Saturday, May 25, 2019

Pres. Trump approves Oklahoma request for flood aid in hard-hit counties


WHITE HOUSE APPROVES REQUEST FOR FLOOD AID

Governor Kevin Stitt announced today that President Donald Trump has approved the state’s request for an emergency declaration for 10 Oklahoma Counties.

Gov. Stitt requested the first federal aid yesterday afternoon and the White House approved the request today less than 24 hours later.

Counties included in the emergency declaration are: Haskell, Kay, Le Flore, Muskogee, Noble, Osage, Pawnee, Sequoyah, Tulsa, and Wagoner.

The declaration authorizes federal resources to assist state and local governments as they continue to respond to the widespread, significant flooding. These resources may include industrial size generators, bottled water, cots and blankets.

State authorities will continue to assess the need for additional federal disaster aid to cover further response and recovery costs, including possible federal assistance for homeowners impacted by flooding. Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management is working with FEMA and local emergency management officials to secure all eligible assistance warranted by these dangerous floods.

“We appreciate the President’s prompt response to our request for federal aid and we will continue to stay in close touch with the White House and federal authorities as we try to help communities keep their residents safe from this deadly flooding,” said Gov. Stitt. “Many Oklahoma communities have been hit hard, and we will be doing everything possible to help them today in their time of need and in the weeks to come.”

Oklahoma remains under a statewide declaration of emergency.

Governor Stitt signs FY2020 state budget


GOVERNOR SIGNS GENERAL APPROPRIATIONS FOR FY’20, $200 MILLION FOR STATE SAVINGS.

OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma (May, 24, 2019) – Governor Kevin Stitt, joined by House and Senate Republican leadership, today signed into law HB 2765, the general appropriations bill of $8.1 billion for Fiscal Year 2020 (FY’20), and SB 1076, legislation to setting aside $200 million for the state’s savings. 

The FY’20 budget received overwhelming support in the House and Senate, breaking records with the state’s investments in core services while also putting Oklahoma on the path to saving more than $1 billion by the end of FY’20, the largest savings account in state history.

“Congratulations to the Legislature and leadership for their hard work this session. I am proud of the fiscally responsible budget we have signed into law,” said Gov. Stitt. “For the first time in state history, we will increase Oklahoma’s savings account, in order to protect core services in the future, without the law forcing it. For the first time in state history, we will give Oklahoma teachers a pay raise for a second year in a row. For the first time in state history, we will fully fund the Reading Sufficiency Act while also putting an additional $74 million into the funding formula for local classroom needs. For the first time in state history, we will fully fund our roads and bridges, and we will also make the largest deposit into the Quick Action closing fund, helping Oklahoma compete for new jobs. We will move the needle in criminal justice reform by investing in drug courts and diversion programs, and we will reform District Attorneys’ funding model so they are not reliant on high fines, fees and court costs that have created a debtor’s prison. We will prioritize funding for oversight, transparency and audits as well as funding to modernize the delivery of state services, making it customer-focused and cost efficient.”

“This year was capped by a terrific budget deal that makes significant investments in classroom funding, teacher pay raises, and criminal justice reforms,” said President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City. “We also delivered on important policy fronts like constitutional carry, judicial redistricting, and workers’ compensation reforms. The totality of our work this session will bring positive, transformational changes and help make Oklahoma an even better state.”

“This is the best budget we have passed in a long time, and it is a budget that Oklahomans can be proud of,” said Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka. “We were able to fully fund many core services, drastically increase funding for public education, provide another teacher pay raise and another state employee pay raise, increase Medicaid provider reimbursement rates and maintain momentum in roads and bridges funding. And we put aside significant savings for the first time. I am grateful for the working relationship I have with Gov. Kevin Stitt and Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, and I am very optimistic about the direction and future of our state.”

The FY2020 Budget summary is as follows:

Common Education
For the first time in state history, Oklahoma teachers will receive a pay raise for two years in a row. For the first time, the Reading Sufficiency Act will be fully funded. With the additional $74M going to the classroom through the funding formula, public education will be funded at the highest levels in state history, exceeding the 2008 watermark of $2.5 billion.

The common education appropriation increased by $158 million, a 5.4% increase, which includes the following funding priorities:

  • $58.9 million for an average $1,220 salary increase for 97% of Oklahoma’s public school teachers
  • $19 million to pay for cost increases for teachers’ flexible benefit allowance
  • $5.5 million for the Reading Sufficiency Act
  • $74.3 million for local school districts to use to hire additional teachers, counselors, social works or address their unique needs in their districts.


Higher Education

  • $18.1 million for faculty compensation Faculty compensation 3.5 percent increase - $18.1 million
  • $3.3 million to fully fund senior concurrent enrollment programs Fully fund senior concurrent enrollment programs - $3.3 million
  • $7 million for Section 13 capital offset allocation increase

Career and Technology Education

  • $18.3 million funding increase for Career and Technology education

Transportation
For the first time in state history, the Department of Transportation’s 8-year program is fully funded, and the state is repaying the county roads program $30 million so that counties can get back on track with their 5-year plan.

Agriculture and Rural Oklahoma

  • $500,000 to fund a public-private partnership to maintain clean water in Northeast Oklahoma and areas with high poultry density
  • $90,000 to hire an additional state veterinarian
  • $1.1 million for Wildfire mitigation funding and additional resources for rural fire fighters
  • $1.6 million to improve rural flood control dams

GOVERNMENT MODERNIZATION
For the first time in state history, state employees will get a pay raise two consecutive years. Also, for the first time, Oklahoma will set aside one-time funds to bring state government services into the 21st century through digital modernization. This will make government more transparent, more cost efficient, and customer-focused.

