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Sunday, January 20, 2019

New Oklahoma Documentary Chronicling Opioid Addiction Epidemic

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OKLAHOMA CITY – Killing Pain, a seven part documentary series chronicling the state’s opioid addiction epidemic launched this week and is available to view, free of charge, on https://www.killingpain.com/.

The in-depth documentary explores the public health crisis in Oklahoma from its origin to steps the state is currently taking to stem the epidemic. The series is presented by Fighting Addiction Through Education (FATE) and produced by Lampstand Media.

The series also features personal stories of addiction, the economic cost of the crisis and the biology of addiction.

Attorney General Mike Hunter appears in multiple episodes to discuss the state’s response and the lawsuit filed by his office last July.

“Killing Pain is a pioneering series that shines light on the tragic story of how our state got in this position and why we are close to ground zero in terms of the addiction epidemic,” Attorney General Hunter said. “I encourage all Oklahomans watch this gripping documentary that covers the many tragic aspects of the crisis and how it impacts all of us. Although the reality of the story is painful, the good news is, Oklahoma is rising to meet this challenge. State officials, business leaders and community organizers are tired of watching our families suffer and are stepping up and doing something about it.

“I appreciate Reggie Whitten and his organization, FATE, for presenting this project and Lampstand for the wonderful care and craftsmanship in which they took in producing it.”

Whitten, who is also a law partner at Whitten – Burrage, founded FATE after the tragic overdose death of his son, Brandon.

“This documentary is part of my ongoing personal mission to show Oklahomans this epidemic is real and it is on our doorstep,” Whitten said. “I also want people to know there is hope and there is help for those who are struggling. No parent should ever have to go through the pain and suffering of losing a child. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about Brandon. I want people to know his story and the thousands of other stories that are similar. The more people we can get to understand the realities of the crisis, the more lives of Oklahomans we will save.”

Other prominent Oklahomans interviewed for the series are U.S. Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, Commissioner for the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Terri White and Assistant Clinical Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry, Behavioral Sciences at Oklahoma State University-Center for Health Sciences Dr. Jason Beamon and more.

Founded in 2010, Lampstand tells powerful stories through film to move people to action and change the world around them. Lampstand works with a variety of clients from corporations to nonprofits, long form docs to social campaigns. The company’s work has been featured on Netflix, PBS, National Geographic and with client around the world in over 30 countries and on six continents.

FATE is a nonprofit educational outreach program that seeks to shed a light on the dangers of addiction and substance abuse in Oklahoma. FATE also focuses on motivational efforts to encourage individuals who are suffering from addiction to get help.

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

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.

Republicans Blame Democrats for Failed Vote on Teacher Pay Raise

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Here Is Where the Blame Lies

On Wednesday night, March 14, the Oklahoma Senate Republicans once again offered a bill that would raise enough revenue to give every Oklahoma teacher a 12.7 percent ($5,000 average) pay raise, provide state employees a $2,500 raise, and restore the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). It was essentially the same revenue bill the Democrats in the Senate supported in November.

Wednesday night they voted against the bill.

Why?

As one Democratic Senator told me, “It doesn’t meet the ask.”

What is the ask?

Well, depending on who you talk with, the Dems want a revenue increase of as much as $1.5 billion. One Democratic Senator told me that they couldn’t support the bill because the Oklahoma Educators Association (OEA) doesn’t want them to. After all, the OEA is the one making the ask. This is the same OEA that joined House Republicans a couple months ago at a press conference to support essentially the same plan as being good for education.

So it seems that a $5,000 pay increase for teachers isn’t enough. They want $10,000, despite the fact that the 12.7% increase we have presented raises the average teacher salary higher than is found in any of the surrounding states, except Texas.

They want a billion-and-a-half dollars for education, or nothing.

That, despite the fact that over 50 percent of our appropriated dollars go to education, despite the fact that we have other pressing issues to deal with, like the fact that our prisons are at 113 percent capacity.  Despite the fact that other essential services are crying for funding, everything from senior nutrition to our medical schools.

But apparently if the OEA wants all or nothing, the Democrats march in lock step. And, of course, there is the politics. With state-wide elections coming up in November, it seems that the Democrats prefer to shut down good policy so they can have a campaign issue in the fall.

