18th Journal of the Second Legislative Session of the 55th Legislature

May 26th, 2016

This week began with the House hearing and passing an important education measure, HB 3218. It fundamentally provides our state with an opportunity to make a transition away from the End of Instruction tests which were intended to measure our public school students’ achievements but that goal was not met. HB 3218 instructs the State Department of Education to use the next school year as a period to identify and submit to the legislature alternative assessment tools which accurately measures the preparedness of our students to move to their next level of education based on statewide standards.  In addition, this new law will require that there be measurement of how well our students perform compared to those in other states.  The hope is that this will actually minimize the number and excessively high cost of end of year assessments for our state and schools.    The need was made evident by the House on a vote of 95 yes and 1 no.    

            To go to the other side of the coin, the House passed a very unpopular bill, SB 1604 by vote of 45 to 31.  It is designed to address the budget hole on the backs of the working poor to middle class to the tune of $28.9 million in the form of doing away with earned income tax credits which will impact 200,000 citizens who can least afford this tax increase.   For households with three or more children, the loss could be as much as $312 a year and could reduce their annual income by up to 2.3 percent.  The reduction would affect about 1 in 10 households that file individual tax returns in our state.  It is shocking how any legislator in our rural area of eastern Oklahoma could willingly throw these folks under the “proverbial bus” while protecting the $1 billion in tax exemptions for the top end of our state’s citizens.  Former Governor Frank Keating who signed this into law 15 years ago has stated, “I have long felt the refundable tax credit made sense because it provided an aggressive lift to the working poor.”

            As we begin the final days of this session we are wrestling with the budget even though this is our 17th week.  It becomes a bit of a stretch to indicate that we have a balanced budget, as our state constitution requires, when the first major bill to hit the floor was HB3231 a bill for borrowing $200 million in the form of a 15-year bond with interest totaling $15 million a year.  This will be a total debt by the state of $440 million to provide revenue for our Department of Transportation.   Many are saying that the leaders have not met the challenge of our historic budget shortfall of $1.3 billion.  This is evident in light of the fact that there are millions of dollars left on the table by these leaders’ not rolling back reckless tax cuts and incentives that were never supposed to take place within this type of economic crisis.  I am not indicating that our Oklahoma Department of Transportation does not need this revenue but there are other means of provide for it rather than borrowing which our Constitution prohibits.   The House passed this bill by a vote of 55 to 38 and it must now go to the Senate.  I will provide a complete analysis of the budget in my next budget.  

 

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

 

 

17th Journal of the Second Legislative Session of the 55th Legislature

May 19th, 2016

            As the Legislature enters its last two weeks of this Session with the constant reminder that we have a $1.3 billion hole in the budget for the 2016/17 fiscal year, the leaders of the House, Senate and Governor are searching for revenue sources.  They could consider the annual income tax cuts or reductions that have been accumulating since 2008 that now total $1 billion each year.  They could also address the $2 billion in “off the top” money in the form of tax exemptions for select groups or causes such as the
$4.4 million that goes to the Thunder Basketball Franchise owners.   Perhaps they could consider reducing the sweetheart tax cut deals to the top 5% of the state’s wealthiest citizens. 

            One of the major problems that our leaders are experiencing is that they are faced with a rather high hurdle to go over in generating new or recovered revenue sources.  Specifically, the legislature can pass any revenue increasing measures with a super majority of a 3/4th majority of both houses or a simple majority vote of the people in the next general election.  To avoid this rigid task our leaders chose to mislead our citizens by submitting legislation that would raise $18.5 million in new revenue under the guise of a fee rather than a tax.  Every Oklahoma owner of an operating motor vehicle (car or pickup) will be required to pay a new additional $5.00 fee (tax) when they purchase their auto tags. This passed by a very narrow margin of 48 yes to 46 no.  This very close vote should cause a rather high level of concern by those assessing the question of the Constitutional nature of this legislation.  I believe the Attorney General or courts will rule this to be a tax since 80 percent of this $18.5 million will go directly into the state budget’s General Revenue Account with all other tax revenue.  I challenge anyone to find any “fee revenue” in this portion of the budget.  In debate we were asked if this is akin to the old riddle that “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck” it most assuredly is a duck and not a chicken.

