16th Journal Entry of the First Legislative Session of the 55th Legislature

May 22nd, 2015

           

            The 2015/16 budget issues should capture our total focus.  We have been told throughout this session our state agencies would experience significant cuts in funds for critical services.  House Speaker Hickman, R-Fairview, indicated that this budget is “very positive considering the challenges.”  Well, let’s look at how “positive” this budget truly is for various parts of our state services.  First, we are told that public education is being held “harmless” with no cuts but no increase to accommodate this year’s increase of more than 7,000 new students.  We must keep in mind that this maintains the budget at the 2008 level even in light of annual increases in students, flex-benefit costs, and state operational mandates.  This is not “flat” but it is “inverted” resulting in annual declines for our public schools. As a result of this type of funding we will experience continued increases in class sizes and greater difficulty in retaining and recruiting teachers which will mean even more elimination of classes like art, speech, music, and foreign languages. 

 Prior to the roll out of this year’s budget we were told that the County Roads and Bridges funding would also be held “harmless.”  However we find that it is actually being cut by $72 million by having a $50 million cut and placing a cap on the availability of motor vehicle fees and taxes resulting in an additional $22 million in reductions.  This will also jeopardize future projects to help improve the safety of our county roads and bridges on which we have experienced tragedies in the counties of District 15.  Rep. Brown, D-Tahlequah, captured the crises in the placing of caps on the funding our county roads and bridges when he compared this to a parent purchasing a pair of shoes for his three year old child and then the following year telling the child to go ahead and endure the discomfort of the shoes that are too small because there is no money for new shoes to fit her growing feet.   It is here where I extrapolate Rep. Brown’s story. The next year with the same shoes, as a 5 year old going to kindergarten, her daddy cuts the toes out the shoes and the year following, still wearing those size three shoes with the toes cut out, the child decides that it would be less humiliating to merely go to school barefooted.  This is the effect of placing caps on future funding of our roads and bridges.

We’ve finished our discussion and debate on the budget that has been kept behind closed doors for three month while the House, Senate, and Governor leadership team fashioned a document that disregarded the needs of education, transportation, and health care so that they could protect the millions of dollars in tax incentives and cuts that exceeds the amount of revenue needed to fund our state service agencies.  This is given to the big and powerful individuals and corporations that have taken on an indifferent view of those common citizens who helped them gain this extreme wealth.  Perhaps former minister and current Rep. Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, summarized this budget best by quoting Jesus Christ in the Gospel of Matthew where He states to His followers as He brings focus on the youth and needy around Him: “as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it unto Me.” (Matthew 25:45) Apparently some of the Republicans were not listening.

The vote on the budget went to 47 for and 48 against and at that time the Speaker and House leaders herded their flock of fellow Republicans into a room for two hours they apparently bribed or threatened 7 of their members to change their vote and by 11:30 pm the they passed their budget by a vote of 54 to 42.  I am especially proud of those 14 Republicans that stood their ground and maintained their vote to protect the needs of their local constituents. 

 

If you would like to have my weekly Notes sent to by email each week, please contact me at the address below.  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, home phone: 918 484 5701, cell: 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. Web Site http://www.edcannaday.com  Ed Cannaday

                

 

15th Journal Entry of the First Legislative Session of the 55th Legislature

May 15th, 2015

 

            Of the total state tax and fees collected from the citizens each year the legislature has access to 47% of all the revenue that the citizens of our state pay as required by law.  We are about to consider how to fund our state agencies functions from this percentage and we are told that our state revenue is at least $611 million short of meeting the statutory needs of these specific mandated functions that serve our citizens.  How then do we resolve this shortfall in light of the fact that we award close to $1.7 billion in various forms of tax exemptions or credits?

