Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Walkingstick comments on mudslinging by opponents in Cherokee chief race


DAVID WALKINGSTICK STATEMENT ON SCURRILOUS ALLEGATIONS MADE BY POLITICAL OPPONENTS

Over the past week, two complaints were filed against David Walkingstick with the Cherokee Nation Election Commission by opponents of his campaign for Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, including one complaint filed by a staff member of the Hoskin/Warner campaign and their affiliate group Cherokee Future LLC. On Wednesday evening, David Walkingstick released the following statement:

"The complaint filed last week by Chelsea Huber is nothing more than a desperate attempt from my opposition to drag me down politically because they fear that they cannot win this election on their own merits. Instead of running a clean election and focusing on the issues, my opponent has chosen to file a baseless complaint through Ms. Huber.

Less than a week after Ms. Huber's initial complaint, a campaign employee for Cherokee Future LLC and the Hoskin Warner campaign named Elizabeth Stroud filed yet another complaint in an attempt to continue the mudslinging.

This unethical tactic being used by my opposition only further highlights the need for positive change in our Cherokee Nation. When this administration gets desperate, they turn to fear and deceit as tactics to retain power. I will continue to run an issue-based campaign focused on positive reforms for our Cherokee people.

Our people are desperate for a leader who will address the issues that matter most, like the healthcare crisis and unequal services for Cherokees based on where they live. I am the only candidate running for Principal Chief with the vision and heart to solve these issues for our people. The scripture says that without a vision, the people will perish. I would encourage all Cherokee citizens to look deeper into these baseless allegations and ask themselves if they want a leader who will do anything to win or a leader who will continue fighting for our people."

You can follow the Walkingstick/Frailey campaign online by visiting www.VoteForStick.com or by liking “Walkingstick for Chief” on Facebook.

Senate President calls out OSC’s use of ‘special law’ to strike down workers’ comp provision


Senate leadership calls out Supreme Court’s use of ‘special law’ to strike down workers’ comp provision

OKLAHOMA CITY – Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat criticized the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s use of the “special law” provision of the Oklahoma Constitution to strike down the non-economic damages cap of landmark lawsuit reform laws.

“It’s not surprising the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a lawsuit reform provision under the auspices of it being a ‘special law.’ The Supreme Court has previously demonstrated its dislike of lawsuit reform, and when the court doesn’t like a law they fall back to their old standby of using ‘special law’ or ‘single-subject rule’ to throw out constitutionally sound bills. If the Supreme Court can’t apply these standards in a consistent basis, then perhaps the Legislature should look at remedies that would bring uniformity to the application of these important provisions of the state constitution,” said Treat, R-Oklahoma City.

The court continues to go outside its constitutional lane of interpreting the law, said Senator Julie Daniels, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“The courts are intended to be independent arbiters of the constitutionality of legislation, but you cannot fault Oklahomans for questioning that independence when the court haphazardly uses ‘special law’ and ‘single-subject rule’ to strike down laws the court does not like. This is an issue that merits further study by members of the Legislature,” said Daniels, R-Bartlesville.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Governor Stitt releases First 100 Days in Office Accomplishments report


GOVERNOR KEVIN STITT RELEASES FIRST 100 DAYS IN OFFICE ACCOMPLISHMENTS REPORT 

Oklahoma City, Okla. (April 23, 2019) – Governor Kevin Stitt released today his First 100 Days in Office Accomplishments report. The report focuses on the Stitt administration's progress thus far and displays the work being done to improve transparency, accountability, and efficiency in state government. Highlights of the report include:

Agency accountability: 
Governor Stitt signed into law legislation that forces five of the 12 largest agencies to answer to the executive branch. Past governors have produced blue ribbon studies showing that responsibility and power are spread so far and thin across state government that essentially no one is able to be held accountable by the voters. Within the first two months of the Stitt administration, the governor and the Legislature worked together to produce historic reform in five of the largest agencies.

This reform now allows the governor to fire poor performing agency directors and recruit the best talent to come serve in these critical leadership positions, answering directly to the executive branch for the first time in state history.

Audits:
Governor Stitt requested performance audits of nine agencies in order to complete performance audits of the 12 largest agencies that consume 90% of the state budget.

The Stitt administration also requested two financial audits that were immediately implemented by the State Auditor and Inspector’s office. The most notable audit underway, at the request of Governor Stitt, is an audit of the Medicaid rolls.