  • $37.7 million for an additional state employee pay raise of up to $1,500. This builds upon the state employee pay raises given in FY’2019 of up to $2,000 per employee.
  • $15 million for digital transformation of state government services to enhance transparency and make customer service more efficient and effective
  • $1.7 million for the creation of the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency
  • $700,000 to hire more auditors and increase the State Auditor’s office capability to conduct more regular audits across state agencies

PUBLIC SAFETY

  • Funding prioritization for two new trooper academies, putting an estimated 80 more troopers on the roads in 2020.
  • $2 per hour pay increase for correctional officers, which is a 14% raise. This will bring correctional officer pay to the regional market average and in turn will bolster the Department’s recruitment effort to fill vacancies.
  • $1 million to reduce the backlog of untested rape kits

CRIMINAL JUSTICE
The $10 million for Smart on Crimes programs in the Department of Mental Health sets a historic new level of funding for diversion programs to reduce recidivism rates. The $20 million additional dollars appropriated to District Attorney makes historic changes to replace the 991 and supervision fees funding DA offices.

  • $20 million to reform the funding of District Attorney offices
  • $10 million for Smart on Crime programs through the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services
  • $1.5 million for the Women in Recovery diversion program
  • $1.7 million to provide drug court alternatives through mental health

JOBS / ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
For the first time in state history, Oklahoma will make the largest deposit into the Quick Action closing fund, helping state leaders compete for new jobs to diversify our state’s economy while the nation’s economy is booming.

  • $19 million for the Quick Action Closing Fund, prioritizing recruitment opportunities to grow Oklahoma
  • $1 million for additional job growth and economic development specifically in the automotive industry and in aerospace through the Department of Commerce’s Aerospace Commerce Economic Services (ACES) program
  • $1 million to assist new entrepreneurs and small business innovators through the Oklahoma Center for Advancement of Science and Technology 

Healthcare

  • FMAP increase will allow for a 5 percent provider rate increase in FY’20, which in turn will increase funding support to rural hospital and nursing homes
  • $62.8 million for Graduate Medical Education program to support physician training for rural hospitals
  • $29 million saved to a new preservation fund to preserve Medicaid provider rates when the federal government’s 3-year rolling average results in a rate decline.
  • $10 million to decrease the Developmental Disability Services wait list and increase provider rates
  • $4.6 million to increase immunizations and staff county health departments throughout the state

Friday, May 24, 2019

City of Muskogee, Corps of Engineers release new inundation map for Muskogee area

From the City of Muskogee:

** FLOODING ALONG ARKANSAS RIVER ** UPDATED 5/24/19 1230

The U.S Army Corps of Engineers released a new inundation map for Muskogee to city officials this morning. This map shows projected areas where floodwaters may reach, which is more extensive than originally anticipated. Please consult the map for details.  Be advised that this map does not show the amount of water in any given area, or the projected depth. Residents are urged to consider roadways and other points of entry and exit to their property before traveling. These points may be in lower lying areas than residential structures. 

This map is based upon engineering projections, not guarantees. It is intended to be a planning tool for Emergency Management.

This new information from the United States Army Corps of Engineers indicate City services may be impacted as early as noon tomorrow.

The City’s highest priority is keeping the water treatment plant functional.  The National Guard has worked with city staff throughout the night adding berms at the water treatment plant in an effort to hold back the floodwaters. The water plant, at the timing of this release, is fully functional. However, as waters continue to rise and new projects are made, there is a possibility that the water plant may temporarily be unable to produce water. If this happens, it may occur as early as noon on Saturday. 

If the water plant suspends operations, Emergency Management officials will order a mandatory water rationing. This will ensure that the City’s reserve supply of water will last for three days beyond Saturday. Regardless, there is no possibility of water contamination.

Residents are urged to have a minimum additional three-day reserve supply of water.

Fire response would then be limited to structures with human lives in danger.

River water has reached the Muskogee Pollution Control plant and it is out of service at this time.  We do not anticipate this to impact citizens and we are in compliance with ODEQ regulations at this time.

We will post frequent updates on the City of Muskogee Emergency Management Facebook Page.

Flood Inundation Map

Optometric Physicians applaud passage of new optometry laws


Optometric Physicians Thank Governor, Legislature for Passage of New Optometry Laws

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma optometrists [Tuesday] thanked the Legislature and Governor Kevin Stitt for passing and signing legislation that will protect Oklahoma’s vision health standards while increasing convenience for consumers.

Senate Bill 100, authored by State Representative Carl Newton, himself an optometrist, removes from statute a prohibition on the sale of eyewear in non-medical, retail settings. It would allow retail stores to sell frames and lenses. It would also allow retail stores to lease space to optometrists. However, unlike previous proposals (including the previously rejected State Question 793), SB 100 contains vigorous protections for patient safety, quality of care, and the independence of the doctor.

Under SB 100, any optometry clinic leasing space from a retail store would need to be a separate legal entity owned and operated by an optometric physician licensed in Oklahoma. That optometrist cannot be an employee of the retail entity. Furthermore, the optometry clinic would be required to be physically 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.

Also unlike State Question 793, SB 100 clarifies that the independently operating Board of Examiners in Optometry regulates optometrists’ scope-of- practice, and that a corporate entity cannot restrict or influence how a doctor practices.

Dr. Selina McGee, an Edmond optometrist and president of the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians, said the bill is a positive development for optometric physicians and their patients.

“Our primary concern as eye doctors is protecting Oklahoma’s very high standards for quality of care and patient safety,” said Dr. McGee. “To preserve those high standards, optometrists need to be operating independently, free of corporate control or interference, and governed by a medical board. SB 100 is consistent with those principles, where State Question 793 and other previous proposals were not.”

