Friday, March 15, 2019

Treat's abortion "trigger" bill changed to 2020 state question, passes Senate

Senate approves Pro Tem Treat bill to call a legislative referendum on abortion
Bill would let people vote to restrict Oklahoma Supreme Court’s ability to construe right to an abortion in state constitution

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Senate on Thursday in a bipartisan vote approved a bill from President Pro Tempore Greg Treat that would put a legislative referendum on the 2020 ballot to let voters decide whether to restrict the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s ability to construe a right to an abortion in the state constitution.

Senate Bill 195 passed on a 40-8 vote and now heads to the House for consideration.

“The Oklahoma Constitution contains no language that guarantees a right to an abortion, yet the Oklahoma Supreme Court has crept dangerously closer to inventing such a right,” said Treat, R-Oklahoma City. “Recently, Planned Parenthood and others have strategically challenged pro-life legislation in state courts in the hope that the Oklahoma Supreme Court will find a right to an abortion in the state constitution. By allowing these cases to advance in state court rather than federal court, the Oklahoma Supreme Court is implicitly showing their willingness to make up out of whole cloth a right to an abortion in the state Constitution where none exists. We cannot allow that to happen as it would be a tremendous setback for the pro-life movement. Senate Bill 195 gives the people of Oklahoma the ability to loudly proclaim their strong desire to protect the sanctity of life.”

A previous version of SB 195 contained “trigger” language that would have made enforceable Oklahoma’s prohibition on abortion in the event the central holding of Roe v. Wade or Planned Parenthood v. Casey were overturned by the federal courts, or if the U.S. Constitution were amended to protect life. Due to the findings of those two federal court cases, Oklahoma’s prohibition on abortion – which has existed since 1910 – is unenforceable.

“I still hope and pray that one day soon the U.S. Supreme Court will correct the judicial mistake of the past that legalized abortion in Roe versus Wade and Planned Parenthood versus Casey. But it’s far more likely, in the short-term, that the Oklahoma Supreme Court finds an invented right to an abortion in the state constitution than the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe or Casey,” Treat said.

Treat said he expects to pursue the “trigger” language in another bill at some point in the future.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

State House Passes Bill to Protect Election Integrity

House Passes Bill to Protect Election Integrity

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday evening to authorize the State Election Board to check various databases to confirm the citizenship status of a person registering to vote.

House Bill 2429 by Rep. Sean Roberts, R-Hominy, authorizes the State Election Board to conduct a data validation of Oklahoma’s voter registration database with other state and federal databases to confirm someone’s citizenship status.

“This bill would help restore faith in the electoral process by verifying only those prescribed by law are voting,” Roberts said. “Our democracy is based on the principle of each citizen having one vote, and this bill is another safeguard to protect the integrity of elections within our state.”

Roberts said the measure is especially necessary in the case of close elections, such as last year’s attorney general primary race.

HB2429 passed the House floor with a 66-26 vote and now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Rep. Sean Roberts, a Republican, serves District 36 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, which includes Osage and Tulsa Counties.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

House votes to increase Medicaid reimbursement rate for nursing homes

House Passes Bill to Increase Nursing Home Funding

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday that will increase the Medicaid reimbursement rate for nursing homes in Oklahoma to improve the quality of care for residents.

In addition to increasing the Medicaid reimbursement rate, House Bill 1902, by State Rep. Marcus McEntire, R-Duncan, would improve staffing ratios, increase staff training and incentivize nursing homes to improve care using a pay-for-performance model that would improve rankings on quality of care.

“Taking great care of the residents in our nursing homes is a moral and civic duty,” McEntire said. “But, this requires additional funning. With better pay and better training, staff will be able to provide better care to the residents in these facilities.”

HB 1902 passed the House by a vote of 93-2. It now moves to the state Senate for consideration.

Stitt signs Agency Accountability bills, praises legislative leadership


Oklahoma City, Okla. (March 13, 2019) – Governor Kevin Stitt today signed five agency accountability bills that give the executive branch the authority to hire and fire agency leaders for the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority (SB 456), Oklahoma Department of Transportation (SB 457), Oklahoma Department of Corrections (HB 2480), Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs (HB 2479), and Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (HB 2483).

“This marks a historic day for the State of Oklahoma,” said Stitt. “With this legislation we are ensuring Oklahoma’s government is truly accountable to the people of Oklahoma. These reforms empower elected officials to deliver stronger oversight, better services, and accountable leadership across the state’s five largest agencies, and by maintaining governing boards, we will continue to ensure transparency in all agency operations. I would like to thank Speaker McCall and President Pro Tem Treat for championing these pieces of legislation that will undoubtedly help move our state forward.”

