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President Pro Tem-designate Greg Treat files bill creating legislative watchdog office

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Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) will evaluate agency spending and performance

OKLAHOMA CITY – Senate President Pro Tem-designate Greg Treat on Thursday filed legislation to create a legislative fiscal watchdog office to help lawmakers better fulfill their oversight role of state agency spending and performance.

Senate Bill 1 creates the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) to provide the Legislature with objective, verified data lawmakers can then use as they consider and make critical policy decisions.

“Real numbers and objective data will help the Oklahoma Legislature make better-informed decisions when writing the state budget, setting policy, and tracking whether programs are meeting or exceeding our expectations,” said Treat, R-Oklahoma City.

“The most important duty the Legislature has is to write the budget and provide oversight of agency spending and performance. In most cases, the Legislature depends on the agency itself or the executive branch to report data on spending and performance. Agencies present only the data they want us to see not necessarily what we need to see. Agencies tend to focus more on outputs and not outcomes. That’s not how we are going to turn Oklahoma around. The Legislature needs independent, objective data so that we can make better-informed decisions,” Treat said.

Key parts of SB 1:

  • LOFT will conduct performance evaluations of agencies, programs, or specific divisions;
  • LOFT would have open access to all agency data and budgets;
  • LOFT would be overseen by a bicameral, bipartisan committee;
  • LOFT would have six to eight independent, nonpartisan office staff;
  • Data gathered by and reports produced by LOFT would be available to the public.

Treat pointed to the recent Health Department scandal as one of the best reasons why an office like LOFT is needed.

“Last year, the Legislature was told the Health Department needed $30 million immediately or they agency couldn’t make payroll and there would be catastrophic public health implications. As we know now, the department didn’t need the money and the agency’s finances were in shambles. That is unacceptable and must not continue,” Treat said.

“Well more than half of the states have a legislative oversight office like LOFT. It helps provide accountability and oversight among the branches of government. The legislative, executive, and judicial are co-equal branches of government. They serve as a check on one another’s power. We need an independent, nonpartisan office like LOFT to provide the Legislature with real numbers as we make decisions on how to get the best outcomes and returns on each and every tax dollar,” Treat said.

New law to allow Oklahoma farmers to grow hemp

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OKLAHOMA CITY – Sen. Lonnie Paxton applauded Gov. Fallin for signing legislation Tuesday to help grow Oklahoma’s agriculture industry by allowing farmers to grow industrial hemp. House Bill 2913, by Sen. Paxton, Rep. Jon Echols and Rep. Mickey Dollens, creates the Oklahoma Industrial Hemp Agricultural Pilot Program.

“Currently, Oklahoma can import hemp but can’t grow it.  This will help diversify our state’s struggling economy and will provide a tremendous boost to the agriculture industry,” said Paxton, R-Tuttle.  “This new industry will potentially create thousands of jobs and put hundreds of millions of dollars a year into our economy.  There’s a strong possibility that it could easily become a $1 billion industry.”

The new law will allow universities or farmers contracting with universities to cultivate certified hemp crops for research and development for industrial uses.  The Department of Agriculture, Food, and Forestry will manage the program.  A revolving fund will also be created for all registration, lab, and inspection fees paid by program participants.

Hemp is the strongest natural fiber in the world and has been found to have more than 50,000 uses including rope, clothes, food, paper, textiles, plastics, insulation and biofuel.  Being a weed, it is drought tolerant taking one-third the amount of water of alfalfa.  The benefits of cultivating this plant is that it can yield 3-8 dry tons of fiber per acre per year, which is four times what an average forest can yield and it does not require chemicals such as pesticides or herbicides. Hemp could yield Oklahoma farmers as much as $1,500 per acre.

The new law, which went into effect upon being signed, was made possible by the Agricultural Act of 2014 allowing the growing of hemp under pilot programs overseen by universities.  Nearly 40 other states already have industrial hemp programs.

Senate Report from Sen. Chris Kidd

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 State Treasurer Ken Miller announced more great economic news for our state this week. State gross receipts surged by 14 percent in September, the tenth month of double-digit growth in the past year.

We had gross receipts of $1.2 billion last month – the highest September total in our history. Twelve-month gross receipts were $12.5 billion, which is also a record. 

This is great news as we approach the upcoming session and begin work on the FY’20 budget. A majority of agency budgets haven’t yet been restored to the level they were before the national recession and oil bust that devastated our state’s economy between 2009 and 2016.  The increase in revenue will help stabilize our state’s budget and fund core government services

Work hasn’t stopped at the Capitol since session adjourned in May.  Interim studies and the joint legislative marijuana working group are ongoing. The marijuana meetings began in July and take place every Wednesday and will continue through November.  The group has been working to develop recommendations on a permanent regulatory framework for the implementation of SQ 788. 