            Another issue we have been asked to consider is legislation that will give certified public school personnel (excluding school administrators) a series of pay raises from $5,000 to $10,000 depending on years of experience.  This is in the form of House Bill 3214 which also includes a cap on their flexible benefit allowance at $526.88 per month.  A concern here is that this area is subject to an income tax increase in HB 3213 increasing sales tax from 4.5 percent to 4.9 percent.  In addition, it is perceived as potentially being subject to increases as the state’s health care costs have been inclined to increase at a significant annual rate.  While this may appear to be attractive to our certified school personnel, it could have a negative impact on our school districts if there is not an assured revenue stream to cover this new fiscal impact.  This topic becomes even more complicated when we see that its implementation is subject to the failure of State Question 779 which will be on the November General Election Ballot.  This ballot issue, if passed by the citizens, would provide increases for the state’s funding education programs including a proposed $5,000 step raise from revenue generated by the proposed penny sales tax increase.  The truth of the matter is that these may both die an unnatural death: one by the vote of the people and the other by a vote of the legislature.  After being on the table for 36 hours, the Speaker decided he did not want either HB 3213 or HB 3214 heard, so he pulled both of them with the explanation that he wants to change some aspects of it.  Now with the session coming to a close next week, the leadership spends its time playing immature games with the citizens of the state. 

 

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

 

16th Journal of the Second Legislative Session of the 55th Legislature

May 12th, 2016

            As we move toward the closing of this the 2nd Legislative Session and anxiously await word on the budget, it is very rewarding and refreshing to experience the power of positive thoughts of our youth.  Specifically, I am referring to Brycen Graham who was recognized by Oklahoma Education Television Authority (OETA) as the state’s top 3rd grade creative writer. Brycen, a student at Spiro Elementary School, has demonstrated exceptional writing skills as reflected in his story “The Best Super Hero.”  His teacher, Kristie Peterson, suggested that the “great depth of empathy that he has for his fellow classmates” impacts his gifted writing style at this very early stage in his life.  Brycen’s parents, Jarrod and SueAnn, are blessed to have a son who has a very positive approach when introduced to new concepts.

            Another positive experience, although related to government, was the passage of House Bill 3039 which, if signed by the Governor, would help with county jail overcrowding by allowing counties to develop work release programs for nonviolent misdemeanor offenders.  This would allow county sheriffs and district attorneys with judicial approval to create a plan to have qualified inmates to participate in an eight-hour work day equaling to one full day of imprisonment in a county jail.  The prisoner’s sentence may be reduced by earned early release time as established by the sheriff and approved by the district attorney.  This cannot amount to more than one-third of the total sentence of the convicted person.  This form of civil immunity work release program is the product of this session’s work on addressing the increased budget impact of over-populated county facilities.  It was encouraging to have this piece of legislation pass out of the House on a 90 to 0 vote. 

            Another law enforcement legislation, HB3146, has passed both Houses of the Legislature and has been signed by the Governor.  HB 3146 is also known as the Impaired Driving Elimination Act (IDEA).  This law is designed to reduce, if not end, the dangerous incidents of persons being convicted of driving under the influence by prohibiting a municipal prosecution of driving under the influence unless a municipality has a municipal court of record.  Any municipality with a population of 60,000 or more would have the option to create a court of record.  There are 354 municipal courts in our state which handles most of the DUI arrests, but they are not ‘courts of record’ such as those in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. These are the only two such identified courts in the state.  With the state having over 350 courts who administer findings of DUI but not being ‘courts of record’ most DUI convictions will go unreported into the state wide system.  The result of this is that many who are convicted under this classification may have multiple convictions before they are identified in a ‘court of record.’  Former District Attorney and current State Representative, Ben Loring, D-Miami stated “this is the most significant advancement made in recent history in making our streets and highways safer from drunk or impaired drivers.  It closes a huge gaping hole in the area of public safety.” 