That is unfortunate for Oklahoma.

The bill, HB1033xx, has a decent chance of being passed in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

There is an increase of the gross production tax (GPT) on all oil and gas wells to four percent, a $1.00 tax on cigarettes and a six cent excise tax increase on motor fuels. After 36 months, all wells increase to seven percent GPT. The motor fuel tax will still be lower than it is in surrounding states. Issues that lost votes in the House last time have been reduced or modified to pick up those votes.

I don’t think there was a Republican on the floor who voted for this tax increase who actually liked everything in the package. That includes me. However, if we want to meet some very real needs in this state, we need to increase revenue.

The revenue package we voted on Wednesday night is a reasonable way to get there. We lowered the ask on the cigarette tax by 50 cents from the last time we ran something like this, when it passed the Senate overwhelmingly. We changed the GPT increase from just new wells to all wells. We kept the motor fuels excise tax the same (more than 40 percent of which will be paid for by visitors to the state). That tax has not been increased in 31 years.

It seems that the Democrats were for this bill, before they were against it.

I guess it all depends on which way the political winds are blowing for them at a given moment. I, and the vast majority of my Republican colleagues in the Senate, many of whom will be hurt politically by their votes on this, prefer to pursue sound policy.

I welcome your questions and concerns, so please feel free to contact my office at the State Capitol if you would like to discuss a particular issue or problem.  Our office can be reached by phone at 405-521-5561 or by email at bergstrom@oksenate.gov.   If you visit the Capitol, we are located in Room 428B.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights of the FY’19 budget:

– $7.6 billion budget

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

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

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

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

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

– $11 million in criminal justice reform initiatives

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

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

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

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

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

Fighting For You

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I’ve received more emails and phone calls in the past week or two from teachers in House District 50 than I have in a long time. Each conversation contains stories of educators who are just flat exhausted – they feel underappreciated and stretched thin. And they feel let down by lawmakers.

As much as I hate to see and hear the frustrated tone in the emails and phone calls, I have to admit I understand where the teachers are coming from. Please know, I stand with our educators.

House Republicans have voted on more than 20 revenue measures that could have helped fund – or funded entirely – a teacher pay raise. And that’s just since I’ve been in office. I’ve voted ‘yes’ each and every time. These revenue bills weren’t always the easiest measures to vote for or approve; as a conservative, I truly believe in protecting taxpayers from unnecessary taxation. But at a certain point, we must realize the path Oklahoma is on is not working out well. We need to adjust our policies and set our state on a better path.

I truly believe we can make changes that positively impact Oklahoma and provide for teacher pay raises. As lawmakers, we have a duty to put people above politics. We have a responsibility to think and make decisions bettering Oklahoma for the future, not just for today. Those decisions include ensuring we properly compensate teachers so our dedicated educators don’t flee the state. The time to act is now.

As for another pressing issue, most everyone has heard about the closure of Youth Services for Stephens County. I did not see this one coming, and I heard about it only after being contacted by a local news reporter. The closure is upsetting, and it will impact the many families who rely on services day in and day out.

Also, it is upsetting to me to blame the closure on budget cuts. I have learned the center received no cut from the Office of Juvenile Affairs this year. And again, nobody from the center contacted me alerting me of budget woes so severe they could prompt shutting the doors.

I’ve been in contact with folks at the Office of Juvenile Affairs, and we’re looking into exactly what happened at Youth Services. Their programs and services were valuable to our district, and I would love to see if there’s something we can do to reopen the center or replace services in another manner. I’ll keep you posted.

There’s a lot of news happening these days. Please trust that I think of the people in House District 50 every single day. Your worries and concerns are my worries and concerns. Your celebrations are mine, too. If you need anything, you know how to reach me. I’m at Marcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7327. Thanks, and God bless.

Sen. Nathan Dahm calls on legislature to correct years of veto decisions

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‘Over the last eight years we have seen decisions from the governor that are out of step with the will of the people, with the Republican party platform, and with the Constitution.’—Sen. Nathan Dahm

Broken Arrow, OK – Sen. Nathan Dahm has started the process for legislators to call themselves back into session to pass legislation vetoed by Gov. Mary Fallin.

