Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Governor 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.


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


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. “

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


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 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.


Tim J. Gatz
Secretary of Transportation Designate

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Gov. Stitt issues first veto, nixing new task force

Governor Kevin Stitt has issued the first veto of his tenure, disapproving House Bill 1205, which passed the House by a vote of 91 to 4, and the Senate by a vote of 41 to 4. The measure was authored by Rep. Carol Bush (R[INO], Tulsa) and Sen. Greg McCortney (R-Ada), and would have created the Oklahoma Home and Community-Based Services Ombudsman Program Task Force.

Gov. Stitt's veto message, posted above, indicated his preference to address in-home and community-based care issues through existing state agencies rather than the creation of yet another task force.

Of note, the handful of legislators who voted against the measure and seemingly agreed with Stitt's assessment all belong to the conservative wing of the legislative GOP.

Legislature passes bill naming Rosette Nebula as State Astronomical Object

Legislature Passes Bill Naming Rosette Nebula as State Astronomical Object

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Legislature today passed House Bill 1292, which designates the Rosette Nebula as the state astronomical object. It passed the Senate 31-12.

House Bill 1292, by Rep. Nicole Miller, R-Edmond, names the Rosette Nebula in the Monoceros constellation as the official astronomical object of Oklahoma.

“Our state has a long connection with the space industry,” Miller said. “Every year, hundreds of people from around the country gather in Oklahoma’s panhandle to stargaze at Black Mesa State Park, and by naming a state astronomical object, we’re helping to promote tourism in our state and encourage STEM education.”

Rep. Kenton Patzkowsky, R-Balko, served as a coauthor of HB 1292 and represents District 61, which includes the panhandle.

“The Oklahoma Panhandle, which is home to Black Mesa State Park, is known for some of the darkest night skies in the United States, which makes for fantastic stargazing opportunities,” Patzkowsky said. “Combined with Black Mesa being the highest point in the state, we already attract one of the largest stargazing parties in the country. Having an astronomical object to call our own will increase the interest in this activity and boost tourism dollars for our area.”

Miller said one of her District 82 constituents, Bill Murrell, is involved in the Oklahoma Astronomy Club and brought the designation to her attention.

HB 1292 passed the House 88-9 in early March. It was authored in the Senate by Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman.

“We’re learning more about the universe every day,” Standridge said. “I hope this designation will inspire future Oklahoma astronomers to add to that knowledge with new discoveries.”

Having passed both legislative chambers, the bill is now available to be signed into law by the governor.

State Chamber hires new communications director

State Chamber Welcomes New Communications Director
David Autry to Lead State Chamber’s Public Relations Efforts 

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 16, 2019) – The State Chamber of Oklahoma is proud to welcome David Autry to its Communications team as Director of Communications.

“David’s public relations expertise and his prior work in advocacy and government make him ideally suited for this position,” said State Chamber president and CEO Fred Morgan. “We’re excited to have David on the team and know he’ll be an effective messenger for Oklahoma’s business community.”

“I look forward to building on the State Chamber’s legacy as the leading statewide advocate for business in Oklahoma,” said Autry. “As key policies are being decided at the State Capitol, it’s essential that the perspective of Oklahoma’s job creators—their unique challenges and opportunities—are properly conveyed and understood.”

David received his B.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma. Previously, Autry worked at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and at the Office of the Mayor for the City of Tulsa.

About the State Chamber of Oklahoma
Representing more than 1,500 Oklahoma businesses and 350,000 employees, the State Chamber of Oklahoma has been the state’s leading advocate for business since 1926. For more information, visit www.okstatechamber.com.

1889 Institute: OK should end athletic trainer licensing

California and New York do not license athletic trainers

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK (April 16, 2019) – The 1889 Institute, an Oklahoma state policy think tank, has published “Athletic Trainer Licensure in Oklahoma.” It finds no public interest justification for the continued licensure of athletic trainers. California and New York, two of the nation’s most populated states, with many athletes, and usually thought of as highly regulated, take a much less heavy handed approach than Oklahoma. California requires no license at all, and New York allows private certification. What’s more, because of how the law defines an “athletic trainer,” it is possible that it creates a perverse incentive where the advice of physicians is not sought by unlicensed sports personnel so that they will not risk running afoul of the law.

