25th Journal of the 1st Legislative Session of the 55th Legislature

July 23rd, 2015

            I have always taken pride in the fact that as District 15 State Representative I have had the opportunity to represent an area with one of the state’s largest recreational and commercial shore line composed of large portions of Lake Eufaula, Lake Tenkiller, and Robert S. Kerr Lake and Reservoir.  The impact of this year’s excessive rainfall has had a major negative economic impact on these areas during the Memorial Day and July 4th tourist activities.  During the annual meetings of the Greater Tenkiller Area Association and Lake Eufaula Association, evidence was presented documenting this through the closures of boat docks and campsites.  Following the opening of these, the Corp of Engineers have their hands full attempting to get the shoreline back free of flooding produced debris.  

However, if this natural created crisis is not enough to challenge those responsible for maintaining the recreational needs of Oklahoma residents and visiting out-of-state tourists during this critical summer and holiday seasons, the Governor and the leadership and their members in the House and Senate have chosen to add to these problems.  In other words, we might realize greater long term economic setbacks from politics than from nature.  The $7.1 billion state budget passed by the House and Senate and signed by Governor Fallin in June 2015 included deep cuts to the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation.  This agency is responsible for managing the state park system with the assistance of the U.S. Corps of Engineers.  These cuts in state funding could result in some parks being closed or transferred to new, non-state operators.  The Deputy Director of the Department of Tourism, Claudia Conner, recently indicated that they have been meeting every day in an attempt to find solutions to this fiscal problem.  It appears that this is still being worked on to find ways to salvage at least a portion of the recreational needs that our state’s citizens have come to expect and enjoy.  Conner went on to indicate that the 5%, or $1 million, cut in their funding from the legislature is merely part of the story.  She states “there were also cuts to apportionment of $7.8 million, and some of the Tourism funds were swept, so to speak, at $7.5 million.”  This is referring to the sales tax money that is set aside for tourism coupled with loss of revenue in the Department’s revolving funds that were raided by the legislature in an attempt to ‘balance the budget” that included a $611 million shortfall.  When you add all of this up, it comes to more than $16 million or a 26% cut for this agency.  The effects of these and previous cuts has been to see this Department relinquish control of 11 of 45 state parks since 2011.  Other state parks are being considered to be transferred given the current and anticipated future budget cuts.  It seems that our state parks have become vulnerable to state budget cuts since it seems evident that this approach has been tolerated in the past. 

            As I had indicated in an earlier Journal, I stated that I would report on winners and losers coming out of the 1st Session of the 55th Legislature.  The real losers in this case would be the citizens of this great state and especially those of District 15 and adjoining Legislative Districts.  Maybe that is why those of us representing this area of the state found it necessary to vote against the ill-advised and designed budget.   

If you would like to have my weekly Notes sent to by email each week please contact me at the address below. Contact Information:  PO Box 98, Porum, OK  74455, ed.cannaday@okhouse.gov, (918) 448 5702.  Legislative Assistant, Connie Riley:  (800) 522 8502 or (405) 557 7375, Fax (405) 962 7624

                

 

24th Journal of the First Legislative Session of the 55th Legislature

July 16th, 2015

             Seldom do I find myself in agreement with Governor Fallin but on the issue of House Bill 1748 we came to similar agreements even if for different reasons.  This bill requires Oklahoma State agencies to report the amount of federal funding they received and the function this funding was to serve.  It passed out of the Senate on a 39 to 1 vote and the House by 69 to 19.  I was one of the 19 no votes.  Now with the Governor’s veto of this bill we may have come to similar views that this type of legislation is not productive.  The intent of it was to provide a justification for cutting state funding for those agencies receiving federal funds.   With the anti-federal government obsession by which our state politics are driven, one can be assured that a state agency which is closely aligned with federal funding and subsequent policies will be viewed with certain scrutiny by both of our state’s legislative bodies. This causes me to revisit my traditional view that “the strength of a society and its government can be measured by its ability to survive the discrepancy between what its leaders say and what they actually do.”  Our state has an inverted relationship with the federal government based on the fact that we receive more in federal revenue assistance than what we provide in federal tax revenue.  It is therefore ironic that our legislators want to attach their name to a bill that would result in reducing the fiscal relationship of our agencies with the federal government. 

            Another negative aspect of this bill is that it would create another layer of state government bureaucracy by mandating the additional record keeping and reporting functions of each impacted state agency.  There is an irony here in that those supporting this bill are constantly advocating for smaller government while they vote to expand the structure and function of state government to new levels.  It is on this point that the Governor chose to focus her veto message as seen in the following statement.  “Lean, efficient government does not require its workers to re-package or re-format information that those same workers have already placed within the public domain.”   From that perspective we could conclude that those voting for this bill are requesting that our Oklahoma government be “fat and inefficient.” 

