44.7 F
Waurika
Saturday, November 28, 2020
Advertisement

From the Office of State Senator Chris Kidd

0

Although the session was cut short by COVID-19, we did get nearly 200 bills signed into law. I’ll be discussing some of these measures in the coming weeks as well as providing updates as our state’s economy works to recover.

One bill that will help our state tremendously in the future is HB 4018 creating the Rural Broadband Expansion Act. Under the new law, a council will be assembled to study rural broadband access around the state and determine the costs for improving access to all Oklahomans. Stakeholders from various industries, officials from both the executive and legislative branches and rural stakeholders will be responsible with devising a plan to help get this basic 21st century need to all Oklahomans.

Sadly, Oklahoma currently ranks 47th in rural broadband access.  This has caused tremendous problems, especially the last few months when students couldn’t access their online studies, unemployed individuals couldn’t file their weekly claim or access their benefits, and families couldn’t order food online.  We are a digital nation. Everything you need is on the internet but many Oklahomans don’t have access to it so this council will work to change that. The council will be assembled and must hold its first meeting by the end of July. 

Just as it was vital to have a land line in the past, it’s now imperative that families be connected to the internet.  The health crisis changed many aspects of our lives including how government services are provided.  While many changes will be temporary, how government services will be provided may be more permanent given the necessary budget cuts that had to be made this year due to low energy prices and the pandemic’s effect on our state’s economy.

One example of how state agencies are modernizing their services while also protecting their staff from furloughs or layoffs is the Department of Human Services (DHS) announcing they’ll be closing offices and allowing their staff to telework. These include the Jefferson and Tillman County DHS offices. There has been some concern over this, but I met with DHS and was assured that they are working through every single issue that may arise following this change. Everyone’s jobs are safe, and this will help the agency continue providing services while making the required 4% budget cut in the coming fiscal year.

Some agencies are still teleworking out of abundance of caution regarding COVID-19.  Given that most state agencies received 4% budget cuts, teleworking may continue to be used in the coming year to help cut costs and protect jobs.

Lots of changes have occurred at the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC).  This small agency is tasked with distributing unemployment benefits and prior to the pandemic only received an average of 1,800 unemployment claims a week but have reached as high as nearly 94,000 in one week. The historic number of Oklahomans filing for unemployment (more than 500,000) uncovered some major problems with the agency’s outdated technology and website.

My heart goes out to those of you who have been unemployed and waiting for assistance the last couple of months. Hopefully, you were able to find assistance from other organizations and charities to help get you through this difficult time.

I’m pleased to say that OESC hired a new executive director and have major tremendous strides in resolving the backlog of cases, especially for those who are self-employed and have been waiting on the federal PUA, FPUC and PEUC benefits. Major technological, website and program upgrades helped OESC successfully resolve more than 70% of the backlog cases leaving only around 3,000 more to address.  Everyone should have their benefits in the next couple of weeks.

Again, if you haven’t received any benefits please contact them to get an update on your case. If you need further help, please don’t hesitate to contact our office and we’ll assist however we can.

Thank you again for the privilege of serving our district and the State of Oklahoma in the Senate. If I can be of any assistance, you can reach me at (405) 521-5563 or Chris.Kidd@oksenate.gov.

From the Office of State Senator Chris Kidd

0

 This year has been one for the books. Between falling energy prices and the COVID-19 outbreak, our state has been through the ringer, which is unfortunate because last year our economy was the strongest it’s ever been. But just as Oklahomans do, we picked ourselves up by the bootstraps and carried on.  It hasn’t been easy, but we’re on the road to recovery.

  For those of you still waiting on unemployment, please know that my office is here to help however we can. 

  The Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) announced this past week that they will be completely taking over the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission’s (OESC) IT division and business practices. OMES has been working tirelessly in recent weeks to help improve OESC’s antiquated website and computer systems, but finally decided consolidation was necessary.  OESC will still make sure claims are processed and paid, but OMES will do the actual work.

  OMES Director Harpe says that all Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claims will be processed within two weeks.