“Over the last eight years we have seen decisions from the governor that are out of step with the will of the people, with the Republican Party platform, and with the Constitution,” said Dahm, R-Broken Arrow. “We have seen Governor Fallin use her veto pen to kill bills that would have brought transparency and accountability to government, reined in out of control agency rules, get parents more involved in education, restore our Second Amendment rights, return local control back to communities, secure parental rights in healthcare decisions, streamline and modernize state government, restore private property rights, change the budgeting system for long term planning, and more. This would afford us the opportunity to correct those mistakes without having to wait another year to do so.”

In order to enter a special session, two-thirds of both the House and the Senate must agree to return.

“The Oklahoma Constitution allows for the Legislature to call itself back into session with two-thirds of both the House and the Senate. It appears likely we will return back to the Capitol for at least one more special session this summer or fall. If we will be returning for another session, it would seem an opportune time to simultaneously deal with these measures the Governor has vetoed,” Dahm said.

So far, the following members have already signed on to the resolution: Reps. Sean Roberts; Greg Babinec; Bobby Cleveland; Jeff Coody; Jon Echols; George Faught; Tom Gann; Lewis Moore; Zack Taylor; Kevin West; Rick West; Mark Lawson; and Sens. Nathan Dahm; Josh Brecheen; James Leewright; and Anthony Sykes.

Dahm has the first ever veto override of a Republican governor by a Republican legislature in state history. In 2014 Fallin vetoed HB2461, a pro-Second Amendment bill supported by the NRA, OK2A, and other gun rights groups when she included the bill in a group of vetoes in an attempt to force the legislature to focus on her preferred agenda items. The Legislature overrode the veto in a historic move and by doing so furthered Second Amendment protections that would have otherwise been stalled by Fallin.

Dahm represents Oklahoma’s 33rd district. He was first elected in 2012.

For more information, contact Sen. Nathan Dahm, 405-521-5551 or dahm@oksenate.gov.

The marathon continues

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We now have six weeks left in the first session of the 56th Legislature. My first session at the Capitol has flown by so far, and now is the time we really start getting into specifics with appropriations and budget bills.

 

Committee meetings wrapped up on April 13, so most bills that did not clear committee are dead for the remainder of the session. However, there is an exception for revenue-related legislation. The Appropriations & Budget Committee’s deadline is April 20, but there is some flexibility on that deadline as well, and it is not unusual to see additional bills pop up after that date.

 

I’m sure many of you are aware of the budget proposals that are being floated. The governor has her plan; the Democrats in the House proposed one of their own; even the state auditor has come up with a tax proposal. I’m sure you are wondering where we Republicans are in our budget process.

 

There are many items still up in the air, but House Republicans are about to start proposing several building blocks for a balanced budget. Leadership has a plan in place, and we will begin taking up revenue-raising measures as well as other possible solutions in the next couple of weeks. Chances are there will be a number of tax credits, exemptions and deductions on the table before we see anything like a tax increase. I plan on reviewing every proposal carefully as we seek to close the $878 million projected shortfall in next year’s budget. As those bills come up, I will be sure to update you with any major developments.

 

Even though budget work has yet to be finalized, the Judiciary – Criminal Justice & Corrections Committee and the Public Safety Committee passed some significant criminal justice reform measures last week. These bills were part of Gov. Mary Fallin’s justice reform package and are meant to better Oklahoma’s corrections system. I’m not in either committee, but I was glad to hear the bills are progressing, and I look forward to voting on them when the measures come before the House floor.

 

If you remember, we are currently hearing Senate bills in the House. The third-reading deadline for those Senate bills is April 27, meaning all of those measures will have to receive a hearing by that date to stay alive. At that point, the House will review any amendments senators added to our legislation. If we approve those changes, the bills can progress to the governor’s desk. If we do not approve the amendment, the bill can go to a conference committee to iron out any details.

 

As always, please feel free to reach out if you need anything. Being your state representative is one of the most gratifying jobs I have ever had, and I want to do as much good as I can. You can call my Capitol office at (405) 557-7327 or email me at Marcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov. Thank you, and God bless.

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.

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