More on SB 100:

SB 100 stipulates:

  • That retail outlets may sell frames and lenses;
  • That retail outlets may begin to lease space to optometric physicians in a phased-in, gradual manner with a timeline based on population density;
  • That the doctor may not be an employee of the retail outlet;
  • That the doctor will not receive any additional compensation for referring patients to the retail stores’ optical services;
  • That the care given to the patient be the main concern of the optometric physician, or other physician providing vision care;
  • That the doctor’s office be separate from the retail outlet’s optical shop; and
  • That the current laws be followed in giving a patient a prescription for glasses or contact lenses.

SB 100 also:

  • Defines the responsibility of the doctor to his patients;
  • Sets out penalties for infraction of the law;
  • Includes language disallowing the retailer to sell below costs; and
  • Adds new language that puts into law requirements for a contact lens prescription and requirements for the renewal of contact lens prescriptions by persons other than the prescribing doctor.

Legislature adjourns 'Sine Die'


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

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

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

Earlier today, the Oklahoma Legislature wrapped up the legislative session for this year and adjourned "Sine Die". Between work and events here, I haven't had a chance to put together a wrap-up of the closing flurry of legislative activity, and likely won't be able to for a while. In the meantime, check out SoonerPolitics.org for more news feeds and information.

OklahomaWatch.org also has a good article here -- Making the Cut: What Lawmakers Did (and Didn’t Do) This Year.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Muskogee Arkansas River Flood: updated map and road situation

As severe flooding continues along almost the entire length of the Arkansas River in Oklahoma, the effects are widening in communities along the waterway. Here in the Muskogee area, the flooding is approaching an all-time high, with county officials saying that the latest forecasts calling for a crest near 45' (an elevation of approximately 516' above sea level).

As of this writing, the Arkansas River gage at Muskogee has the river at 43'. The map below gives a rough estimate of what areas could be affected by the flooding if it crests between 45' and the all-time record of 48'. It's an imprecise graphic, since USGS contour lines are only every ten or twenty feet (depending on the area), so some of the edges might be above the flood level (but the shading should cover just about everything that could be affected). Judging from drone/helicopter video I've seen of the area, this is pretty close to what the current situation is.

Some of the roads on this map are not underwater due to elevated roadways; i.e. the turnpike, OK-165, Peak Boulevard, South Country Club (as of this afternoon) and South York St (as of this afternoon).

OK-10 is closed at Manard Bayou as well as where it approaches US-62. US-62 is underwater from just east of the river bridge to several hundred yards east of the Cherokee Casino. OK-10 is underwater from essentially the Arkansas River to north of the Muskogee Turnpike.

For official road highway closures, visit OKRoads.org. This does not cover county or city streets. Some local road closures can be found on the official Facebook pages of the City of Muskogee Emergency Management and the Muskogee County Emergency Management. I'll post two alternate routes from Muskogee to Fort Gibson below the potential-flooding map.




Official highway closures can be viewed at OKRoads.org.

TWO ALTERNATE ROUTES FROM MUSKOGEE TO FORT GIBSON:

  • Head north from Muskogee to Wagoner via the Turnpike or US-69, then east on OK-51 from Wagoner to Hulbert, then south on 4 Mile Road from Hulbert to US-62, then west on US-62 to Fort Gibson (Google Maps directions). Distance from downtown Muskogee, 43.7 miles.
  • Head north from Muskogee toward Wagoner via US-69, take E 760 Rd (just past the RV park on Hwy 69, at the curve south of Wagoner) east approximately 1.5 miles to OK-16, head south to E 100th St N/Gray Oaks Rd, go east approximately 3 miles to N 49th St E, head south 2 miles to OK-251, head east to the Fort Gibson Lake Dam, then continue east on OK-80/W 790 Rd until you reach 4 Mile Rd, then south to US-62, west from there to Fort Gibson (Google Maps directions). Distance from downtown Muskogee, 41.4 miles.
UPDATE: here are some road closures from the Muskogee County Commissioners, list was last updated Wednesday evening (click the image to view larger):



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For those who aren't regular readers of MuskogeePolitico.com, I generally cover state and local politics and current events. You can follow my blog on Facebook at this link, and on Twitter at @JamisonFaught.

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OCPA comments on 2019 legislative session


OCPA comments on 2019 legislative session

OKLAHOMA CITY (May 23, 2019) – Jonathan Small, president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, issued the following statement today as the 2019 session of the Oklahoma Legislature wrapped up.

“This year the Legislature advanced many important reforms that OCPA has endorsed for years. Those measures, if implemented correctly, should result in better oversight of government and less waste,” Small said. “However, the Legislature’s inability to expand the Equal Opportunity Scholarship program is a particularly glaring failure, especially since lawmakers doubled a ‘Hollywood handout,’ a voucher that sends millions of dollars to out-of-state producers such as disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Thousands of children with special needs, kids struggling with addiction, and students living with the challenges of poverty are desperately seeking to attend schools that can best serve them, and this session let them down. Those children deserve better, and OCPA will continue to advocate for them.”

House Passes Bill Creating Legislative Budget Office


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.

Senate Bill 1, by House Speaker Charles McCall and Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, would create the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) 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. LOFT would be similar to the federal Government Accountability Office within Congress.

“The Legislature has an obligation to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being spent by the agencies appropriately and without waste, and we need the resources to do that effectively,” said Speaker McCall, R-Atoka. “LOFT will be a legislative-level office, not an executive branch office, that ensures lawmakers are getting accurate and timely information from the agencies so we can make better informed decisions for citizens. This office has been a shared priority between House and Senate leadership this session, and I am very pleased that we accomplished this goal before the end of session.”

