Whatzup Politics (1277)
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma House Democratic Caucus members released the following statements in response to seventy Oklahoma Republican legislators attempting to persuade the Arizona Legislature to appoint electors to vote against the state’s official vote count winner.
“Oklahoma Republicans continue to support a Governor who hides behind the term ‘local control’ when refusing to protect Oklahomans during this pandemic,” said House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman. “Now, proving that ‘local control’ is just a talking point to use only when it suits them, Oklahoma Republicans are trying to overturn another state’s election - a state 1,000 miles away. Meanwhile, they remain silent on the real issues facing our state and cannot be bothered to speak up about record-high COVID cases, deaths, and hospitalizations. Oklahomans deserve better.”
“It is hard to imagine a bigger misuse of Oklahoma taxpayer resources than attempting to overturn the will of the people,” said State Rep. Melissa Provenzano, D-Tulsa. “I don’t make that distinction lightly either. From the Governor spending $2 million on arthritis medication to combat a respiratory virus to Epic spending $500,000 to build a school in California, we have seen terrible misuses of taxpayer money this year. However, it is unconscionable that my colleagues would use Oklahoma resources to undermine another state’s democracy.”
“It is the height of arrogance for these legislators to say they represent the will of the people,” said State Rep. Andy Fugate, D-Del City. “Left to the devices of our Legislature, we would not have criminal justice reform, medical marijuana, or Medicaid expansion. We have real problems in Oklahoma that need all of our time and energy to solve. We can’t afford to waste Oklahoma resources on political pandering, which is what this is.”
WASHINGTON— Yesterday, the House unanimously passed legislation sponsored by Congressman Markwayne Mullin (OK-02) to ensure timely, accessible care for Native American veterans. H.R. 6237, the Proper and Reimbursed Care (PRC) for Native Veterans Act, would require the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to reimburse the Indian Health Service (IHS) and Tribally-run health facilities for purchased and referred care (PRC) used for Native American veterans.
H.R. 6237 clarifies that VHA is responsible for reimbursing not only direct care to Native veterans provided by a Tribe or IHS, but specialty and contract care provided through a Tribe or IHS. Reimbursing IHS and Tribes for PRC is absolutely vital in making sure Native veterans have timely, affordable access to the care they need and that Tribes and IHS have sufficient resources to treat patients and respond to public health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our nation’s Native American veterans deserve access to quality, affordable health care and this bill helps deliver on that promise,” Mullin said. “IHS and tribally-run health facilities are not only already severely underfunded, but also are often the only option for care for Native American veterans. This commonsense bill will greatly improve the quality of care for veterans by ensuring that those facilities are reimbursed by the Veterans Health Administration for the services they provide, including specialty care. I am glad this bill passed the House and I urge the Senate to act quickly so our Native veterans get the care they need.”
“We appreciate Congressman Mullin’s leadership to get this bill passed by the House, which will greatly assist us in delivering high quality health care to our native Veterans,” said Chief Gary Batton, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. “Our Choctaw veterans are courageous warriors -- tvshka (tushka) in the Chahta language – who have defended this land through centuries of battles. It is a high priority for the Choctaw Nation to assist our Veterans in receiving their well-deserved benefits, including health care. This bill would clarify that the VA must reimburse IHS and Tribal health systems who are serving Veterans, even when they are referred out for specialty care. By passing this bill out of the House, we are one step closer to reducing the red tape that our Veterans currently endure by allowing our native Veterans the ability to continue to choose us as their healthcare system, even if they need specialty services.”
OKLAHOMA CITY – Starting Tuesday, House of Representatives space in the Capitol will have a mask policy consistent with Gov. Kevin Stitt’s executive order concerning masks for state buildings and employees.
“Because executive orders do not apply to the legislative branch, the House will observe the same mask policy the governor set for the rest of government. It’s a reasonable precaution with case counts rising in Oklahoma County and statewide,” said House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka.
In partnership with the State Department of Health, the House has been developing multiple health and safety protocols for the upcoming legislative session, which begins with Organizational Day on Jan. 5, followed by the beginning of session Feb. 1.
“The House has worked for weeks on plans to remain functional in session by putting proper precautions in place for everyone’s safety. Strong protocols that are based on the guidance of health professionals and scalable should pandemic conditions change will be announced before session,” McCall said.
Prior to the governor’s announcement Monday, the House had already planned on testing one of its contingency plans by resuming a rotating in-office and virtual work schedule for House staff. Starting Tuesday, each House department will have half its staff in the office and half working virtually on a rotating basis to ensure that should the need arise, the House will have full functionality.