“Half of Oklahoma’s counties don’t even have a licensed athletic trainer,” said Benjamin M. Lepak, Legal Fellow for the 1889 Institute, and author of the report. “Obviously, high school coaches and other personnel are essentially acting in that capacity, but according to Oklahoma law, if they act on the direction of a physician, they could be prosecuted for acting as an unlicensed athletic trainer,” he said.

This latest short study, part of the 1889 Institute’s Licensing Directory for Oklahoma, explains that neither of two conditions that must simultaneously exist to justify occupational licensing are present for athletic trainers. These conditions are, first, that there must be real, significant risk for patrons, and, second, there must be little or no market and legal incentives for service providers to take proper precautions.

The 1889 Institute has repeatedly found that Oklahoma needlessly licenses occupations, and often does so in particularly onerous ways. The only way to become a licensed athletic trainer in Oklahoma, for example, is to obtain a four-year college degree. This is simply unnecessary to perform the work involved.

The 1889 Institute has produced several longer publications regarding occupational licensing, including “The Need to Review and Reform Occupational Licensing in Oklahoma,” “Policy Maker’s Guide to Evaluating Proposed and Existing Occupational Licensing Laws,” and “A Win-Win for Consumers and Professionals Alike: An Alternative to Occupational Licensing.”

About the 1889 Institute
The 1889 Institute is an Oklahoma think tank committed to independent, principled state policy fostering limited and responsible government, free enterprise and a robust civil society. The publication, “Athletic Licensure in Oklahoma” and other reports on licensing can be found on the nonprofit’s website at http://www.1889institute.org/licensing.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Music Monday: The Government Can

In recognition of this being Tax Day, this week's Music Monday is The Government Can, composed and performed by comedian Tim Hawkins.


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 JamisonFaught@MuskogeePolitico.com.

March 25th, 2019: Transcendental Étude No. 4, "Mazeppa"
March 18th, 2019: St. Patrick's Day in the Morning
March 11th, 2019: What Wondrous Love is This
March 4th, 2019: 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

Comanche County requests to intervene in State Opioid Lawsuit

Comanche County Requests to Intervene in State Opioid Lawsuit

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Board of County Commissioners for Comanche County, represented by the law firms of Fulmer Sill, and Zelbst, Holmes and Butler, as well as the Lanier Law Firm, have requested the Court in the State of Oklahoma’s opioid lawsuit to allow Comanche County to become a party in order to protect its interests.

As a result of the State’s settlement with Purdue, a meager $12.5 million, or roughly 5%, of the monies will be allocated to cities and counties. Oklahoma has 597 municipalities and 77 counties, which means a potential allocation to Comanche County in the amount of $18,545.99. This equates to roughly 15 cents per Comanche County resident to combat the opioid epidemic.

Matt Sill, co-founder of Fulmer Sill, said there is not a one-size-fits all approach to the opioid crisis.

“I have been repeatedly told by Comanche County officials and other local governments that community-based solutions are key to beating this epidemic because communities are on the frontlines of the problem and the resources needed vary across the State.”

For decades, Oklahoma cities and counties have endured substantial damages and expended countless resources on the opioid crisis, and these damages are anticipated to continue under the current settlement agreement. Additionally, Defendants in the case have claimed that a majority of the damages at issue in the State’s case are in fact damages suffered by local governments and not recoverable by the State.

“The settlement with Purdue by the State raises concerns that local communities are going to be considered last in terms of allocating resources to combat the opioid crisis,” said Sill.

House Dems call for Senate to increase state employee pay, pensions

House Dems Call on Senate to Act on State Employee Pay and Compensation

OKLAHOMA CITY – House Democrats called on Senate Republicans today to reconsider legislation that gives state employees a $2,500 pay raise, and for both House and Senate Republicans to accept and pass an amendment for a 4 percent cost of living adjustment.

“Our state employees have waited for the legislature to act on these issues long enough,” said Minority Leader Emily Virgin (D-Norman). “It is time for Senate Republicans to stop playing political games with the financial wellbeing of state employees.”

Although both pieces legislation addressing state employee pay raises (HB2763) and pensions (HB2304) are currently inactive, there are still options available to accomplish the raise and cost of living adjustment.

