Measures Addressing Justification, Military Veterans, Workplace Safety Considered in House; Raid on County Road/Bridge Fund Anticipated
OKLAHOMA CITY – Legislation that would require agencies to justify their actions, give private companies permission to grant veterans a preference in hiring or promotions, and authorize the teaching of workplace safety to public school students, were considered this week in the state House of Representatives.
In addition, county commissioners were formally alerted that a raid is planned on one of their vital road/bridge construction funds.
A measure that would authorize state legislators to require any state agency to justify its actions was approved Wednesday by the House’s State Government Operations Committee.
“Every state agency … shall disclose the federal and/or state authority for any part of the agency operations” if a resolution requesting “a statement of legal authority for a specific facet of operations of the agency” is adopted by either the House or the Senate, Senate Bill 479 decrees. The legal authority “shall include reference to any constitutional provision, statute, and/or rule and regulation,” SB 479 mandates. The head of the state agency would have 10 days to respond to the legislative request.
As the Legislature seeks greater oversight of agency operations, SB 479 would provide “a tool to accomplish those goals,” said Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, House sponsor of SB 479 and chairman of the State Government Operations Committee.
“This is a much less aggressive approach” than a legislative subpoena would be, said Rep. Mark Lepak, vice chairman of the committee. State agency officials usually respond quickly to legislative requests for information or assistance, the Claremore Republican hastened to add.
SB 479, by Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, cleared the Senate on a 43-0 vote earlier this month. The House committee endorsed the measure, 6-0; among those voting “aye” was Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City. Now the bill can be considered by the full House.
Teaching Workplace Safety
The State Department of Education, in collaboration with the state Labor Department, would be directed by Senate Bill 262 to make workplace safety training materials available to Oklahoma school students 12-18 years of age enrolled in grades 7-12.
The training material (“Youth @ Work Talking Safety: A Safety and Health Curriculum for Young Workers”) would be provided by the Labor Department at no cost to the schools. Schools would be encouraged, but not mandated, to incorporate the training into their curriculum.
The bill cleared the House, 92-0, on Wednesday, and was returned to the Senate, where it previously passed, 25-18. Now the bill will be sent to the Governor.
Sen. Susan Paddack, D-Ada, is the principal author of the proposal, and Rep. Todd Thomsen, R-Ada, is the House sponsor.
Workers’ Comp Coverage for Roofers
All contracts for commercial roofing projects, and any maintenance or repair to an existing residential structure, would have to require all employees working on that job to be covered by worker’s compensation insurance “as employees of the person registered under the Roofing Contractor Registration Act.”
No roofing contractor required to be registered with the Construction Industries Board would be allowed to hire any out-of-state company or individual, or use any person or independent contractor, unless they had worker’s compensation insurance coverage.
Those conditions are proposed in Senate Bill 378, which got a favorable recommendation Tuesday from the House Committee on Business, Labor, and Retirement Laws. Members of that panel include Reps. Shane Stone, D-Oklahoma City; Will Fourkiller, D-Stilwell; and David Perryman, D-Chickasha.
SB 378 also provides that “in no event” could a homeowner be held liable for injury or death to anyone who is working for a registered roofing contractor that’s required to have workers’ compensation insurance coverage for all of its employees.
According Veterans Preferential Treatment
Private employers could accord military veterans preferential treatment in employment matters, under Senate Bill 195 approved by a House panel.
The legislation specifies that the policy “means a private employer’s voluntary preference for hiring, promoting or retaining a veteran over another qualified applicant or employee.” Granting a veterans’ preference “shall not be deemed to violate any local or state equal employment opportunity law or regulation,” the bill stipulates.
SB 195 received a “do pass” recommendation Tuesday from the House Committee on Veterans and Military Affairs. Rep. Jerry Shoemake, D-Morris, is vice chairman of the committee, and Rep. Chuck Hoskin, D-Vinita, is a member.
GOP Considers Raid on County Road/Bridge Fund
Several legislators and a key county commissioner confirmed Wednesday that a county “savings account” is being eyed by GOP legislators to help close a $611 million state budget shortfall this year. The budget gap last year was $188 million.
The Senate’s Appropriations Committee met Wednesday, not to review legislation but strictly to discuss the state budget. Among the measures under consideration is a raid on the County Improvements for Roads and Bridges (CIRB) fund, which contained $7.33 million in February, ledgers of the state Office of Management and Enterprise Services reflect. Last year the Legislature siphoned $291 million from 29 revolving funds and agency savings accounts.
The CIRB is a revolving fund established in 2006 to finance high-priority local projects such as bridge replacements or paving dirt roads in a county. The fund was created with “seed” money generated over a three-year period from motor vehicle registration fees, and is administered by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.