All of the presentations and information provided in both the working group and interim study meetings are available at www.oksenate.gov under Committees and Interim Studies.

If you have any ideas, comments or concerns regarding implementation of medical marijuana in Oklahoma, you can share those with the working group at sq788@oksenate.gov.

Aside from the joint legislative marijuana working group, many of the interim studies have been about education.  One dealt with SB 1435, which would have authorized school districts to adopt alternative disciplinary actions in lieu of out-of-school suspension. Members looked at the possible creation of a formalized student appeals process for alternative forms of discipline, which was an issue brought up by the bill’s opponents.

Another study looked at OSSAA classification reform. The committee discussed different variables (student financial assistance and selective admissions) which some believe result in inequitable class success for both public and private member schools.

Charter schools have been a hot topic at the Capitol the last few years. Two studies examined the Funding Formula for virtual (charter) and brick and mortar public schools. It was evident there are differing opinions and viewpoints concerning charter schools. It is clear the outcome of these studies is that the Funding Formula needs to be reformed and simplified.  

Several other interim studies focused on the topics of school bonding flexibility, anti-bullying laws and innovation in education.

Other interim study topics included, work-based learning initiative and workforce development; Oklahoma’s veteran suicide rate; attracting and retaining neurologists, gerontologists and neuro-psychologists; and licensure of radiologic technologists.  There were also meetings on law enforcement video storage and retention; and telecommunication services for the deaf and elderly.

            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.

Senate Report from Chris Kidd April 26 2018

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 It’s no secret; education and its funding have been the focus and all-consuming issue this session. It’s much more than just a legislative issue, it’s a personal one.  The hundreds of Senate District 31 constituents who have visited my office over the last four weeks aren’t just constituents; these are the people we all do life with. People, who I go to church with, grew up with. They’re the ones who taught me in school. They are classmates, former students of mine and former colleagues. They are relationships I value.

But in addition to education, our rural nursing homes and hospitals, our mental health system, our intellectually and developmentally disabled population, our roads and bridges also need attention and funding. Two things I’ve learned serving as your senator: you elected me to ensure all areas of state government are running efficiently (without waste) and to make sure all areas of state government are properly funded.

Regarding state government inefficiencies, waste, and reforms:

Last session, new legislation was signed into law for the first time in state history requiring performance audits of the state’s 10 largest agencies every four years. (HB 2311)

In addition, we have cut 85% of the state’s agencies, 45% over the last decade. We’ve also reduced 7,000 state employees and consolidated or eliminated 18 agencies in that time.

Regarding proper funding of state government (education):

This session, the state legislature passed a bi-partisan education funding bill that included the following:

1. Teacher pay raises: $353.5 million

2. Support staff pay raises: $52 million

3. Text books: $33 million

4. Teacher Flex Benefits: $24.6 million

5. State Employee Pay Raise: $63.7 million

To put this into perspective, half a billion dollars (over $500 million) in new revenue was created for public education in an environment of tough political circumstances and a requirement of a three-fourths majority vote. What had not been accomplished in 30 years and what seemed to be impossible, was accomplished on March 26, 2018. This legislation provides the largest teacher pay raise in state history, moving Oklahoma to the second-highest in the region in average teacher pay.

We also passed HB 3705, which appropriates $2.9 BILLION, or a 19.7 percent increase overall in education funding. The bill includes a 22 percent increase overall to the State Aid Funding Formula, with $33 million line-itemed for textbooks and $17 million into the state aid formula. The revenue package also includes $63 million in tiered funding for state employee pay raises, and another $52 million for a $1,250 pay raise for education support staff.

What was accomplished with the passage of the above mentioned legislation is historic. Difficult decisions were necessary, and while our work in education is not done, I am proud of the strides we have achieved thus far.

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.

From Senator Chris Kidd

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Work is steadily ramping up again as interim studies are getting underway in preparation for the next legislative session.  These are all public meetings and can be watched live on the Senate website.

 I’ve been getting a lot of questions about two issues I’d like to discuss in this column.

1. The audit of the Oklahoma Department of Veteran Affairs

2. Nursing home closures around the state and in our district.

 The VA audit was released at the beginning of August.  The audit revealed there is a serious lack of communication throughout the agency as well as low employee morale.  The communication problem became apparent when constituents were unaware of recent rule changes at the Lawton-Ft. Sill Veterans Center, until the changes had already taken place. It was even more apparent and troubling; I too was unaware of any rule or policy changes until I was informed of these changes by concerned constituents. This proved to me the findings of the audit were accurate. I feel our state agencies should always communicate any policy or rule changes clearly and effectively with the legislature especially when changes are made that have a direct impact on the citizens of our state, moreover, changes that impact those who have served and defended our country, our veterans.  