A state employee pay raise could be reconsidered through the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget, and a 4 percent COLA could be realized through the amendment process.

“Both of these goals can be accomplished,” said Rep. David Perryman (D-Chickasha). “This is a matter of will and priorities. If we can find a way to legalize alcohol being served on a golf course, surely we can carve out a little time and dedication to the thousands of Oklahomans who have and are serving our state as public employees.”

It has been 11 years since state retirees have seen a cost of living adjustment. House Bill 2304, authored by Republican Rep. Avery Frix, passed through the House 91-3.

“Whatever drama is happening on the Senate side, I know Oklahoma retirees aren’t the cause,” Rep. Monroe Nichols said. “Yet, for more than a decade they keep getting hurt by the pettiness in this building. Through the amendment process, we are going to give the legislature another chance to get this right. For the sake of the thousands of retirees in Tulsa County and the many more throughout the state, I hope we do.”

Governor Stitt appoints new Sec. of Veterans Affairs & Military


Oklahoma City, Okla. (April 15, 2019) – Governor Kevin Stitt announced today the appointment of retired Air Force Gen. Ben Robinson as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Military, a cabinet position that requires Senate confirmation.

“Gen. Ben Robinson bravely served our country in the United States Air Force, and continues to contribute to Oklahoma’s veterans and military community every day,” said Stitt. “He is a patriot and an extremely qualified expert who will be a champion for our men and women in uniform and the veterans across our state.”

General Ben T. Robinson is the Owner/President of Sentry One LLC, an aerospace industry consulting company specializing in a wide spectrum of expertise from military command and control operations to the growth and sustainment of American aerospace through investments in workforce development, business development and leadership. Prior to his current positions, Gen. Robinson served as the Executive Director of the Boeing Aerospace Operations, Oklahoma City Boeing Site. Robinson was responsible for supporting the programs and functions assigned to the Oklahoma City site, a role that covered over 2,100 employees in 70 locations worldwide.

Gen. Robinson retired from active duty with the U.S. Air Force as a Brigadier General in 2002. His nearly 34 years of active duty service includes combat operations in both the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army. He commanded two flying wings, a flying group and a space center.  He was a Director on the Air Staff in Washington DC and the Vice Commander of 8th Air Force.  He held a command pilot rating with nearly 5,000 flying hours and over 150 combat missions.

In 2010, Gen. Robinson was presented with the first Lifetime Achievement Award by the Oklahoma Aerospace Alliance for his contributions to the sustainment and growth of the Oklahoma Aerospace Industry. In 2012, Gen. Robinson was presented with the General Thomas P. Stafford Award for exceptional support and contributions to the Oklahoma Aerospace Industry.

Gen. Robinson earned his bachelor's degree in Industrial Management from Eastern New Mexico University and a master's degree in Industrial Management from Central Michigan University. In addition, he completed a one year course of study with MIT as an International Relations Fellow.  Gen. Robinson and his wife Linda reside in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. They have four children and ten grandchildren.

“The courageous men and women who served in our nation’s Armed Forces deserve a champion at the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs, and I can think of few better to serve in that role than General Ben Robinson. As a combat veteran, he understands uniquely what veterans face when they return home from service. And as a leader at Tinker Air Force Base, he’s proven to be a judicious steward with the lives, resources, and mission entrusted to him. Governor Stitt has made a great pick with General Robinson, and I wholeheartedly endorse and support his appointment as Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Military.” – Senator Paul Rosino, USN, Ret. Oklahoma Senate Veterans Caucus Chairman

“Ben Robinson’s vision and leadership built the foundation upon which the nearly 3,500 Boeing employees in Oklahoma thrive today. I have every confidence Ben’s passion for Veterans and their families will propel Oklahoma into a top ten state for Veteran’s services. My colleagues and I at Boeing could not be more optimistic about the future of our Veterans services under Ben’s leadership.” – Steve Hendrickson, Director, Government Relations, Boeing Corporate Offices

“General Robinson is a great, experienced military leader who will bring tremendous capability to represent and serve our veterans and military community within Oklahoma. He has great ideas and energy, and he exhibits his love for our veterans and military community every day. He will be a champion for the Department of Veterans Affairs and a strong addition to help accomplish the governor’s vision moving forward. I think the governor has picked a winner.” –Major General Myles Deering, US Army, Retired

“General Ben Robinson is one of the most outstanding leaders that we’ve had in the United States Air Force. He commanded a very large and important organization at Tinker Air Force Base, the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS). He put lots of spirit into the organization, he developed tactics, and he responded quickly when we had national and international emergency. General Robinson is an outstanding leader and organizer, and I am very proud that he is being appointed as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Military for the State of Oklahoma.” – Major General William “Billy” Bowden, USAF, Retired

OCPA: Is TSET putting nightclubs ahead of doctors?