   I know it’s easier said than done but please continue being patient. This isn’t the state employees’ fault who are answering calls and emails. The technology was created to handle the normal 2,500 or so weekly claims.  It simply couldn’t handle the 440,000 Oklahoma claims that have been filed during this crisis. 

  As for legislative news, the Senate officially adjourned this past Friday. Nearly 200 bills were signed into law.  Please check out the Senate website at www.oksenate.gov to learn more about those.

  I do want to mention that our retired public employees are finally getting a much-needed and well-deserved cost-of-living adjustment after 12 years. Those who have been retired for more than five years will see a 4% increase while those retired 2-5 years will get a 2% bump.  This includes those in the Oklahoma Firefighters Pension and Retirement System, the Oklahoma Police Pension and Retirement System, the Uniform Retirement System for Justices and Judges, the Teachers’ Retirement System of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System and the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Retirement System.

  While many of my Senate and House bills were still working their way through the process when the pandemic hit, only two ended up moving forward this session.  Both were signed into law and the others we’ll revisit next session.

   SB 1349 updates statutory language within the Oklahoma Public Health Advisory Council Modernization Act to reflect recent legislative changes. The State Board of Health is changed to the State Commissioner of Health as the oversight authority.

  SB 1748, the Patient Disclosure Act, creates a method for patients to be treated for an emergency before they’re asked for payments by all hospitals and know whether their emergency conditions will be paid for by their insurance.  It would require prominent disclosure to patients before medical services are provided.

  Besides approving a balanced budget and passing essential legislation, the Senate also confirmed nearly 200 executive nominations to state boards and commissions. I was honored to carry Lawton resident Keely Cox’ nomination to the State Textbook Committee. Keely will do an outstanding job on this committee. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to participate in the virtual confirmation meeting because my amazing wife, Lindsey, was in labor. 

  We are so excited to announce the birth of our beautiful baby girl Kacey Lou Kidd.  She was born on May 13th at 6:26 p.m. weighing 7 lb. 1 oz. We’re smitten and are so grateful for all the messages, thoughts and prayers.

  Thank you again for the privilege of serving our district and the State of Oklahoma in the Senate. If I can be of any assistance, you can reach me at (405) 521-5563 or Chris.Kidd@oksenate.gov.

Governor Stitt issues Executive Order 2020-13 to protect first responders

0

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 8, 2020) – Governor Kevin Stitt issued [EO]Executive Order 2020-13, ensuring first responders such as correctional officers, law enforcement and fire personnel who work for state agencies will receive guaranteed paid time off if they contract COVID-19.

“Our first responders put their lives on the line every day to protect their fellow Oklahomans,” said Gov. Kevin Stitt. “There’s no opportunity to work from home in these jobs, so they need our support. I also encourage cities and counties across the state to provide the same benefits to their first responders.”

“I commend Governor Stitt’s quick action in addressing the needs of our first responders,” said Secretary of Public Safety Chip Keating. “Our first responders personify the Oklahoma Standard through their courage and compassion during this unprecedented crisis.”

Executive Order 2020-13 also does the following:

  • Removes barriers that will allow more medical professionals to be on the front lines by encouraging licensing boards to ease requirements on physician assistants, nurse practitioners and retired physicians.
  • Encourages the boards to increase opportunities for students and recent graduates who are not yet fully licensed to practice.
  • Allows closed health care facilities to be re-opened and remove regulatory burdens that would create lag time in getting bed space to treat patients.
  • Allows stretcher vans and stretcher aid vans to assist with emergencies and operate anywhere in the state.

“It is very important to me to break down the geographic silos that limit stretcher vans from operating anywhere in the state,” said Gov. Stitt. “Right now, ambulances and stretcher vans are limited by arbitrary geographic and population-based limits that do nothing but limit the services people in rural Oklahoma can receive. Now is not the time for burdensome regulations.”

Governor Stitt announces President Trump approves Major Disaster Declaration for the State of Oklahoma

0

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 5, 2020) – Governor Kevin Stitt announced today that President Donald Trump has approved his request for a Major Disaster Declaration covering all 77 Oklahoma counties.

