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.

Stitt signs bill to increase speed limits on turnpikes, certain highways


Governor Signs Bill to Increase Speed Limits on Turnpikes, Highways

OKLAHOMA CITY – Gov. Kevin Stitt today signed a bill into law that will increase the speed limit on Oklahoma turnpikes from 75 to 80 miles per hour and on certain state highways from 70 to 75 miles per hour.

Rep. Daniel Pae, R-Lawton, is the House author of House Bill 1071. Sen. John Michael Montgomery, R-Lawton, is the Senate author.

Pae, serving his first term in the Legislature, said he worked with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol on the language of the bill and gained their support. He joked the bill had become known as the Pae-Way Bill.

“While we wanted to increase the speed limit on our turnpikes and state highways, we also worked to ensure the safety of Oklahoma drivers,” Pae said. “We will use traffic and engineering studies that take into consideration things such as traffic density and infrastructure quality to determine where we could safely increase these speed limits.”

Pae said the speed limits in the bill will be implemented gradually, sensibly and safely.

Pae also worked with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation to include language in the bill pertaining to traffic studies to keep the state in line with federal regulations so we can continue to receive federal highway dollars.

This was Pae’s first bill to be signed into law.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Gov. Stitt appoint Pierson to OU Board of Regents


GOVERNOR KEVIN STITT ANNOUNCES APPOINTMENT OF GARY PIERSON TO OU BOARD OF REGENTS

Oklahoma City, Okla. (April 16, 2019) – Governor Kevin Stitt announced today the appointment of Gary Pierson to the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents, a position that requires Senate confirmation.

“I am pleased to appoint Gary Pierson to the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents,” said Gov. Stitt. “Gary is an accomplished Oklahoma attorney and businessman and a proud OU alum who will bring his professional expertise to the table to support the university’s goals of academic excellence and student success.”

“I’m grateful and humbled by the confidence Governor Stitt has shown in me by this appointment,” said Pierson. “While there are some near term issues that need to be resolved at OU, the future remains quite bright and I look forward to working with the other Regents and President Gallogly in making sure that those opportunities are seized.”

Gary Pierson is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The Oklahoma Publishing Company ("OPUBCO"), a holding company with business interests in multiple industries. He also serves as Chief Executive Officer of the Broadmoor-Sea Island Company. Pierson served as OPUBCO's General Counsel from February 2002 until December 2003 and its Chief Operating Officer from 2003 through 2011.

Before joining OPUBCO, Pierson was a vice-president of McAfee & Taft, Oklahoma's largest law firm. He practiced in all areas of litigation, with special emphasis on labor and employment law. Pierson was admitted to practice law in all state and federal courts in Oklahoma and also practiced before the First (Boston), Fifth (New Orleans), Sixth (Cincinnati), Ninth (San Francisco) and Tenth (Denver) Circuit Courts of Appeal, as well as the Supreme Court of the United States and litigated cases in 23 states. While in private practice, Pierson was listed in The Best Lawyers in America and Who's Who in American Law.

Pierson received Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance and Juris Doctorate degrees from the University of Oklahoma. While in law school, he served as Editor and Research Editor of the Oklahoma Law Review and President of Phi Delta Phi scholastic honorary society.

Pierson serves on the Board of Directors of The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, The Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, and is past Chairman of the Board of Trustees of The Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation. He also is the Chairman of the University of Oklahoma College of Law Board of Visitors and a member of the Price College of Business Board of Advisors. Mr. Pierson received the University of Oklahoma Regents' Award in 2016.

The Oklahoma University Board of Regents is the official governing body of The University of Oklahoma, Cameron University, and Rogers State University. The board is composed of seven citizens appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the State Senate. Each Regent serves a seven-year term.

