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Sunday, March 24, 2019

Oklahoma Senators take oath of office

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Twenty-four new and returning members of the Oklahoma State Senate were sworn into office at the Capitol Wednesday with Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, President of the Senate, presiding over the ceremony. The oath was administered by the Honorable Douglas L. Combs, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

New members taking the oath of office include David Bullard, R-Durant; Chuck Hall, R-Perry; Bill Coleman, R-Ponca City; Darrell Weaver, R-Moore; Mary Boren, D-Norman; Julia Kirt, D-Oklahoma City; John Michael Montgomery, R-Lawton; Carri Hicks, D-Oklahoma City; John Haste, R-Broken Arrow; Brenda Stanley, R-Oklahoma City; Brent Howard, R-Headrick; and George Young, D-Oklahoma City.

Returning members include Senators Marty Quinn, R-Claremore; Mark Allen, R-Spiro; Roger Thompson, R-Okemah; James Leewright, R-Sapulpa; Frank Simpson, R-Springer; Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City; Darcy Jech, R-Kingfisher; Michael Brooks, D-Oklahoma City; Kim David, R-Porter; J.J. Dossett, D-Owasso; Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City; and Jason Smalley, R-Stroud.

The full Senate will officially convene for an organizational day on Tuesday, January 8, 2019, and the First Session of the 57th Legislature reconvenes on Monday, February 4. The deadline for requesting bills for the upcoming session is December 7. Those measures must be filed by January 17.

The Senate website has streaming video from all committee rooms and the chamber. Legislation, the Senate Journal, biographical information on members, high resolution photos, committee and floor agendas, votes and press releases can also be accessed at www.oksenate.gov.

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

House Democrats Name Emily Virgin as Minority Leader

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OKLAHOMA CITY – The House Democratic Caucus today elected a new leader for the 57thLegislature.

Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, has been chosen to lead the caucus as Minority Leader. She served as the Caucus Chair during the 56th Legislature.

Virgin’s election is historic as women now lead both Democratic Caucuses in the Oklahoma Legislature.

“It’s humbling that the caucus has faith in me to lead during this important time in Oklahoma’s statehood,” Virgin said. “I am proud to represent women in this endeavor, but make no mistake, our caucus is focused on including all Oklahomans in the conversation regardless of gender, race or income level. This caucus moved the state in a positive direction the last session and helped guarantee the largest teacher pay raise in state history. We will fight to build on this success – not only in education but also in access to health care, expansion of mental health services, criminal justice reform, and providing opportunities for quality employment in Oklahoma communities.”

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.

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.

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.

Bill aimed at boosting state’s second largest industry

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OKLAHOMA CITY – The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved legislation Wednesday to boost the state’s second largest industry, the aerospace industry.  House Bill 2578, by Sen. Paul Rosino and Rep. Tess Teague, would create the Aerospace Commerce Economic Services (ACES) program under the Department of Commerce.  The ACES program is based on similar business models from other states that have proven to have substantial economic impacts.

“The aerospace industry in Oklahoma is a $44 billion industry and utilizing ACES proven organizational structure and methodology is estimated to further grow the industry to $50-$60 billion annually,” said Rosino, R-Oklahoma City.  “This focused initiative will help drive further job creation, economic growth and increased tax revenues for our state.”

HB 2578 would create a partnership of service providers to more effectively respond to the needs of the aviation, aerospace and defense industries in the areas of education and training, research and economic development.  A panel would be formed, chaired by the Governor to facilitate Oklahoma agencies, industry, academia and other key stakeholders in creating and aligning goals.

ACES would build on the success of its precursor, the Center of Aerospace and Defense Supplier Quality (CADSQ) ran by the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission (OAC).  A 2015 Economic Impact Study found that CADSQ created $72 million in new business and had a $237 million state economic impact.  The OAC invested $2 million in CADSQ, which produced $9.7 million in new taxes for the state.

“The aerospace industry has tremendous momentum right now and we must keep that going. The previous business model used by the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission provided a five to one or 517 percent return on the state’s investment and ACES will help produce even more growth in Oklahoma’s economy,” said Rosino. “Having a strong business strategy will help the aerospace industry continue growing by being able to better utilize available resources for the recruitment of specific targeted businesses that have production and sustainment capabilities.”

HB 2578 will now go before the full Senate.

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.

Senate votes Greg Treat as president pro tempore

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OKLAHOMA CITY – Members of the Oklahoma Senate on Tuesday voted Senator Greg Treat as president pro tempore, the chamber’s top leadership post.

Treat previously served as the majority floor leader, the Senate’s second-highest leadership office, and was selected by Senate Republicans last year as their choice to lead the Senate. On Tuesday during organizational day, the entire Senate made it official and voted to name Treat as the Senate leader.

“I am humbled and honored to serve as the leader of the Oklahoma Senate. I very much appreciate my colleagues for their trust in my leadership and look forward to the challenge ahead. I also want to thank my wife and children. Without their love and support, I would not be able to serve in the Senate,” said Treat, R-Oklahoma City.

“As leader of the Senate I promise our chamber will work hard, we’ll work together across political parties, and we’ll work toward policies that are good for all Oklahomans. There are certainly challenges facing our state, but there is nothing standing in our way that we can’t overcome together. I am optimistic about the future of our state and feel very blessed to be in a position to help lead Oklahoma to an even better and brighter future.”

Treat lives in Oklahoma City with his wife Maressa and their three children: Mason, Cooper, and Olivia. The Treat family attends Frontline Church. He was elected in a 2011 special election to represent District 47, which encompasses northwest Oklahoma City and portions of Edmond, Deer Creek, and Bethany. Treat serves on the executive committees of both the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Southern Legislative Conference.

The Oklahoma Constitution calls upon the Legislature to meet before the start of each two-year session to formally elect its leaders and certify the previous year’s election results. On Tuesday, the Senate certified the 2018 election results and officially elected Treat and other senators to Senate leadership positions. The Senate GOP leadership includes:

  • Senator Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, President Pro Tempore
  • Senator Kim David, R-Porter, Majority Floor Leader
  • Senator Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, Appropriations chair
  • Senator Jason Smalley, R-Stroud, Majority Caucus chair
  • Senator Rob Standridge, R-Norman, Majority Whip
  • Senator Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City, Assistant Floor Leader
  • Senator Frank Simpson, R-Springer, Assistant Floor Leader
  • Senator Dave Rader, R-Tulsa, Majority Caucus vice chair
  • Senator Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, Assistant Majority Whip
  • Senator Casey Murdock, R-Felt, Assistant Majority Whip
  • Senator Marty Quinn, R-Claremore, Assistant Majority Whip
  • Senator Darcy Jech, R-Kingfisher, Rural Caucus chair

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.

 

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