Monday, May 29, 2017

Music Monday: Armed Forces Salute

This week's Music Monday is Armed Forces Salute, arranged by Bob Lowden. I played this awesome arrangement many Memorial Day Sundays with the Tulsa Bible Church Orchestra.

Enjoy!



Click to go below the page break to see all previous Music Monday posts. Do you have a song you'd like to suggest for a future Music Monday? Email me at JamisonFaught@MuskogeePolitico.com.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Severe weather possible this evening

The National Weather Service is forecasting a high potential for severe weather this evening for much of eastern Oklahoma, western Arkansas, and southern Missouri. The risk is for destructive winds, very large hail (baseball to grapefruit size), and possible strong tornadoes.

The charts below are from the National Weather Service office in Tulsa:

Probability of area being under a Severe Thunderstorm Warning this evening
Probability of area being under a Tornado Warning this evening
Severe weather advice
Stay safe this evening!


Friday, May 26, 2017

Sine Die: Legislature passes budget, new taxes, adjourns


"There is nothing that will upset a state economic condition like a legislature. It's better to have termites in your house than the legislature [in session]."

"The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn't get worse every time Congress meets."

"Never blame a legislative body for not doing something. When they do nothing, they don't hurt anybody. When they do something is when they become dangerous."

The above quotes from Will Rogers, Oklahoma's favorite son, come to mind when thinking about the potential from the 2017 legislative session that adjourned sine die today.

The House passed the $6.8B FY2018 budget by a vote of 57-42, with 16 House Republicans (mostly from the conservative wing) and all 26 Democrats voted against it. The Senate had previously passed the appropriations bill on Wednesday. Shortly after that vote, the House narrowly passed a $257M cigarette tax smoking cessation fee 51-43. 18 Republicans and 25 Democrats opposed that measure, which I believe fails to meet constitutional muster.

On the Senate side, they passed a $123M tax hike on vehicle sales, which also likely fails the constitutionality test. 14 Republicans and 4 Democrats voted against that bill, which passed 25-18.

Conservative think-tank OCPA had fairly positive comments about the end of session, noting that "the Legislature deserves credit for passing a budget that minimizes damaging tax increases on Oklahomans compared to what was called for at the start of session."

Governor Mary Fallin kicked off the year with proposals to raise a variety of taxes by nearly 2.6 billion dollars. While she did get her cigarette tax smoking cessation fee increase of $257M, she didn't get her $635M fuel tax increase, or her $1.7B sales tax hike. That is a positive that we can take from this session.

However, a real and very dangerous question must be answered by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The Legislature very clearly and brazenly defied Article 5, Section 33 of the Oklahoma Constitution, which states that "No revenue bill shall be passed during the five last days of the session," as well as "Any revenue bill originating in the House of Representatives may become law without being submitted to a vote of the people of the state if such bill receives the approval of three-fourths (3/4) of the membership of the House of Representatives and three-fourths (3/4) of the membership of the Senate and is submitted to the Governor for appropriate action." The aforementioned tax/fee hikes were passed within that 5-day window and without 3/4ths approval, clearly breaking the spirit and letter of the law, which is in the State Constitution by virtue of the Oklahoma voters passing State Question 640 in 1992 in response to the Legislature passing tax increases.

If the courts do not clearly respond to this action, future legislatures will be able to raise revenue at any time and in any manner with complete impunity.

Three takeaways:
  1. It was not a good legislative session. There were difficulties resolved in poor ways.
  2. It could have been much worse. Even greater damage was averted.
  3. It could be much worse in the future if Article 5 Section 33 of the Oklahoma Constitution is not properly enforced.

Oklahoma Senate Pro Tem comments on 2017 session

Sen. Pro Tempore Mike Schulz (R-Altus)
Oklahoma Senate Pro Tem comments on 2017 session
Says REAL ID, energy jobs policy wins during challenging budget year

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz commented on the 2017 session, saying great policy bookended a session dominated by a $1 billion budget shortfall.

“The Oklahoma Senate worked this session with the goal of ensuring the policies we enacted had long-term vision and set Oklahoma on the path to success now and years down the line. Despite a session that was dominated by the $1 billion shortfall, the Senate was able to enact important policies that will help grow our economy, create jobs and generate wealth, and yield new revenues for the state budget. The Energy Jobs Act of 2017 will help kick start oil and gas drilling, allowing the industry to help lead Oklahoma’s economic recovery. And getting Oklahoma in compliance with the federal REAL ID law ensures Oklahomans can maintain access to military bases to support our service men and women and board domestic flights with state issued ID,” said Schulz, R-Altus.