“Under our current structure, agency directors and boards are not accountable to anyone – certainly not to the governor or the taxpayers of Oklahoma,” said House Speaker Charles McCall. “This historic agreement transforms our government in a way that delivers real accountability for Oklahoma’s citizens. This has been a shared goal between the governor and House and Senate Republicans, and I am very thankful for the cooperation and leadership of Gov. Stitt and President Pro Tempore Treat. These bills ensure that the governor will truly be the chief executive of the executive branch by allowing him to hire and fire those agency directors, and it ensures that the Legislature maintains more oversight over those agencies that spend taxpayer money.”

“Since I’ve been in the Oklahoma Senate, Republicans have done a lot of great things like workers’ comp reform, pension reform, DHS reform, enacting the largest teacher pay raise in state history, and advanced the cause of life,” said Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat. “But the government accountability measures, in my opinion, are the most substantial reforms Republicans will achieve in my tenure at the Capitol. For too long, agencies have been unaccountable to the people of Oklahoma. That’s wrong and that is changing for the better. Now, Oklahomans will know who to hold accountable for the successes or failures of these five agencies. This truly gives Governor Stitt the ability to put into place the leaders who can carry out his vision that will make Oklahoma a Top 10 state. I want to thank Governor Stitt and Speaker McCall for their hard work and cooperation. This is an amazing achievement that will transform Oklahoma for the next century. It’s the dawn of a new day across Oklahoma and it’s a day that will help us achieve an even better and brighter future.”

The agency accountability bills include the following provisions: 

  • The Governor will have the authority to hire and fire the agency leader.
  • Senate will have confirmation authority of the agency leader.
  • State agencies will maintain governing boards, but board members will serve at will and the legislation will include a conflict of interest provision.
  • The Governor will appoint a majority of the board members, and the House and Senate will gain appointment seats on the boards.
  • The House and Senate will be able to remove agency leaders by achieving a two-third vote in both Chambers.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

House sends agency reform bills to Governor's desk

House Passes Remaining Government Accountability Reform Bills

OKLAHOMA CITY – The House of Representatives passed the final two bills that are part of the historic government accountability reforms agreement announced last week between Gov. Kevin Stitt and House and Senate leadership.

Senate Bill 456 applies to the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority and passed by a vote of 74-23.

Senate Bill 457 applies to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and passed by a vote of 75-23.

The House passed the other three bills in the agreement last week. All five bills in the agreement were authored by House Speaker Charles McCall and Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City).

“Oklahomans expect more accountability from their government, and, right now, our agency directors and agency boards are not really accountable to anyone – including the governor,” said Speaker McCall, R-Atoka. “This plan creates a structure that can deliver accountability much more effectively for our citizens. I am very thankful for the leadership and cooperation of Gov. Stitt and President Pro Tempore Treat in working with House Republicans to craft this agreement. These bills ensure that the governor will be the chief executive of the executive branch by allowing him to hire and fire those agency directors, and it ensures that the Legislature maintains some oversight over those agencies that spend taxpayer money.”

The plan gives the governor the ability to hire and fire the directors of five state agencies, including the Office of Juvenile Affairs, the Department of Corrections, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and the Department of Transportation. The plan also retains the agency boards that provide oversight over those agencies and rebalances the appointment authority for those boards. It makes all board appointments “at will,” meaning they can be removed at any time by the appointing authority. Those boards would remain subject to the Open Records and Open Meetings Acts and would retain the ability to promulgate rules and perform other board activities.

The plan gives the governor five appointments on each board and gives the Legislature four appointments each, divided between Speaker of the House and the Senate President Pro Tempore. The plan also gives the Senate advice and consent on the governor’s agency director appointments. In addition, the plan allows the Legislature to remove any of the five agency directors with a vote of two-thirds approval in both chambers.

Both bills now head to the governor’s desk to await his signature. 

House passes bill to create Office of Gov't Accountability

House Passes Bill Creating Legislative Budget Office

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma House of Representatives today passed a measure creating a legislative office to evaluate agency budgets and programs for lawmakers.

House Bill 2484, by House Speaker Charles McCall, would create the Office of Government Accountability (OGA) within the existing Legislative Service Bureau (LSB). The LSB is a shared office between the House of Representatives and the Senate that currently has limited functions. The OGA would be similar to the federal Government Accountability Office within Congress.

“Citizens expect us to hold those who expend taxpayer dollars accountable, but the Legislature needs additional resources to adequately ensure that agencies are using those funds appropriately,” said Speaker McCall, R-Atoka. “Neither the House nor the Senate currently has the resources or staff to really examine agency budgets and evaluate programs. This office is a shared goal between House and Senate leadership, and I believe we will have these resources available to us before the 2020 legislative session.”