The declaration authorizes FEMA’s Public Assistance program, which provides federal funding for emergency protective measures and direct federal assistance for state and local governments as they continue to respond to the COVID-19 emergency.

Gov. Stitt’s request for additional assistance to include crisis counseling, disaster unemployment assistance, disaster legal services and other programs remains under review by the White House. 

Due to the unprecedented scope of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress has been authorizing some disaster assistance programs on a national level that are traditionally approved by FEMA on a state or local level as well as programs that go beyond what FEMA can normally provide.

State authorities will continue to assess the need for additional federal disaster aid to cover further response and recovery costs. Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management is working with FEMA and local emergency management officials to help local jurisdictions document their eligible costs for reimbursement.

The Legislative Session is Coming

0

 It’s time again for the annual migration of lawmakers from across the state of Oklahoma to the State Capitol to take part in the legislative session, which starts Feb. 3. The governor will open the session with his second State of the State Address in which he will outline his budget hopes and his priorities for the coming fiscal year. It will be up to the Legislature, however, to draft the final state budget, determining how much in appropriations each state agency will receive to deliver programs and services to all Oklahomans.

All indications are this will be a flat budget year. With oil and gas revenues slowing down, we will be unable to increase most agency budgets as we have the past two years. The good news, however, is that we are still sitting on a record-high amount for the state budget – $8.3 billion as of the last figures released from the State Board of Equalization. The board meets again in February to give us final certified numbers for how much we should expect to appropriate for Fiscal Year 2021. While we will not have large increases for state agencies, we should be safe from needing to cut anything except for areas where we find efficiencies. We also intend to save more money this year to offset future downturns.

This session looks to be a busy one for a variety of reasons. For one, we had 2,240 new bills filed between the House and Senate. This is in addition to the 2,192 carried forward from the first session of the 57th Legislature. Only a fraction of these bills will become state law, however. But this means both legislative chambers will have much work to do to sift through each bill to determine its merits before advancing it through committee hearings and onto the floor for a vote. Once measures are passed in their chamber of origin, they must go through this process in the opposite chamber. Only the bills that survive get sent to the governor for his consideration of final passage into law.

The Legislature goes through this weeding-out process each year. Your input on bills helps me and other lawmakers determine what is important to you and what should be left on the editing room floor.

One of the areas of intense focus for me this year will be health care policy. State Question 802 – started by an initiative petition of voters, not lawmakers – continues to put pressure on the Legislature to deal with the issue of Medicaid Expansion. No ballot measure to expand Medicaid has failed in any state where it has been proposed. SQ802 seeks to expand Medicaid constitutionally to able-bodied adults who qualify. The governor has promised to unveil his alternative health care plan very soon, which may put a dent in the state question’s popularity. My committee already is prepared for either scenario. We must do everything we can to ensure any health care plan can be paid for, operated in a fiscally responsible way, and help Oklahomans become healthier. 

Please feel free to reach out to me with your questions or concerns at marcus.mcentire@okhouse.gov or (405) 557-7327.

State Senator Chris Kidd Announces Re-election Campaign

0

Waurika, OK- Current State Senator and former public school teacher, Chris Kidd, is proud to announce his re-election campaign for Senate District 31.  

“We’ve had a great four years and I can’t tell you how proud I am to have served the hard-working and generous people of this community,” says Kidd.  “I took every opportunity to stand up for our values, find real solutions to everyday problems, and I’m ready to keep fighting.”

Chris grew up on his family farm, where he is still involved in the day to day operations, and understands that agriculture is the backbone of our rural communities.  “As your State Senator, I believe we must stand up for our rural communities for them to thrive. This includes increased support for our farms, public school systems, and rural healthcare needs.” 

Senator Kidd has also been an outspoken advocate for law enforcement and first responders, authoring legislation to provide them with the needed resources to keep our communities safe. 