“The budget process was difficult this year. The Oklahoma Senate showed its willingness to compromise – passing a revenue bill that would have meant $514 million in new, recurring revenue for the state. But without compromise from others in budget negotiations, we couldn’t reach a deal and moved forward. Initially, 18 – 20 percent cuts were feared at the outset of the year. But the budgets of common education, the Department of Corrections, the Department of Human Services, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, and the Department of Public Safety were kept whole while other agency cuts average less than five percent. Like most budgets passed by the Legislature, the FY’18 budget is not a perfect bill but it is an incredible accomplishment considering the Legislature had to deal with a budget hole of $1 billion and some refused to compromise.”

“This was a challenging session, but I’m proud of every member of the Oklahoma Senate for their dedication to our state and willingness to put our state above partisan politics. I’m proud to lead this chamber and want to thank each senator for their service to Oklahoma.”

Below is a list of some of the 2017 legislative accomplishments of the Oklahoma Senate:

BUDGET REFORMS:

  • HB 2298 (Schulz):  accelerates the sunset date of the zero-emissions tax credit for wind energy to July 1, 2017, saving the state millions of dollars in future budget years.
  • HB 2343 (David):  expands parameters for which the Oklahoma Tax Commission can target entities for noncompliance with certain sales tax laws. The measure is expected to generate $17 million in new revenue.
  • SB 170 (Thompson):  eliminates the automatic income tax cut trigger, preserving lawmakers’ ability to pursue income tax cuts at a future date.
  • HB 2311 (Schulz):  commission to conduct independent performance audits of top 20 appropriated state agencies in order to identify ways in which tax dollars can be used more efficiently and services delivered more effectively.
  • HB 2344 (David): reduces the maximum for the Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate Program by $1 million.
  • HB 2348 (David): “decouples” the standard deduction on state tax returns from federal deductions. The measure is estimated to raise $4 million currently, and prevent millions in an anticipated shortfall if the federal government changes the federal standard deduction. 
  • HB 1427 (Leewright):  authorizes the creation of a dedicated division within the Oklahoma Tax Commission to focus solely on out-of-state vendors who may not be in compliance with Oklahoma tax code.

 ECONOMY:  A MORE PROSPEROUS OKLAHOMA

  • SB 867 (Schulz):  Energy Jobs Act of 2017 allows horizontal drilling in all rock formations, while maintaining protections for other producers. The bill is estimated to generate millions for state and local governments, and foster the creation of thousands of oil and gas jobs. 
  • HB 1845 (Schulz): brings Oklahoma into compliance with the federal REAL ID law ensuring Oklahomans can use their state-issued licenses to gain entry to federal buildings and military installations and to board commercial flights.
  • SB 147 (Schulz): allows concentrated feeding animal operations (CAFO) to be located within a town if the municipality's governing body executes a written waiver of the setback for the particular CAFO, ensuring CAFO’s can continue operations while allowing municipalities to hold them accountable.
  • SB 120 (David):  extends the successful aerospace engineers tax credit.
  • SB 211 (Bice):  allows Sunday alcohol sales if approved by county voters.
  • SB 174 (Bice): allows spouses of liquor retail store owners to own separate stores.
  • SB 593 (Schulz): Protects property rights, puts Oklahoma in line with the other 49 states in regards to private airstrips, and allows FAA to make the determination of setbacks to keep the area safe for air travel.
  • HB 2186 (Holt) (pending): allows movie theatres to serve alcohol provided they receive the appropriate permits.

EDUCATION:  INVESTING IN FUTURE GENERATIONS

  • SB 514 (Stanislawski):  creates task force to study ways to reduce administrative costs and improve financial stability of school districts. Another effort to ensure more dollars make it into the classroom to support students and teachers.
  • SB 15 (Bice):  directs the OSDE and State Regents for Higher Education to implement a targeted teacher recruiting program.
  • SB 84 (Bergstrom):  extends the probationary period for a student who cannot pass the third-grade reading test to the 2022-2023 school year.
  • SB 244 (Stanislawski):  requires virtual charter schools to track attendance.
  • SB 301 (Griffin):  exempts children in out-of-home placements with DHS from the requirement to attend a public school regarding the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship program.
  • SB 445 (Newhouse):  Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act tax credits.
  • SB 529 (Smalley): increases the family income limit for eligibility under the Oklahoma’s Promise program and expands the tuition scholarship to include more CareerTech programs.
  • HB 1693 (Stanislawski):  puts into place a new framework and basic components for a new A-F school accountability system, ensuring Oklahoma is compliant with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
  • HB 1578 (Stanislawski):  creates the School Finance Review Commission which will study all matters related to school finance in an effort to provide understanding and accountability in school finance.