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

 

 

 

15th Journal of the Second Legislative Session of the 55th Legislature

May 5th, 2016

A recent study from the center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports a 24.2 percent per student spending cuts in our state budget during the last 8 years and yet some legislators running for re-election are telling their constituents that the state’s education budget has not been cut.  This is occurring as the State Department of Education reports that their Technology Revolving fund, which serves as one of six major sources of revenue including gross production tax and is used to fund operating costs will result in schools experiencing additional cuts by $13 to $17 million and school districts making additional cuts in staff and programs.  This report from the State Department of Education increases their fear as to what is going to happen to the 2016/17 budget and how the $1.3 billion hole will be filled.  In addition, there have been several emails circulating this weekend that those leaders working behind closed doors are proposing a teacher pay increase by cutting funding for staff and teachers’ health insurance coverage

I find it necessary to revisit last week’s Journal addressing the November ballot issue that is a product of SJR 72.  It is my continued belief that if this were passed by a majority vote of the citizens, Article II Section 5 of our Oklahoma Constitution would be deleted thereby marginalizing our ability to adequately fund our public schools.  It would also open the door to not only allow a monument reflecting the Ten Commandments to be placed on the Capital grounds but allow any other religious groups such as Islamic, Hindu and Buddhism and other religious entities the right as well.  Rep. David Perryman-D Chickasha proposed an amendment to only allow the 10 Commandment Monument to be placed on state property, but the Resolution’s House author threatened to table this proposal and thereby open the door to allow the right to any of the above replications of a group’s religious beliefs.

There are times when we vote for legislation that has a positive impact on citizens who are perhaps the most vulnerable of our citizens.  I had the pleasure to vote for HB 2835 by Rep. Echols, R-Oklahoma City which expanded the age for persons participating in clinical trials for use of cannabis oil and other extracted parts of this plant for an expanded list of disabilities.  Included in this list was “Post-traumatic Stress Disorder” (PTSD) which our Veterans Administration has identified as a major medical issue that many of our veterans have experienced who served during the post-Vietnam military conflicts.  The shock that I experienced this week came when I read this bill after it came back from the Senate with the PTSD condition deleted as qualifying for legal use of cannabis by-products.  As a veteran and being aware of my constituents who have returned to this state and nation after having been in combat situations which resulted in their experiencing this disorder, I am very disappointed in the Senate’s lack of willingness to provide this therapeutic care for them.

 

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

 

 

 

 

14th Journal of the Second Legislative Session of the 55th Legislature

April 27th, 2016

             It’s always been a pleasure to have Pages from my legislative district    serve in the House of Representatives and this last week it was my privilege to have Jocelynn McIntyre, a Senior at Vian High School as Page.  She was selected by the other Pages as the Page of the Week: a truly great honor.  During our Page breakfast, several educational issues were discussed and Jocelynn captured the true essence of effective teaching when she stated that students have different learning styles and a teacher should adapt his/her teaching approaches to students’ differing learning styles. 

            During the late hours of the night before the House adjourned the 13th week, we were presented with Senate Joint Resolution 72 (SJR 72) which, with passage of both House and Senate, will go to a vote of the people in the November General Election.   If this Resolution is passed by Oklahoma voters, it would delete Section V of Article II from our state constitution which states, “No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion or the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.”  Those presenting this Resolution proclaimed their intent was to remove this language so that a monument representing the Ten Commandments as found in the Bible could be placed on state property or the Capitol grounds.  I found myself voting for this based on my acceptance of this interpretation. I began receiving calls and texts from educators not long afterwards asking if I voted for the “school voucher” bill.   I responded that I had not and asked what specific legislation that they were addressing.  Their response was SJR 72!  I began discussing this with them and they see this bill as a “Trojan Horse” in that if passed will allow public revenue to be directed to private parochial or religious schools.  From that view it resembles the Education Savings Account Bill allowing state education revenue to be used by parents for any school, public or private which I voted and debated against.  Now I find myself voting for it within the context of the hidden agenda in SJR 72 and my job is to make known to my constituents the full story and caution them of the legendary advice coming from the expression “Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts.”, which alludes to the story of the wooden horse of Troy,

 before they vote on it in November

             Some legislators argue that public funds can already be used for religious private schools under the 9-0 Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling related to the Lyndsey Nicole Henry Scholarship.  However, this ruling restricted state revenue to be used solely for students with identified Learning Disabilities. The removal of the language of Section 5 of Article II of our state Constitution would have no such restrictions.  If SJR 72 is passed by a majority vote in November, it will have the effect of financially destroying our public education system as we know it. Is that truly what we want in District 15?   I hope that voters will take time to learn what SJR 72 does and vote against it if our State Attorney General allows it to be placed on the November Ballot. 

 

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