Thursday, September 19, 2013

Oklahoma Government at Work: Pass a Bill with no Funding; Cut Education; and More

Meanwhile, the state (Oklahoma) continues to slash its revenue base. The top income tax rate fell from 5.5 to 5.25 percent in 2012 and this year’s legislators scheduled even more cuts for 2015 and 2016. Tax breaks for oil and gas drillers and other special interests have been allowed to grow unchecked. (David Blatt, Oklahoma Policy Institute)

The Oklahoma Policy Institute Email was packed today with all of sorts gems that make the Oklahoma Legislature and Republican controlled State Government look really bad.  I haven't recovered from passing criminal justice reforms but appropriating no money to implement them but at the same time Oklahoma had money for a tax cut for the wealthy -- the rest of us get peanuts in comparison.

The Quote of the Day from OK Policy Institute says it all along with the linked article.
Quote of the Day 
If the Legislature thought it was worth its time to study, debate and vote for the initiative, then why is it not worth funding? It appears some think that passing the bill made lawmakers look tough on crime but funding the bill makes them look soft on crime. Figure out that reasoning. 
-Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz, on lawmakers' failure to fund implementation of criminal justice reforms passed in 2012 (Source:
The continual cut of education funding for public education while pushing private charters schools has driven me up a wall since the Republicans took over all of State Government and are showing America that they are incapable of leading just like at the National level.  The State GOP in Oklahoma has gone hard right while the State Democrat Party is inept.  More people are registering as independents but since Oklahoma is a closed primary state, you cannot vote if you are an independent.  You have a choice of staying GOP and ignoring all activities if you are more moderate and voting against the hard right in the primary or becoming a Democrat and putting up with inept.  Our choices are limited.

Oklahoma is living proof that it is not good when either party fully controls the State Government although have to admit the GOP Legislature at the beginning was much better then it is today as more Tea Party affiliated people are elected and it shifts to the hard right against Oklahomans.

Finally proof that Oklahoma's lack of focus on education is hurting prosperity and is most likely to get worse:
Prosperity Policy: Heading the wrong way
By David Blatt Guest Columnist
Posted: 01:53 PM Wednesday, September 18, 2013 
Two recent national studies of state policies suggest that Oklahoma policymakers are heading the wrong way if they want to improve our state’s prosperity. 
The first study, from the Economic Analysis and Research Network, finds that the educational attainment of a state’s workforce is strongly linked with both productivity and median wages. Overwhelmingly, high-wage states are those that have a well-educated workforce, while states with less-educated workforces see lower wages. 
The EARN report confirms what most Oklahoma economists and economic developers have long been saying, namely that improving our education system will do more to strengthen Oklahoma’s economy than anything else. 
...The second recent report, from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, found that Oklahoma has made the deepest cuts to school funding in the nation since the start of the recession. Per-student state funding of Oklahoma’s kindergarten through 12th-grade education formula is down by 22.8 percent since 2008, adjusted for inflation, which works out to a decrease of $810 per student. We are expecting more of our teachers and students, but not providing them the resources they need to succeed. 
Our policymakers frequently pay lip service to making education the top priority, but their actions fall far short.
David Blatt is director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute,

Excerpt:  Read more: Journal Record
When I was doing the research on this post, I discovered that I am not the only one who disagrees with the State School Superintendent Janet Barrisi, but there are a lot more Republicans not to mention Democrats who are unhappy with what what I would call her bull in the china shop mentality where she charges ahead with little to no consensus and refuses to listen.  Tulsa Word had a very good article on her which brings into question whether she is fighting for public schools or charter schools?