“The House functioned quite well virtually, without closing, for seven weeks during the spring shelter at home period. The rotating schedule for staff is one protocol we are testing now in the event virtual work becomes necessary again next session,” McCall said. “As we did successfully in the spring, we will continue to partner closely with health professionals on all pandemic protocols.”
Since March, the House has had a testing and quarantine policy in place that has been regularly updated based on the latest guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and State Department of Health. Generally, the policy requires testing, remote work and quarantine for symptomatic employees, asymptomatic employees contacted by official state contact tracers, and asymptomatic employees who believe they had close contact with people who have tested positive.
Further plans under development for session will address legislative proceedings, room access and capacity, social distancing and personal protective equipment guidelines, virtual protocols, and other items as determined by health professionals.
“The protocols we enact should also involve everyone having realistic expectations, given the nature of this pandemic. Because strong protocols will minimize but not entirely eliminate the risk, we all must demonstrate flexibility and responsibility in order to continue conducting the people’s business safely,” McCall said.
OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, released the following statement regarding Governor Stitt's executive order concerning masks in state buildings and for state employees:
“Masks are an effective way to slow the transmission of COVID-19, and each of us should wear one when appropriate. I appreciate Governor Stitt for taking measures to protect public health. This is a serious disease. We should all take it seriously and take the necessary steps to protect our neighbors and ourselves. The Senate will observe the governor’s executive order in an effort to protect the health and safety of those who work in the Capitol and those who may visit the People’s House.”
OKLAHOMA CITY – House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, and State Rep. Scott Fetgatter, R-Okmulgee, announced today they will hold a hearing on Oklahoma’s medical marijuana program on Dec. 14.
The lawmakers plan to invite speakers from the industry and Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority to present before relevant legislative committee members. The hearing will be open to the public.
“We’ve seen tremendous growth in this industry in the two and a half years since Oklahomans legalized medical marijuana on a statewide ballot,” Echols said. “An update from the industry and regulators about experiences to date and where we are headed is timely for policymakers as we continue working to implement the will of the people.”
Fetgatter and Echols have authored several pieces of legislation to strengthen regulations around the medical marijuana industry in a manner consistent with the will of the people.
“Industry, patients and regulators are bringing many good ideas for updates and adjustments to statute after two years of operating under Oklahoma’s first regulatory framework for medical marijuana. This hearing will give them and the public a chance to hear those ideas, and us as policymakers a chance to start vetting them,” Fetgatter said.
Oklahoma voters petitioned to place the legalization of medical marijuana on a statewide ballot and State Question 788 was approved in June 2018. Medical marijuana has since grown into a multimillion dollar industry, with more than 300,000 licensed patients. More than 10,000 licensed businesses are either growing, testing or selling the substance in Oklahoma. The state question led to the establishment of the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority to regulate the industry.
The time and location of the hearing is to be determined.
Jon Echols serves District 90 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, which includes part of Oklahoma County; Scott Fetgatter serves District 16, which includes parts of Muskogee, Okmulgee, Tulsa and Wagoner counties.
OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. John Pfeiffer, R-Orlando, today said he intends to refile legislation that would require Oklahoma law enforcement to comply with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requests.
During the 2020 legislative session, Pfeiffer authored House Bill 3195, which directed all sheriffs, jailers and deputies to comply with any request made in an immigration retainer request provided by the federal government, and would have required the person identified in the detainer to be informed they were being held pursuant to the request. Compliance would not be required if the person has provided proof of American citizenship.
“The bill protects Oklahomans and provides clarification and uniformity to our law enforcement officers,” Pfeiffer said. “This is greatly needed, as we have varying policies across the state causing our citizens great concern. Counties, especially in urban areas, are still struggling to use common sense compliance with ICE in jails. This bill makes it crystal clear that counties must follow the Rule of Law when it comes to immigration matters in the United States of America.”
HB 3195 passed the House in February but it was stalled by the pandemic shortening the legislative session.
Pfeiffer said he will file similar legislation for the coming legislative session, which convenes Feb. 1, 2021.
John Pfeiffer serves District 38 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, which includes Grant County and parts of Garfield, Kay and Noble counties.
OKLAHOMA CITY – A group of lawmakers commented today on the recent report from State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd regarding the investigative audit of EPIC Charter Schools performed at the request of Governor Stitt and called for further action as a result of the findings.
“As lawmakers who have advocated for increased accountability, we take the allegations against EPIC Charter Schools (EPIC) very seriously. If the allegations against EPIC are proven to be accurate, they should be held accountable. While there may be disagreements as to the facts of this case, there can be no debate as to the seriousness of the issues raised by the state auditor.