PUBLIC SAFETY:  A SAFER OKLAHOMA

  • SB 603 (Treat): requires the Department of Corrections to administer a risk and needs assessment for each prisoner. The agency must develop a plan of action based on said assessment. (pending approval by governor)
  • SB 604 (Treat) requires the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training to include personal safety planning necessary at the pretrial stages of a potential criminal case.
  • SB 52 (Fry): requires drivers to physically turn over their driver's license on demand from a peace officer.
  • SB 90 (McCortney):   requires the sheriff or a CLEET-certified deputy sheriff to accompany a reserve force deputy sheriff unless said deputy sheriff received 240 hours of training. Requires them to complete said training in 6 months.
  • SB 252 (Griffin): allows victims impact panel programs to have multiple presenters.
  • SB 273 (Smalley): extends forcible sodomy laws dealing with public employees to include subcontractors and their employees.
  • SB 342 (Holt): creates a task force to examine costs and fees assessed on persons interacting with the criminal justice process.
  • SB 786 (Shaw) reduces charges associated with burglary if no person is present in the home.
  • SB 38 (Thompson):  increases the Forensic Science Improvement Assessment fee from $5 to $10 to support the upkeep of state forensic lab equipment.
  • SB 303 (Smalley) authorizes the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to submit fingerprints to the FBI Rap Back System.

A HEALTHIER OKLAHOMA

  • SB 741 (Standridge): subject to the availability of funds, directs Oklahoma Health Care Authority to develop and administer a program to encourage participants in the Medicaid program to use primary care services in lieu of emergency room visits in order to drive down health care costs. 
  • SB 765 (Yen): prohibits minors from utilizing tanning beds.
  • SB 773 (David):  directs the OHCA to initiate a request for proposal for care coordination models for children 0-18 years of age.
  • SB 828 (Griffin): creates the Nursing Facility Supplemental Payment Program Revolving Fund under the OHCA which will be used to make supplemental payments of Medicaid and administrative expenses.

PROTECTING CHILDREN AND SUPPORTING FAMILIES

  • HB 1703 (Treat):  “Choosing Childbirth Act," which establishes a program to promote, incentivize, and provide support for crisis pregnancy centers.
  • SB 34 (David): strengthens anti-trafficking laws by stating "lack of knowledge of the age of the (trafficking) victim" shall not constitute a defense to human trafficking of a minor.
  • SB 217 (Griffin):  requires a sex offender who is given a suspended sentence to report to local law enforcement and the DOC parole office in their district.
  • SB 717 (Griffin): broadens scope of the Child Care Restricted Registry to include people with a substantiated finding of child abuse.
  • SB 723 (Griffin): broadens the scope of background checks for those applying to be child care providers.
  • SB 726 (Griffin): subjects physicians engaging in telemedicine to the same standards in person healthcare experts are expected to adhere to.
  • SB 748 (Griffin): allows DHS to create a pilot program that focuses on improving socioeconomic outcomes for children in state custody.
  • SB 30 (Griffin):  requires DHS to publicly post information regarding pregnancy help centers contingent on funding being appropriated specifically for this program.
  • HB 1894 (Sykes): helps protect vulnerable patients from being denied life-preserving care by creating a hierarchy of individuals who can make health decisions for someone that is consistently unconscious, incompetent or otherwise mentally or physically incapable of communicating.
  • HB 1468 (Holt): modified the statute of limitations on criminal charges so that minors can now charge the perpetrator until their own 45th birthday.
  • HB 1470 (Holt): modifies the statute of limitation on civil suits regarding sexual assault so that minors can now charge the perpetrator until their own 45th birthday.