Reducing OMES emergency supplemental request from $23 million to $0:
Governor Stitt's administration reduced the previous administration’s emergency supplemental budget request for Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) from $23 million in October 2018 down to $0.

OMES is an interfacing state agency that provides IT, human resources and other services to state agencies. Prior to the Stitt administration taking office, OMES notified the Legislature that the agency needed an emergency injection of an additional $23 million before the end of the fiscal year. Within the first two months, Governor Stitt’s new Chief Operating Officer John Budd dug in to the finances of the agency and brought the emergency request to $16 million, and by April, COO Budd brought it down to $0 by changing processes within OMES, renegotiating vendor contracts, and leveraging the agency’s revolving funds.

First governor’s budget to highlight total dollars:
Governor Stitt introduced the first governor’s budget that outlines total dollars spent by state government.

Previous governor’s budgets focused solely on roughly 40% of the budget, the portion of tax dollars appropriated by the Legislature. Governor Stitt’s budget also outlines federal dollars being spent to support state government as well as apportionments and fees, directly collected by state agencies. The governor’s budget was provided online the first of February for all Oklahomans to see while the Legislature began budget negotiations.

Digital Transformation:
Governor Stitt appointed a Secretary of Digital Transformation, a brand new position, to help accomplish his vision to bring Oklahoma state government fully into the digital age. Already, Oklahoma has begun to implement digital transformation measures by:

  • Modernizing state parks by making it possible for parks to accept credit cards in the field for the first time in state history. 
  • Launching the beta test for digital driver’s license that would be Real ID Compliant. 
  • Beginning the process to modernize the administrative rules website to make it more user friendly and transparent. 
  • Securing a vendor to relaunch Oklahoma’s checkbook online 

A copy of the complete report is available by clicking here.

Bill to Increase Number of Volunteer Firefighters Heads to Governor


Bill to Increase Number of Volunteer Firefighters Heads to Governor

OKLAHOMA CITY – A bill that would allow retired firefighters to return to service as volunteers without affecting their state pensions passed the state Senate today with a unanimous vote of 42-0.

House Bill 2051, authored by House Majority Leader Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, and Sen. Casey Murdock, R-Felt, now heads to the governor to be signed into law. 

“Rural residents are dependent upon volunteer firefighters and fire departments to keep their lives and properties safe,” Sanders said. “This law will allow those willing to serve in this capacity to so without damaging their own pension plans or without adding cost to the state.”

HB 2051 bill amends language to legislation previously passed by Sanders and signed into law that eliminated the 45-year-old age limit for new firefighters by giving them the ability to join a department without the requirement that they be added to the state’s pension plan. The legislation, which took effect in November 2015, has resulted in 300 new volunteer firefighters joining rural fire departments over the past 3 ½ years.

The new legislation will allow retired firefighters to perform as volunteer firefighters for a volunteer department without it affecting their current retirement benefit but also without it counting as an accrued retirement benefit against the state’s pension plan.

“State law previously prohibited willing volunteers over the age of 45 from becoming firefighters because the state’s pension and retirement plan could not afford them,” Sanders said. “Many, however, have been willing to serve without needing the retirement benefit. This amendment will allow trained and seasoned but retired firefighters to participate in protecting the states rural fire districts without affecting funding for other core government services.”

Sanders said about 85 percent of the firefighters in Oklahoma are volunteers. Of the state’s more than 900 fire departments, about 95 percent are certified with the Rural Fire Defense Program.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

OCPA column: Helping kids is good sense – and popular


Helping kids is good sense – and popular
By Jonathan Small, President of OCPA

Oklahoma ranks poorly in national comparisons of educational achievement. This year lawmakers have a proven way to start improving those statistics.

Senate Bill 407 would increases tax credits that can be issued for donations to programs giving private-school scholarships to low-income and special-needs children or donations to programs supporting traditional public schools. The bill would raise the cap so $15 million in tax credits will be issued annually for the scholarship portion of the program and $15 million for the public-school side, a total of $30 million per year.

Most tax credits reduce state revenue, at least on paper, but not this program. Jacob Dearmon and Russell Evans, professors at the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University, have analyzed the scholarship side of the program and found Oklahoma government saved $1.39 for every dollar in tax credits issued in the 2017-2018 school year. The only thing the program does is increase private giving to education.

The scholarship program has been life-altering. Fifteen-year-old Alexis Hord used a tax-credit scholarship to attend The Cross Christian Academy in rural northeast Oklahoma. After a childhood filled with abuse, drug use, and few positive role models, Hord said “a new beginning” was created thanks to the opportunity to attend the faith-based school and receive help with life skills. She’s not alone. Countless other tax-credit scholarship beneficiaries have similar stories.