TSET putting nightclubs ahead of doctors?

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 15, 2019) – Oklahoma’s Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust has spent as much, and sometimes more, promoting bars and nightclubs and a boathouse foundation than it has on recruiting rural doctors to Oklahoma, records show.

Curtis Shelton, Policy Research Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a free-market think tank, said those findings demonstrate that Oklahoma is not getting the maximum health benefit from its tobacco dollars.

“As the endowment has grown, so has the scope of TSET’s spending,” Shelton said. “It’s now worth asking if TSET’s spending practices are truly improving Oklahoma’s health statistics, or if it is time to reform the system and redirect future settlement payments to higher priorities such as rural healthcare.”

Thanks to payments from the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) now holds more than $1 billion in payments from tobacco companies. TSET is supposed to spend earnings from that endowment on health causes, but the constitutional provision creating TSET includes vaguely defined goals, which has led to questionable spending practices.

In 2015 TSET created a program called Free the Night that promotes bars and nightclubs that have smoke-free areas. Between 2015 and 2018 that program received $1.05 million in TSET funding.

Between 2015 and 2017, TSET gave $781,500 to the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation. (TSET did not give to the Boathouse in 2018.)

Oklahoma’s Physician Manpower Training Commission (PMTC), which works to attract medical professionals to rural areas, received less from TSET from 2015 to 2017 ($617,500) than did the “Free the Night” program and the boathouse foundation during that same time.

From 2015 to 2018, TSET’s total spending on the physician program barely exceeded the total amount spent on nightclubs, but the amount going to doctor recruitment was still far less than the amount of TSET money spent on the nightclub and boathouse programs combined during those years.

Polling commissioned by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and conducted by WPA Intelligence found that 78 percent of Oklahoma voters support redirecting future payments from TSET to rural health care needs. The poll found an outright majority – 58 percent – “strongly” support the proposal.

Legislation to enact that change, House Joint Resolution 1017, has already passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a 73-27 vote.

Shelton recently wrote about TSET spending, based on updated financial information. That analysis can be viewed at https://ocpathink.org/post/misplaced-priorities-at-tset.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Pinnell to keynote Muskogee GOP Lincoln-Reagan Dinner

From the Muskogee County GOP:

The Muskogee County Republican Party has scheduled their annual Lincoln-Reagan Dinner for Thursday May 2 at 6:30pm at the Muskogee Civic Center. We will have Lt. Governor Matt Pinnell as our keynote speaker. We will also hear from our State Senator Dewayne Pemberton, State Representative Avery Frix and State Representative Chris Sneed.

This event is the main fundraiser for all our county party’s support of local and state Republican candidates. It also has allowed us to award over 45 college scholarships to Muskogee County high school graduates.

A lot of good things continue to happen in our state, county and city. For the first time in the history of Muskogee County all of our county is represented by Republican State Senators and State Representatives. Because of folks like you, Republicans are now getting the opportunity to vote in both primary and general elections for Republican candidates who have a great chance to win.
Dinner tickets and sponsorships can be purchased at this link.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Senate committee amends COLA bill, sends to actuarial study

Senate Retirement committee passes amended COLA bill

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Senate Retirement and Insurance Committee in a special meeting on Thursday acted on a House bill that would provide a 2 percent cost of living adjustment for state pension retirees contingent on the outcome of an actuarial study of the pension systems.

Senator Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, is the Senate author of House Bill 2304 and filed a committee substitute to ensuring the bill followed the provisions of the Oklahoma Pension Legislation Actuarial Analysis Act (OPLAAA).

Among OPLAAA requirements are for fiscal retirement bills, which HB 2304 has been declared, to undergo an actuarial analysis before being passed into law. The analysis covers such topics as:

  • the unfunded actuarial accrued liability which will result from the bill;
  • the dollar amount of the annual normal cost which will result from the bill;
  • and the dollar amount of the increase in the annual employer certification which will be necessary to maintain the system in a sound condition.