            For those disclaiming any desire to participate in federal grant programs they may wish to consider what our State Auditor and Inspector reports:  our state participates in over 300 such federal grant programs.  In many cases these grants pay over half of the cost of service and make it possible for Oklahoma to provide much better public services.  According to the U.S. Department of the Census, in 2009 our state and local governments received over $7.8 billion in federal funding.  This has been followed by a federal stimulus bill in 2010 with $2.6 billion in stimulus grants increasing our total federal funding by 30%.  Each state agency that receives federal revenue includes in their department reports the specific amount and purpose of this federal revenue.

           

Contact Information: PO Box 98, Porum, OK  74455, ed.cannaday@okhouse.gov,   918 448 5702.  Legislative Assistant, Connie Riley, at 1 800 522 8502 or 405 557 7375 and fax 405 962 7624 at the Capitol.

                

 

23 Journal of the First Legislative Session of the 55th Legislature

July 10th, 2015

            The State Supreme Court has recently made a very controversial 7/2 ruling that the state’s authorization for posting the Ten Commandments Monument on State Capitol grounds as being in violation of Article II Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution.  This decision by seven of the nine Justices on Oklahoma’s highest state court has generated a series of responses from the Governor, fellow legislators, Attorney General, state citizens, and District 15 constituents. 

One response by several legislators is calling for the impeachment of the seven State Supreme Court Justices which had voted for the removal of this monument based on the specific language of Article II Section 5 which specifically forbids “public property” to be used…directly or indirectly for benefit or support of any ….system of religion….” Replacing these Justices could be resolved by the time honored process of elections as they hold an elected office instead of the complex process of impeachment. Is this group of legislators indicating that the Justices violated their oath of office in making this ruling?

            There are several others responses that merit our consideration.  First of these has been made by a petition filed by Oklahoma Attorney General Pruitt calling for a rehearing of the case based on his belief that there should be additional considerations made in interpreting this section of our state Constitution.  If this request is given consideration, perhaps there will be a full airing of issues impacted by modifying the rationale for such decision or maintaining their current ruling with greater explanation for the decision.  This would open the door to those who are currently making the argument that the Ten Commandments are secular/historical and not religious in nature or effect.  I am not saying that this is the basis for the AG’s Petition, but it is a dialogue that is being presented in various circles. 

 A third response to this decision that seems to be gaining support is to attempt to amend the Oklahoma Constitution by deleting Article II Sec. 5.  This most likely would be done through legislation being filed in either the House or Senate and passage with a simple majority followed by referring it to the state’s citizens for a vote in the next general election.  Currently, House Joint Resolution 1036 has been filed calling for the repeal of the portion of Article II Sec. 5 which “relates to the use of public monies for property for sectarian or religious purposes.”  The first question that comes to mind is will this repeal all of Article II Sec. 5 or merely the wording referred to in the filing?  Secondly, what will be the effect of this if it successfully moves through all three steps and becomes a part of our Constitution?  Does this mean that the legislature can pass legislation authorizing a portion of the state budget to be for “property for religious purposes?”  And the questions go on and on and on. 

 

Contact Information: PO Box 98, Porum, OK  74455, ed.cannaday@okhouse.gov,   918 448 5702.  Legislative Assistant, Connie Riley, at 1 800 522 8502 or 405 557 7375 and fax 405 962 7624 at the Capitol.

                

 

22nd Journal of the First Legislative Session of the 55th Legislature

July 2nd, 2015

            As a state representative, I seldom deal with federal or national issues based on the belief that if I cannot directly influence them in my role as a state legislator I would merely be playing politics with these national issues.  However, due to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of King v. Burwell dealing with the national health care issue known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and when politicized, Obama Care.  My goal in this Journal is not to make any political connections to the Court’s 6 to 3 bipartisan decision, but instead I will discuss its Constitutional basis and the impact it will have on our state.