LOFT would employ financial examiners who would routinely audit agency budgets and spending and evaluate the effectiveness of agency programs and services. The office would then provide reports to the House and Senate. LOFT would have an oversight committee made up of an equal number of bipartisan House and Senate members. All members and the co-chairs of the committee would be appointed by the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate.

“The Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency will increase transparency and accountability by providing the public and lawmakers with in-depth information on agency budgets and program performance,” said President Pro Tempore Treat, R-Oklahoma City. “Rather than depending on agencies or third parties that receive state funding, lawmakers will have independent data as they make budgetary decisions and evaluate the effectiveness of individual programs. I appreciate Speaker McCall’s commitment and collaboration on the idea of a legislative budget office and thank him for his work in seeing Senate Bill 1 passed.”

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

The Legislature appropriated $1.7 million to fund LOFT in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget that just passed.

The bill passed by a vote of 69-18 and now heads to the governor’s desk to await his signature.

Senate sends workers’ comp bill to governor's desk


Senate gives final approval to workers’ comp bill
Legislation strengthens landmark 2013 reforms

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to legislation that preserves and strengthens landmark workers’ compensation reforms adopted in 2013. House Bill 2367 passed unanimously and now goes to the governor’s desk for consideration.

Senator Julie Daniels, Senate Judiciary Committee chair, is the Senate author of the bill and said HB 2367 clarifies and secures the reforms while addressing a number of issues that have arisen since passage of the original bill.

“Since 2013, reforms have been effective in helping injured workers receive timely treatment and get back to work.  Oklahoma employers have saved hundreds of millions of dollars.  Premiums are lower, fewer cases are filed and employee claims are resolved in less time with fewer appeals. Without compromising reforms all stakeholders negotiated over several months to resolve some pressing issues,” said Daniels, R-Bartlesville.

Among the highlights of HB 2367:

  • Increases the total temporary disability (TTD) cap to 70 percent of the employee’s average weekly wage with a maximum of the state’s average weekly wage;
  • Increases the maximum permanent partial disability (PPD) rate to $350/week for two years; an increase to $360/week in 2021 and an extension of the maximum number of weeks to 360;
  • Adopts use of the Sixth Edition of the American Medical Association guidelines;
  • Brings the Workers’ Compensation Commission in line with several Oklahoma Supreme Court decisions;
  • Restructures the Multiple Injury Trust Fund (MITF) to increase the fund’s solvency.
  • The Fiscal Year 2020 budget deal includes a $5 million appropriation to the MITF as part of the solution.
  • Includes a reduction in the Court of Existing Claims to one judge from 2020 to 2022 to address remaining cases;
  • Calls for the Workers’ Compensation Commission to conduct a study regarding a possible increase in the medical fee schedule and to report to the Legislature in 2020;
  • Calls for the current procedural terminology (CPT) codes to be updated every two years.

“Republicans fought long and hard to transform the workers’ comp system from an adversarial system to an administrative system that’s fair to all parties while still controlling costs for employers. Workers’ comp reform has been an undeniable success for Oklahoma and this legislation will preserve and strengthen our successful reforms. I want to congratulate Senator Julie Daniels for a fantastic job in championing workers’ comp reform,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Muskogee Arkansas River Flood: Areas to Watch



{Updates can be viewed toward the bottom. Combined Muskogee/Fort Gibson/Braggs map at this link, or at the bottom of the post}


With all of the rain eastern and northern Oklahoma has received in the past week, the Muskogee area is bracing for major flood stage on the Arkansas River due to inflow from precipitation and water release from area lakes.

The Arkansas River at Muskogee is forecast to crest at 38' (10' above flood stage) on Wednesday, up from 27' yesterday. This would likely place the flood among the top five highest crests recorded at this location.

The record flood reading was 48.2' on May 21st, 1943 (before Ft. Gibson Dam was completed), and the second-highest on record was 39.6' on October 6th, 1986.

Areas below an elevation of 510' are likely to be flooded, if the crests as forecast. The map below gives a rough idea of the areas that are below 510'. Dark blue is the normal water levels, light blue covers the area subject to river flooding. Evacuations are currently underway in some of these areas.

Click here to view the Muskogee/west Fort Gibson map larger.

I hope to get more on the Fort Gibson side done as well, but the USGS maps for that area I can find all use contours of 20' instead of 10' as on the Muskogee side of the river (I assume it's because the Fort Gibson side has more topographical variance). Map has been added in below updates


Again, click here to view the Muskogee/west Fort Gibson map larger.

UPDATE 1: here is more of the Fort Gibson and Braggs vicinity. This one is less precise than the Muskogee one as it is based off a different map, but if you zoom in you can identify the 500' mark (this USGS map has 20' contour lines instead of 10').

Click here to view the south Fort Gibson/Braggs map in full size.


Again, click here to view the south Fort Gibson/Braggs map larger.

UPDATE 2: I've combined both maps into one image (view in full size at this link):



Again, view the combined map in full size here.

Senate passes bill to create Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency

Senate approves LOFT bill
Office would provide data to lawmakers, public on agency budgets and performance

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Senate on Tuesday gave approval to legislation creating the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT), an office that would provide independent data to lawmakers and the public on state agency budgets and program performance.

The highlights of Senate Bill 1:

  • LOFT will conduct performance evaluations of agencies, programs, or specific divisions;
  • LOFT would have open access to all agency data and budgets;
  • LOFT would be overseen by a bipartisan committee of Senate and House members;
  • LOFT would have a nonpartisan, independent staff of highly educated professionals;
  • LOFT reports would be available to the public.

“More transparency in agency spending and program performance will increase and enhance accountability of how tax dollars are used. LOFT will increase transparency by providing lawmakers and the public with independent data on agency budgets and program performance,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma and author of SB 1.

