decided to take action because I can not let these atrocities happen to one more person.” Monday said about championing the bill, “When I brought this bill to my Representative, Regina Goodwin, I was so excited for the opportunity to pass this bill. The support my bill received has been heartwarming and it means so much to me now to see it signed by the Governor.”

Health care and women’s advocates across the state are celebrating the passage of this bill. The reforms are poised to bolster respect and quality medical treatment for mothers and babies during incarceration.

 

Senate approves bill requiring immediate reporting of child abuse

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OKLAHOMA CITYOn Thursday, the Senate gave unanimous approval to legislation modifying child abuse reporting requirements.  House Bill 2259, by Rep. Dell Kerbs and Sen. Ron Sharp, requires individuals, especially educators, to report suspected child abuse or neglect of those 17 years or younger immediately to the DHS Child Abuse Hotline and those 18 years or older to law enforcement.

“Current law advises people to reports suspected abuse and neglect ‘promptly’ but this term is obviously getting misinterpreted as many cases aren’t being reported for several days or weeks after it’s discovered,” said Sharp, R-Shawnee.  “As a former educator, I’m glad that the bill specifically requires teachers to report suspected abuse and neglect as these are the people who spend the most time with these kids and can recognize changes in behavior or see evidence of abuse.  For most kids, schools are safe zones and they trust their teachers and often open up about violence in their home.  Hopefully, this change will help protect more of Oklahomans children and get them away from bad situations.”

HB 2259 was requested by the Department of Human Services and the Department of Education. Under Oklahoma statutes, “teachers” include administrators, counselors and classroom instructors.

“I’m pleased to have authored this measure that will put a clear and transparent law into place to ensure children who are abused or neglected will have immediate help,” said Kerbs, R-Shawnee.

HB 2259 now goes to the Governor for final consideration

From the office of Sen. Chris Kidd

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As many of you know, state budgets for the last few years have been deficient resulting in drastic cuts, revenue failures, and budget shortfalls. The last year and a half, we have worked tirelessly to correct Oklahoma’s budget. This is not an easy fix but a multi-faceted approach. This past year, we have made tremendous headway in putting Oklahoma on a firm foundation.

One area we focused on in correcting the budget was our state agencies.  By passing several budget limit bills, we now have more legislative oversight of agency spending to ensure taxpayer dollars are being used responsibly and efficiently. 

At the same time we were focusing on efficiencies, we were also giving our attention to revenue that’s sustainable and long term. The votes I had to cast to provide more revenue were by no means easy, even painful at times. As difficult as it was, those votes resulted in much needed recurring revenue into the state’s budget.

With the appropriation reforms and revenue-raising measures my colleagues and I passed this session, we can now properly fund our government with no agency cuts in the FY’19 budget. Things are beginning to turn around for Oklahoma.

The Treasurer’s office announced this week that gross receipts for April were up 15% over last April. The Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) reported that March General Revenue Fund collections were $405.5 million, an increase of 15.2 percent above March 2017 collections. In addition, gross receipts have shown continual growth for the last 13 months. Moody’s, one of the nation’s top credit-rating agencies, also issued a credit-positive report for Oklahoma earlier this month.

Most notably, lawmakers passed legislation raising salaries for all teachers, support staff and most state employees, impacting thousands of Oklahoma families with increased compensation for their service to the state. 

With the hundreds of bills and issues we tackled, this past session was difficult to say the least, but progress was made.  There’s always more that can be done and now session is over, and as we go into the interim, we will continue working to put Oklahoma on a firm foundation.

At the State Senate, I can be reached by writing to Senator Chris Kidd, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 411A, Oklahoma City, OK 73105, emailing me at kidd@oksenate.gov, or by calling (405) 521-5563 and speaking to my assistant Suzanne Earnest.

Sine Die – The End of the Legislative Session

Lawmakers adjourned the Second Regular Session of the 56th Legislature on May 3, wrapping up work three weeks earlier than is statutorily required. Despite the early Sine Die, legislators were able to accomplish some significant policy gains this session. “Sine Die” is the end of session; it is a latin term that means “without day” or adjournment.

The reforms I have the most hope for concern our state’s criminal justice system. My colleagues and I passed nine measures aimed at streamlining our sentencing structure, authorizing bonds to fund repairs at state penitentiaries and creating risk assessment tools. By investing money into the front end of people’s lives, instead of stacking felonies and increasing sentence lengths, Oklahoma should be able to reap millions of dollars in savings.

The Legislature’s hope is to transfer those savings to intervention and diversion programs as well as mental health services. By doing so, Oklahomans will have a better chance of staying out of prison and getting their lives back on track. I’ve heard concerns about these reforms not going far enough, but I know we can all agree these are important steps toward bettering the future of so many Oklahomans.

Of course, the biggest achievement this session was balancing the state budget. As our economy continues to rebound, more money flows into our state’s general revenue fund. When you combine those additional dollars with the revenue measures lawmakers passed this session, our state agencies should feel the difference. These departments have undergone years of funding cuts, and providing them with budgetary increases was a welcome relief. My goal is to properly fund core services without bloating government and do so without waste.