While in the State Senate, Chris served on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education as the Vice-Chair, in addition to the Education Committee, Agriculture and Wildlife, Veterans and Military Affairs, and Committee Membership.  He has proven he is dedicated to finding ways to move our state forward. 

“I’m looking forward to earning the vote of my constituents once again.  It has been an honor to serve each of you and I look forward to the work we can continue to do on behalf of Senate District 31 and Southwest Oklahoma.” 

Chris Kidd married his wife Linsdey in 2019 and is grateful to his family for their continued support as he launches his re-election campaign. 

Get Ready for Open Enrollment 2020 What you need to know before applying

0

Open enrollment for 2020 individual health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) starts November 1 and ends December 15. If you want your coverage to start on January 1, you must sign up by December 15. With a new insurer available for the Oklahoma City area, there are some important things you need to know about the 2020 open enrollment before you apply. I urge all Oklahomans who plan to enroll for 2020, to not automatically renew. Look closely for changes. 

In 2017 and 2018, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma (BCBSOK) was the only insurance carrier offering plans in the Oklahoma exchange. However, Medica joined the Oklahoma exchange for 2019 with coverage available in all 77 counties. In 2020, Bright Health also joined the Oklahoma exchange and offers plans in Oklahoma, Canadian and Cleveland counties.

  •  If you are currently uninsured: you can visit healthcare.gov to compare plans and enroll in a plan that meets your health care needs.
  •  If you already have health insurance: you will be automatically re-enrolled in your existing plan if it is still available. Even if you are satisfied with your current plan, review your coverage and compare plans to ensure you can select the best option for you.

Keep in mind that cost-sharing subsidies are available only on silver plans and subsidies available on silver plans have changed. Shop around to look for coverage that truly meets your needs. I encourage you to check with your agent to help you sort out your options.

You can visit https://www.healthcare.gov/see-plans/ to view plan options, estimate monthly premiums and total annual out-of-pocket costs for each plan, and learn how to buy a plan. You can also determine if you qualify for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) at https://www.healthcare.gov/medicaid-chip/.

To help make the application process quicker and easier, make sure you have everything you need to apply by reviewing this checklist (PDF). Also, check out these tips about the Health Insurance Marketplace at heathcare.gov.

In addition to those resources, directly visit or call these insurers available for Oklahoma’s exchange for 2020:

If you have questions about other insurance issues, contact the Oklahoma Insurance Department at 1-800-522-0071 or visit our website at www.oid.ok.gov.

OKLAHOMA PARDON AND PAROLE BOARD RECOMMENDS LARGEST SINGLE-DAY COMMUTATION IN U.S. HISTORY

0

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted unanimously Friday to recommend the sentences of 527 state inmates be commuted, the largest such action in state and national history. The office of Governor Kevin Stitt will process the recommendations by end of day Friday for final approval.

“This is a historical day for criminal justice reform in Oklahoma, as we send the largest single day commutation of sentences in our nation’s history to the governor’s desk,” said Steven Bickley, Executive Director of the Pardon and Parole Board. “With this vote, we are fulfilling the will of Oklahomans. However, from day one, the goal of this project has been more than just the release of low level, non-violent offenders, but the successful reentry of these individuals back into society. It has been a moving experience to see our state and community partners help connect our inmates with the resources they need for a successful reentry and I thank Governor Stitt, DOC Director Scott Crow, and the many local nonprofits, churches, and job creators that stepped up to ensure these inmates have every opportunity for success.” 

“I applaud the Pardon and Parole Board’s dedication to fulfill the will of the people through the HB 1269 docket, giving hundreds of non-violent, low-level offenders an opportunity at a second chance,” said Governor Stitt. “I also thank the Department of Corrections and the many non-profits who are stepping up and working hard to connect our inmates with the resources they need for a successful transition. This event is another mark on our historic timeline as we move the needle in criminal justice reform, and my administration remains committed to working with Oklahomans to pursue bold change that will offer our fellow citizens a second chance while also keeping our communities and streets safe.”