“For too long, lawmakers have been dependent on agencies or those who benefit from state spending for spending and program performance data. That’s not the best system of accountability. The people of Oklahoma deserve and expect that their tax dollars will be used in the best and most efficient manner. LOFT will be a watchdog for the public and policy makers by providing better information to track and evaluate how tax dollars are spent.”

The Fiscal Year 2020 budget includes $1.7 million in funding for LOFT. SB 1 goes to the House for consideration, and if approved, would go to the governor’s desk.

Senate passes $8.1B state budget


Senate approves state budget
Budget includes huge investment in classrooms, teacher & state employee pay raises, and criminal justice reform funding

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Senate on Tuesday gave final approval to the state budget, which includes huge investments in public school classrooms, a teacher and state employee pay raise, as well as significant investments in criminal justice reforms all while saving $200 million.

The Fiscal Year 2020 budget bill, House Bill 2765, passed on a 37-11 vote.

“This is a tremendous budget for Oklahoma because it makes huge investments in our classrooms, gives teachers and state employees another significant pay raise, puts money toward criminal justice reforms, and saves $200 million to help in the event of an economic downturn in the future,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City. “Senate Republicans kept our commitment to invest in education by appropriating $74.4 million for our classrooms. We also addressed our priority to fund criminal justice reforms. The budget also shows fiscal restraint because we’re putting away $200 million in savings, bringing the state’s total amount of savings to $1 billion. I want to thank Senator Roger Thompson, the Senate appropriations chairman, for his hard work, skill, and leadership in crafting this budget deal. I also want to commend the senators who chaired Senate appropriations subcommittee for sharpening their pencils and helping put together a great budget.”

The budget now goes to Governor Kevin Stitt’s desk for consideration.

“Tough choices by the Legislature in recent years put our state in a much better financial position, and because of those decisions we had nearly $600 million in new funding to appropriate. This budget makes great use of those dollars by making a $157.9 million investment in public schools, which includes $74.4 million into our classrooms so local schools can hire more teachers to lower class sizes or purchase classroom supplies. Overall, this is a great budget that makes significant investments in critical services while saving $200 million to help when the inevitable economic downturn hits in the future. I want to thank the Senate appropriations subcommittee chairs who did a tremendous job in delving into the numbers to help us come up with a great budget deal,” said Senator Roger Thompson, R-Okemah.

Among the highlights of the FY’2020 budget include:

  • $200 million in savings to help Oklahoma weather a financial crisis; Oklahoma’s total savings at the end of this year will be $1 billion
  • EDUCATION
    • $157.9 million for common education:
    • $1,220 teacher pay raise on average, second-consecutive year for a teacher pay raise.
    • $5.5 million for the Reading Sufficiency Act.
    • An additional $74.4 million for classroom funding for schools to hire additional teachers to lower class sizes, hire counselors or other support staff, or purchase classroom supplies.
    • $18 million for the CareerTech system for pay raises and course additions.
    • $28 million for higher education to bolster research programs and provide a professor pay raise.
    • $7.5 million for concurrent enrollment
  • GOVERNMENT MODERNIZATION
    • $37.7 million for a state employee pay raise of up to $1,400, the second-consecutive year for a state employee pay raise. 
    • $1.7 million for the creation of the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT)
    • $16.4 million for digital transformation of state government services to enhance transparency and to improve customer service.
    • $700,000 to hire more auditors for the State Auditor’s Office to conduct more audits of state agencies.
  • CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORMS
    • $20.1 million to reform the funding of District Attorney offices.
    • $10 million for “Smart on Crime” programs through the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
    • $1.5 million for the Women in Recovery diversion program.
    • $1.7 million to expand drug courts options for nonviolent offenders.
  • HEALTH CARE
    • $62.8 million for Graduate Medical Education program to support physician training.
    • $105 million reallocation to increase provider rates for physicians, hospitals and nursing homes.
    • $29 million saved to a new preservation fund to preserve Medicaid provider rates when the federal government’s 3-year rolling average results in a rate decline.
    • $2 million to decrease Developmental Disability Services (DDSD) wait list.
    • $8 million to increase DDSD provider reimbursement rates by 4 percent.
    • $4.6 million to increase immunizations and staff county health departments throughout the state.
  • RURAL OKLAHOMA
    • $500,000 to fund a public-private partnership to maintain clean water in Northeast Oklahoma and areas with high poultry density.
    • $1.1 million for wildfire mitigation and additional resources for rural fire fighters.
    • $1.5 million to improve rural flood control dams.

Senate passes bill on public school instruction time


Senate advances bill calling for increased classroom time for students

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Senate on Monday passed a bill that provides increased classroom time for students beginning with the 2021-2022 school year.

Senate Bill 441 was one of four agenda items of Senate Republicans for the 2019 session. The bill passed the Senate on Monday by a 30-16 vote.

“More instructional time is a critical element in the formula of student success. That’s why Senate Republicans made this piece of legislation one of our four agenda items for this year’s session. When we look at education policy, everything we do should put the focus on the student. Senate Bill 441 puts student achievement squarely in focus by getting them more time in the classroom with a quality, professional educator,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City.

Senator Marty Quinn, R-Claremore, is the author of the bill.

“Everyone can agree that it’s beneficial for a student to spend more time in the classroom learning from a quality teacher. More time in the classroom should help improve student outcomes and potentially reduce the rates of college remedial enrollment. It’s also important to preserve the right of local school districts to make decisions that are best to meet their needs. Senate Bill 441 is a great piece of legislation that puts the focus on the students and lets local schools make the ultimate decision on their school calendar. This bill has been the culmination of a lot of hard work by members of the Senate and I appreciate those senators who supported this bill,” Quinn said.

