Whatzup Politics (1233)
OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Sean Roberts, R-Hominy, led an interim study Tuesday regarding the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Attendees heard from Interim Commissioner of Health Dr. Lance Frye, who said the state was ill-prepared at the beginning of the pandemic in March, but the situation has improved across the state since.
"It has really been a pretty impressive response by the state," Frye said in the study. "We started with less than nothing… and we have done well with where we are compared to the rest of the nation."
Frye said at the beginning of the pandemic, the state did not have an adequate supply of personal protection equipment for healthcare professionals, nor did the state have testing capabilities. Both of these situations have improved and Oklahoma is often used as a model for the rest of the nation of a good response to the pandemic.
Two Oklahoma doctors were invited by Roberts to speak before the committee. Dr. Chad Chamberlain told attendees that policymakers should consider multiple factors that are affected by public health decisions, including mental health issues as a result from isolation, and Dr. Jim Meehan encouraged proactive practices and bolstering bodies’ defenses to be better prepared to fight viral illnesses. He discussed an effective vitamin protocol that includes Vitamin D3, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, melatonin and zinc.
“I appreciate our speakers for lending their valuable expertise and experience to this important topic,” Roberts said. “It’s important to reflect on how our state has improved since the early days of the pandemic and begin the process of addressing the issues that arose so that, in the event of a similar devastating situation, we are better prepared.”
Roberts chairs the House Public Health Committee. A recording of the study is available at https://okhouse.gov/Video/Default.aspx.
(Oklahoma City) – Officials with the Oklahoma State Election Board cautioned voters about a mailing from a Tulsa-based organization, “OKVOTE,” after state and county election offices received several complaints from voters this week.
The mailing is an unsolicited, pre-filled voter registration application accompanied by a letter that mistakenly advises some recipients that “according to State Election Board records” they are not registered to vote at their current address – even though official Election Board records actually show many of the recipients who have contacted election officials are already properly registered.
“State and county election officials are not affiliated with OKVOTE nor with this mailing,” State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax said. “Although we know OKVOTE has good intentions, this mailing has caused confusion by mistakenly telling some registered voters that they are not registered to vote at their address. We encourage voters who received this letter to use the official OK Voter Portal or contact their County Election Board to confirm their voter registration.”
Voters have until October 9 to update their voter registration or register for the first time for the 2020 General Election. Voters can use the State Election Board’s new online Voter Registration “Wizard” to complete an application online, then print, sign and mail it to their County Election Board. A paper voter registration application can also be printed from the State Election Board’s website.
Ziriax also urged voters to use official Election Board sites for election information or voter services.
“If you want to register to vote, request an absentee ballot, find your polling place, get a sample ballot, or sign up for election reminders, the best place to get these services is from the State Election Board or your County Election Board,” Ziriax said.
Audio Available: https://www.ok.gov/elections/multimedia/ElectionBoard_9-21-2018.mp3
OK Voter Portal: https://www.ok.gov/elections/OVP.html
Voter Registration “Wizard”: https://okvoterportal.okelections.us/Home/RegWizard
County Election Board Directory: https://www.ok.gov/elections/About_Us/County_Election_Boards/index.html
State Election Board Website: https://www.ok.gov/elections/index.html
View OKVOTE Letter:
By Congressman Markwayne Mullin
SPC Vanessa Guillén’s disappearance and horrific murder earlier this year shined a light on the systemic issue of sexual harassment and sexual assault within our military. Her name made headlines across the country, #IAmVanessaGuillén was trending on social media, and her family vowed to bring change to the system in her memory. What happened to Vanessa inspired others to come forward and share their experiences of sexual harassment and assault while serving in the U.S. military.
When I heard Vanessa’s tragic story, my heart broke. As a father of six, I cannot imagine losing any of my children, especially in the heinous way Vanessa was taken from her family. We can’t stand by and let what happened to Vanessa happen again. We must strengthen the military’s ability to protect its most important resource – the men and women who willingly sign-up to protect all Americans.
That’s why I introduced the I Am Vanessa Guillén Act earlier this week. The I Am Vanessa Guillén Act will fundamentally reform reporting and investigating of sexual harassment and assault in the military and transform prosecution of sexual harassment and assault by empowering an independent prosecutor, within each military service, to bring charges. It will also encourage survivors to come forward to report sexual assaults and sexual harassment so perpetrators will be held accountable and survivors will get the justice they deserve.
The issue of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military isn’t a Democrat or Republican issue – it’s an American issue. This is about protecting our men and women in uniform. They fight for us and now we must fight for them.
This bill will ensure Vanessa will not have died in vain. As a soldier she proudly served her country and, in the wake of her death, she will save countless lives through this vital change to our military. I will keep fighting so no family has to go through what the Guillén family has gone through.
