26th Journal Entry of the 2nd Legislative Session of the 54th Legislature

July 24th, 2014

 

            Some may see that the Interim Legislative Period is a time when little if anything takes place in the District.  The following indicates that this is far from the reality of the area’s activities.   First we had the monthly Save Our Water with focus on Lake Eufaula where we received a positive report on lake condition from the Corp of Engineers.  During this meeting we also had an update on the 50th Anniversary of the Dedication of the Eufaula Dam on September 25th and one of the preparations will be a trash pick up in the Dam area on the 15th of that month.  Be sure and mark your calendar!   A more detailed planning meeting was conducted at Checotah by Connie Morris with the Lake Eufaula Association and Chris Whelan, Eufaula Middle School Principal, who has committed himself to provide leadership in this major undertaking.  Still in the McIntosh County area we had the Honey Springs Civil War Battlefield Historic Site ground breaking ceremony for the new Visitor Center and Leroy Fisher Research Library.  Dr. Bob Blackburn, Executive Director of Oklahoma Historical Society, presented a very informative summary of the historical events leading up to this significant Civil War battle.  Last, but not least, our monthly Stigler Chamber of Commerce meeting featured Sara Jane Smallwood, Promise Zone Coordinator for the Choctaw Nation.  She brought us up-to-date on the potential impact of the Choctaw Nation being selected by the federal government to be one of five nationally identified Promise Zones.  The focus will be to promote economic and community infrastructure growth.  This is exciting news for all citizens within the Choctaw Nation’s boundary. 

            As I have said in previous Journals, as well as my government and history classes, “the strength of a state or nation’s government can be measured by the level of consistency demonstrated by its leaders.”  In Oklahoma’s case, I am becoming concerned as I witness our Governor, Mary Fallin, continuously “flip flopping” on issues.  I have already discussed her changing position on the educational standards known as Common Core.  Our school followed her lead and invested over three years implementing these standards.  Our schools followed her leadership as serving as the Chair of the National Governors Association where she influenced 44 other states to begin implanting Common Core Standards.  But when it came election time, she heard the “hiss of the Tea Party snake” telling her that this is “federal over-reach” and signed a bill doing away with the work that had been done and instructed our schools to step back into the past and hold our students to standards that were developed in the 1990’s and implemented in the early part of his decade.  Her new position on standards is to be formulated by diverse groups with little input from those with expertise in public education. They will spend two years trying to figure out what our students should learn based singularly on Oklahoma standards while expecting  them to compete on the national and international career markets.

            The Governor’s next demonstration of inconsistency in policy came with a press release that she was “just kidding” (my words) when she vetoed HB 2625 which gave local control over the Third Grade Reading Sufficiency Act.  What she vetoed was a bill that was created by the bi-partisan efforts of Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate that created a local district team to determine if a student who failed to score proficient on this 3rd grade test should be retained in that grade until they could demonstrate proficiency on this exam.  The bill was generated on the belief that the parent, teacher, and administrator of that particular school would have more accurate insight into the true cognitive abilities of the student, rather than a single high stakes exam.  The governor indicated in her veto message that this local control would “return us to a system that has failed Oklahoma children for decades.”  In other words those leading this state were educated by a system that insured failure!!!   The House and Senate, in their over-ride of her veto, sent Governor Fallin their own message.  “Maybe your education was a failure but ours was not!”  Now we are told that our Governor was “just kidding” and was listening too intensely to her ally, State Superintendent of Education, Janet Barresi.  Perhaps Barresi’s overwhelming defeat in the primary election this year told the Governor that she should “disconnect herself from the very person she followed in all education issues.”  How’s that for consistency?  Our Governor further justifies her change in saying that we should factor in “measuring a student throughout the progress of their education…..”   Hello Governor!! What do you think we have been doing in our nations’ public schools since their inception with the Land Ordinance of 1785??   In my numerous years teaching  I have come to observe that “consistency” of your position on issues can be enhanced by your own personal acquisition of knowledge on specific matters, rather than following others whom you believe will enhance your self-image.  This is especially the case when one is actually lacking foundational knowledge of the issues that you are most adamant about.             

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

 

25th Journal Entry of the 2nd Legislative Session of the 54th Legislature

July 18th, 2014

            In my next Journal, I will give you an update on several meetings that will take place during this week but after the deadline for publishing this edition.  These include a meeting concerning the planning and organization of the 50th Anniversary of the dedication of the Lake Eufaula Dam by the late President Lyndon Johnson, Save our Water Meeting that will address our area lakes and the water focused interim studies that are scheduled, and lastly, the Stigler/Haskell County Chamber of Commerce meeting with Brian McCain with the Choctaw Nation. 

