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.

                

 

20th Journal of the First Session of the 55th Legislature

June 18th, 2015

              At this point of the 1st Session Interim period, we are asked to request studies that will either help implement legislation just passed or provide data needed to file new legislation during the 2nd Session.  I have requested a study on both of these points to consider the full implementation of the expansion of Charter Schools beyond the areas of large population centers of Oklahoma City or Tulsa.  They currently can be sponsored under tribal authority also.  Under the authority created in Senate Bill 782, charter schools can be sponsored by a local school district board if the applicant meets the specified standards to be considered as a legitimate sponsor.  If this board rejects such a proposal from an individual or organization requesting its sponsorship of a charter, this law gives the individual or organization an appeal process to override the board’s decision.  The Oklahoma Charter School Association estimates that there are 2,300 children waiting for a spot in new non-urban charter schools.  In a recent article in The Journal Record, Executive Director of the Oklahoma State School Board Association, Shawn Hime, is quoted as saying “there are still a lot of unknowns. I’m sure there will be conversations moving forward about local districts chartering their own or partnering with another entity.”  This statement alone merits a study to work out how this will be implemented starting November 1st of this calendar year.

             Other issues arise when we look at the actual language of this law which gives the State Board sponsoring authority if certain conditions are met.  One is if the State Board concludes that the request for operating the charter has greater weight than the objection by the school district.  In addition the request for overriding the local school board shall have a clear demonstration of community support.  This language does not mandate any means of quantifying this support.  I hope it is not merely the size of the crowd that attends a board meeting to discuss the board’s position on rejecting such a proposal. These issues provide an opportunity for groups of disgruntled parents or even parents who currently homeschool their children to reject the decision of the elected district school board.  At best, this is a divisive approach which has the potential of undermining the legitimacy of the time honored and tested district school board authority as a means of providing our communities with legitimate public education opportunities for our state’s communities. 

            I do agree with OSSBA Director Hime when he suggests that local boards should be the singular authority to designate school sites within their district to operate under the charter school rules.  In addition he points out the positive aspect of this concept which would mandate that the created charter school could not pick and choose which students they wish to serve. 

 

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, Connie Riley, at 1 800 522 8502 or 405 557 7375 and fax 405 962 7624 at the Capitol.

                

19th Journal Entry of the First Legislative Session of the 55th Legislature

June 11th, 2015

            There are times when the news media, especially the Daily Oklahoman and the Tulsa World for whatever reason, decides to play politics with their reporting.  A case in point is a recent report by both papers where they identified about five Democrat House members for having a very low voting record and two Republicans that had excellent patterns of voting.  They failed to offer a composite comparison of the two parties or an analysis of negative and affirmative voting.  When I approached the author of the article, Barbara Hoberock, I was told that she received her information through eCapitol and when I inquired how to get access to this data I was informed that it cost $3,000 to access it.  I contacted the House Clerk’s office and requested voting records for the members during the just completed 1st Session of the 55th Legislature so that I could do a comparative analysis of all members’ voting.   I was informed that I could receive mine, which they supplied—100% attendance of days in session and a voting record of 95.3 percent.  However, I was told that based on confidential protection issues, I could only receive mine and not others or a composite of all members.   I know this is bogus because during Session, I have gone to the Clerk and asked for the votes on a bill and I was given it and it had every member’s vote on it.  At what point does confidentiality start being protected after session is over?    How’s that for the key issue in the current Governor, House Speaker, and Senate Pro Temp’s push for transparency.  I was told by my Democrat leaders to “let it go” and brag to my constituents on my A voting record.  I guess as a History and Government teacher I am bothered by ultra-biased reporting that came from data that was basically purchased by the media for apparent political reasons. 

           News relating to those Counties in District 15 receiving Federal disaster assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) now includes the following counties:  Le Flore, McIntosh and Pittsburg.  This designation makes available federal assistance for housing repairs or temporary housing, U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loans for individuals and business to repair or replace damaged property, disaster unemployment assistance, and grants for serious needs and necessary disaster expenses not met by other programs.  In addition Haskell and Pittsburg Counties have been identified as qualifying for federal infrastructure assistance for their Rural Electric Cooperatives, counties and municipalities infrastructure repairs, storm damage debris removal and costs associated with repairs to their structures.  For the state as a whole, the Governor has announced that 22 counties have been identified as qualifying for this federal assistance.  If one would like to make contact on assistance for which they qualify they may call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or go on line to www.disasterassistance.gov

             A recent article published on Tulsa World.com reported that according to the White House Council of Economic Advisors there could be positive impacts realized by our state if Medicaid programs were expanded.  They estimate that 127,000 more Oklahomans would be insured, leading to 343,000 additional physician visits and 150 fewer deaths each year.  It also would mean about 5,700 fewer residents paying catastrophic out-of-pocket medical costs and $770 million in federal funds.  That would mean hospitals would spend about $130 million less on uncompensated care.  The U.S. Supreme Court has held that states could not be forced to expand their Medicaid programs.   So far, Oklahoma and 21 other states have refused to expand Medicaid, leaving a gap in coverage between those who qualify for Medicaid and those who can afford to buy their own personal insurance programs.                                              

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, Connie Riley, at 1 800 522 8502 or 405 557 7375 and fax 405 962 7624 at the Capitol. 

                

 

18th Journal Entry of the First Legislative Session of the 55th Legislature

June 11th, 2015

With the completion of the 1st Legislative Session of the 55th Legislature, my interim Journals will focus on reflections and assessment of the actions of our state government that took place during this session.  Secondly, I will bring greater focus on activities and events taking place within House District 15, which includes all of Haskell County, and parts of Muskogee, McIntosh, Leflore, Sequoyah, and Pittsburg Counties.