But SB 407 doesn’t just benefit a handful of children in private schools. It can positively benefit all children in every school in Oklahoma, because the legislation also incentives private giving to traditional public schools. Tax credits are already helping boost STEM offerings in rural communities. SB 407 expands the program so all public schools can participate. Before the tax-credit program was created, there was no program to incentivize private donations to public schools. Now SB 407 will turbo-charge the program and increase public-school student opportunities as well.

What are the downsides to SB 407? None. SB 407 will incentivize millions in private contributions to Oklahoma education. If that’s a bad outcome, one wonders what a good outcome looks like.

Oklahomans understand this, which is why so many citizens support this legislation. Polling conducted by WPA Intelligence, commissioned by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, found 60 percent of Oklahomans support raising the cap; just 23 percent are opposed. Support was strong in all parts of Oklahoma, and across party lines. Democratic women were among the strongest supporters with 70 percent in favor.

When respondents were told tax-credit scholarship beneficiaries include children with special needs and the homeless, support surged to 79 percent.

The question isn’t whether Oklahoma will offer tax credits. The question is what purpose will be served by tax credits. Oklahoma already gives tax credits for CNG use, windmills, rehabilitation of old buildings, and even American Ninja Warrior filming.

Why would we support those causes with tax credits, but refuse to use the same tool to boost education funding for Oklahoma children? It’s time to raise the cap.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

Friday, April 19, 2019

OCPA statement on Medicaid expansion ballot initiative


Statement from Jonathan Small, president of the Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs, on the filing of a ballot initiative to put Medicaid expansion on the ballot. 

“There isn’t support in the Legislature or the public for forcing Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion in Oklahoma for a simple reason: It prioritizes spending billions of taxpayer dollars on welfare benefits for able-bodied, working age adults, many of them single working-age men, over providing care for the truly needy. Nationwide, expansion programs have crowded out care for the aged, blind, disabled, pregnant women and children.

“Rather than spend Good Friday contemplating one of the most consequential events in history, as most Oklahomans did, expansion supporters engaged in a political stunt. The petition is meant to bluff state lawmakers into passing an expansion program they know is a bad idea. Lawmakers should stick with their gut and continue opposing this plan. The Obamacare Medicaid proposal is a massive expansion of welfare that will add 628,000 able-bodied adults to Oklahoma’s welfare rolls and could put working families on the hook for a state share of $374 million annually.

“Make no mistake, expanding Obamacare in Oklahoma will result in the state seeing the same problems as every other state that has gone down this path. Enrollment levels will be far higher than what expansion supporters predict, at significantly higher costs, to achieve significantly lower outcomes than promised. If you doubt it, just look at states comparable to Oklahoma that expanded Medicaid. Cost overruns in Arkansas have topped $1.4 billion, and Kentucky’s ranking on health outcomes remains low, despite Kentucky spending far more taxpayer money on Medicaid.

“States across the country that have expanded Medicaid have had to resort to tax increases, and the same fate awaits Oklahomans should Medicaid expand. And the growing costs of Medicaid will endanger funding for other government services like education and public safety.

“Furthermore, making a welfare program a constitutional right, regardless of funding changes at the federal level or shifting needs in Oklahoma, is bad policy, and Oklahomans understand this.

“We are confident that significant opposition will rise in the coming days as the serious flaws in this proposal become evident. Rather than expand Medicaid, state lawmakers need to pursue the real solutions already available to address Oklahoma’s health care challenges, protect state and federal taxpayers, and protect the state’s most vulnerable citizens.”

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Oklahoma Pre-K ranked in top 8 states by nation’s premier early education group

Oklahoma Pre-K ranked in top 8 states by nation’s premier early education group

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 17, 2019) – Oklahoma’s public Pre-K program scored among the top eight states in the nation in a new report from the influential National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER).

In “The State of Preschool 2018” annual report, Oklahoma met 9 of 10 benchmarks in quality standards, including academic standards, class size and staff professional development. Only three states met all 10 benchmarks, and four states tied Oklahoma with nine benchmarks.

“Kindergarten readiness has long been a priority in Oklahoma, as has professionalizing the role of those who teach our youngest learners,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister. “For decades, our early childhood educators have been nationally renowned as pioneers in their field. Though we are grateful for this important recognition of excellence in our Pre-K programs, we must continue to prioritize early learning to prepare our children to reach their full potential.”