I am keenly aware the money the Legislature doles out belongs to you, the taxpayer. Thankfully, we have developed important checks and balances that should constantly evaluate government spending. The Incentive Evaluation Commission is integral in ensuring the money we spend on tax credits and incentives reap a good return on investment. The Agency Performance and Accountability Commission will be invaluable as lawmakers move toward forming each year’s budget. As those experts relay their findings to the Legislature, we will consider our practices and adjust as necessary. Also, we saw the legislature return to line-item budgeting this year. This is huge because line-item budgeting keeps bureaucrats accountable to the legislature and, ultimately, the people. We are on the right track, but there is still much work to do.

Some people have asked why lawmakers opted to adjourn three weeks early instead of sticking it out through the end of May to continue policy work. The short answer is this – the Legislature absorbed hundreds of thousands of dollars in unexpected cost through both special legislative sessions and other major events that occurred this year. By ending formal session early, lawmakers are saving taxpayer dollars while spending much-needed time back in their districts. Work continues at the local level, and I know we’re all glad to be home for a bit.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need anything. I’m at Marcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7327. Thanks, and may God bless you and this great state.

Oklahoma Senate approves FY’19 budget giving education, mental health, criminal justice reform significant increases

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OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Senate on Wednesday approved a $7.6 billion general appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2019 that gives significant funding increases for common education, mental health services, child welfare programs, and criminal justice reform.

“For the first time in years, we have a budget in which no agency receives a cut. The budget contains a 19 percent increase for common education, more than $24 million for the Department of Human Services to fully fund the Pinnacle Plan, and $11 million for multiple criminal justice reform measures,” said President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz, R-Altus. “This budget puts additional resources toward core services like education, mental health, child welfare services, and public safety. And early approval of this budget increases the likelihood the Legislature can adjourn early, saving the additional costs of a few more weeks of session.”

“In this budget, Oklahoma Senate Republicans undeniably have demonstrated our commitment to education. This budget contains $365 million for a $6,100 on average teacher pay raise, $52 million for support staff raises, $33 million for textbooks, and $17 million in new funding for the school funding formula. We also secured $7.5 million in funding for concurrent enrollment. Education is important to the success of our state which is why Senate Republicans worked so hard to secure significant increases for our students, teachers, and schools in this budget,” Schulz said.

Senate Appropriations Chair Kim David, R-Porter, said, “After years of economic recession in Oklahoma that led to massive cuts to the state budget, our state has finally turned the corner and this year’s budget reflects that. The fiscal year 2019 budget has $260 million in growth revenue due to policy changes and growth in the economy. That growth means our budget is on more stable financial footing because it has greatly reduced our reliance on so-called ‘one-time money.’ It’s a great feeling to have no agency budget cuts, and instead have a budget that puts significantly more money toward education, mental health services, and public safety.”

Highlights of the FY’19 budget:

– $7.6 billion budget

  • Approximately $745 million increase over FY’18$365 million for teacher pay raises
  • $54 million for state employee raises
  • $260 million in growth revenue
  • No cuts for any agency

– $2.9 billion for common education, a 19 percent increase

  • $6,100 teacher pay raise, on average
  • $52 million for support staff raises
  • $33 million for textbooks
  • $17 million in new state-aid funding formula
  • $7.5 million increase for concurrent enrollment

– $24.6 million funding increase for Department of Human Services, fully funding Pinnacle Plan

  • 7 percent increase for Medicaid Advantage waiver, Developmental Disability and Group Home rate increases
  • 5 percent increase on foster care and adoption rates
  • $2 million increase for the Developmental Disabilities Services Division (DDSD) wait list

– $11 million in criminal justice reform initiatives

  • $5 million to Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services
  • $1.1 million to Oklahoma Indigent Defense System (OIDS)
  • $1 million to District Attorney’s Council

– $2 million for agency performance audits conducted by Agency Performance and Accountability Commission

– $4.8 million to Department of Corrections to implement electronic offender management system

– $4 million to Office of Emergency Management for disaster relief

– $400,000 to Department of Agriculture for rural fire fighters

NewsOK: Poll shows three-way tie in GOP gubernatorial primary

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Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, Kevin Stitt and Mick Cornett are in a three-way tie for first in the race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, according to a survey released Wednesday by Magellan Strategies.

The survey of 644 likely Republican voters showed 19 percent expressed support for Lamb; 19 percent for Stitt; and 17 percent for Cornett.

The automated voice recorded survey was conducted on April 18, 19 and 22, according to the Colorado-based company. The survey has a margin of error of 3.86 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.

According to the survey, President Donald J. Trump has an approval rating of 80 percent in the state, while Gov. Mary Fallin’s approval rating is 20 percent.

Stitt is a Tulsa businessman running as an outsider. Cornett is the former mayor of Oklahoma City.

Tulsa attorney Gary Richardson received 12 percent in the survey; Yukon pastor Dan Fisher received 5 percent; and Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones received 5 percent.

The undecided was 23 percent.

The primary election is set for June 26, with the run-off primary scheduled for Aug. 28.