 Please know that I am working with the ODVA and its administration to address the issues and find solutions concerning our veteran’s centers, especially the Lawton-Ft. Sill Veteran’s Center. Our veterans deserve our respect, honor and only the best care. 

 The second issue I’d like to discuss is Oklahoma’s nursing home industry.  Within the last few months, several of our states long-term care facilities have closed their doors due to a lack of adequate funding. It is critical and of utmost importance that we make a significant investment in our nursing home industry or face many more closures around the state.  Not only will this displace hundreds of residents, but hundreds of working Oklahomans will lose their jobs.  What’s even more concerning is rural Oklahoma will feel the brunt of this problem where jobs are few and places of employment are scarce. 

 For the last several years our state has had to deal with deficient budgets, resulting in a lack of investment that has left the state ranked as one of the worst for nursing care facility funding.  We can and we must do better.

 The AARP recently ranked our state’s nursing homes as some of the worst in the nation based on several factors for quality of care.  The report ranks Oklahoma lowest in the country of nursing care per resident per day nationwide.  In addition, our senior citizen population is growing at an alarming rate.  The number of citizens 85 or older is expected to increase by 38% or 95,000 from 2015.    We must do all we can to prevent the closure of nursing homes and strengthen this industry for future generations.

I’m pleased to say that the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, in collaboration with state and legislative leadership, are giving the first across-the-board reimbursement rate increases since 2009 to long-term care and other SoonerCare (Oklahoma Medicaid) providers.  The increases will go into effect October 1.  Long-term care facility provider rates will be increased by four percent and three percent for other certain contracted provider types or groups.  The three percent will put SoonerCare physician rates at around 89 percent of the Medicare physician fee schedule.  It will also impact most provider types like hospitals and pharmacies. While this is a positive step, it’s my hope we once again increase funding to our long-term care facilities to a level that accurately reflects the true cost of care for nursing home residents during the next legislative session.

 It’s important to note that no new state funds, carryover or one-time funds were used for these increases.  Instead, because of SB 1605, the increases will be funded through program and administrative savings and record drug rebate collections. 

This is a step in the right direction for providing better care to our elderly and disabled.  Like our veterans, they deserve only the highest quality of service.

 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.

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.”

Statement from Senate Democratic Leader on Oklahoma Supreme Court Ruling on State Question 799

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OKLAHOMA CITY- Senate Democratic Leader John Sparks released the following statement on the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision to declare Referendum Petition 25, State Question 799 invalid and stricken from the ballot:

 

“Today the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that State Question 799, Referendum Petition 25 is invalid. While the Oklahoma Constitution empowers citizens to initiate a referendum petition, it is also very clear what the process and procedures are which must be followed to place the referendum on the ballot. In their rush to begin collecting signatures, the group calling itself ‘Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite!’ and former U.S. Senator Tom Coburn failed to include an accurate gist explaining the purpose of the referendum, and also did not attach an exact copy of the law it seeks to repeal.

 

With the effort to repeal the revenue package by referendum stalled, the focus should now return to enacting long term, sustainable revenue to properly fund education in Oklahoma.”

One Oklahoma child will get $5,529 toward their college savings

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OKLAHOMA CITY (June 4, 2018) – State Treasurer Ken Miller announces the launch of the 2018 Summer Savings Adventure Sweepstakes, which will see one Oklahoma child win $5,529 toward an Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan account.

Working together with two Oklahoma City Adventure District Partners, Science Museum Oklahoma and the Oklahoma City Zoo, the Summer Savings Adventure encourages families to take time this summer to plan how they will pay for college.

“The first and best advice for anyone looking to pay for a college education is to make a plan,” said Miller, board chair of the Oklahoma 529 Savings Plan (OCSP). “Summer is great time for families to research the resources available to them, like OCSP, look at their budget and start saving for their children’s futures.”

This is the third year OCSP has partnered with the Oklahoma City Zoo and Science Museum Oklahoma for the sweepstakes. Miller said it’s a great fit because each organization is dedicated to a mission of lifetime learning.

“We couldn’t have better partners than the Oklahoma City Zoo and Science Museum Oklahoma,” Miller said. “Generations of families have made lifelong memories and explored the sciences at both of these Oklahoma institutions, and I’m proud that they are helping OCSP to raise awareness about saving for higher education.”

The 2018 Summer Savings Adventure Sweepstakes officially launches today and will close on July 31, 2018. Sweepstakes entry, official rules and additional information is available at www.ok4saving.org. The winner will be randomly selected and formally announced shortly after the sweepstakes concludes.