Oklahoma launched its Early Childhood Four-Year-Old Program in 1980, years ahead of the rest of the country. In 1998, Oklahoma became only the second state to offer Pre-K for all 4-year-olds, with 99 percent of school districts participating.

Hofmeister credited the PK-12 vertical alignment of strengthened Oklahoma Academic Standards, adopted in 2016, with helping Oklahoma reach NIEER’s learning standards benchmark. In addition, Oklahoma is one of only four states requiring Pre-K teachers to hold a bachelor’s degree with teaching certification and ensures them equal pay with other grade-level teachers. Pre-K teachers in Oklahoma also have the same individualized professional development opportunities as other teachers at the state level.

Oklahoma met the benchmark for class size by adhering to a 10:1 student-educator ratio in Pre-K. Pre-K classes must be limited to 10 students for each teacher or 20 students for one teacher and one assistant.

Oklahoma’s commitment to early education is evident in the state’s 8-year strategic plan, Oklahoma Edge. The comprehensive education plan, required by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), lists one of the state’s six primary goals as aligning early childhood education and learning foundations to ensure at least 75 percent of students are “ready to read” upon kindergarten entry.

The NIEER report, based on the 2017-18 school year, reported that 74 percent of Oklahoma’s 4-year-olds are enrolled in public Pre-K. Nationwide, only 33 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in a state-funded preschool program.

To access the NIEER report, click here. For the NIEER data on Oklahoma, click here.

Reps. Hern, Lucas comment on publication of Mueller Report


REP. HERN STATEMENT ON PUBLICATION OF SPECIAL COUNSEL REPORT

Washington, DC – Representative Kevin Hern (OK-01) released the following statement after the Justice Department published the full report from the Special Counsel investigation.

“This morning, Attorney General Barr further confirmed the information we already know: There was no collusion between Russia and President Trump or his campaign,” said Rep. Hern. “Over the course of the last two years, we witnessed a very real attempted coup of the American presidency. In concert with the outgoing Obama administration, Democrats proved that they would stop at nothing to end the Trump presidency and cast a shadow on the work he’s done to revitalize our economy and make America great again.

“We wasted 675 days on this useless investigation, costing the American people more than $30 million.

“AG Barr said it this morning and I repeat it: this was an unprecedented situation. Our President had every right and every opportunity to invoke executive privilege and censor the findings of the investigation. Instead, he fully cooperated with investigators and is supporting the full release and transparency of the report.”

Hern continued, “Many of my colleagues have claimed for years that they have substantial evidence against our President, that they know for a fact that he colluded with Russia. If a 2-year investigation with unlimited resources could not find that evidence, I invite them to please bring it forward. As far as I can tell, they wanted so badly for collusion to be true, for the downfall of American democracy & failure of the Trump presidency, that they would say and do anything to make it true.

“President Trump was rightfully frustrated and upset that the outset of his administration was constantly under the shadow of the special counsel’s investigation and the outstanding results of his efforts as President always took a back seat to rumors of collusion and corruption. Today, we finally clear the air. Let’s close the door on this sad chapter in American history and move on to celebrate the success of President Trump’s policies and leadership across our country. “

Background:
On March 14, Rep. Hern joined his House colleagues in voting for H.Con.Res. 24 – Expressing the sense of Congress that the report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller should be made available to the public and to Congress. His statement from March 14 can be found here.

Rep. Hern’s previous statement from the initial conclusion of Robert Mueller’s investigation, and in response to the brief summary from the Attorney General, Rep can be found here.



Lucas on Public Release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Report

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Frank Lucas (OK-03) released the following statement after the United States Department of Justice delivered Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report to the public.

“Today, the United States Department of Justice provided the complete transparency needed to bring this investigation to a close. Complying with current federal statute, protecting grand jury material, classified information, and the integrity of the investigative process, United States Attorney General William Barr provided the public a report that detailed an investigation spanning 22 months, 2,800 subpoenas, 500 executed search-and-seizure warrants, 40 intelligence officials, 19 attorneys, and two congressional investigations.

While the investigation into President Donald Trump and the Trump Campaign rocked our nation’s discourse for nearly two years, the American people now know, without a shadow of a doubt, that no Americans conspired with Russia to interfere in our elections.

While I’m encouraged by those who respected the honest work and integrity of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Republicans and Democrats alike, I believe it is now time to move on. For years partisan politics has dominated the rhetoric in both Washington and back home. I’m hopeful the close of this chapter in the story of American democracy will once again bring Republicans and Democrats together to focus on the issues affecting the lives of the American people.”