            Because of the extreme weather impact from flooding, tornados and high speed damaging winds across the state, Representatives and County Commissioners have been in contact with Governor Fallin asking her to proclaim emergency conditions that will qualify our state for Federal assistance.  From the state perspective, we should question the wisdom of our new budget cuts in the County Improvements for Roads and Bridges funds to the tune of $71.9 million.  This demonstrates that there is a bit of irony when state level politics takes control of decisions impacting our rural infrastructure needs.  Perhaps a perfect example of this is the Governor’s refusal to assist our County Commissioners’ response to these current weather related damages by their requesting the convening of a Special Legislative Session to authorize the withdrawal of revenue from the “Rainy Day” Fund.  I place this fund in quotes to indicate a certain level of confusion as to what condition would qualify for revenue to be taken from this fund that is set aside for statutorily defined emergency purposes.   I know that our Governor has done TV reports to indicate that she is aware that we have had excessive amounts of “rain” with subsequent infrastructure damage.  If she fails to see the correlation between the current emergency condition and the purpose of this Fund, perhaps the legislature needs to give that fund another more applicable title. 

            One of the topics that I will be sharing with you during this interim period is the Interim Studies that have been approved by our legislative leaders.  One that has been proposed that will generate a certain level of concern in our House District relates to studying the possibility of transporting water from the eastern to western portions of the state.  The recent edition of The Journal Record described the concept as “lawmakers hope to introduce water-rich east Oklahoma to the dry, baked west in an effort to marry the two.”  While this injects a bit of levity to the question, we need to keep in mind that there have been plans by those in the western region of our state who may believe in “polygamy” in that they would like to share that relationship with the wealthy folks in Texas.  I would hope that a portion of this study will insure a truly “monogamous” relationship between eastern and western Oklahoma concerning water transfers from east to west.

           

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, Connie Riley, at 1 800 522 8502 or 405 557 7375 and fax 405 962 7624 at the Capitol.

                

 

17th Journal Entry of the First Legislative Session of the 55th Legislature

May 29th, 2015

            As the legislature worked to resolve a major deficit in the state budget, we realized that there had to be a move toward critical decisions on the budget process.  After years of disregarding its negative impact, we may have come to the realization that many of our tax credits are offered irrespective of their impact on the state’s economic wellbeing.  I addressed this in part in previous Journals as I referred to the escalating price tags for tax credits, exemptions and incentives totaling in the neighborhood of $1.7 billion annually.  On a vote of 90-4 we passed HB 2182 and it has been signed by the Governor.  This included the Incentive Evaluation Commission that is designed to review current and future tax credits, report on their level of success and make recommendations on future policy.   The bill’s author, Speaker Hickman, made an important point when he stated that it’s time to begin looking at these tax credits as investments and require reliable evidence to determine which ones “have the greatest immediate and long term results.”  This was supplemented by the House passage of HB 2183, also authored by the Speaker, which ensures that tax credits introduced in the future will state a clear economic goal.  Both of these will provide needed transparency for the legislature to make decisions on giving tax incentives to generate economic development rather than a gift to businesses that have political ties but not producing positive economic growth.  If we faithfully implement these guidelines in the future, maybe we can approach our budget process from an economic rather than political process. 

            Unfortunately, the above approach is in the future and what we have dealt with this session consisted of the traditional approach when facing a budget shortfall by cutting agency funding in a manner that very well may cripple agencies’ ability to serve the neediest of our state.  A case in point is the state’s Health Department which has had its budget cut by 19% in the last five years.  To place this in precise terms the Director of this Department, Terry Cline, brought our focus on the Oklahoma Public Health Lab which runs thousands of tests for hospitals and medical facilities across the state and is more than 40 years old and is one of the oldest public health labs in the U.S.  If the legislature continues to ignore the funding for a new lab at a cost of an estimated $5.8 million a year with the immediate danger of the College of American Pathologists rejecting continued certification, we are looking at spending over $9 million annually for services provided by out-of-state labs.  This is truly a case of our state government being “penny wise and pound foolish.”  Maybe if the above oversight legislation is implemented we will move beyond this rather embarrassing approach to fiscal responsibility.

            Expanding our concerns on the health care provisions of the anticipated budget cuts, we must address the funding of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority’s “Mid-level” providers.  It is anticipated that the proposed 15% cut in state funding through removing revolving fund accounts and reducing direct health care services for this year’s Medicaid budget will close the doors, reduce positions and greatly decrease access to Oklahoma’s neediest and most vulnerable citizens.  Many Medicaid SoonerCare Home Model clinics that are operating on a 2% survival profit margin may have to close their doors if this drastic cut is implemented. 

Our state has become notorious for being at the bottom of most healthcare initiatives and the anticipated cuts will only magnify our negative image.  There is pressure in the legislature to lesson this reduction in funding.  This often brings up the issue of many rural hospitals closing or at least cutting some patient services due to lack of Medicaid expansion in our state.  There are many individual cases where lack of immediate access to a hospital can have serious, life threatening consequences.  From a personal perspective I know that 22 years ago when I had a major heart attack and went “code blue” three times, if it had not been for services provided by the Haskell County Hospital in Stigler, I would not be writing this article today.  Because of the close proximity to where I live, I was able to be stabilized with its emergency room staff and facilities and then transported by helicopter to St John Medical Center in Tulsa.   I must admit that I have a bias and find disagreement with those who state, as in a resent Daily Oklahoman article, that the closure of hospitals had minimal effects on death rates in those non-served areas.

 

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, Connie Riley, 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