            I would first like to give you an update on the controversial legislation, HB 3399 from last session which had the state legislature discontinue our public schools’ work on educational standards known as Common Core. Our Governor and 44 Governors from other states had previously approved these standards, but, as the right wing of our state’s Republican Party began to sense that this could be an anti-Obama political position, this legislation gained popularity in our legislature and was passed by a solid majority. The Governor signed this bill even though she and our State Superintendent of Public Education, Janet Barresi, had previously promoted Common Core Standards for our schools and mandated that the schools invest over three years working toward meeting these standards.  The State Board of Education tabled the motion to implement this legislation and several of its members and others filed a lawsuit that would bring the following question to the State Supreme Court, “Does the Legislature have the authority to approve and/or establish academic standards for public schools?”  This suit was heard and the Court ruled that the legislature does have that authority. 

            This ruling raises an interesting point when one considers that the author of HB 3399 has no formal educational instructional expertize or certification.  In fact it is somewhat scary to realize that the legislature has  been granted this standard making authority for our public school students when the two law making bodies’ members consist of a mere 12% of certified and experienced educators.  In other words, 88% of those approving and establishing these standards have careers outside of the field of public education.  As a former US Army infantryman, I wonder what it would have been like if my platoon leader or company commander had no training or experience in the field of combat. What would the level of morale be for my unit?  You got it!  We would be formally requesting transfers to other units that had qualified leaders. If that didn’t take place, there would be an enormous volume of prayers asking that we would not have to actually go into a combat situation with the lack of effective leaders.  I know public education is not a combat scenario, but leadership in any area of expertise must have training and experience to be effective in setting goals and standards and then creating a sequential schedule of learning experiences to have students achieve these new standards.  If you do not believe this is critical, why then did our current State Superintendent of Public Education, who had no qualification or experience for the job as State Superintendent, experience such a radical defeat in her primary bid for re-election after three years of failed leadership?  Could experience and education actually be needed to provide that leadership?  Why then do we look to the legislature to take on the task of setting standards that will have a direct impact on our children’s future when, as a whole, their lack of expertise in public education is so dominant?  A new press release from Supt. Barresi indicates that the new steering committee now being formed to set our new public school academic standards to replace the Common Core Standards will not require that members have training/expertize or experience in public or common education.  In fact, she has one of the six members to be the secretary/executive director of the State Department of Commerce.   Oh well, if the system appears to be broken, let’s not change what we are doing.  Maybe that is why Supt. Barresi lost her primary election in such a dramatic fashion. 

            As indicated in my last Journal, I committed to address the Interim Studies approved by the Speaker and his staff that the House of Representatives will use as a basis of research in preparation for the next legislative session.  In my eight years in the House, I have always seen this as a time when Democrats and Republicans work together to solve problems in a bi-partisan manner.  This year there were 93 requests for studies but only 50 were approved and some 20 requested studies were placed under an approved study.  Of these 50 approved studies only two Democrats were authors of a total of 3 studies.    Well, let’s see, 2 out of 101 members would be 2 percent.  I guess that meets the qualification for the Republican members to be a “super majority.”  That is a long way from the actual 29 to 72 percent that actually exists between the parties.

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

 

24th Journal Entry of the 2nd Legislative Session of the 54th Legislature

July 11th, 2014

             As we find ourselves wondering what was really decided concerning the budget behind closed doors with the staff members of the Governor, House Speaker, and Senate Pro Tempore, we learn that the State Board of Equalization had been instructed by the Governor, acting as the Chair of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, to merely shift revenue around after $7.5 million was taken from a Revolving Fund that the Attorney General said was unconstitutional.  Well, it seems to only get worse.  We learn from a report in The Journal Record that “a pair of DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) staffers conspired with a state legislator to torpedo agency funding.”  Based on information from text messages and emails this report documented that “state Rep. Don Armes, R-Faxon, removed more than $21 million from DEQ’s budget” with the help of DEQ staffers.   This removal was made available to the General Revenue portion of the budget.  The impact may be felt in District 15 based on statements by DEQ’s Director, Scott Thompson that he had planned to hire seven people to help provide more local assistance to small communities struggling to meet water quality standards.  With the agency’s cuts he will cut over $545,000  dedicated to local assistance.  Scott Thompson recently took over from the longtime head of the agency, Steve Thompson, after the latter was forced to resign following allegations of sexual harassment by his executive assistant, Jennifer Wright.  With evidence of secret meetings that took place between the staffers and Rep. Armes, the Journal’s report indicates that the goal was to undermine the efforts of the new Director in his attempts to carryout the Agency’s mission by reducing its budget by 20 percent while most of the other state agencies  were cut by only 5.5 percent.  This was an attempt to cover a $188 million budget shortfall by taking more than $122 million from several state agencies revolving funds.  As I reflect on the budget process by our state leaders this year I am more proud of my NO vote on that general budget bill. 