House Passes Bill to Help Grieving Parents


House Passes Bill to Help Grieving Parents

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma House of Representatives approved legislation Tuesday giving parents of stillborn children the opportunity to direct where their child’s remains are placed.

Senate Bill 284, by Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City, and Rep. Sean Roberts, R-Hominy, also requires medical facilities maintain a written policy for the disposition of the remains of a child from stillbirth or fetal death event at the hospital. It passed the House 83-6.

Roberts said he served as the House author because he and his wife lost a child to stillbirth five years ago nearly to the day of SB 284’s passage in the House. 

“Having lost a child myself, I’ve undergone firsthand the overwhelming pain that parents go through during the days following the death of their baby,” Roberts said. “It’s confusing, frightening and tragic. We need to be doing anything that we can as a state and as individuals to help these parents navigate these impossible decisions they hoped to never have to make.”

Roberts said some Oklahoma hospitals already have processes in place to help grieving parents make this decision, but other hospitals default to placing the child’s remains in medical waste without any consultation from the parents.

“It can be deeply traumatic for parents in mourning to find out their child’s remains have been placed into medical waste without their input,” Roberts said. “Making this decision is an important step in the grieving process for these families who are undergoing the most painful chapter of their lives.”

SB 284 passed the Senate unanimously in mid-March. Bice is the bill’s Senate author.

“During such a difficult time, it is important to make sure that parents have access to clear information about what happens next, what their options are,” Bice said. “This bill makes sure parents are provided that information.”

Having passed both legislative chambers, the bill now moves to the governor’s desk for consideration.

State Election Board Conducts Voter List Maintenance



State Election Board Conducts Voter List Maintenance


(Oklahoma City) – The State Election Board completed its statutorily-mandated, biennial voter list maintenance on Monday, April 15. The process removed 3,030 duplicate voter registrations and 88,276 inactive voter registrations from Oklahoma's voter rolls.

The removal of inactive and duplicate voter registrations is a mostly automated, multi-step process the State Election Board is required by law to conduct every two years, generally occurring in the spring.

State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax (pronounced ZEER-icks) said the law that mandates the current voter list maintenance process has been in place for decades and includes clear guidelines for which voter registrations must be removed.

“Oklahoma's voter list maintenance process is nothing new. The current process is required by a 25-year-old law and has been conducted in essentially the same manner since the mid-1990’s,” Ziriax said. “Maintaining clean and updated voter rolls isn't just required by law, it also protects our democracy by making it far more difficult for someone to use outdated voter lists to attempt to commit fraud or disrupt our elections."

Duplicate registrations that were deleted matched newer registrations by the same person at a new address.

Inactive registrations that were removed were voters who failed to confirm their address in 2015 and then had no voter activity through the 2018 General Election. (The 2015 Address Confirmation Notices were sent to voters for one of several different reasons required by law, including those who surrendered an Oklahoma driver license in another state, or had a first-class mailing from the Election Board returned as “undeliverable,” or who were potentially a duplicate of a voter registration in another county or state, or who had no voter activity from the 2012 General Election through the 2014 General Election.)

Ziriax cautioned Oklahomans about misinformation regarding the voter list maintenance process that removes inactive voter registrations.

"Oklahomans should be wary about what they read online or on social media about voter list maintenance. The fact is this is not a new process, it is not partisan, and no Oklahoma voter is ever removed simply for failing to vote,” he said.

The removal of inactive voters is a clearly defined and lengthy process.

  • First, a voter is sent an address confirmation mailing for one of seven reasons required by law.
  • Next, the voter must confirm their address. If the voter fails to confirm their address, then the voter is designated “inactive.” (An “inactive” voter is still a registered voter and is still eligible to vote. A voter is returned to “active” status automatically by voting or by making changes to their voter registration.)
  • Finally, a voter who is designated as “inactive” for failing to confirm their address can only be removed from the voter rolls if there is no voter activity for two consecutive General Election cycles after being inactivated.
  • In addition to the biennial voter list maintenance of inactive and duplicate voter registrations, county election boards continually update the voter rolls by removing voters who are deceased, have registered in another state or county, or who are convicted of a felony.

Voters can learn more about voter registration at: http://elections.ok.gov or by contacting their County Election Board.

To learn more about the address confirmation process in Oklahoma, see 26 O.S. § 4-120.2.