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Friday, December 14, 2018

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.

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.

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.

Statement from Senate Democrats on Oklahoma Teacher Walkout

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OKLAHOMA CITY- Senate Democratic Leader John Sparks released the following statement on behalf of the Senate Democratic Caucus:

“Today the Senate Democratic Caucus welcomed thousands of educators, parents, students, and concerned citizens to the Capitol. We stand with them in their fight to properly fund public education in Oklahoma.

Paying our teachers a fair and competitive salary is a priority, but this movement is about more than just teacher pay, it’s about the chronic underfunding of public education in Oklahoma.

Over the last decade state funding for public education is down $180 million, marking a 28% cut. Since the 2013-14 school year, student enrollment has grown by 15,000 students but there are 700 fewer teachers in our public schools, with 20% of public school districts in Oklahoma moving to four day school weeks.

Our students deserve better. We need to restore funding for education which has been slashed by years of tax cuts. The legislature passed a revenue package last week, but more work needs to be done to provide sustainable revenues for education.

Last month the Senate passed SB 1086, bipartisan legislation to eliminate the capital gains tax loophole, which would bring in an additional $100 million in revenue for education. We urge the House to take action and pass the bill this week so we can make a serious investment in Oklahoma’s classrooms.”

Senate May Repeal Hotel Tax

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OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Senate will meet Friday to consider special session and regular session measures.

The Senate will meet in special session at 8:30 a.m. Friday to consider HB 1019xx, the marketplace fairness act or so-called “Amazon bill,” as well as HB 1012xx, a bill that repeals the “hotel/motel” tax that was originally included the $530 million revenue package (HB 1010xx) passed by the Legislature last week that completely funds the largest teacher pay raise in state history.

The Amazon bill is estimated to generate approximately $20 million and when added to growth revenue in the state budget more than makes up for the hotel/motel tax.

The Senate also will meet in regular session Friday morning to consider HB 3375, the so-called “ball and dice” bill.

Agendas can be viewed on the Senate website. Senate floor proceedings can be viewed via livestream.

Teacher Pay Negotiations Continue

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The Capitol has been fairly quiet this past week, which is typical for Spring Break. Lawmakers met briefly on the floor each day, and Senate bills were assigned to committees. Several of my colleagues and I brought our families to Oklahoma City for the break, and I really enjoyed getting to meet everyone. It was especially fun to watch our children play together and observe life on the House floor – a future generation of leaders, that’s for sure!

Even though floor sessions and committee meetings were pretty light this week, negotiations continue on a teacher pay raise plan. Leaders in the House, Senate and governor’s office are hard at work trying to provide teachers with proper compensation while balancing the needs of all other core services of government. It’s not an easy feat, which is why you may have seen several possible plans floating around social media lately.

Last week, House Speaker Charles McCall unveiled a proposal that is being dubbed the Transformational Teacher Pay Raise Plan. This plan is a backup plan should a grand revenue package we can pass not materialize. It is a long-range plan intended to come to fruition over the course of the next six years. What it lacks in immediacy, it makes up for in salary increases. By the time the plan is complete, Oklahoma’s teacher salaries would be highest in the region. Educators who have been in the classroom for 25 years would be making $60,000 on the minimum teacher salary schedule.

As the teacher walkout looms, there are a number of other plans on the table to fund education, fund teacher and state employee pay increases, and fund core services. It is becoming evident I will be forced to make some tough calls on your behalf soon. Lawmakers will be faced with choices I would honestly rather not face over these next few weeks and months, but my job is to listen to you and carry out the will of the people in House District 50.

Of course, none of this is easy – and all of it is taking much longer than anyone would like. But I am in this for the long haul, and I intend to stand with teachers every step of the way.

If you have any thoughts on the pay raise proposals, please reach out and let me know. I’m at Marcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov  or 405-557-7327. Thanks, and may God continue to bless our great state.

Senate Review March 22 2018

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We’re into the second half of the legislative session.  Being that last week was the deadline for floor action on Senate bills, we were extremely busy.  We heard more than 300 bills in the last two weeks. 

Senate Republicans voted strongly (85%) in favor of the revenue package presented Thursday night through HB 1033.  We voted on HB 1033 that would generate $450 million for a 12.7 percent teacher pay raise and a $2,500 state employee raise.  The measure would have increased the GPT from 2-4 percent on all wells ($126 million); increase the gas diesel tax by six cents ($170 million); and increase the cigarette tax by $1/ pack ($152 million). 