            Another challenge to our session’s work is the lawsuit which has been filed with the Oklahoma Supreme court by Oklahoma City Attorney, Jerry Fent, who has previously been successful in challenging several pieces of improperly formed legislation.  This lawsuit focuses on the income tax cuts that were passed this year that are to take place in 2016 and following if revenue triggers are met.  The constitutional challenge is that it did not originate in the state House of Representatives and was not approved by the mandated three-fourths of the members in both the House and Senate.  Some would argue that this is legislation that impacts future budgets and should have no standing before the Court at this time.  However, if it did not comply with the Oklahoma Constitution, it must be ruled as being null and void irrespective of its date of impact.   

            There are many times that the state legislators and administrators attempt to marginalize the role of the federal government’s operations in Oklahoma.   This is done even though our state is financially dependent’s receiving in excess of $10 billion revenue from the federal government while only $7 billion is generated from the state revenues.   A case in point was the passage of HB 3286 during this last session which  restricts the local Health Care Navigators from assisting those attempting to acquire health care services from the Affordable Health Care Program.   Specifically, according to this legislation they can be fined or confined to jail for three months for a variety of rules violations such as providing advice on which insurance plan would serve them best or being found to have “misled” an inquiring applicant.  Another example of our lack of understanding our relationship with the federal government and the negative impact is when our state leaders fail to comprehend this is the $303,333 that the state spent defending a law that was submitted to the people of Oklahoma.  This adventure in restricting a certain religious groups rules or international law from having a voice in Oklahoma.  This exclusion of so-called Shari and International Law was actually a “solution looking for a problem.”  Many times our leaders want to send a message concerning their position on a controversial issue but we must realize that it is not done without substantial cost.

            The House Speaker will make decisions on which Interim Studies will be heard by July 11.  When these are published, I will devote a portion of my  Journal to a discussion and consideration of their impact on  Oklahoma House District 15.  We know that there has been a bi-partisan request for a study of “water quality, supply and transfer.  If approved this could create both interest and consternation from the constituents  of this District.  . 

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

 

23rd Journal Entry of the 2nd Legislative Session of the 54th Legislature

July 3rd, 2014

             Now that the 54th Legislature has concluded their business, this month’s Sallisaw Chamber of Commerce meeting focused on legislative updates by the area’s State Senator and Representatives.  My focus was primarily on legislation that was passed to insure greater local control of our public schools. These often came after Governor Fallin had vetoed legislation that would allow the local school board and administration to establish and carryout effective and relevant educational changes.  I also reminded them that our state must come to grips with the fact that our citizens are like those of other states and regions in that we are a mobile society and our youth must be educated to be prepared to live in areas other than our state.  This will require  our schools to look to standards which will prepare students to make these moves without being forced to undergo educational remediation because we foolishly believed that they will always be residents of  this state.  I do appreciate the Chamber for organizing these luncheon meetings where we can address our views of past and future legislative action.

            Now that the legislative session is completed, it is enjoyable to attend local meetings that address various issues.  This week I had the pleasure to attend the Lake Eufaula Association Board Meeting in which members and guest were given reports on several lake related activities.  These meetings are always very informative with Director Connie Morris and Member Services Director Emily Rodebush presenting timely information on the several programs that LEA helps coordinate and direct.  I am very excited on the progress that was reported on the celebration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Dedication of the Eufaula Dam that will take place on September 25th this year.  This is a very exciting event that is in the works to recall the important role that Lake Eufaula has provided for this area of our state. 

            In my last Journal, I referred to the Attorney General’s ruling that the removal of the $7.5 million from the  OHLAP revolving fund to fill in gaps in other areas of the budget was unconstitutional.  This was based on the fact that the State Board of Equalization had not certified this revenue manipulation.  It was within that context that the Office of  Management and Enterprise Services, with our Governor as Chairperson, instructed the Board of Equalization to ignore this ruling and recertify the revenue by cutting the budgets of 66 agencies to plug that $7.5 million hole.  Actually, the hole was $6.8 million because they miraculously “found” $700,000 laying around somewhere.  This is another budget mystery that may not be solved unless it goes to court.   On the very same day that this manipulation was occurring, the State Board of Education tabled a proposal to re-implement the Priority Academic Student Skills(PASS), since they saw that this would put the state out of compliance with federal guidelines.  This would insure the loss of the federal flexibility waiver and significant federal revenue.  Apparently, the State Board of Education does not agree with our Governor’s justification for signing HB 3399 which did  away with Common Core Standards(CCS) and mandated a return to PASS.  In fact, four of these Board members joined a group of parents and teachers as plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed that challenges the repeal of CCS.  This suit alleges that the repeal was unconstitutional because it gave the Legislature too much power in establishing the new benchmarks that would replace the CCS to which the Governor and State Department of Education signed on and mandated the schools begin implementing some three and a half years ago.  In light of this lawsuit being filed against this bill, coupled with the Board action, it appears that the just completed legislative session may actually be incomplete.  If you see a pattern here in the effects of the policies of the current and recent leadership of our state, welcome to the real world of Oklahoma politics at its worst.