The bill now goes to the House. If the House approves SB 441, the bill would go to the governor’s desk for consideration.

Key parts of SB 441:

  • For the 2019-2020 and the 2020-2021 school year, there would be no change to existing law so school districts can choose to pursue 180 days of instruction or 1,080 hours of instruction with no restrictions.
  • Beginning in 2021-2022 school year school districts will have three options:
  • 165 days of classroom time
  • 1,080 hours with a minimum of 165 days of classroom time
  • 1,080 hours with no minimum of days of classroom time if districts are able to meet the minimum guidelines for school performance and cost savings.
  • The Oklahoma State Department of Education will promulgate rules on minimum guidelines focusing on student achievement and fiscal savings to receive an exemption.
  • The Oklahoma Legislature would have to approve the State Department of Education exemption rules.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Music Monday: Lonesome Road

This week's Music Monday is Lonesome Road, a 1920's folk song sung here on the Andy Griffith Show by actor Jack Prince as the character 'Rafe Hollister' (episode Rafe Hollister Sings, which aired tonight on MeTV).

Enjoy!


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.

April 29th, 2019: Have Faith in God (Muskogee's hymn)
April 15th, 2019: The Government Can
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

Stitt issues executive order creating criminal justice reform task force


GOVERNOR STITT ISSUES EXECUTIVE ORDER TO CREATE THE RESTORE TASK FORCE TO PREPARE CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM PROPOSALS FOR 2020

Oklahoma City, Okla. (May 20, 2019) – Governor Kevin Stitt today issued Executive Order 2019-22 to form the Criminal Justice Reentry, Supervision, Treatment and Opportunity Reform (RESTORE) Task Force.

“This task force will bring together all stakeholders to discuss the criminal code, diversion programs, victims’ rights, and our prison system. When Oklahoma comes together as one team, we can create bold change that will offer our fellow citizens a second chance while also keeping our communities and streets safe,” said Governor Kevin Stitt. “We are making great progress this Legislative session on criminal justice reform, from investing in drug courts and diversion programs to stabilizing District Attorneys' funding sources by ending their dependency on fines, fees and court costs. My administration remains committed to changing our state’s number one incarceration ranking, which is why I created the RESTORE Task Force to begin preparing reform recommendations for 2020.”

The RESTORE Task Force will submit by December 6 criminal justice reform recommendations for consideration during the 2020 Legislative session.  The Executive Order specifically calls for the task force to look at how to reduce Oklahoma’s incarceration rate, reduce the recidivism rate, and enhance and establish diversion programs.  The Task Force will work in collaboration with the Criminal Justice Reclassification Coordination Council currently preparing a report to modernize and classify the criminal code, which will set the stage for additional sentencing reform and bail bond reform.

The 15-person Task Force will be led by the Governor’s Secretary of Public Safety and include the Attorney General and a designee made by the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Temp of the Senate.

EO 2019-22 can be read by clicking here: https://www.sos.ok.gov/documents/executive/1874.pdf

OCPA column: There’s good reason for Oklahomans to like the Electoral College


There’s good reason for Oklahomans to like the Electoral College
by Jonathan Small

If you think the problem with presidential elections is that too much importance is put on the opinions of people in places like Oklahoma, and not enough weight placed on the views of people in San Francisco, then liberal activists have a deal for you: the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPV).

Under the Electoral College established in the U.S. Constitution to determine the winner of presidential elections, each state has as many electoral votes as it has senators and representatives. The Constitution allows state legislatures to figure out how to select the electors who cast electoral votes. In Oklahoma and 47 other states, electors are chosen by statewide elections. In Maine and Nebraska, one is elected from each house district and the remaining two are elected statewide.

Under this system, if you run up margins in a handful of high-population states, but fare much worse across the rest of the country, you can “win” more raw votes nationwide but lose the Electoral College.

That’s what happened to Hillary Clinton. She received an outright majority in just 13 states, yet received nearly 2.9 million more votes nationally than did Donald Trump while losing the Electoral College. But Clinton won California by 4.2 million votes, which accounts for the entirety of her popular vote “win.”

Should doing well in one very liberal state negate the votes of citizens everywhere else? Some liberal activists think so and are pushing the NPV compact, which would require states to give their electoral votes to whoever receives the most votes nationally, regardless of state election results. Thus, the plan would nullify the Electoral College without changing the Constitution.

The Electoral College protects Middle America by containing elections at the state level and promoting geographic balance. And there are many problems with the NPV. Eliminating or nullifying the Electoral College would encourage splinter parties and spoiler candidates. It would reward states for having weak election laws, and create new opportunities for big-city vote fraud to influence presidential elections. (In 2017, the Election Integrity Project of Judicial Watch analyzed U.S. Census Bureau data. The results indicated 462 counties nationwide had voter registration rates that exceeded 100 percent of the adult population.) Most important for Oklahomans, it would shift political power toward the biggest cities and the population-dense coasts.

We can be thankful the U.S. Constitution sets a higher bar to win the presidency than just a raw vote plurality. The danger of regional politics and the benefits of decentralized elections are both real. The Framers of the Constitution designed a system that makes it hard for a party to win the White House based on support from just one region.

In other words, when Hillary Clinton lost, the system worked, and Oklahomans have good reason to defend it.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (www.ocpathink.org).