The OGA would have approximately 15 financial examiners who would routinely audit agency budgets and spending and evaluate the effectiveness of agency programs and services. The Office would provide reports to the House and Senate. The OGA would have an oversight committee made up of an equal number of House and Senate members, appointed by the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate.

The bill also requires agencies, boards and commissions to turn over to the Office upon request all records, documents and budgets and make personnel available. The Office will also have subpoena and investigation authority.

The bill passed by a vote of 74-19 and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

House passes tax credit for teachers' classroom supply spending

House Passes $1,000 Tax Credit for Teachers Who Purchase Classroom Supplies Out of Pocket

OKLAHOMA CITY (March 11th, 2019) - The House of Representatives today unanimously passed a measure that would provide Oklahoma school teachers some financial relief when they spend money out of pocket for their classrooms.

House Bill 2502, by House Speaker Charles McCall, would provide a $1,000 tax credit that teachers can claim for classroom expenditures and fees associated with the teacher certification process. In households with two teachers, both could claim the tax credit. The credit could be claimed for the tax year beginning January 1, 2020.

“Our teachers are spending a lot of their own money out of pocket to ensure their students have supplies, and we certainly intend to address classroom funding during the budgeting process,” said Speaker McCall, R-Atoka. “But this is one way we can get money directly into the classroom and also help those teachers recoup those costs so they don’t have to choose between their families and their students.”

House Bill 2502 passed out of the House by a vote of 96-0 and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Frix's COLA Bill for State Retirees Passes House Floor

COLA Bill for State Retirees Passes House Floor

OKLAHOMA CITY (March 11th, 2019) – The House of Representatives passed a bill today that would grant an increase in retirement benefits to retirees of Oklahoma’s six retirement systems.

House Bill 2304, authored by State Rep. Avery Frix, R-Muskogee, would give a permanent 4 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) to all retirees of the Teachers’ Retirement System of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Firefighters Pension and Retirement System, Oklahoma Police Pension and Retirement System, Uniform Retirement System for Justices and Judges, Oklahoma Law Enforcement Retirement System and Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System. The increase would take place January 1, 2020.

Frix said the issue was brought to his attention in 2016 by a constituent who is a retired teacher and whose health insurance cost more than her retirement check.

“Our state’s former public servants haven’t had a cost-of-living increase in 11 years,” Frix said. “After dedicating their lives and careers to our state, they deserve the long-term stability a COLA would provide. I was glad my colleagues in the House voted overwhelmingly to support this bill and provide for our public retirees.”

HB2304 passed the House with a 98-3 vote and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

The bill also amends the Oklahoma Pension Legislation Actuarial Analysis Act to include a safe harbor clause that allows the bill to be treated as a nonfiscal retirement bill in the legislative process.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Music Monday: What Wondrous Love Is This

This week's Music Monday is the early 19th-century American folk hymn What Wondrous Love Is This, played by Joshua Messick and Erin Rogers, featuring the hammered dulcimer, mountain dulcimer, cello, fiddle, and uilleann pipes (an Irish bagpipe).


See below for all previous Music Monday posts. Do you have a song you'd like to suggest for a future Music Monday? Email me at