           Let’s look at few of these that are identified on the 2014 Oklahoma Tax Commission Tax Expenditure Report.   The state offered over $94 million in “new jobs credits”, $3.8 million for “Historic Rehabilitation Credit”, $82 million in “Quality Job Incentive Payments” (Go Thunder), and $3.7 in  “Energy Efficient Residential Construction Credits”, $12.5 million in “Oil and Gas Depletion Allowance” to mention only “Selected Tax Expenditures” on this Report.  Oil and Gas production is identified as receiving $450 million in tax credits combined with $270 million in other petroleum related tax credits.  These tax credits, totaling over $700 million, when combined with the state tax reduction scheduled for 2015 in the amount of $59 million make the $611 million budget shortfall appear to be relatively manageable.  However, our House and Senate leaders in coordination with our Governor want to leave all of that money alone and look at reducing funding for the following “off the top” budgets allocations. 

These “off the top” and “hold harmless” funds are being looked at by the Governor and our House and Senate leaders as possible sources of potential “budget balancing” revenue.  This runs counter to the stated committed principle for creating these funds.  This commitment was made not only to education and transportation infrastructure, but also to pension and retirement funds for teachers, firefighters, and law enforcement.  The legislature established an increasing scale of diversion of “off the top funds” with the idea that state tax receipts would grow proportionately to the needs for funds to provide these services and infrastructure.  However, as the expansion of tax cuts and credits have excelled at a level which disable our ability to balance the state budget, these leaders are now focusing on areas that have been protected from their wandering and lustful eyes. Let’s look at the categories that are in danger of being exploited by those behind closed doors attempting to cover this $611 million revenue shortfall.  As you read through the following and consider those in the paragraph above, which would provide a more equitable approach to balancing the budget. 

 

  1.  Education Reform Revolving Fund, $594.5 million

  2. ROADS fund, $352.1 million

  3. OK Teacher’s Retirement Revolving Fund $291.4 million

  4. State Transportation Fund, 2,213.9 million

  5. County Improvement for Roads & Bridges Fund, $129.7 million

  6. OK Health  Care Authority, $491 million

  7. Common Ed Technology Revolving Fund, $47.4 million

  8. Higher Ed Capital Revolving Fund, $47.4 million

  9. OK Student aid Revolving Fund, $47.4 million

  10. Health Employees & Economic Improvement Fund, $41 million

     

                 One idea that is building momentum is coming from the Senate and the Governor where revenue will be taken from item #3—teacher retirement and placed in #1, the Education Reform or 1017 fund, as a means of providing current educators with a $1000 raise.  It is the most visible example of a “divide and conquer” strategy in current state politics.  The history teacher in me recalls that this was a similar tactic that Joseph Stalin used to take over large sections of Eastern Europe after WW II thus giving the Soviet Union new aggressive power.  Could this be what those pushing this agenda have in mind—use current teachers against retired teachers?   The sad part of this is that the leadership provides no revenue stream to maintain this increase without continued exploitation of #3.  Surely, our current educators can see through this and rally behind legislators who are attempting to stop this political charade. 

 

If you would like to have my weekly Notes sent to by email each week, please contact me at the address below.  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, home phone: 918 484 5701, cell: 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. Web Site http://www.edcannaday.com  Ed Cannaday

                

 

14th Journal Entry of the First Legislative Session of the 55th Legislature

May 7th, 2015

            As legislators we are often faced with the challenge of moving out the views of the past that often seem beyond approach.  Such is the case of laws relating to texting and driving moving into the area of a “primary cause” for law enforcement to make a traffic stop.   This turn-around to make it a primary rather than a secondary act has taken over 8 years.  This 12th week into the session the House accepted Senate amendments to HB 1965 and revised the measure by a vote of 85/7.  To summarize this revision it included simply 45 words as follows.  “It shall be unlawful for any person to operate a motor vehicle on any street or highway within this state while using a hand-held electronic communication device to manually compose, send or read an electronic text message while the motor vehicle is in motion.”  Research conducted by a major university found that those drivers who text are 23 times more likely to be involved in an accident than those not being distracted by this activity while operating their motor  vehicle.  Oklahoma Highway Safety Office data show that drivers using cellphones caused more than 1,700 accidents in 2013 and about one one-third of these involved injury accidents. 