Friday, May 17, 2019

Drama: Walkingstick thrown out by Cherokee Nation Election Commission

Drama continues to build in the wild Cherokee Principle Chief election:


DAVID WALKINGSTICK STATEMENT FOLLOWING ELECTION COMMISSION DECISION TO DISQUALIFY CANDIDACY

Friday evening, the Cherokee Nation Election Commission voted to disqualify David Walkingstick as a candidate for Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation as a result of a complaint filed by an employee of the Chuck Hoskin Jr. campaign. The complaint alleged that the actions of an independent expenditure supporting David Walkingstick were a violation of Cherokee Nation election law. Following their decision, the Walkingstick campaign released the following statement:

"Although we are proud Cherokee citizens, we are also United States citizens with a guaranteed right to free speech protected by the U.S. Constitution. The Cherokee Nation Election Commission's ruling to remove David Walkingstick shows either a total disregard or misunderstanding of what our First Amendment protects.

The United States Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. FEC that U.S. citizens cannot be denied the right to raise and spend money to influence an election for a candidate. The Election Commission's disqualification of Walkingstick from the Principal Chief election is in direct conflict with this ruling that remains the law of the land. The Walkingstick campaign did not coordinate with or accept contributions from Cherokees for Change LLC, and the Election Commission has no legal right to remove a candidate from the ballot as the result of another United States citizen exercising their First Amendment right to free speech.

We fully intend to take the necessary steps to right this egregious wrong and ensure that our Cherokee citizens’ right to vote is protected on June 1st and beyond."

House Dems Education Caucus decries removal of April 1 funding deadline

House Dem Ed Caucus Members Sounds Off on Removal of April 1 Deadline

OKLAHOMA CITY – Members of the Oklahoma House Democratic  Education Caucus released the following statements in response to the House voting 72 to 20 to remove the April 1 public education funding deadline.

“Noncompliance is not a good reason to repeal a state statute,” said Rep. Kelly Albright (D-Midwest City). “This legislation feels like an attack on education advocates that continue to fight for proper education funding.”

“Oklahoma’s Legislature has one constitutional mandate: to pass a balanced budget,” said Rep. Andy Fugate (D-OKC). “That should always be our top priority ahead of ALL other business. That’s our job and our responsibility to the people of Oklahoma. If we made this Constitutional obligation a priority like we should, meeting this deadline wouldn’t be impossible, it would be easy.”

“I just voted against a measure on the floor to repeal the statutory requirement to approve an education budget by April 1 of each year,” said Rep. Melissa Provenzano (D-Tulsa). “School districts could plan better for the coming year if they knew their budget by the April 1 deadline. The requirement has only been met twice since inception. It’s possible and it’s not too much to ask. This is an optics issue, plain and simple. Nobody likes to look bad when they can’t get their job done on time. Is that the best reason to repeal this law?  We don’t think so.”

“I find it troubling that the powers that be can simply change a statute just because they don’t want to follow a statute,” said Rep. Jacob Rosecrants (D-Norman). “Providing a fully funded budget for our schools by April 1st shows that we indeed do prioritize our schools. Taking it away is a step back, not a step forward. Funding education should always be our number one priority.”

“The April 1 deadline was put in place to help Oklahoma administrators have the ability to plan ahead,” said Rep. John Waldron (D-Tulsa). “We should be striving to meet this goal every year not working to get rid of it. Our education professionals desperately need stability and consistency from the Legislature, and I am afraid that removing this deadline is a step away from both.”

House passes $8.1B State Budget



House Passes $8.1 Billion State Budget

Budget Puts $230 Million into Savings, New Money into Classrooms, Teacher Pay Raises and Healthcare

OKLAHOMA CITY – The House of Representatives passed the Fiscal Year-2020 general appropriations bill today, approving an $8.1 billion state budget that includes historic savings, pay raises for teachers and state employees and builds upon the historic investment made in common education by the Legislature last year.

The budget is a $633 million increase – or 7.8 percent – over the FY-2019 appropriated budget. The Legislature provided an additional $157.7 million for common education, which comes just one year after providing $480 million in new funding for public schools. The Legislature has now increased funding for public schools 26.25 percent during the last two years. The $157.7 million in new funding includes an average $1,220 teacher pay raise and $74 million for classrooms and increases to flex benefits.

The budget also includes $230 million in savings, with $29 million of that set aside in an FMAP Preservation fund to be available for future reductions in Oklahoma’s Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) rate, a formula used by the federal government to determine each state’s match rate for Medicaid. Those rates fluctuate based upon each state’s per capita income levels. The remaining $201 million will stay in the state’s General Revenue Fund to be saved for future economic downturns. Combined with expected deposits in the state’s Rainy Day Fund, Oklahoma will have close to $1.2 billion in savings by the end of June.

The Legislature provided $37.7 million to give state employees a pay raise for the second consecutive year and an additional $3.3 million to higher education to fully fund concurrent enrollment options, which allows seniors the opportunity to earn college credit while still in high school. The Fiscal Year 2019 budget included $7.5 million for concurrent enrollment, meaning the Legislature has increased funding for the program by $10.8 million since last year, bringing the program’s annual budget up to $11.7 million. Higher education also received a total increase of $28 million for the second consecutive year over the previous year’s appropriation, giving them more than $56 million in new funding during the last two years.

Lawmakers provided $2 million to decrease the wait lists for the Developmental Disability Services (DDSD) wait list and $8 million to increase provider reimbursement rates by 4 percent for doctors to care for those DDSD patients. The budget also provides funding to increase Medicaid provider reimbursement rates by 5 percent for doctors and healthcare facilities and funding to create an incentive reimbursement program for nursing homes that would improve health outcomes and quality of life for patients.

The State Auditor’s Office received a $700,000 increase to hire new auditors, and lawmakers approved $1.7 million to create a legislative-level budget office to give the House and Senate more resources to review agency budgets and analyze programs and services.