            SB1033 failed by two votes, only two votes away from the constitutionally-required three-fourths majority.  But we’re not done.  We will keep working to find a solution to create revenue that our Democratic colleagues can agree with.  While the bill to pay for the raise failed, the actual bill (SB133) creating the raise passed overwhelmingly so as soon as we find a revenue source, the vehicle is there ready to move forward.

Unfortunately, revenue raising measures must get approved by 75 percent of both the Senate and House.  In the Senate that is 36 votes and in the House, it’s 76 votes.

The source of the gridlock in Oklahoma is that we require super majority approval for revenue raising measures. SQ 640, enacted by voters in 1992, has led to the current gridlock and made it virtually impossible to approve reasonable revenue plans to shore up the state budget and provide teacher and state employee pay raises. 

The Senate recently approved SJR61 which would send SQ640 back to the vote of the people for them to modify SQ 640 so that 75 percent support for tax increases is required except for increases to sales and use taxes, which would only require a 60% (3/5) support from the House and Senate. 

Also this week, I finished up my remaining bills that passed off the Senate floor.  These included:  SB1364, which modifies procedures for sale of certain property and SB1365 modifies the maximum amount of certain county retirement contributions. SB1369 is a bill that clarifies language relating to police and fire arbitration. SB1372 extends the billing cycle of the State Medicaid Program and, lastly, SB1488 creates a lifetime landowner license.

            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.

The Pending Walkout

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As the House worked through its floor deadline this past week, lawmakers continued to work hard on a teacher pay raise plan. This can sometimes feel like an insurmountable feat, but I remain committed to getting this done. The time is now.

Despite the high tensions surrounding the possible teacher walkout, I’m encouraged by the number of people actively following what happens in state government. Local politics tend to be overshadowed by what happens at the national level, but decisions made on the state-level are generally more impactful to you.

Of course, I wish this increased advocacy and activism had come about because of something positive, but I truly believe an informed public is a better public. Your frustrations are understood, and I share them with you. By harnessing the energy of teachers, superintendents and parents, I believe we can all find common ground and develop a solution that will work. Working across the aisle, bringing stakeholders to the table and doing some honest-to-goodness brainstorming will help us get there.

This change will not happen overnight. April 2 is fast approaching, and bills don’t become law instantaneously. Once a deal is reached, language must be drafted. The process itself of passing nearly any bill takes at least five days. That’s not to mention the fact that the Oklahoma Education Association’s request of $800 million for this upcoming fiscal year is a near-impossible task.

We’ve tried to raise taxes – even just to the tune of $160 million in the form of a cigarette tax increase – several times over the past year. Each time, a small minority of representatives has used its power as a way to prohibit progress. The House has passed a series of reforms that will help us better grasp our state budget, but we’re still far short of the $800 million OEA wants. 

I do not say this to discourage a walkout. In fact, I encourage teachers to follow their hearts these next few weeks. Make your voices heard. Come visit me at the Capitol. Visit other lawmakers. Do whatever you need to do. I hesitate to give you false hope, though, because I honestly cannot envision a scenario where lawmakers are able to deliver on every OEA demand – especially before April 2

Are teachers and support staff deserving of a significant raise? Without a doubt. Am I fighting to make that happen? Every single day. I am staunchly supportive of our educators, and I cannot fully express how appreciative I am for their dedication to our state’s future generations. My desire is to reach a compromise where the solution will both provide immediate relief and long-term growth opportunities for teacher salaries. Perhaps then we will start effectively recruiting teachers, rather than throwing up our hands in exasperation. I believe we can do this if we stop insisting on a Republican plan or a Democrat plan and demand an Oklahoma plan – a plan that is good for all Oklahomans.

Lastly, I have one quick bill update: my measure forming a commission to investigate elderly abuse, neglect and exploitation passed the House and is headed to the Senate. I am truly grateful for the support, and I’m excited that we seem to be on track to better protecting our senior citizens.

If you are planning a visit to the Capitol in the coming weeks, please let me know. I’d love to talk to you. I’m atMarcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov and 405-557-7327. Thanks and God bless.

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.

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.

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