From Senator Chris Kidd March 15 2018

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This week is the deadline for floor work on Senate bills.

I have five remaining bills (SB 1364, 1365, 1369, 1372 & 1488) that will be taken up by the full Senate this week. 

            Work is continuing on the FY’19 budget.  The Senate decided, in order to be as thorough as possible, to bring back the largest state agencies and a few others based on their budget requests for a second round of budget hearings in light of recent revenue updates.  Typically, budget hearings are held by appropriations subcommittees during the interim. A second round of hearings will allow the full Senate to learn more about the agencies’ spending practices and budgeting needs. 

            To date, we’ve heard from the Departments of Education, Mental Health and Human Services, CareerTech, the Ethics Commission, OHCA and the State Regents.  Their presentations are available on the Senate website under Committees and Appropriations. 

            The State Treasurer announced this past week that revenues are continuing to grow, which is great news but we must continue working to improve the budgeting system and strengthen our economy. 

            It is important we find new and reoccurring revenue so we may continue to fund core services. It’s equally important to find structural budget reforms.   This past week, the Senate approved a series of apportionment or “off-the-top” reforms.  This is money is taken out of the General Revenue Fund (GRF) and put directly towards certain programs.  Over time, this has been done to ensure a certain level of funding for these programs but it has tied the legislature’s hands during economic downturns.  Being that the funding is protected in statute, the legislature can’t just go in and move money when the state is experiencing extreme shortfalls like those experienced the last few years.   The legislature appropriates only 45 percent of the state’s total revenue.

These reforms will cap numerous apportionments streams at a three-year average and direct any money collected in excess of that be deposited into the GRF.

           A major milestone in criminal justice reform was reached this past week as well.  The governor, legislative leaders and district attorneys announced an agreement to advance six criminal justice reform measures this session, as well as develop a coordinating council to oversee future criminal justice reform efforts.  If approved, these measures will ensure more Oklahomans are productive, taxpaying citizens rather than costing the state through incarceration.  The bills will also help significantly slow the projected growth in corrections’ cost.  The savings can then be reinvested in education, health care and mental health programs that will yield further positive results for our citizens and our state.

Senate Republicans respect teachers and believe they deserve a pay raise. We have repeatedly passed revenue plans to fund a $5,000 teacher pay raise but they have failed in the House. The Senate will continue to work to find a solution. I’m confident we will find a way to pay our teachers what they deserve.

            We’ve been fortunate to have outstanding pages so far.  I want to thank Central senior Conner Kern and Walters senior Shalyn Bowles for taking time away from their studies to come help us at the state Capitol.

            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.

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 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 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.

Senate approves work requirements for Medicaid recipients

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OKLAHOMA CITY – To strengthen Oklahoma families and the state’s economy, the Senate approved legislation Wednesday to establish work or training requirements to participate in the SoonerCare Medicaid program.  House Bill 2932, authored by Sen. Adam Pugh and Rep. Glen Mulready, would instruct the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) to seek waiver authority to modify Medicaid eligibility criteria to require documentation of the same education, skills, training, work or job activities currently required by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

“This bill follows direction from the federal government to help those Medicaid recipients who are working-aged and able-bodied get back into the workforce and become a self-sufficient, contributing member of society.  It will align SoonerCare qualification requirements with those already in place for Oklahoma’s SNAP,” said Pugh, R-Edmond.  “I grew up extremely poor and my mom, who was a single parent, worked three jobs to support our family.  I would work as many jobs as necessary to take care of my family.  This will encourage Medicaid recipients to take some personal responsibility in getting the education or job training they need to support themselves and their families.”

The bill would mirror federal Medicaid law and SNAP by exempting from the new eligibility requirements those individuals who are 19 years of age or younger or over 60 years old, pregnant, medically-certified as physically or mentally unfit for employment, or who are a parent or caretaker of a dependent child under a year old.

According to the OHCA, there are approximately 106,600 Oklahomans who are a part of the parent/caretaker group receiving Medicaid coverage who are able-bodied/working-aged adults 19 to 64 who are not pregnant, disabled or blind.  Thirty-two percent of those recipients were male and 25 percent were two adults living in the same home and both receiving Medicaid coverage. An analysis by the agency of SoonerCare members covered in FY’17 found that around 8,000 out of those 106,600 would not have met any of the exemptions outlined in the bill.

Currently, more than 600,000 Oklahomans receive SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps) each month. In FY’17, there were more than one million Oklahomans enrolled in SoonerCare Medicaid with nearly 796,000 SoonerCare recipients in March 2018.  OHCA also noted there are nearly 81,000 SoonerCare recipients who also receive SNAP benefits.

The coauthor of the measure, Sen. Paul Rosino has been a strong advocate for the federal government’s push to get states to create work requirements for eligible Medicaid recipients.

“I applaud the Governor for championing these work requirements and my colleagues in the Senate and House for supporting them.  This will provide these individuals with the tools, whether through education or job training, to help better their lives to be able to support themselves and their families,” said Rosino, R-Oklahoma.  “We must break the cycle of government dependence that is getting worse with each generation. Since getting into office, personal responsibility and work requirements for able-bodied adults 19 to 64 has been one of my top priorities. I will continue to advocate for and support any legislation that helps strengthen Oklahoma families and our economy by helping more people become independent and self-sufficient.”

The bill now returns to the House for final consideration. Besides being approved by the Governor, the new eligibility requirements would have to also be approved by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

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.