March 4th: Scandinavian Waltz
February 18th, 2019: Adagio for Strings
February 11th, 2019: 'Romance' from 'The Gadfly'
February 4th, 2019: Columbia, Gem of the Ocean
January 7th, 2019: Loch Lomond
December 31st, 2018: Auld Lang Syne
December 24th, 2018: Remember O, thou Man
December 17th, 2018: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
December 10th, 2018: Carol of the Bells (medley)
December 3rd, 2018: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
November 26th, 2018: Happy Birthday
November 19th, 2018: My Heart is Filled with Thankfulness
November 12th, 2018: Hymn to the Fallen
October 29th, 2018: A Mighty Fortress is Our God
October 22nd, 2018: Hymn to Red October
October 15th, 2018:  Indian Reservation ("Cherokee People")
October 8th, 2018: Wagner's 'Columbus Overture'
October 1st, 2018: Danny Boy
September 24th, 2018: Dvorak's 'From The New World' Symphony, 4th Movement
September 17th, 2018: Deep River
September 10th, 2018: Muleskinner Blues
September 3rd, 2018: Boomer Sooner
August 20th, 2018: Psalm 23
August 13th, 2018: Ashokan Farewell
August 6, 2018: How the West Was Won
July 23rd, 2018: I Just Can't Wait to Be King
July 16th, 2018: 'Jupiter' from 'The Planets'
July 9th, 2018: Hail to the Spirit of Liberty
July 2nd, 2018: Turn The Tide
June 25th, 2018: Good Guys Win
June 18th, 2018: Watching You
June 11th, 2018: Adoration
June 4th, 2018: March from 'A Moorside Suite'
May 28th, 2018: Taps
May 21st, 2018: Listz's La Campanella
May 14th, 2018: Handful of Weeds
May 7th, 2018: Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
April 30th, 2018: Polonaise in A-flat major, Op. 53 ("Heroic")
April 23rd, 2018: Blow Ye The Trumpet
April 16th, 2018: Asturias (Leyenda)
April 9th, 2018: Old Mountain Dew
April 2nd, 2018: His Life For Mine
March 19th, 2018: See, the Conqu'ring Hero Comes!
March 12th, 2018: Choctaw Nation
March 5th, 2018: Hark, I Hear The Harps Eternal
February 19th, 2018: The Olympic Spirit
February 12th, 2018: Olympic Fanfare and Theme
January 29th, 2018: Hail to the Chief
January 23rd, 2018: Waltz in A-Flat Major, Op. 39 No. 15
January 15th, 2018: Bleed The Same
January 8th, 2018: Saint-Saëns' Symphony No.3 'Organ' (Maestoso)
December 25th, 2017: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
December 18th, 2017: I Saw Three Ships (The Piano Guys)
December 11th, 2017:Who Is He In Yonder Stall
December 4th, 2017: Carol of the Bells (Mannheim Steamroller)
November 27th, 2017: Joy to the World!
November 20th, 2017: We Gather Together
November 13th, 2017: Mansions of the Lord
November 6th, 2017: Träumerei
October 30th: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
October 23rd, 2017: In Christ Alone
October 16th, 2017: When I'm Knee Deep In Bluegrass
October 9th, 2017: I Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb
October 2nd, 2017: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major (Brahms)
September 25th, 2017: Beethoven's Sonata No. 8 in C minor ('Pathétique')
September 11th, 2017: Have You Forgotten?
September 4th, 2017: Bach's Double Violin Concerto
August 28th, 2017: Noah Found Grace In The Eyes Of The Lord
August 21st, 2017: The Heavens Are Telling The Glory of God
August 14th, 2017: Beethoven's 5th Symphony
August 7th, 2017: 'Lift High The Name Of Jesus' medley
July 31st, 2017: Fanfare for the Common Man
July 24th, 2017: Variations on 'Happy Birthday'
July 10th, 2017: Summer (Presto) from Vivaldi's Four Seasons
July 3rd, 2017: Freelance Fireworks Hall of Fame
June 26th, 2017: Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
June 19th, 2017: A Christian Home
June 12th, 2017: Ol' Man River
June 5th, 2017: Choctaw Cowboy
May 29th, 2017: Armed Forces Salute
May 22nd, 2017: Double Bass Concerto No.2 in B minor
May 15th, 2017: Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 in D major
May 8th, 2017: The Army Goes Rolling Along
April 17th, 2017: He Is Alive
April 10th, 2017: Surely He Hath Borne/And With His Stripes/All We Like Sheep
April 3rd, 2017: Here Comes Carolina
March 27th, 2017: 'Spring' from Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons'
March 20th, 2017: Symphony No. 5 ("Reformation") Finale
March 13th, 2017: The Pigeon on the Gate
March 6th, 2017: Finlandia
February 27th, 2017: When I Can Read My Title Clear
February 20th, 2017: William Tell Overture - Finale
February 13th, 2017: 'Romance' from 'The Gadfly'
February 6th, 2017: White Winter Hymnal
January 30th, 2017: Hail, Columbia
January 23rd, 2017: Hail to the Chief
January 16th, 2017: Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy
January 2nd, 2017: Auld Lang Syne
December 26th, 2016: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
December 19th, 2016: I Wonder as I Wander
December 12th, 2016: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
December 5th, 2016: A Christmas Festival
November 28th, 2016: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
November 21st: Beethoven's 'Hymn of Thanksgiving'
November 14th: Hymn to the Fallen
November 7th: This World Is Not My Home
October 31st, 2016: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
October 24th, 2016: 'Mars', from 'The Planets'
October 17th, 2016: My Shepherd Will Supply My Need
October 10th, 2016: Spain
October 3rd, 2016: International Harvester
September 26th, 2016: 'The Imperial March' from Star Wars
September 19th, 2016: Awake the Trumpet's Lofty Sound
September 12th, 2016: Before the Throne of God Above
September 5th, 2016: The Hunt
August 29th, 2016: Liberty
August 22nd, 2016: Summon the Heroes
August 15th, 2016: Bugler's Dream
August 8th, 2016: Olympic Fanfare and Theme
August 1st, 2016: 'Prelude' and 'Parade of the Charioteers' from Ben-Hur
July 25th, 2016: How The West Was Won
July 18th, 2016: Six Studies in English Folk Song
July 11th, 2016: From Everlasting To Everlasting
July 4th, 2016: The Stars and Stripes Forever
June 27th, 2016: Rule, Britannia!
June 20st, 2016: Bugler's Holiday
June 13th, 2016: Ride of the Valkyries
June 6th, 2016: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54, Allegro Vivace
May 30th, 2016: Armed Forces Salute
May 23rd, 2016: Paid in Full (Through Jesus, Amen)
May 16th, 2016: Overture from 'Carmen'
May 9th, 2016: L'Arlesienne Suite No. 1 - Prelude
May 2nd, 2016: My God Is a Rock
April 25th, 2016: Toccata and Fugue in D Minor
April 18th, 2016: Paganini's Caprice No. 24 in A Minor
April 11th, 2016: Fantasia on a 17th Century Tune
April 4th, 2016: Hark The Sound/I'm a Tarheel Born
March 28th, 2016: Rustle of Spring
March 21st, 2016: 'Ode to Joy' sung by a 10,000-voice choir
March 14th, 2016: Hard Times Come Again No More
March 7th, 2016: 'The Suite' from Downton Abbey
February 29th, 2016: Moonlight Sonata
February 22nd, 2016: Liebestraum No. 3
February 15th, 2016: Help Is On The Way
February 8th, 2016: God of Grace and God of Glory
February 1st, 2016: 'My Story'
January 25th, 2016: Israeli Concertino
January 18th, 2016: What Grace is Mine
January 11th, 2016: "Meditation" from Thaïs
January 4th, 2016: Praeludium and Allegro
December 28th, 2015: Appalachian Carol
December 21st, 2015: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
December 14th, 2015: O Holy Night
December 7th, 2015: Christmas Fantasy
November 23rd, 2015: Simple Gifts
November 16th, 2015: Preacher Tell Me Like It Is
November 9th, 2015: Armed Forces Salute
November 2nd, 2015: Amazing Grace
October 26th, 2015: The Harmonious Blacksmith
October 19th, 2015: Liberty Fanfare
October 12th, 2015: The Majesty and Glory of Your Name
October 5th, 2015: Elgar's 'Enigma' Finale
September 28th, 2015: Stayed on Jesus
September 21st, 2015: Great Gate of Kiev
September 14th, 2015: Nearer, My God, To Thee