   HB 1965, signed by the Governor on May 5, makes texting while driving a primary traffic offense.  This bill, also known as the “Trooper Nicholas Dees and Trooper Keith Burch Act of 2015,” is in honor of two Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers who were struck by a vehicle while they were investigating an accident east of Shawnee.  Dees was killed and Burch was seriously injured. The driver of the vehicle that hit them reportedly was checking social media on his mobile phone at the time of the accident.  During the 9 years that I have served in the House there has been an annual effort by the Democrat Caucus to have legislation like this considered. It’s sad that it took the life of an OHP Trooper and seriously injured another one to get Republican leadership to accept the need to pass this needed legislation. 

            For Oklahoma, no issue is more controversial than “Health Care,” in part because so many in our state associate it to what has become known as some form of “Obama Care.”  A bill that came before the House on this general issue was HB 1566 which passed by 61/32 after a lengthy question/answer and debate period.  With the Governor’s signature in place, we are placing into law what seems like a very simple, straightforward bill with broad implications for our state’s Medicaid program.  This would shift the management of some of the state’ most expensive Medicaid patients—the aged, blind, and disabled from the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) to private contractors.  The state has previously used a form similar to this proposed change but found this form of managed care for Medicaid patients was too expensive.  This program was ended and management was returned to the OHCA.  Using effective methods of managed-care systems, we found our state maintains one of the nation’s lowest administrative cost ratios.  Those advocating the switch to private contractors claim that the state spends more than 57% of its total Medicaid expenditures on only 22% of the traditional Medicaid population. Those arguing against this change asserted that our Republican leaders were trying to cover the potential $690 million revenue shortfall on the backs of these aged, blind, and disabled citizens.  It was also stated in debate that this health care crisis was manufactured by the current leadership through their demanding the expansion of tax cuts for the most wealthy of our state and refusal to accept expanded federal Medicaid benefits under what has become labeled as “Obama Care.”  Since the Governor and most of the House and Senate leaders are term-limited and cannot seek re-election, it appears that they have the luxury of throwing those in need of state provided health care under that proverbial bus and will never be held accountable for what happens to them.

           

If you would like to have my weekly Notes sent to by email each week, please contact me at the address below.  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, home phone: 918 484 5701, cell: 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. Web Site http://www.edcannaday.com  Ed Cannaday

                

 

13th Journal Entry of the First Legislative Session of the 55th Legislature

April 30th, 2015

                        I participated in a press conference celebrating the 25th anniversary of the passage of HB 1017; a bill which represented a turning point in our state’s history of being committed to our public schools. With the passage of this bill, the citizens of our state were encouraged to believe that these reforms would give the Oklahoma students an education program that would prepare them for a productive future, but during this press conference it was admitted that several of the positive reforms of that legislation have been done away with because of our budget shortfalls in the years following the passage of this bill.

                      There are times when a bill is presented in committee that you feel has merit but there are aspects of it that cause concern. This was the case in SB 706 by Rep. Casey, R-Morrison, which addresses delaying the full implementation of the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Evaluation System (TLE) until the 2017-2018 school year. The measure would have the State Board of Education, in consultation with the TLE Commission, to continue to study the implementation of the TLE. This measure would provide school districts with the option of adopting an alternative percentage and having at least one tested grade or subject on the quantitative portion of the TLE. In addition it allows a teacher who enters into a post-retirement employment to be evaluated based solely on the qualitative components of the TLE. Another portion of this bill that caused me to question its equity if fully implemented is that it would give the district the option to evaluate a teacher who had been previously employed by a different school district using only the qualitative assessment format. I amended this bill to delete this last portion on the grounds that if included it would create a specific inequity between a teacher currently employed by that school district being evaluated by both quantitative and qualitative assessment and the newly employed teacher from another Oklahoma district evaluated merely under the qualitative format.

                      A proposed piece of legislation that went down in flames was SJR 4 which would call for Oklahoma to join 3 other states to unite into a convention of States for the stated purpose of amending the U.S. Constitution. The author proposed that if this move should meet the Constitutional mandate of forming two/thirds of all fifty state legislatures in this convention, there would be three issues to be considered for changing the language of our national constitution. These included amendments calling for a balanced national budget, term limits for members of the U.S. Congress, and restrictions placed on the authority of the U.S. Federal Government. After 2½ hours of discussions and debate, this bill was defeated on a vote of 42 yes to 56 no. At a time when we are attempting to work our way to a budget for the state and complete all the various pieces of proposed legislation before this session of the 55th Legislature comes to an end, we spent this much time on a bill that the Senate foolishly passed on to us to waste the tax payers money wrestling with this issue. However, just to prove that there is “life after death” the author used a procedural move of “capturing” this Resolution to be heard at another time during next session. How do we explain such a waste of time to constituents?