            To address this and other similar actions by the legislature, we will have a series of Interim Studies conducted by the various applicable House Committees.  There have been 93 requests made and these will be narrowed down by combination or exclusion under the authority of the House Speaker’s office.  I will keep you informed as these are selected. Some that are of interest is a study request for the cost to the state in dealing with unconstitutional legislation.  Other topics are to consider legislation authorizing different forms of execution, such as firing squads, hangings, or electrocution and issues on education, state veteran facilities, as well as many more. 

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

 

22nd Journal Entry of the 2nd Legislative Session of the 54th Legislature

June 26th, 2014

           

            It was an honor to be asked to speak at the Stigler Choctaw Senior Citizen Center concerning their focus on Veterans and their service to our state and nation.  It was a real pleasure for me to reflect on my service as an infantryman in the 25th Infantry from 1959 to 1962.  Secondly, I enjoyed presenting members of the Stigler Haskell County Chamber of Commerce a post session legislative update.  As I described the rather secretive manner in which the budget was formulated and presented to the entire House of Representative on the last day of session without input from the rank and file membership, I must admit gratefulness for having voted against this budget bill.  I discussed the potential problems that could come from this “behind closed doors” process.

            Another event that brought back some very fond memories was the 20th Class Reunion of Stigler High School’s class of 1994 during Stigler’s Annual Reunion Days Celebration.  As one of their teachers and a guest at this event, I had the joy of reflecting on the many experiences we had beyond the classroom.  These included the state level competitive events in Mock Trials, Model Congress, and Simulated Congressional Hearings under the national We the People: Citizen and the Constitution Program.  Steven and Julie Fioretti hosted this class reunion and there were former students as far away as  Japan and from diverse parts  of the U.S. representing the states of Washington, California, Florida, Nebraska and Arkansas.  This list only includes those in attendance and if we were to list the vast areas where class members now reside  we would best post a map of the U.S.  I mention this within the context that the Oklahoma Legislature proclaims that we only want to have Oklahoma educational standards and shudders at the thought that our students may decide to live in “one of those other weird states.”  Well fellow legislators, if you had been at this reunion, you would have received an intense dose of reality.  Our students do not merely take root in the state and community in which they attend school!  Therefore maybe we need to focus on a more broader and more diverse approach to setting standards.  If not maybe we need to pass laws forbidding our student to ever leave the state.  Oh no!  If we did that it would appear that our wonderful state is a place where people are incarcerated and that would discourage creative and encouraging economic growth.           

Speaking of economic growth, the Governor sent out a press release complementing the state’s leaders for reducing unemployment from 7.2 percent in 2010 to 4.6 percent in 2014.   This should have increased the state’s tax revenue but instead we had a decrease for the 2015 budget in the neighborhood of $188 million with 52 agencies receiving budget cuts.  The budget was balanced by the House, Senate, and Governor leadership team behind closed doors and then presented to the members for a final vote during the latter days of the entire session with no real alternative for funding, even at a reduced rate, of the core service agencies of the state.  This was achieved by raiding revolving funds of various state agencies of $122 million.  Examples of this was removing $1.7 million from Veteran Affairs at a time when this has become a very controversial national issue.  We are told that money would end up in salaries but it is difficult to follow this revenue stream to that end.  Secondly, our state’s transportation agency, ODOT took a major hit in their revolving fund accounts by having $11.4 million removed.. And last but not least, $7.9 million was diverted from the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program (OHLAP).  This program provides free tuition to our state students who maintain an 2.5 high school grade point average and whose family income is $50,000 or less.  This program serves about 19,000 students at an annual cost of about $60 million.   This program has been the basis for students from families with average to low incomes to have an opportunity to move our state forward both professionally and economically,

This last item could very well be the basis for the entire budget being thrown out and a call for the legislature to go into a special session.  I make this statement based on the Oklahoma Attorney General’s ruling that the OHLAP fund transfer or Section 144 of Senate Bill 2127was unconstitutional based on the Oklahoma Constitution giving the Board of Equalization the singular authority to certify the amount of funds available for the Legislature to spend.   This revenue was taken from one agency’s revolving fund and assigned it to another portion of the budget.  As a result of this being ruled unconstitutional, the agency having this removed from their available revenue will not be able to function at the level that the original budget mandated.  This can be corrected by the Legislature being called back into session to re-adjust the budget since that is their absolute legal responsibility.

            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