Latimer County Commissioner Roy Alford, president of the Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma, said ACCO was represented at the Senate committee meeting because the CIRB is critical to virtually all 231 county commissioners in Oklahoma.
“If they pull that money” from the CIRB, “it will be devastating” to Oklahoma’s 77 counties, said LeFlore County Commissioner Lance Smith, a member of the ACCO governing board.
The CIRB “is basically like a savings account for county commissioners to use when they have big, expensive projects,” said Rep. James Lockhart, D-Heavener. “Oklahomans need to know that dilapidated county roads will get even worse if the Republicans siphon off” that fund.
Road construction and bridge replacement projects “can easily range from $300,000 up to $2 million,” Smith said. CIRB funds cannot be tapped for a particular project until that road or bridge project is fully funded, Alford and Smith pointed out.
County commissioners also receive a portion of state motor fuels taxes, but that money is stretched to pay road department employee salaries, insurance premiums and retirement contributions, plus maintenance and operations expenses and to buy equipment, Smith said.
OK2A announced Monday that its Board of Directors has unanimously expressed its support for HB1749, which would halt automatic payroll deductions by state agencies for employee dues in any “public employee association or organization or professional organization that…collectively bargains on behalf of its membership.”
This bill would not affect an organizations ability to collect dues from its members, it simply removes the state from the business of supporting private organizations by handling (and using tax dollars to pay for) the collection of that private organization’s membership dues. In the case of the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), this politically leftist organization has made clear its stance against gun owners’ rights. Some of OEA’s dues money is then passed up the line to the National Education Association (NEA), which calls for “strict prescriptive regulations” of handguns and a total ban on “military-style semiautomatic assault weapons” (NEA resolution I-34, p.91). It is an improper function of government to act as bookkeeper for a private organization and even more improper to support an organization that is so clearly anti-constitutional.
We urge the Senate to pass the bill and the Governor to sing it. We also commend Representative Tom Newell and Senator Nathan Dahm for taking action on this important issue.
After the regular order of business, the Okmulgee County Commissioners had the following agenda items:
The Board approved the Juvenile Detention Services Contract with Creek County for the 2015-2016 Fiscal Year.
The Board approved the Memorandum of Understanding with Muscogee (Creek) Nation for a road project on Briar Road in District #2 and a road project on Beggs School Road in District #1.
The Board approved Bridge Inspection Reports on Salt Creek Bridge, Local #75, in District 2 and Adams Creek Bridge, Local #82, in District #1.
The Board approved the claim against the Ad Valorem Reimbursement Fund for the loss of revenue due to exemption of new or expanded manufacturing facilities for the 2014 tax year, in the amount of $100,721.00.
The Board approved the reimbursement claim for expenditures of the District Attorney’s Office for the month of February 2015.
The Board approved the reimbursement claim for the Election Board Secretary’s salary for the month of February 2015.
The meeting was adjourned.
Voters registered in the City of Beggs and City of Henryetta districts have until April 1st to apply for absentee ballots for the Municipal Election to be held on April 7, 2015.
Voters may apply in person at the County Election Board office or send in their Absentee Applications by mail, fax or email. The Application can be downloaded from the State Election Board web site or picked up in our office.
Completed Absentee Applications must be in the hands of the County Election Board no later than 4:30pm, Wednesday, April 1, 2015, in order for them to be processed and ballots mailed out to voters that day. Voted ballots must be returned by mail, UPS or FedEx not later than 7:00pm Election Day to be counted. We encourage those voters who need to vote by mail to apply as soon as possible.
Early In-Person voting dates are Thursday, April 2nd and Friday, April 3rd, from 8:00am to 6:00pm. All Early In-Person voting will take place in the Election Board Office at the Okmulgee County Courthouse.
Sample ballots are available in the Election Board office now.
The State Election Board has a new tool at their web site which allows voters to verify their party affiliation, locate their polling location, track their absentee ballot, find early voting hours and contact information. The link for the State’s website is www.ok.gov/elections.
OKLAHOMA CITY – Incentives are provided in Oklahoma to encourage doctors to practice in rural areas, Tinker Air Force Base sponsors a high-tech educational incentive program that promotes science and engineering, and a measure introduced in the Legislature this year would authorize a tax exclusion for anyone from another state who moves to any Oklahoma County experiencing a population decline.
State Rep. David Perryman contends the state should provide school teachers with a financial incentive to remain in Oklahoma even though surrounding states offer more money.