Want to stay up-to-date on what I’m doing in Oklahoma and Washington on your behalf? Sign up for my newsletter by visiting Mullin.house.gov/newslettersignup.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- State Rep. Cyndi Munson hosted an interim study today focused on the public health risks connected to Loperamide in connection to opioid abuse.
Loperamide is a drug found in over the counter medications such as Imodium A-D. The drug is often sought out by people suffering from opioid withdrawal, but the large quantities of Loperamide necessary to provide temporary relief from withdrawals can cause severe and even fatal side effects.
“I was completely unfamiliar until a constituent's family member died due to misuse of Loperamide,” Munson said. “The opioid epidemic has created multiple side-effects that we are going to have to deal with as lawmakers and as a society. Loperamide misuse may seem small compared to other epidemic side effects, but it is costing lives. This study took a look at this problem and solutions to fix it.”
Joel Hild, the constituent who brought the issue to Munson’s attention, lost his son to Loperamide misuse while he was recovering from a substance abuse disorder.
“When the medical examiner told us Loperamide was the only drug in his system, I was shocked,” Hild said. “Through my research since my son died, I understand that this drug does have a need. I’m not here to get rid of it. I just want it to be treated similarly as Sudafed.”
Unfortunately due to a lack of a statewide or national database and the relative recency of Loperamide misuse, hard data on the number of deaths due to overdose is hard to find.
“The big takeaway from this study for me is that there is a desire by everyone, including manufacturers of Loperamide, to increase education and possibly even controls to help prevent someone from misusing this drug,” Munson said. “I want to thank all of the stakeholders involved in today’s study, and I look forward to working with each of them to continue making progress on this issue.”
The study presenters were Jermaine Galloway, Tall Cop Says Stop; Interim Commissioner of Mental Health Carrie Slatton-Hodges; Joel Hild, District 85 Resident; Carlos Gutierrez and Mike Tringale, Consumer Health Products Association; Oklahoma Chief Forensic Toxicologist Dr. Byron Curtis.
OKLAHOMA CITY – The House Insurance Committee held a recent interim study to review ways to decrease the cost of health insurance, save money and improve health insurance efficiencies.
Representatives of Strategic Cost Containment Concepts (SCCC), powered by AmWINS, presented RX Interceptor & Pharmacy Rebates, a proprietary program to provide significant savings to the state in prescriptions and medical care.
The RX Inceptor Program claims to help reduce prescription claims spend by 30% to 50%. The group works with pharmaceutical advocates to help eligible individuals qualify for savings on high-cost specialty medications. They say that up to 100% of the drug rebates, built-in stop-loss, and a full annual Pharmacy Performance Audit can account for savings to the state.
SCCC has shown it can return large savings through this proprietary program and guarantee contracts to return money to the state that it would not otherwise receive. They say they can implement the program with little or no interruption in service to state employees and other insureds.
When coupled with PrimeCare Indemnity, which provides direct primary care and urgent care services, a rough estimate of approximately $111 Million a year in guaranteed savings for three years is projected, premised upon on reviewing current data to ensure accuracy. Significant tax savings are available to employers and employees. Unlimited $10 doctor visits are key features of this wellness plan.
An Alternative Healthcare Plan was presented that provides a National PPO network for a cost reduction of up to 35% or more. The private and public sectors can utilize this plan that includes built-in dental and vision coverage.
“The state of Oklahoma is projecting a billion-dollar-plus budget deficit next year, and we are thankful that innovative companies have approached us to help better our state,” said State Rep. Lewis Moore, R-Edmond, the author of the study. “Speaker McCall and Appropriations Chair Kevin Wallace have motivated us as chairmen and women to be receptive to change where we can improve efficiencies and save tax payer dollars,” Moore added.
“A savings plan to streamline processes and save the Oklahoma HealthCare Authority more than $661 million dollars is waiting to be acted upon.” Moore said.
Letter Asks if CARES Act Dollars to Private Schools Is Legal
OKLAHOMA CITY – The House Democratic Education Policy Group sent a letter to the Oklahoma State Attorney General Mike Hunter requesting an opinion on whether Gov. Kevin Stitt acted within his authority when he chose to send a portion of the CARES Act funding to private schools.
Citing a recent decision against the US Department of Education for similar CARES fund activity, the House Democrats asked specifically about the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, which was provided by the CARES Act.
“We wish to ensure that the application of the CARES Act funds in Oklahoma were spent appropriately in accordance to the directive in the CARES Act 18003 (d)(f) which specifically calls for the ‘providing of services to low-achieving students’ which ‘funds activities to address the unique needs of low-income children or students,” said Rep. Melissa Provenzano, the primary author of the letter. “This includes all funding streams: Learn Anywhere Oklahoma, Bridge the Gap Digital Wallet, Stay in School funds as well as any other expenditures made with these funds.”