AG Hunter renews pardon request for fmr. Army 1LT Michael Behenna


Attorney General Hunter Renews Pardon Request for Former Army 1st Lt. Michael Behenna
Letters to Pres. Trump, AG Barr, argue that current DOJ regulations interfere with president’s pardon powers

OKLAHOMA CITY – Attorney General Mike Hunter has renewed his call for a presidential pardon for former U.S. Army 1st Lt. Michael Behenna in recent letters sent to President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr.

Last year, Attorney General Hunter asked President Trump to grant Behenna a pardon. The Department of Justice (DOJ) subsequently ruled that Behenna was ineligible to even apply for a pardon under its regulations and that he did not merit a waiver.

In the letters, Attorney General Hunter argues that current DOJ regulations wrongly interfere with the president’s broad pardon power under the U.S. Constitution by banning significant numbers of eligible persons, including Behenna, from applying for a pardon.

The DOJ bars all individuals currently incarcerated from applying for a pardon, as well as those who have been released in the last five years and those who are on parole, probation, or supervised release. Behenna will remain on parole until 2024.

Despite the regulations being advisory only, they are used internally for DOJ personnel to determine which applications get forwarded. The rule also states that petitioners may make a written request for a waiver, but the waiver is rarely granted and only in the most exceptional circumstances. All requests for pardons must go through the DOJ.

“The U.S. Constitution gives the president nearly absolute authority to pardon people from federal crimes,” Attorney General Hunter said. “For DOJ officials to use such strict regulations in determining who can even apply, they are interfering with the president’s prerogative and eliminating the ability for hundreds of thousands of eligible people, like Mr. Behenna, to have their case reviewed. I strongly encourage Attorney General Barr to review and revise the regulations to better align with the president’s authority under the Constitution.

“Likewise, I implore President Trump to review Mr. Behenna’s case and strongly consider granting him a pardon. He courageously served his country in combat in Iraq and he has more than paid for his mistakes and misjudgments in attempting to root out terrorism.”

Behenna was convicted in 2009 of killing a suspected terrorist in Iraq while searching for individuals responsible for an IED attack that took the lives of two men under his command. He was paroled in 2014 after serving five years of a 15-year sentence.

Read the letter to President Trump and Attorney General Barr, here: https://bit.ly/2KFyFDJ.

ODOT abandons Muskogee Hwy 69 Bypass plan


From the folks at StopODOT.org:

DIRECTOR GATZ: NO BYPASS

Director announces that bypass will no longer be an option and asks for community involvement
In  a  letter to legislators  ODOT  Director  and  Secretary of Transportation  announced  the bypass is  no  longer an  option.  The text of his  letter [sent to Governor Stitt and Muskogee-area legislators]:

Dear Legislators:

The Oklahoma of Department of Transportation is corresponding with reference to a transportation project to improve US-69 Highway in the City of Muskogee. More specifically, we write to advise you of our plans to advance the proposed improvements to construction and completion in a manner that provides operational and traffic safety improvements and that is more representative of the Community’s desires.

The Department has previously engaged you and the Community in a preliminary discussion related to the potential of developing a US-69 reliever route alignment. While the consideration of such a route is appropriate, the concept, location and timing of such improvements requires careful and long term planning predicated on a healthy respect for the needs and input of the Muskogee area residents, elected officials and Community leaders. With consideration for the feasibility of delivering improvements of this type in the near term, we recommend suspending any further discussion of this alternative indefinitely.

We believe that the best course of action at this time is to proceed with a focused review of possible operational and reconstruction improvements to the existing US-69 alignment to be defined in a continuing and direct consultation with the Community. Therefore, we respectfully request your assistance in establishing a target date to reconvene a public forum and continue the extremely important discussion of the most feasible improvements that can be implemented in Muskogee on the existing alignment.

Thank you for your insight, assistance and patience and for your support for transportation in Oklahoma. We will contact you in the near future to discuss your thoughts on an appropriate public outreach target date. In the interim, please feel free to contact us at your convenience if you have questions or if you would like to discuss this project further. We look forward to continuing our work together to improve conditions on US-69.

Sincerely,

Tim J. Gatz
Secretary of Transportation Designate