The Chickasha Democrat has proposed an amendment to Senate Bill 20 that would exempt from state income taxes the first $40,000 in salary earned by any teacher “employed in an instructional capacity by a public school district located within this state…”
“Everyone at the State Capitol gives lip service to the claim that they are going to give classroom teachers a raise, but unfortunately it just never gets done,” Perryman said. “Frankly, it makes a good sound bite, but as soon as the cameras are turned off, it becomes evident that lip service is all that they want to give. This proposal is a genuine attempt to help classroom teachers. If we cannot afford raises, then we should provide income tax relief to teachers throughout the state. It would be a fair, across-the-board benefit.”
Oklahoma has approximately 42,000 classroom and resource (special ed) teachers, records indicate.
SB 20, which pertains to certification of educators from other states to teach in Oklahoma schools, passed the Senate in a unanimous vote Feb. 25 and was endorsed March 17 by the House Committee on Common Education. Now it will be placed on the House calendar for a vote by the full House.
Oklahoma teachers have not received an across-the-board pay raise in six or seven years, Perryman related. Oklahoma’s average annual teacher salary ranks 48th in the nation, making it difficult to attract and retain quality teachers, state school Superintendent Joy Hofmeister told a Senate committee recently.
Public schools collectively have about 1,000 teaching vacancies, and the problem of teacher shortages will worsen if the State Department of Education budget is cut again this year, as expected, Hofmeister said.
Oklahoma universities produce graduates in education, but often they leave for higher paying teaching jobs in other states, Hofmeister lamented.
State Rep. James Lockhart, D-Heavener, noted that a LeFlore County school lost a teacher (a librarian) to Fort Smith recently. “She got a $21,000 raise to do the same job in Arkansas,” Lockhart said. Another eastern Oklahoma school lost a science teacher to Arkansas. “He got a $15,000 raise, just by moving across the state line,” Lockhart said. “These teachers have college degrees, and most have college loans to pay off. Many have family obligations, as well. The best teachers will go where the money is.”
The incentive Perryman proposed would not be unique.
The Physician Manpower Training Commission, for example, provides financial incentives to recruit doctors and nurses to practice in areas that have a shortage of health professionals.
The PMTC sponsors a rural medical education scholarship loan program, a community physician education scholarship loan program, an intern-resident cost-sharing program, a physician placement program, a nursing student assistance program, and community match incentive programs. There have been 633 physicians recipients of PMTC assistance since 1976, the agency reports.
Similarly, select employees at Tinker Air Force Base in the Air Force Sustainment Center’s Engineering and Technical Management Directorate attend the University of Oklahoma or Oklahoma State University to earn master’s degrees in science or engineering. The students’ tuition, fees and textbooks are paid for up to three semesters, and some students draw full salary while enrolled full-time in school.
Advanced degrees are essential for scientists and engineers who hope to advance in Tinker’s Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex.
The State Chamber of Oklahoma, in its Educated Workforce Initiative, supports bonuses or loan forgiveness programs for teachers who are certified to teach in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) areas of study. “Match public dollars invested in STEM with private dollars to encourage public/private partnerships and alignment between education and workforce needs,” the State Chamber recommends.
Perryman also pointed to House Bill 1747, which he co-authored. That measure would provide a five-year, 100% state income-tax exemption to persons who move from another state to one of a number of rural Oklahoma counties that a recent Department of Commerce study identified as projected to experience a long-term population decline. That bill passed the House, 64-11, and is assigned to the Senate Finance Committee.
After the regular order of business, the Okmulgee County Commissioners had the following agenda items:
The Board discussed storage problems on the fourth floor. The fourth floor is for the storage of documents, it was not intended for any kind of equipment or furniture. No action was taken at this time.
The Board approved the following Resolutions for Disposing of Equipment for District #1: #15-3, to surplus to sell (1) 1977 International dump truck; #15-4, to surplus to sell (1) 1989 Chevy ¾ ton pick-up; #15-5, to junk (1) 1994 International truck/tractor; #15-6, to surplus to sell (1) 1997 Ford pick-up.
The Board approved the corrected Interlocal Agreements for Emergency Management Services with the City of Beggs and the Town of Dewar, both to be effective through June 30, 2015.
The Board approved the Agreement with Duit Construction Company for the purchase of asphalt millings.
The Board approved the monthly Appropriations.
The Board approved Invitation to Bid #15 to sell (1) 1997 Ford pick-up, to be opened April 13, 2015 at 9:00 a.m.
The Board approved Invitation to Bid #16 to sell (1) 1989 Chevy ¾ ton pick-up, to be opened April 13, 2015 at 9:00 a.m.
The Board approved Invitation to Bid #17 to sell (1) 1977 International dump truck, to be opened April 13, 2015 at 9:00 a.m.
OKLAHOMA CITY – “While one isolated incident of bigotry is tragic, the real tragedy is our community’s inability to …communicate with one another about our differences.”