Previous polls this year have shown Cornett and Lamb as the frontrunners, with Stitt in third and very high amount of undecided voters.

Todd Lamb’s Education Plan is “Recycled Idea”

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News Release:

OKLAHOMA CITY – (April 27, 2018) – Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate Gary Jones said today that Todd Lamb’s plan to “get a minimum of 65% of every education dollar spent directly with teachers in the classroom,” isn’t Lamb’s plan – that he co-opted it and called it his own.

According to Jones, “The 65 Percent Solution” has been around since 2005 and is the brainchild of Tim Mooney, a Republican political consultant from Arizona. With the financial backing of Overstock.com founder Patrick M. Byme, Mooney is the strength behind the single-issue advocacy group First Class Education.

Jones believes it’s more of a campaign slogan than a plan.

“Part of the problem lies in definitions. Athletics would be counted as a classroom activity, including coaches’ salaries, but librarians, guidance counselors, food service workers and school bus drivers do not, under guidelines created by the National Center for Education Statistics,” said Jones.  Cookie cutter solutions and campaign slogans won’t fix the problems facing Oklahoma.”

Jones also said Lamb claims he wants to limit administrative cost of others, that doesn’t apply to the Lt. Governor.

“You don’t have to be a CPA to know that being chauffeured around in a state-owned vehicle, driven by a highway patrolman, attending campaign fundraisers, all while picking up campaign contributions, doesn’t pass the smell test,” said Jones. “The use of taxpayer funds to campaign for public office is a misuse of state resources regardless of who it is.”

Jones estimates that Lamb’s style of travel cost taxpayers upwards of $250,000 annually – which adds up to nearly $2,000,000.00 for his 8-year term as Lt. Governor.

According to Jones, Lamb’s office has previously stated that the Lt. Governor  is entitled to such excess because it is in the Oklahoma Statute. But in 2011, a bill was filed to only give the Lt. Gov. a security detail when the Governor was out of state. Lamb and his chief of staff went to the Oklahoma House Speaker’s office and demanded the bill to remove his security detail be killed. Here is that bill: http://webserver1.lsb.state.ok.us/cf_pdf/2011-12%20INT/hB/HB1616%20INT.PDF

Jones said Oklahomans deserve a true advocate for transparency and accountability at the State Capitol.

“For me, responsible government isn’t just talk, it’s a lifestyle. Getting more money to the classroom is much more than a campaign slogan for me; I have a real plan to get that done. If fixing our state’s problems matters as much to you as it does to me and my family, then let’s fix it together.”

Sine Die in Sight

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When lawmakers adjourn the legislative session, it’s called “sine die,” which is Latin for “without assigning a day for a further meeting.”  House Republican leadership announced last week they intended to wrap up the 2018 session around May 4, a few weeks before we are legally required to end legislative work.

 

As we near the end of my second regular session (and fourth if you count the special sessions), I’ve found myself really proud of what we’ve finally accomplished. It wasn’t perfect, and it certainly wasn’t pretty, but it was progress.

 Most notably, lawmakers passed legislation raising salaries for all teachers, support staff and most state employees. These raises will have an impact on thousands of Oklahoma families across this state who deserve this increased compensation for their service to the state. Legislators also increased funding for education through a textbook stipend and boosted state aid formula dollars. These are all wins – all steps in the right direction.  

 What I’m perhaps most proud of, however, is that Democrats and Republicans were able to accomplish this in a year without a huge surplus in our budget. As many of you know, recent state budgets have enforced cut after cut to state agencies because of revenue failures. These slashed budgets have resulted in numerous headaches for the civil servants who have been forced to do more with less. This year, though, lawmakers joined together to change the state’s course.

Nobody likes increased taxes, especially when it impacts your bottom line. But sometimes good governing involves making uncomfortable choices because we know it will set the state on a better path forward. With the revenue-raising measures my colleagues and I passed earlier this session, we’ve done that and we’ve done it in a way that will impact most Oklahomans on average of $21 per year in gasoline taxes.

Those votes and the bipartisan cooperation mean we can start to properly fund our government. And thankfully, the increased revenue means a “robust increased budget,” according to Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols.

Of course, my colleagues and I can’t take all the credit. The economy continues to improve, too. The Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) reported that March General Revenue Fund collections were $405.5 million – $53.5 million, or 15.2 percent, above March 2017 collections and $21.4 million, or 5.6 percent above the monthly estimate.

Moody’s, one of the nation’s top credit-rating agencies, also issued a credit-positive report for Oklahoma earlier this month. If you remember, Moody’s gave Oklahoma a credit negative warning about five months ago when the Legislature had not yet closed a $215 million hole in the state budget. Talk about a turnaround.

 

As we wrap this session up, I will continue to work during the interim to find efficiencies in government that allow us more freedom to fully fund core services. It’s a project I’ve been working on since my first election, and it’s one I’ll continue from here on out. We cannot allow government waste to hinder our state’s ability to efficiently function. I know you want a funded government that works for its people and does so without waste.

As always, I’m here if you need me. Don’t hesitate to reach out at Marcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7327. Thanks, and God bless.

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