Friday’s historic vote on the single-stage commutation docket is the result of months-long collaboration among numerous state entities, including Pardon and Parole, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Office of Governor Kevin Stitt, Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, Oklahoma Department of Human Services, Oklahoma District Attorneys Council and Oklahoma Department of Public Safety.

The board considered 814 inmates’ cases during the special meeting which was held the first day HB 1269 took effect. The 2019 law enabled the Pardon and Parole Board to hold an accelerated single-stage commutation docket to review the sentences of inmates in prison for crimes which would no longer be considered felonies if charged today.  In 2016, Oklahomans passed criminal justice reforms that made simple drug possession a misdemeanor and increased the felony dollar threshold from $500 to $1000 for felony property crimes.

The Board recommended to the Governor 527 inmates for commutation, 75% male and 25% female.  Because 65 inmates have detainers, 462 inmates will be released on Monday, November 4.  Of the inmates receiving a favorable recommendation: the average age was 39.7 years old, they had been incarcerated for the past three years, the recommendation was to commute 1,931 years resulting in inmates being released 1.34 years early on average.  Had these inmates served their full uncommuted sentence, it could have cost the State of Oklahoma approximately $11.9M for continued incarceration based upon the average costs.

In addition to the sheer number of inmates who received recommendations for commutation, this collaborative effort produced numerous other notable “firsts” in Oklahoma history.

With the leadership of the governor’s office, Pardon and Parole, and dozens of nonprofits, Oklahoma Department of Corrections held its first ever transition fairs for inmates’ at 28 facilities across the state.  More than 200 people from 45 community partners, nonprofits, and state agencies attended.  These fairs connected 781 inmates with the services they may need once released.

In another first, having done the necessary release work in advance, Oklahoma Department of Corrections will be ready to release the commuted inmates on Monday, November 4.  ODOC expects to receive the signed commutation certificates from the governor’s office Friday afternoon, thus enabling the facilities to work over the weekend processing the discharge paperwork, transferring inmates’ trust account money to debit cards, and preparing the necessary inmate discharge medications. 

Finally, in another first, ODOC was able to remove another major hurdle for many offenders as they return to society by arranging for recommended inmates to have a valid state-issued driver’s license or state-issued ID prior to discharge.  Removing this obstacle required through a massive coordinated work effort by ODOC staff and special grant funding from the George Kaiser Family Foundation and the Arnall Family Foundation, along with assistance from TEEM (The Education and Employment Ministry). 

Sen. Sharp continues fight to stop distracted driving

0

OKLAHOMA CITY – Continuing his efforts to make Oklahoma’s roads safer, Sen. Ron Sharp has filed legislation to once again try to outlaw the use of hand-held electronic devices while driving unless it is with hands-free technology.  Senate Bill 1088 would expand the Trooper Nicholas Dees and Trooper Keith Burch Act of 2015 to try to decrease the number of distracted drivers on Oklahoma roads.  

            “Currently, texting while driving or using any device to surf the internet or post to social media is illegal.  However, drivers can still hold their phone to talk or use other electronic devices while driving,” said Sharp, R-Shawnee. “Last year, there were nearly 8,800 crashes and 35 deaths, including three in my Senate district, caused by distracted driving throughout the state. We need to strengthen the law.  It’s just too dangerous and the costs are too high. We must do all we can to make Oklahoma’s roads safer.”
            SB 1088 would strengthen the law to prohibit not just texting while driving but using any kind of hand-held device while behind the wheel unless it is with a hands-free accessory.  The bill would not apply to those using their phones in emergencies.

            According to the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office’s (OHSO) 2018 Oklahoma Crash Facts, approximately 21,000 Oklahomans were involved in nearly 8,800 crashes caused by some form of distracted driving.  The largest age group of distracted drivers were those 20-24 followed by the 25-29 age group. More than 8,100 of the driver conditions reported were marked as “apparently normal”, “unknown” or “other” meaning the driver was not intoxicated, drugged, medicated, tired or sick.  