SUPPORTING VETERANS AND MILITARY FAMILIES

  • SB 35 (David): allows active military members and those who are in the Reserves or National Guard who are 21 years of age or older to carry a handgun without a handgun license.  Military members’ extensive training with weapons makes the requirement of having a gun license unnecessary.
  • SB 227 (Simpson): increases service members’ financial and contractual rights by allowing members in the Armed Services or National Guard to cancel services like cell phone contracts, utilities, and health club memberships without penalty when mobilized or deployed.
  • SB 233 (Simpson): adds provision stating that hourly employees shall not miss out on the first 240 hours of their pay when called to active service.
  • SB 543 (Simpson): directs ODVA to establish a state cemetery for veterans addressing a national shortage of space for veterans’ cemeteries and providing a way to honor veterans with a dignified final resting place.
  • SB 730 (Simpson): strikes the requirement for veterans’ centers to implement non-smoking measures by January, 2018.

GENERAL POLICY AND REFORMS

  • SB 145 (Fields): allows presidential electors to be chosen at a party convention, but not necessarily a statewide convention. Changes the petition requirements to file for an independent bid of the Presidency to include the number of signatures required to form a party.
  • SB 148 (Fields): states that Oklahomans who renew their license must be provided with voter registration services as required by the National Voter Registration Act. Changes of address on the license shall change the address on the registration.
  • SB 153 (Fields):  allows state parks to spend monies collected from entrance or day-use charges at state parks for general improvement of the park.
  • SB 287 (Griffin): directs the Oklahoma Corporation Commission and Department of Environmental Quality to obtain authorization from the federal Environmental Protection Agency to administer all programs regulating oil and gas discharges into the waters of this state.
  • SB 360 (Holt): directs state Election Board to develop a system to allow voters to electronically change information on voter registration.

OCPA comments on the Legislature passing the state budget



OCPA President Jonathan Small

"We appreciate the Legislature's efforts this session, as lawmakers were under intense pressure to massively raise taxes on Oklahomans. Using one-time revenues during recessionary periods is never ideal, but it is preferable to permanent tax increases that cement unreformed spending. Given that total state spending is at an all-time high, many opportunities for additional spending reforms still exist. However, the Legislature deserves credit for passing a budget that minimizes damaging tax increases on Oklahomans compared to what was called for at the start of session.”

FOX23, TulsaWorld shamefully politicize legislators' children

Earlier this week, FOX23 and the Tulsa World cooperated on a story about lawmakers' education choices for their children, shamefully and shamelessly politicizing the children of legislators.



Judging from the article and accompanying videos, it appears that the FOX23 reporter harassed legislators over the past two months over whether they send their children to public schools, private schools, or whether they homeschool.

Children should not be politicized, or made a target due to their parent being in politics. Period, end of sentence.

In this day and age when political opponents and protestors invade private space, stalk, and threaten violence over political differences, there's no wonder why lawmakers would be hesitant to reveal details about the lives and whereabouts of their children to the media or anyone else. Besides, a significant portion of the members asked in the FOX23 video do not have school-aged children.

Shame on FOX23 and the Tulsa World for politicizing lawmakers' children.

Session ends today; votes on cigarette "fee", vehicle sales tax, state budget


As the Oklahoma Legislature prepares to adjourn sine die by 5:00pm, there is still unfinished business to vote on. The House will take up the $6.8B FY2018 budget, as well as the $257M cigarette tax "smoking cessation" fee.

According to Article 5, Section 33 of the Oklahoma Constitution, passing measures that raise revenue is clearly unconstitutional, per passage of State Question 640 by Oklahoma voters in 1992. Legislative leadership thinks they can get around that ban by calling the cigarette tax (and other measures) a fee instead. That is simply wrong, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court will likely get a chance to weigh in on the matter.

Whether it's a tax or a fee, it has the same effect on whomever pays it: more money is taken from their wallet by the government. Whether it's a tax or a fee, it has the same effect on state government: more money is taken from citizens and placed in state coffers.

The State Senate will be taking up HB2433, which raises $123M by charging a 1.5% sales tax on the sale of vehicles. This measure passed the House 52-47 on Wednesday.


Oklahoma voters clearly spoke in 1992 that they don't want new revenue, be it taxes or fees, passed in the final week of the legislative session, or passed with less than 3/4ths of the Legislature voting in favor. Further, Oklahoma voters clearly spoke just six months ago by shooting down a $615M tax increase that would have been dedicated to education, which most voters consider to be the top state funding priority.

The Oklahoma Legislature should honor and uphold the letter and spirit of the people's will, and not increase taxes, or fees (as the late Labor Commissioner Mark Costello said, "A fee is nothing more than a tax by another name").