The budget also fully funds the Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s 8-Year Construction Work Plan to maintain and build new roads and bridges and provides an additional $30 million for the County Improvements for Roads and Bridges (CIRB) Program on top of their annual $120 million budget.

Lawmakers also provided a $3 million increase to the Rural Economic Action Plan (REAP) for economic development in rural communities, a $1 million increase for county extension offices and $19 million for the governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund, which helps attract new businesses to Oklahoma.

“House Republicans had several priorities at the start of the 2019 legislative session that we based on conversations we had with voters on the doorsteps during the summer,” said House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka. “Those priorities included another teacher pay raise on top of the historic pay raise we provided last session, more money for the classroom on top of the large investment we made to public education last session, reestablishing our county infrastructure investment plan, more resources devoted toward rooting out waste and inefficiencies in government spending and increasing our savings to be better prepared for future economic downturns. We have accomplished all of those goals with this budget agreement.

“We believe increasing teacher pay directly addresses the teacher shortage by incentivizing new teachers into the classroom and keeping the veteran teachers we already have, and we think the nearly 1,200 new teachers we have hired since the previous pay raise reinforces that belief. We have provided nearly $640 million in new funding and increased the total common education budget by more than 26 percent during the last two years. We also prioritized funding for nursing homes, state employees and corrections officers and concurrent enrollment programs for high school seniors. This budget is an investment in Oklahoma, and I am very grateful for my colleagues in the House for getting this bill across the finish line.”

“I said last year to ‘not let the perfect be the enemy of the good,’ but this year I said to ‘not let the perfect be the enemy of the great’,” said House Appropriations and Budget Chairman Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston. “The Fiscal Year 2019 budget was the best budget that I had seen since I arrived in the House, and I believe the Fiscal Year 2020 budget is substantially better. This is a great budget, and it has a little bit of everything, including new funding to meet the needs of our most vital government agencies and a historic savings of surplus funds that will put future Legislatures in a much better financial position than we arrived in.”

House Bill 2765 passed out of the House by a vote of 76-23 and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Missing In Action: the Oklahoma Legislature and the fight for Life


Legislation on abortion has topped the national news this year. Blue states like New York and Vermont have swung heavily toward expanding infanticide (even to infants post-birth, as voiced by Virginia's governor), while some red states are changing tactics to more intense assaults on Roe v. Wade.

In the last two months, seven states have passed legislation that would dramatically restrict abortion. In recent weeks, movement on these pro-life bills has accelerated.

  • May 15th - Alabama: near-total abortion ban signed by Governor
  • May 15th - Louisiana: heartbeat bill (6-week) authored by Democrat passes House, Democrat Governor indicated he will sign if passed.
  • May 15th - Missouri: heartbeat (8-week) and trigger bill passed Senate. Final House vote expected tomorrow.
  • May 7th - Georgia: heartbeat (6-week) bill signed by Governor.
  • April 11th - Ohio: heartbeat (6-week) bill signed by Governor.
  • March 21st - Mississippi: heartbeat (6-week) bill signed by Governor.
  • March 15th - Kentucky: heartbeat (6-week) bill signed by Governor.

Where is Oklahoma in this fight?

We have a Governor on the record pledging to sign any pro-life bill sent to his desk. We have a supermajority of legislators in both houses who claim to be pro-life.

And yet, where is the fruit? The pieces are present, but why haven't they been assembled?

When it comes to significantly advancing the rights of the preborn this year, the Oklahoma Legislature is MIA - Missing In Action.

Rose Day after Rose Day, Oklahoma legislators line up for a group photo, proclaiming their allegiance to the pro-life cause, and touting their dedication (and their 100% rating) to defending Life. Yet, behind the scenes, many in leadership kowtow to corporate and media interests who despise the pro-life cause and claim that such policies would bring economic disaster to Oklahoma.

Earlier this year, a bill was filed to take a lead among the states and abolish abortion in Oklahoma. Senate President Greg Treat and Senate Health Committee Chairman Jason Smalley refused to allow the measure to even get a discussion in committee. Citing quibbles with the wording, they rejected allowing the bill to go through the legislative process whereby differences in legislation are worked out.

Then, to some fanfare, Sen. Treat revealed the "new strategy", his answer to Silk's SB13 that was not going to be allowed to be heard. The new bill, an effort to appease pro-lifers upset by the shelving of SB13, was a "trigger bill", which would only go into effect if Roe v. Wade gets overturned or Congress passes a constitutional amendment returning abortion law to the states.

But wait! There's more!

When Treat's bill hit the Senate floor, he changed it again (this time without the proclamations that accompanied the initial unveiling). Now, his SB195 sends to a vote of the people a constitutional amendment to "clarif[y that] no provision of the [Oklahoma] Constitution secures or protects a right to perform or receive an abortion". Since passing the Senate, that measure has received no action in the House, no public promptings for passage by the authoring Senate President, no attention whatsoever.

This year, legislative leadership has absolutely zero priority for advancing action on behalf of the preborn. However, they did find it important enough to pass a bill designating the ribeye as the state steak. It's a sad day when a steak takes precedence over preventing the death of thousands of babies every year. 

Oklahoma had a chance to lead the nation in advocating for Life this year. Pro-life Republicans control the House of Representatives, the Senate, and a pro-life Republican sits in the office of Governor. Even after SB13 was shelved, it was still possible for another measure of import to be proposed and advanced. If it was truly a priority for legislative leadership, they could have made it happen. Instead, pro-lifers and the pro-life cause are an afterthought, only considered when an election is on the line.

While states like Alabama, Georgia, and Missouri take the forefront in the battle for the preborn, Oklahoma's place in the ranks is empty. The lack of significant action speaks to the lack of priority.

The Oklahoma Legislature is Missing In Action in the fight for Life in 2019.