Nearly 1,800 drivers admitted that an electronic communication or some other kind of device distracted them. Again, the largest age group distracted by electronic devices was those ages 15-29. Around 4,200 drivers said something else distracted them inside their car while the other 2,900 said they were distracted by something outside their car.

            “The collision reports show that more than 90 percent of distracted driving accidents last year weren’t caused by alcohol, drugs, illness or being tired. Most of these individuals were distracted by electronic devices or something else in their vehicle.  While we can’t prevent all the distractions that happen inside vehicles, we can stop the use of electronic devices without hands-free capabilities,” Sharp said.  “We’ve got to take this issue seriously and help keep Oklahoma drivers’ eyes on the road where they belong.”

OHSO breaks down distracted in four categories including distraction by an electronic communication device, other electronic device and something other than an electronic device inside the car or outside the car. The agency combines all four categories in order to examine overall distracted driving crashes. OHSO also noted that distraction while driving is largely self-reported, so the actual numbers are more than likely much higher.

Sharp has been a strong advocate for strengthening Oklahoma’s texting and driving/distracted driving laws having filed numerous legislation since 2012. He filed similar language to SB 1088 with SB 44 in 2017 but the bill was not given a hearing in Senate committee. He was also the original Senate principal author of the Trooper Nicholas Dees and Trooper Keith Burch Act of 2015 (HB 1965) before authorship changed to the full Senate Public Safety Committee. 

Get Ready for Electric Scooters: Who is Responsible?

0

Fall is finally here in Oklahoma. Between the golden leaves and cool crisp air, you will begin to see electric scooters flooding the city streets. These rental scooters can be found along the curb in hundreds of U.S. cities including Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Norman, and Stillwater. Before you download the app and hop on, there are a few things you should know to protect yourself.

According to Consumer Reporters, eight people in the U.S. have died while using a rent-by-the-minute dockless electric scooter since the fall of 2017. One of those deaths was a 5-year-old boy who was riding with his mother in Tulsa in April.

Along with numerous injuries, these deaths highlight the potential dangers of the scooters. Understanding the insurance implications related to electric scooters will help you make responsible decisions.

Your health insurance could help defray the cost of medical bills in case of an accident. But what if you are riding a scooter and you hit a pedestrian, damage someone’s property or cause a car accident? You might think your auto insurance would kick in; however, most car insurance doesn’t generally cover vehicles with less than four wheels. Homeowner’s or renter’s insurance may cover an accident that occurs on a traditional bicycle, but it does not cover motorized bike or scooter trips. 

The two largest scooter companies in the United States generally place the responsibility for accidents on riders by listing in their rental agreements that riders relieve the companies of liability. You must agree to those terms before you can ride. And despite the scooter companies’ liability insurance, responsibility for damages is likely to fall on your shoulders because of the terms and conditions agreed upon when you downloaded the app.

What can you do to protect yourself? Call your insurance agent. You may be able to add an umbrella policy to your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy. An umbrella policy can cover more scenarios and include higher limits for coverage than a typical policy.

There are a few other ways to protect yourself on an e-scooter.

  • Wear a helmet: While it is not required by law in Oklahoma to wear a helmet while riding a scooter or a bicycle, it is highly recommended. 
  • Operate the scooter in right-hand lanes and bike lanes where possible: Your agreement with your scooter rental company will tell you to use streets and bike lanes. Riding motorized scooters on sidewalks is illegal in most cities, and you can be cited for doing so. Know where you can ride before you hop on.
  • Keep your eyes on the road: You may be tempted to share photos or videos of your new adventure on social media while operating. Always pay attention to the road. 
  • Inspect the scooter before you ride: Check to make sure the brakes are working properly before taking off.

I’m encouraging everyone who plans to ride an electric scooter, to get ready. Know your coverage. Anticipate what could happen, and know what your insurance will and won’t cover. And most importantly, be careful. 

You can also watch my recent ride on an e-scooter on the Oklahoma Insurance Department’s YouTube channel.

If you have questions about other insurance issues, contact the Oklahoma Insurance Department at 1-800-522-0071 or visit our website at www.oid.ok.gov.