OCPA column: Limited government should also be effective

Limited government should also be effective
by Curtis Shelton, policy research fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs

Who runs Oklahoma’s largest state agencies? This is a hard question to answer. Governors and legislators appoint members to agency boards. Those boards then choose agency directors. The directors nominally report to the board, but board members are volunteers who only meet occasionally and only know what agency staff tells them. Historically, these boards have a terrible track record when it comes to asking hard questions or holding anyone responsible.

Last week, Gov. Kevin Stitt and legislative leaders announced an agreement to increase accountability for five state agencies. The reforms will give the governor authority to hire and fire directors of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, Oklahoma Department of Transportation, Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs, and the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. These are some of the largest state agencies.

The largest is the state’s Medicaid agency, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA). According to the state Senate Appropriation Report for fiscal year 2019, OHCA had $1.1 billion in appropriations with a total budget of $5.8 billion. The smallest of these agencies is the Office of Juvenile Affairs with a total budget of $110 million. The Department of Transportation, Department of Corrections, and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services have total budgets of $1.8 billion, $588 million, and $471 million respectively.

In all, the five agencies account for $8.7 billion of the $27 billion total budget reported by the state Senate. That is nearly a third of the total state budget that has limited accountability to current elected officials.

As of today, these agencies are run by boards whose members may have been chosen by previous governors and former legislators. The board members, and the directors they choose, have no direct accountability to the people for their results. When things go awry, as in the case of the recent financial scandal at the Oklahoma State Department of Health or past crises at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, assessing who is responsible is difficult. Changing how agencies operate often seems impossible.

A limited government shouldn’t mean an ineffective one. Oklahoma’s current government structure pits its executive branch against itself and makes any real reform difficult. With the proposed changes, the people will know exactly who is responsible—the governor. With that responsibility comes the authority to hold these agencies accountable for how taxpayers’ dollars are being used.

Curtis Shelton serves as a policy research fellow focusing on fiscal and tax policy for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.