That was the opinion state Rep. Mike Shelton expressed Wednesday night to his colleagues in the House of Representatives when discussing the weekend incident in which a University of Oklahoma fraternity was video-recorded “chanting derogatory and racially insensitive comments.” The Oklahoma City Democrat took personal privilege to convey his sentiments about the episode.
The behavior displayed in the video – 150 years after the end of the Civil War – was “troubling and appalling,” he said. A 10-second video “filled with ignorance and hate” has embarrassed the school, “our citizens and our state.”
Two students have been expelled from OU and members of the fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, were ejected from their on-campus house. Shelton commended students who “peacefully demonstrated” against the fraternity, as well as university officials, especially President David Boren, “for their decisiveness” in response to the incident.
However, Shelton continued, “I want to address the bigger implications arising out of the actions of a few ignorant individuals.”
For example, high-school seniors in this and other states “are having conversations with their parents about whether the University of Oklahoma is a right fit for their future studies,” or perhaps whether Oklahoma “is even a good fit at all.”
Racism and bigotry are not “an inherited trait” but rather “a learned behavior … born out of a lack of knowledge and understanding.”
Continuing, Shelton said he hopes and prays that Oklahomans will “take ugly moments like these and use them as an opportunity to come together, to love one another and to educate each other, especially our children, about our experiences, our differences and our commonalities.”
The things that unite us “will always be stronger than those things that divide us,” Shelton said. “I know that together we can overcome this unfortunate moment…”
The veteran legislator urged his fellow citizens “not to run from this conversation, but to engage in it; not to close our ears to our neighbors but to listen to one another; and not to close our eyes to our differences but to gaze upon them and celebrate our diversity.”
Rejected By House Republicans on 28-72 Party-Line Vote
OKLAHOMA CITY – A Democratic effort to postpone the state income-tax cut scheduled to go into effect next January, despite a $611 million shortfall in the state budget, was defeated Monday by Republicans in the state House of Representatives.
Minority Leader Scott Inman proposed an amendment to House Bill 1778 that would eliminate the income-tax reduction the Republican-controlled Legislature approved last year, which trimmed the rate from 5.25% to 5%.
The Oklahoma Tax Commission calculated that the income-tax cut will reduce state revenues by $57 million in 2016, by $147 million in 2017, and by almost $200 million in Fiscal Year 2018.
“I’m not a fan of pushing us deeper into a hole,” said Inman, D-Del City.
Analysis by the Tax Commission indicates the income-tax cut will save 60% of all Oklahoma taxpayers a maximum of $31 a year. “That’ll buy a family one ‘Happy Meal’ and will not change buying habits,” Inman said. However, the top 1% of all Oklahoma taxpayers, those whose earnings are $1.444 million or higher, will receive an average of $2,127 each.
Oklahoma already is “in the bottom five in the nation” for total tax burden, Inman said.
Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, said that since 2008 the Legislature has slashed education funding by $220 million, resulting in Oklahoma falling to second-to-last in the nation in teacher salaries. Public education has been cut deeper by Oklahoma “than any other state in the nation,” Inman said.
Assertion that always reducing income taxes produces higher tax receipts is belied by the fact that Oklahoma’s general revenues adjusted for inflation are $687 million “below where we were in 2009,” Inman said.
Rep. James Lockhart, D-Heavener, said that while the state income tax has been cut repeatedly, state-agency fees and fines have increased by $1 billion in recent years.
For example, while the Republican-controlled Legislature has reduced appropriations for state colleges and universities by 21.6%, tuition “has gone up about 19%,” Inman said. The GOP has “completely shifted the way government is funded,” he said.
The proposal to repeal the income-tax reduction ultimately failed on a 28-72 party-line vote.
After our regular order of business, the County Commissioners' had the following agenda items:
Fair Board member Clint Scism was present to discuss the dirt work to be done as the in-kind match for the Okmulgee County Fairgrounds CDBG project. No action was taken.
The Board approved the Agreement with Verizon Wireless for Emergency Management Services.
The Board approved the Temporary Permit with Waterloo Explorations to lay an above-ground temporary waterline in District #2, located in Section 26, Township T13 North, Range 12 East.
The Board approved the Emergency Operations Plan for Okmulgee County Emergency Management.
The most recent Legislative Forum was held Friday morning March 6 in the Mabrey Meeting Room. Legislatures in attendance were State Representatives Steve Kouplin, Jerry Shoemake and State Senator Roger Thompson. Thompson opened the meeting with a very interesting presentation explaining the state budget and how it works. Click HERE for Handout.
These forums are sponsored by the Okmulgee Chamber governmental affairs committee and are held the first Friday of each month through June while the House is in session. The meetings will be held at the same time and location.
The public is invited to come hear their local elected representatives and get to know them. Citizens can voice their opinions and get answers to their questions.