            As we know from our public education classes in history and government, of the three branches of government that our nation’s founders formed, the Supreme Court has the responsibility to review either state or federal laws to insure that they are in compliance with the U.S. Constitution.  In this case, the Court’s Chief Justice Roberts spoke for the six affirmative votes declaring that the issues brought against ACA failed to demonstrate that this law did not meet constitutional muster.  “In a democracy, the power to make the law rests with those chosen by the people.  Our (the Court’s) role is more confined….But in every case we must respect the role of the legislature, and take care not to undo what it has done.”  He goes on to say that Congress passed the ACA to improve health insurance markets and it is the Court’s task to interpret it with the goal of insuring that it will achieve the goal intended by the Congress.  In summary, the Chief Justice identified three basic features of the law as follows: it bars insurers from taking a person’s health into account when deciding whether to sell that person health insurance and how much to charge; secondly, it requires each person to maintain insurance coverage or make a payment to the Internal Revenue Service; lastly, it gives tax credits to certain people to make insurance affordable.  In addition, it requires each state to create an Exchange or marketplace for these stipulations to be implemented.  The bottom line in this decision was that the six Justices held that the law in creating those three interlocking reforms applied equally in each state, no matter who established the State Exchange. 

            Now, let us see how this applies to Oklahoma.  From a press release by our Governor, we are informed that she strongly opposes the Court’s decision in that her view is that the states should be left to their own discretion as to whether or not assistance should be provided to those citizens not able to afford health insurance.  For those being encouraged by the ruling of the Court, we find that between 2014 and 2015 there was an 80% increase in individuals enrolled in the ACA Marketplace health plans, bringing the total of Oklahomans on this plan to 126,115.  It has been projected that had the ruling reversed the current aspects of the ACA in Oklahoma, 87,136 citizens would have lost their health insurance subsides and their insurance premiums would have increased an average of 243%.  It was also estimated that over 208,000 Oklahomans would either lose their insurance or drop out of their current insurance pool.

            The Oklahoma Policy Institute summarized the significance of the ruling in the following statement.  “For nearly all policy holders, their tax credits go directly to the health insurance companies.  With 100,039 Oklahoma enrollees qualifying for an average monthly tax credit of $206, this works out to $20,600,000 per month in savings for Oklahomans with $247.3 million deposited directly in Oklahoma based insurance companies.  This money then flows to Oklahoma’s health care workers and health care businesses.” 

 

Contact info:   email at ed.cannaday@okhouse.gov, mobile: 918 448 5702, Legislative Assistant Connie Riley at 800 522 8502 or 405 557 7375.

                

 

21st Journal of the First Legislatative Session of the 55th Legislature

June 24th, 2015

            With the Governor having completed her responsibility of responding by signature or veto on all legislation passed during the 1st Session of the 55th Legislature, we move into the part of the session known as the “interim.”  This is followed by passage of what is referred to in Latin as “sine die” or in English meaning ‘without a day.”  While that is not actually correct since there are numerous activities and obligations that take place in the District and the Capitol during this period, it is however a time to reflect and assess the legislative work that was finalized by the actions of the Governor.  We may want to look at this by attempting to classify who were the winners and/or losers resulting from the laws that were finalized out of the 3,000 that were filed at the beginning of this Session.  I will attempt to discuss these throughout this Interim in subsequent Journals.  I do this rather than overwhelm you with one large essay akin to what I used to ask my students at the end of the semester. 

            One that is relatively easy to identify as who the winners and losers are, is Senate Bill 609 which prevents cities from banning oil and gas drilling and specifically hydraulic fracturing inside the city limits. Of course the winners in this would be the petroleum producers in that they now can be assured of state wide uniform regulations irrespective of the municipal or county regulations that would place restrictions on their operations in those statutorily created governing areas.  Of course it is obvious that the losers in this legislation are those local governing bodies and the citizens whose concerns and interests they are committed to protect.  I am sure some of our founding fathers are wondering how did our nation and states lose focus on one of the leading principles upon which they fought to provide as our nation was being formed—Local control!!

            It was especially refreshing to observe our State Superintendent of Public Education, Joy Hofmeister on OETA’s Oklahoma Forum recently when she was questioned in detail concerning her first 100 days in this very important office.  I was encouraged by her focus on the significant role that our teachers provide in the classrooms as it relates to student academic progress.  This led her to share her belief that our state has increased mandated testing to the point that it interferes with the teacher’s ability to set the stage for the student to internalize the information and lessons that are being presented.  She indicated that she has a plan and commitment to minimize this interference to the learning environment by having testing or assessment related to the student’s next level of subject objectives or new related course work rather than using testing merely as a means of evaluating a teacher’s effectiveness.  Speaking of a teacher’s effectiveness, I had the opportunity to spend time at the State Department of Education and meet with members of the Southern Regional Education Board, SREB to discuss how other states are implementing state wide methods of evaluating teachers.              

           

 If you wish to contact me, please utilize any of the following: PO Box 98, Porum, OK  74455, by email at ed.cannaday@okhouse.gov,  mobile: 918 448 5702 or Legislative Assistant, Gene Fowler, at 1 800 522 8502 or 405 557 7375 and fax 405 962 7624 at the Capitol.