State Rep. Todd Thomsen, the majority whip, said he has experienced a "total lack of respect for legislators with an opposing view or a question about anything" on Barresi's agenda.  
"A very small percentage of people at the Capitol are controlling the education agenda, and there is no attempt to change anything to reflect Oklahoma's specific needs," said the Ada Republican. "I can't help but wonder, are we being pushed into a national agenda? Because there is an overriding urgency to do everything on a schedule, and any push-back or modification is trampled."  
Still, he said, Barresi is only one "catalyst" for change at the Capitol and as such shouldn't bear the brunt of all of the controversy on her own.  
"When we as a party took over completely, we basically did every single thing all at once. I think it was a poor implementation strategy," Thomsen said. "I would probably get criticized for this, but we've never actually seen the hard data to prove that any of the reforms actually work, and we're asking every school to do the same thing."  
Thomsen said he has never before witnessed the level of statewide consensus on any one issue as currently exists about standardized testing's negative effects on students' education and teacher morale.  
"As an old football player, I think of things in sports terms," said Thomsen, who played for the University of Oklahoma from 1985-1988. "You want to see a coach that gets long-term results because people work really hard for them? It's a coach that coaches out of optimism, of appreciation, of respect, and as a teammate. The leadership style that has been implemented is one that is motivation by fear. We do it in the name of 'reform,' but that's our fancy way of justifying that we use a stick to try to improve education." 
Rep Thomsen (R-Ada) has always been upfront and tells the truth -- once again he is right on the money from what I have heard from others.  He still has the same common sense he had when he was elected by a small percentage in a predominately Democrat area.  There are few like him in the State Legislature but not enough.  Emily Virgon (D-Norman) is another Rep with common sense who stands up for Oklahomans.  We need more of these kind of people running for office from both parties for Oklahoma State Government positions who put Oklahomans over their Party and special interest once elected.

You have to hand it to ALEC who is closely aligned with the Republican elected officials in Oklahoma -- they don't read the laws on bills any better then the GOP.  Now in a bi-partisan effort supporting firefighters, the Workman's Comp Law pass in the last session is being challenged as unconstitutional. One of the reasons is that the bill is not a single subject bill but multiple subject which has caused bills to be tossed out in the past by the Courts  What is with the Governor's Office and Attorney General that they let these bills become law?  More tax dollars wasted.
Oklahoma workers' comp law challenged 
Two legislators and firefighters group call workers' comp law unconstitutional.
By Nolan Clay Published: September 19, 2013 
The Oklahoma Supreme Court is being asked to throw out a new law that overhauls Oklahoma's workers' compensation system. 
State Sen. Harry Coates, R-Seminole, state Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, and the Professional Fire Fighters of Oklahoma filed the challenge Tuesday. They gave the Supreme Court almost a dozen reasons why they think the law is unconstitutional. 
“It's wrong that a firefighter or any other injured worker should have to pay back benefits after returning to work. This is just one of many problems with this new law,” Coates said. 
A key argument in their challenge is that the changes violate a state constitutional requirement that a bill cover a single subject. Justices repeatedly have tossed laws because of this issue. 
Most recently, legislators met in special session to address lawsuit reform after the Supreme Court ruled a 2009 tort reform law was unconstitutional because of the single-subject rule. 
Gov. Mary Fallin signed the workers' compensation bill in May. It changes the workers' compensation system from a judicial system to an administrative one. It also allows businesses to opt out of the workers' compensation system as long as they provide equivalent benefits to injured workers. 
Opponents said it is unfair to injured workers because it will reduce their benefits. The law is set to be in effect in full on Feb. 1. 
The State Chamber of Oklahoma claimed Wednesday that attorneys for injured workers actually were behind the challenge. 
Excerpt:  Read More at The Oklahoman
The Chamber who has bought and paid for most GOP in the legislature is behind the push for this Workman's comp legislation but now are mad because it is being challenged.  Waiting for ALEC to weigh in as well.  Chamber can dish it out but seems they cannot take it when something goes against them.  They are used to pretty much having their way with Oklahoma elected officials.