If Attorney General Hunter does deem that the Governor acted beyond his constitutional authority by incorrectly distributing these funds, Democrats are seeking an opinion that directs the governor to distribute the $38 million as directed by the President and Congress.
“Whether it is State Question 781 funding or education funding, our state government has a hard time following the letter of the law,” said State Rep. Andy Fugate, D-Del City. “We requested this opinion because it’s time to stop this ‘do as I say, not as I do’ approach to government funding. There are real questions regarding the legality of the governor’s actions. These CARES Act dollars are not a slush fund for the governor to spend as he pleases. ”
Democrats have requested an expedited response from the AG’s office to prevent the misuse of federal dollars that would need to be repaid.
Democratic Caucus Education Policy Group Members: Rep. Melissa Provenzano (Chair) Rep. Kelly Albright, Rep. Andy Fugate, Rep. Monroe Nichols, Rep. Trish Ranson, Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, and Rep. John Waldron
LINK TO LETTER: Letter to Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter
Homeless/Displaced Youth Resources Highlighted
OKLAHOMA CITY -- State. Rep. Chelsey Branham, D-OKC, hosted a youth provider summit Thursday focused on Oklahoma’s homeless and displaced youth population.
The virtual summit featured a keynote address from Oklahoma DHS Child Welfare Director Dr. Deb Shropshire, five different breakout sessions for participants to attend as well as a legislative panel that allowed lawmakers to give their perspective on what has been done and can still be done at the Capitol to protect and serve this vulnerable population.
“It is incredibly important that we in the Legislature continue to focus on and address the issues of Oklahoma’s homeless and displaced youth populations,” said legislative panel participant and Senate Democratic Leader Sen. Kay Floyd. “Thanks to Rep. Branham for organizing the Youth Provider Summit and a special thanks to those who participated.”
The breakout sessions were led by organizations and agencies that are working daily to serve Oklahoma’s displaced and homeless youth populations. The organizations represented were SISU Youth Services; Generation Citizen; Pivot; Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth; Oklahoma Association of Youth Services; Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
“Many barriers are standing in the path to success and this summit helped educate and connect policymakers and service providers to collaborate on removing these obstacles,” said Jamie Caves, Sisu Youth Services Executive Director. “This summit was important to provide needed resources and support for these young people as they pave their road ahead. As we have learned during this pandemic, our other problems don’t go away because we are focused on COVID. They are exacerbated. Meeting virtually and hearing from the different agencies allows all of us an opportunity to refocus on these children.”
Like the work that these organizations do, the success of this summit was due to the collaborative effort of everyone involved.
“This summit was a huge success in part to our wonderful speakers, but largely from the large number of community members, service providers, and youth that attended and committed to collaborating to make Oklahoma better for our youth,” Branham said. “I am incredibly thankful to every person and I look forward to what we can do together as a community.”
Sims Seeks Savings of Taxpayer Dollars from Study on Inspection Fees & Services on local ODOT let projects
OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Lonnie Sims, R-Jenks, hosted an interim study Wednesday focused on the cost of construction management services and inspection fees for federally funded local government projects let by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT).
“We brought local planning, government and state transportation stakeholders together to analyze the use of third-party inspection service providers and the significant cost differences when used in lieu of in-house ODOT or local inspection staffs,” Sims said. “One current example is a walking trail rehabilitation project in Jenks where the third-party inspection costs are accounting for more than 27% of total project costs, or $73,000 of the $261,000 project.”
“This is a walking trail,” Sims added. “We basically are reclaiming ground lost to grass encroachment and laying new asphalt. There is no way inspection services should cost $70,000, nor could these services not be handled by local engineering expertise resulting in significant savings to the greater benefit of our local Oklahoma communities.”
Prior to 2014, local governments were able to do construction management and inspection services for these types of projects. Commonly referred to as Transportation Alternative Projects (TAP), inspection costs typically ranged between 6% and 8% of the total project costs. However, with an increasing tendency to contract with third-party service providers, especially when the total project costs are less than $1 million, costs have ballooned to an average of more than 15% and have ranged as high as 29%.
“We have to bring some balance and financial responsibility back to this process,” Sims said. “To be fair to ODOT, they are subject to some very rigid requirements or strings that come attached to these federal funding dollars. However, when local officials learn they have to come up with another 19%, as in the case of Jenks, it is very difficult to square that decision knowing how bad that $50,000 is needed to fund other community priorities.”
Oklahoma Department of Transportation Secretary Tim Gatz acknowledged this is just one area they will be evaluating further as well as appealing to Oklahoma’s federal delegation for greater flexibility in future transportation legislation to allow use of local resources on lower risk projects like TAP.
“I believe there is a big win here for everyone, but most importantly the Oklahoma taxpayers,” Sims said. “I am extremely grateful for all the stakeholders who participated today, and recognize the opportunity to maximize the use of these funds going forward.”