Shelby and Ryleigh Watkins serve as pages for Senator Chris Kidd

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Comanche High School senior, Shelby Watkins, and sophomore, Ryleigh Watkins served as Senate pages for State Sen. Chris Kidd, R-Waurika, during the tenth week of the legislative session from April 9 – 12, 2018. Shelby and Ryleigh are the daughters of Waurika residents Chris and Raquel Watkins.

AUDITOR: Let the Audit Speak for Itself

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At the State Auditor’s Office, we focus on two primary matters – accountability and transparency. To achieve these two objectives, our work must be beyond reproach and the entanglement of politics.

Ours is a constitutionally-created, independent office with the principal purpose to examine and inspect whether public officials properly expended public funds.

The constitution names the State Auditor before the Attorney General. We are not agents of the Attorney General and we do not work for the Attorney General.

Our audits examine public records. We look at how public funds are spent. A finding of probable fraud, waste, or abuse is only stated when fully supported by financial records and other evidence.

The Special Investigative Audit of the Lead Impacted Communities Relocation Assistance Trust (LICRAT) was a review of public documents to determine if the LICRAT Board complied with state law in the expenditure of public funds. Special Audits differ from other types of audits because we are not required to conduct these audits in accordance with government auditing standards.

A Special Audit must be requested and conducted when financial mismanagement is believed to have occurred. The LICRAT Special Audit was initially sought by for U.S. Senator Tom Coburn. The only reason to involve the AG was because his office is one of five statutorily permitted ways to request a Special Audit. The audit was conducted on behalf of Oklahoma taxpayers.

The former attorney general acted improperly when he shared the contents of the audit report with the subject of the audit. The impropriety was further compounded when he refused to share the audit with the people who paid for it – the taxpayers of Oklahoma.

The LICRAT audit wasn’t about Scott Pruitt, left-wing environmentalists, Andy Lester, or politics. As the State Auditor, I have taken the position that the people of our state deserve to know why the LICRAT Board spent over $3.6 million on a project when the cost could have been less than $600,000.

If, as Mr. Pruitt’s spokesman stated, the audit was “shoddy,” then release it so the public can make that determination. If, as Mr. Lester stated, the audit report determined “no direct evidence of a conspiracy against the state,” then release the audit so the public can make that determination.

The State Auditor is the fact finder, not the prosecutor. The sole discretion to prosecute is always retained by the prosecutor.

The only issue here is when the prosecutor determines not to proceed – don’t cover up the issue by withholding a public document, paid for with public funds, and conducted on behalf of the public.

Audits are complicated. Many times, fraud and embezzlement are complicated. Often audits are confusing to prosecutors who aren’t confident they can sufficiently explain it to a jury in order to obtain a guilty verdict. As such, much white-collar crime goes unprosecuted.

I have confidence in the work product of our office, its people, and their professionalism. We stand by the courage of our convictions while others cast aspersions on the reputation and integrity of those who favor accountability and transparency.

Let the Audit Speak for itself.

NOTE: Oklahoma State Auditor Gary Jones doesn’t issue many news releases. As auditor, he has consistently taken the position that an audit should speak for itself. Since taking office in 2011, Gary has issued 15 news releases, of which, four were about a specific audit.

From the Office of Rep. Marcus McEntire March 1 2018

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The 2018 legislative session is in full swing up at the Capitol, and we sure started off with a bang. Lawmakers voted on a revenue proposal, known as Step Up Oklahoma, on Feb. 12. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it failed to gain the necessary votes for passage.

The bill had good parts – everyone agrees some extra cash would help Oklahoma. The revenue would have provided teachers with a well-deserved and long-overdue raise. It would have stabilized rocky funding levels for health care workers across the state. It would have allowed lawmakers to focus on big-picture things instead of trying to hurriedly scrape together a bare-bones budget.

But the Step Up package also carried with it proposals I did not appreciate. In fact, in my dozens of conversations with colleagues, no one I spoke to loved everything the plan offered. Step Up was, in the truest sense, a compromise bill. That said, its failure should not dictate where we go from here.

Instead of letting yet another revenue bill’s failure sow anger and exhaustion, I’m choosing to lean into hope that lawmakers can work across party lines to better our state. Casting my ‘yes’ vote on Feb. 12 meant I was saying ‘yes’ to securing a future of which Oklahomans can be proud. Watching the vote fail means I’m recommitting myself to building coalitions of Oklahomans on issues we care about.

Here’s what I know: Oklahomans want better education. Our teachers are some of the brightest, hardworking people I have ever met. They deserve a raise, and House Republicans will continue to fight until educators are properly compensated. I’ll also lobby for local control. Teachers know how to teach their students best. We should encourage independent classroom control, and we should empower parents to be more involved in local schools.

Oklahomans also prioritize economic development. As our tax base grows, we should seek to diversify our economy. Any investor worth his or her salt would advise clients against putting all their eggs in one basket. To strengthen Oklahoma’s economic future, we must spread out our portfolio.

Thirdly, Oklahomans recognize the need for infrastructure improvement. Our state currently ranks third worst in the nation for structurally deficient bridges. The pattern of tapping into funding for roads and bridges needs to stop. We must properly fund our transportation department so we can prevent serious infrastructure problems before more bridges collapse.

These changes aren’t things that can happen with a flick of the wrist. They will take work. Lawmakers have fought for years on these issues, and I will continue to carry the torch with my colleagues. My hope is that you will join me in this effort. Future generations should be able to look back at this session as the year when Oklahomans said ‘yes’ to building a better state.

As always, you can reach me at Marcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7327. Thanks, and God bless.

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