Then there is this from the Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner Doak which makes my blood boil.  Doak allowed our home owner's insurance rates to sky rocket the other year -- mine went up by $1,400 until I found a new company, USAA, who didn't gouge the consumer.  Kim Holland, from Tulsa, was a much better Insurance Commissioner as she was for all Oklahomans not just special interest.  There were rumors about Doak in 2010 that should have led us to defeat him but we have a problem here with straight party voting on the ballot which should be removed.  You need to vote by individual not by party on the ballot.  As consumers we are finding out how much he is in the pockets of the insurance companies and their agents:
Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner continues threats against health law navigators 
On the same day that officials at Little Dixie Community Action Agency in Hugo, Okla., won a $580,000 federal grant to help consumers sign up for coverage under the federal health law, Doak issued a warning. If the consumer guides perform any of the duties of state-licensed insurance agents, he said, "we will put a stop to it."  
James Mills, assistant general counsel for the Oklahoma Insurance Department, says his agency is simply trying to clarify the distinct roles of agents and navigators, but adds, “Obamacare is not something our state wants.” 
He said navigators can show people information about health plans and their benefits, and help consumers fill out online applications. They can also tell older people that their premiums will be higher than those of younger people. But showing them why they may be better off choosing a silver plan instead of a gold plan to save money “would be going too far,” he said. 
Read more from Kaiser Health News.
Because Oklahoma Republicans don't like the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare, our Insurance Commissioner has decided that people looking for insurance are not to be given advice about the plans so the people can save money.   I certainly hope that Kim Holland runs again to oust these people from the Insurance office.

Then there is this from Governor Fallin who has decided that she has more authority then the Federal Government when it comes to the National Guard and doesn't have to abide by what is ordered by the Department of Defense and the President on benefits for same sex couples:
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has ordered the National Guard to stop processing requests for military benefits for same-sex couples, her office confirmed Tuesday, despite a Pentagon directive to do so. 
Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz said the governor was following the wish of Oklahoma voters, who approved a constitutional amendment in 2004 that prohibits giving benefits of marriage to gay couples. 
"Because of that prohibition, Gov. Fallin's general counsel has advised the National Guard not to process requests for benefits of same-sex couples," Weintz said. "Gay couples that have been legally married in other states will be advised they can apply for those benefits on federal facilities, such as Tinker Air Force Base, rather than state run facilities." 
Fallin ordered the policy change on Sept. 5, Weintz said.  
The Pentagon announced last month that same-sex spouses of military members will be eligible for the same health care, housing and other benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex spouses starting Sept. 3. That decision followed consultation with the Justice Department and the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in June on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. 
After the U.S. Department of Defense began allowing same-sex couples to apply for identification cards and benefits, National Guard officials in Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana said they would refuse to process the applications. Like Oklahoma, all three states have gay-marriage bans and are led by socially conservative Republican governors.
Fallin's decision prompted the president of a support group for gay military families to call for the Defense Department to "stop this discrimination." 
"Since the governor of Oklahoma has decided to join Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana in playing politics with our military families, we need immediate and decisive action from the administration and the defense department in affirming that all military spouses, regardless of sexual orientation, will be treated equally," Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partner Association, said in a statement.
First of all, the ban on gay marriage in Oklahoma passed in 2004 does not take into consideration how the thoughts of people have changed in the last nine years.  States that never would have passed gay marriage now have passed them, the Defense of Marriage Act was thrown out by the Supreme Court, and the vast majority of the people in this Country just don't care if gays marry because it has no affect on their lives.  I fall into the latter category as I fail to see how it impacts me at all.  Would rather have a gay couple move into my neighborhood then hard right GOP who seems to always be angry at the world about something.

Here is the info about the National Guard today and how it it falls under the Department of Defense:

May 21, 2008
SUBJECT: National Guard Bureau (NGB)
(a) Title 10, United States Code
(b) Army Regulation 130-5/Air Force Mission Directive 10, December 30, 2001
(c) Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Instruction 1001.01, “Joint Manpower
and Personnel Program,” December 28, 2004
(d) Title 32, United States Code
(e) through (h), see Enclosure 1
Pursuant to the authority vested in the Secretary of Defense under section 113 of Reference (a), this Directive establishes policy for and defines the organization and management, responsibilities and functions, relationships, and authorities of the Chief, NGB, and: 
1.1. Establishes the NGB as a joint activity of the Department of Defense. 
1.2. Supersedes the NGB charter dated September 1, 1995, as promulgated by Reference (b).
Excerpt:  Read More at DoD Directive on NGB 
Fallin told the Oklahoma National Guard to send members to Tinker AFB but why should Tinker personnel have to deal with the paperwork when it is the responsibility of the National Guard?  What part of the word 'National' do some of these GOP hard right Governors not understand?

Is Oklahoma trying to be like Texas with Rick Perry?  

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