In addition to Secretary Gatz, additional speakers at the study included Viplava Putta, director of Transportation and Planning for The Indian Nations Council of Governments (INCOG); Jenks Assistant City Manager Robert Carr; Broken Arrow Assistant City Manager Kenny Schwab; Mike Fina with the Oklahoma Municipal League; and Paul Green Sr., a transportation engineer with Freese and Nichols.
Lonnie Sims serves District 68 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives representing West Tulsa, Jenks, Glenpool and Berryhill.
OKLAHOMA CITY – House Majority Caucus Chair State Rep. Tammy West, R-Oklahoma City, today commented on revised visitation policies for long-term care facilities by the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH).
The department on Wednesday revised its phased reopening guidance for the facilities to support their efforts to balance the need to protect residents from COVID-19 while ensuring healthy social and emotional connections with family and friends during the ongoing pandemic.
“This announcement of improved visitation, care and supervision is welcome news for the many Oklahomans in our long-term care facilities and those who play vital roles in caring for their loved ones,” West said. “These positive changes will help reverse some of the negative effects suffered from isolation forced by quarantine during this time of pandemic.”
OSDH’s revised guidance includes significant changes to allow for better coordination regarding visitation, both virtually and in-person. Major changes include:
- Establishing guidelines for compassionate care visits and essential caregiver visits that go beyond end-of-life care and now include visits for psycho-social needs and assisting with daily care needs.
- Requiring the facility to allow virtual visitation at least twice weekly, or more as may be necessary to ensure resident wellbeing.
- Ensuring family members are made aware of visitation policies and any changes to them.
- Ensuring the state long-term care ombudsmen are allowed into facilities to investigate issues related to quality of care.
The full guidance is available here: https://coronavirus.health.ok.gov/sites/g/files/gmc786/f/ltc_reopening_guidance_20200828.pdf.
JoeAnn Vermillion, AARP Volunteer State President, said the changes are a big improvement.
“This really helps those family members who are closely involved with the care of their loved ones as well as meeting the emotional and social needs of residents across our state,” she said. “Combined with the return of onsite visitation by the state long-term care ombudsmen, family members now have more opportunities to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their loved ones.”
West strongly encourages family members to contact their nursing home administrator to explore the options now available to them to enhance the care provided to their loved ones. Difficulties in connecting with loved ones should be reported to OSDH – Long-term Care Services at (405) 271-6868 or .
Long-term care facilities include residential care and assisted living facilities, adult day care, nursing and skilled nursing facilities, and intermediate care facilities for individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities.
West recently held an interim study before the House Health Services and Long-Term Care Committee that examined the needs of residents in long-term care centers related to COVID-19. Numerous presenters spoke about the devastating mental and emotional health effects of residents suffering from isolation factors forced by quarantine.
In the study, Chad Mullen, associate state director of advocacy with AARP Oklahoma, shared statistics that show 3.6% of total COVID-19 cases are residents in long-term care facilities; 42% of deaths are among that same population.
Additional research shows that social isolation significantly increases a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, rivaling even deaths caused by smoking, obesity and physical inactivity. Social isolation also is associated with about a 50% increased risk of dementia, a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke. Higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide also are linked to loneliness, as is an increased risk of hospitalization or emergency room visits.
West said while the new guidance doesn’t open the floodgates for visits, “There are now at least a few more ways to lay eyes on your loved one and make sure they are doing okay.”
Tammy West serves District 84 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, which includes part of Oklahoma County.
OKLAHOMA CITY – The House Transportation Committee heard from industry experts on the future of electric vehicles and how Oklahoma can capitalize on the growing industry during an interim study Thursday.
Rep. Brian Hill, R-Mustang, requested IS20-033 after he attended multiple economic and legislative conferences where he repeatedly heard that up to 90% of transportation will be electric by 2050. Many fleet transportation industries across the nation are already beginning to convert portions of their fleet to electric vehicles.
“The energy industry has long been an integral part of Oklahoma’s economy, and with some planning now, we’ll be well-positioned to lead the nation in the electric vehicle market in the future,” Hill said. “With the expansion of this market will come new jobs and economic opportunity for Oklahomans if we take measures now.”
Hill said he was concerned about the fiscal effects of the expected shift to electric vehicles, as a large portion of Oklahoma’s roads and bridges are paid for by a tax at the gasoline pump.
“My concern, and my reason for requesting the study, is that if we don’t start researching the systemic effects of this potential transition to electric vehicles, then our economy will suffer,” Hill said. “I’m grateful to today’s participants in the interim study for taking the time to discuss our options so we can begin planning for the future of our state.”
A video of the interim study can be found at https://okhouse.gov/Video/Default.aspx.