                     There are times when a bill has its title removed and becomes a “work in progress” which will then go to a Conference Committee. This was the case with SB 707 which had been a measure to allow the State Board of Education (SBE) to insure that students having acquired the requirements for graduation meet standards that prepare them to enter college or career training. Amendments were added to delete the End of Instruction Exams as a requirement for graduation. This would give the SBE sole authority over the development, adoption, and/or revision of assessments for the English and math curriculum. An amendment was passed on this that would require that these assessments must be “aligned” with the standards adopted by the SBE. Another amendment would delete language in this bill that provided a requirement that an assessment used for admission to higher education be used as high school requirement for graduation. In summary, the net result of this amended bill that is headed to a Conference Committee will be a challenge to find a satisfactory way to measure student academic progress that can be aligned in a manner where a teacher’s impact on this effect will constitute a basis for their evaluation.

 

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, home phone: 918 484 5701, cell: 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. Web Site http://www.edcannaday.com Ed Cannaday

12th Journal Entry of the First Legislative Session of the 55th Legislature

April 23rd, 2015

The House finally heard a bill that had been on the Calendar that will help our schools with the current teacher shortage that has reached a crisis level. SB 20 by Rep. Henke, R-Tulsa would require that the State Department of Education issue a certificate to teacher applicants that hold a valid out-of-state certificate. Certificates are issued for the subjects/grades listed on the certificate that most closely align with those in our state. This exempts applicants from competency exams if he/she has taught in an accredited school in another state for five years. It also allows a temporary certificate to be issued upon receipt of an Oklahoma criminal background check with a full certificate being issued upon the state receiving a national criminal background check. While this has the potential of helping Oklahoma with the teacher shortage crises, we must realize that our salary schedule is not competitive with neighboring states. The main area that this will have an impact on is if a person has been transferred to our state in some area of employment outside of education and the spouse taught in that state. This would allow the teaching spouse to be available to teach in Oklahoma without an excessive amount of certification testing and other reciprocal qualifications.
A surprise came about when Rep. Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, brought back SB 505 for its “final” vote on the House floor prior to being sent to the Governor. I say “final” because two days previously it was defeated on a vote of 43 to 52!! There had been a lengthy question and answer period on creating a Statewide Virtual Charter School Revolving Fund. This fund would create an account to hold the revenue that would be redirected to the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board. There was considerable confusion as to how much money this fund would receive for oversight of this relatively new form of “education”. There was an unsuccessful attempt to amend this bill by placing an untimely filed amendment putting a $500,000 cap on this fund. There was concern expressed that virtual charter schools are often seen as operating within a virtual shadow of oversight and this caused many to question how this money will be spent. It was brought back again to the House for a vote late in the evening two days later and this time 64 members voted to allow this bill to be sent to the Governor creating a “virtual” revolving fund where a “virtual” State Wide Board can place real tax payers’ dollars. There were 32 of us who remained loyal to the principal of protecting our public schools by voting no this second time.
A bill, SB 366, passed out of the House and on to the Governor dealing with assistance to disabled veterans to cover the costs for a specifically designated home that is adapted to their identified disability needs. Subject to the availability of funds the Department of Veterans Affairs shall develop a special housing grant program not to exceed a total cost of $5,000. This will be identified as the Oklahoma Veterans Housing Program Revolving Fund under the Dept. of Veterans Affairs. This Fund will consist of donations, appropriations, and other unspecified funds and will be supplemented by additional funds from a federal housing program. This will require grant recipients to apply for and be accepted for the federal grant program, be a resident of this state prior to entering military services, reside in the state and use the funds to purchase or remodel permanent housing in the state.

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, home phone: 918 484 5701, cell: 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. Web Site http://www.edcannaday.com Ed Cannaday