The sweepstakes is open to Oklahoma residents who are parents, grandparents or legal guardians who are at least 21 years old and have a child or grandchild 16 years old or younger who is also an Oklahoma resident.

OCSP serves almost 30,000 account owners with more than $850 million in college savings assets. OCSP account owners make an average monthly contribution of $269 to their accounts. (Data through 12/31/17.)  For more facts and figure about how Oklahomans are saving for college, visit www.ok4saving.org/documents/OK_infographic_may2018.pdf.

For more information about the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan visit www.ok4saving.org or call (877) 654-7284. Funding for OCSP prizes comes from the marketing budget of the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan; no state funds are used.

 About the OCSP

 Introduced in April 2000, the Oklahoma 529 College Saving Plan (OCSP) is Oklahoma’s direct-sold 529 college savings plan. It is designed for families who want to direct their own 529 college savings accounts. The plan is managed by TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing, Inc. Introduced in March 2009, OklahomaDream 529 Plan is offered through financial advisors and is managed by Allianz Global Investors.  As of April 30, 2018, combined assets in both plans exceed $1 billion.

Oklahoma taxpayers may deduct, from their Oklahoma adjusted gross income, up to $10,000 in contributions to the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan for individual taxpayers and up to $20,000 for taxpayers filing a joint return with a five-year carryforward. Read the Disclosure Booklet carefully.

Consider the investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses before investing in the Oklahoma College Savings Plan. Please visitwww.ok4saving.org or call toll-free 1-877-654-7284 for a Plan Disclosure Booklet containing this and more information. Read it carefully.

 Check with your home state to learn if it offers tax or other benefits such as financial aid, scholarships and protection from creditors for investing in its own 529 plan.  Investments in the Plan are neither insured nor guaranteed and there is the risk of investment loss.

 Taxpayers should seek advice based on their own particular circumstances from an independent tax advisor. If the funds aren’t used for qualified higher education expenses, a 10% penalty tax on earnings (as well as federal and state income taxes) may apply.     

 Investments in the Plan are neither insured nor guaranteed and there is the risk of investment loss.

TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing, Inc., Program Manager. TIAA-CREF Individual & Institutional Services, LLC, member FINRA and SIPC, distributor and underwriter for the Oklahoma College Savings Plan.

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 Senator Chris Kidd February 22 2018

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The third week of the regular session is underway. We have two more weeks of committee work on bills before we turn our attention to debate before the full Chamber.

This session, I filed nine Senate bills and three have already received committee approval.  SB 1364 authorizes the board of county commissioners to trade-in equipment to a vendor or on a statewide contract by acquiring used equipment values pursuant to state statute.

SB 1488 modifies the Wildlife Conservation Code to add a lifetime landowner hunting license for legal residents who have resided in the state for at least six months and intend to remain residents.  The price of the new lifetime license for 500 to 1,000 acres would be $50,000 and $75,000 for any tract of land over 1,000 acres.

SB 1492 relates to boiler inspectors and requires that deputy inspectors receive a valid National Board Commission within 24 months after appointment rather than 18.

In other legislative news, the Senate will be bringing back the state’s largest agencies for further budget hearings.  These agencies account for approximately 92 percent of the annual appropriated state budget.  Typically, only the appropriations subcommittees have budget hearings during the interim.  However, we thought that holding another round during session would allow more senators, the public and media to learn more about the various budgets and spending practices of the agencies. State revenues continue to rise, which is promising as we begin work for the upcoming budget.

This year, the Senate’s highest priority is the budget.  We must craft a responsible budget and seek reforms that provide budget stability and reduce reliance on one-time money.

Education and getting more dollars into the classroom will also be a priority.  We must find a way to fully fund a teacher salary increase, find efficiencies in our education system and also improve the funding formula.  This week, the State Aid Funding Formula Task Force will be meeting to discuss current and future legislation that may impact the formula.

The second special session is ongoing as well.  Last week was disappointing to say the least.  Once again, after the Step Up budget plan was approved by both the House and Senate Joint Committees on Appropriations and Budget, the plan failed to get super majority approval in the House.  The Senate never got a chance to vote on the measure even though we’ve already passed similar plans in the last few months.

Sadly, voting against the Step Up plan was a vote against raising teacher pay, funding for our health and human services, protecting our most vulnerable citizens and putting our state on a stable budget path forward.

Regardless of the plan’s failure, we are constitutionally mandated to balance the budget each year. This means we must move forward, and close the books on FY’18.

JCAB bills addressing the FY’18 cuts and necessary appropriations to help the health care agencies all passed last week and may be considered this week in the Senate.

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.

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