The Retirement and Insurance Committee approved sending HB 2304 for an actuarial study. Per OPLAAA, the actuarial analysis shall be returned to the Senate committee chair no later than Dec. 1 of the year it is requested. After the actuarial analysis is received, a fiscal retirement bill is eligible for consideration by committee (in this case the Senate Retirement and Insurance Committee) the following session, and should it pass out of committee, would be eligible for consideration by the entire Senate.

Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat allowed the special meeting of the Senate Retirement and Insurance Committee for consideration of HB 2304. The bill was among the topics studied by a pension reform working group formed by Treat.

“Republican leadership has done great work over the past decade to save the state pension systems from fiscal ruin. Years of mismanagement prior to Republicans leading the Capitol left billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities for the state, threatened the retirement of public servants, and drove up the borrowing costs for the state, local governments, and school districts,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City. “OPLAAA is one of the crucial tools Republicans have used to shore up the state pension systems. We should follow laws like OPLAA that got us to this better position now. Public servants want and deserve a cost of living adjustment and HB 2304 can still deliver COLAs once the pension actuaries give the Legislature a report so that we have a complete picture of the costs and impacts of granting a COLA.”

Senator Pemberton said, “We don’t want to do anything to walk back the great progress Republicans have made in shoring up the state pension systems. Retired teachers, firefighters, police officers, and state employees deserve a cost of living adjustment. Laws like OPLAAA have been critical in the success story of state pension systems. We don’t know yet what the actuarial study will show, but it will give us a full picture when we consider to move forward with a 2 percent COLA without harming the funded liability of the pension systems.”

Optometrists Endorse Legislation to Increase Access to Frames and Lenses

Optometrists Endorse Legislation to Increase Access to Frames and Lenses
Bill Also Maintains High Standards of Care and Patient Protections

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians (OAOP) today announced their support for Senate Bill 100, as amended by Rep. Carl Newton, which would allow easier access to frames and lenses while still preserving the state’s high standards for quality vision care and patient protections. The new language was introduced as a committee substitute late Wednesday (4/9).

SB 100 removes from statute a prohibition on the sale of eyewear in non-medical, retail settings. It would allow big retail stores to sell frames and lenses. The bill also uses language modeled from Texas law that would allow large retailers to lease office space to optometric physicians. However, any optometry clinic within such a leased space would be required to be owned and operated by an optometric physician licensed in Oklahoma. An optometry clinic within a space leased by a retailer would need to physically and legally separate from the retail space, with its own external entrance. The language maintains Oklahoma’s status as one of 16 so-called “two door” states, which include neighboring Texas and Kansas.

The bill also includes new patient protections and regulations governing the use of online eye-exams performed at automated kiosks.

OAOP Executive Director Joel Robison said that optometrists have been working with lawmakers on legislation to increase access to eyewear since State Question 793 was defeated last November (State Question 793 proposed amending the State Constitution to make Oklahoma a “one door” state and to give corporate retailers unprecedented control over the delivery of eyecare). Oklahoma’s optometrists opposed the bill because of its impact on quality care, not because of concerns about where glasses or contacts are sold, Robison said.

“State Question 793 was defeated because voters agreed with their optometrists that vision care needs to be regulated by doctors, not large retailers,” said Robison. “We won’t ever compromise on high standards of care, patient protections or quality medicine.”

“At the same time, we also recognize that the law can be updated to improve patient convenience,” Robison continued. “Allowing large retailers to sell frames and lenses achieves that goal without compromising the integrity of the medical profession.”

Rep. Newton, who is also a practicing Doctor of Optometry, says the bill offers a chance to resolve an issue and move the state forward.

“It is hard to attract and retain quality vision care professionals in a regulatory and political environment that is defined by uncertainty,” said Newton. “This bill puts that issue to rest. Consumers will have more options regarding where they buy glasses and contacts. At the same time, eye doctors can rest easy knowing that they aren’t one step away from being controlled or regulated by a retail store. This is a win-win proposition for Oklahoma.”
SB 100 would preserve Oklahoma's status as a two-door state.