“One of the most serious issues contained in the auditor’s report, however, does not deal with EPIC specifically. Throughout the report, the auditor notes the failure of the State Department of Education (SDE) to properly monitor the Oklahoma Cost Accounting System (OCAS) for compliance. Specifically, the state auditor states that SDE has ‘no process in place to evaluate actual compliance with the written policies and procedures, or with applicable laws, statutes, or Administrative Rules.’ The auditor goes on to state that ‘there is virtually no follow-up or on-site review conducted by SDE as it relates to the actual records underlying the data reported.’
“If the state auditor is correct in her assessment that the State Department of Education repeatedly neglected its responsibility to ensure compliance with OCAS and other required reports, one must ask if this dereliction of duty was confined solely to EPIC Charter Schools or if it permeates throughout our public education system. If SDE did in fact routinely fail to perform its regulatory duties, this could result in the discovery of hundreds of millions of dollars of misused funds.
“It is the duty of the Legislature to protect taxpayer dollars, and as such we are respectfully requesting that Governor Stitt task the State Auditor and Inspector’s office to conduct an investigative audit of the State Department of Education to determine the full extent and impact of its potential failure to ensure compliance.”
Legislators issuing the statement include:
Rep. Jeff Boatman, R-Tulsa
Rep. Chad Caldwell, R-Enid
Rep. Denise Crosswhite Hader, R-Piedmont
Rep. Sheila Dills, R-Tulsa
Rep. Tom Gann, R-Inola
Rep. Tommy Hardin, R-Madill
Rep. Mark Lepak, R-Claremore
Rep. Garry Mize, R-Guthrie
Rep. Carl Newton, R-Cherokee
Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore
Rep. Rande Worthen, R-Lawton
Sen. Mark Allen, R-Spiro
Sen. David Bullard, R-Durant
Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow
Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville
Sen. Brent Howard, R-Altus
Sen. Casey Murdock, R-Felt
Sen. Joe Newhouse, R-Broken Arrow
Sen. Marty Quinn, R-Claremore
Sen. Dave Rader, R-Tulsa
Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman
Sen. Brenda Stanley, R-Midwest City
OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore, on Monday hosted an interim study on the Catastrophic Health Emergency Powers Act (CHEPA), which was invoked by the governor in March at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study was held before the House Government Efficiency Committee.
“I am very pleased to have had so many participants in this Catastrophic Health Emergency Powers Act interim study,” West said. “There were some very tough discussions, yet everyone was very professional. As legislators, we need to know what worked during this COVID-19 pandemic and especially what did not work so that we can address those shortcomings in the future for the citizens of Oklahoma.”
CHEPA was first approved by the Legislature and signed into law by then Gov. Brad Henry in 2003, but such an emergency had never before been declared. The act granted the governor’s office greater authority to manage the public health crisis, including using state resources and funds at his discretion, provided the Legislature was notified prior to the waiving of regulations or other action.
West said the purpose of his study was to determine if the act worked as intended or if it should be modified to better protect the public and taxpayer resources in the future.
Presenters at Monday’s study included some of the state's top health officials from the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH), including Interim Commissioner of Health Dr. Lance Frye who gave a timeline of the state’s response to the pandemic.
Frye explained how the department had to work around Oklahoma's Health Information and Patient Protection Act (HIPAA) laws, which he said are more restrictive than at the federal level. He said despite the restrictions the agency was able to share critical data with the local emergency entities that needed it and transparently share a tremendous amount of information with the public via the agency’s dashboard. He said Oklahoma shares more information than any other state, in his opinion.
OSDH Deputy General Counsel Nicole Nash suggested one change she would like to see made to the CHEPA. She said currently the agency interviews subjects of public health investigations to help them identify the source and spread of diseases but the law does not require patients or facilities to provide information back to OSDH. She would like to see this addressed.
Kary Cox, director at Washington County Emergency Management, gave a perspective from a local emergency manager level. He said the pandemic is the worst public health crisis he’s witnessed and said mismanagement and poor communication between state agencies and local managers made it worse in the beginning. Cox said plans and policies seemed to change weekly and were learned through media releases instead of coming directly from the governor’s office or the state agencies. This was frustrating at best, he said.
Cox also said obtaining personal protective equipment (PPE) from the state was very difficult. Better planning and standardizing management systems and tools between all affected entities would make any future crisis much easier to handle, he said.
He also said the state must invite all stakeholders to a part of the process, including county, city and tribal officials.
West said this was just the sort of discussion and feedback he was hoping for from his interim study. It will help guide him as he considers legislative changes to the current CHEPA.
Kevin West serves District 54 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, which includes part of Moore in Cleveland and Oklahoma counties.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, today called for the Oklahoma Legislature to convene a special session to extend an exemption that allows public bodies to meet virtually during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
In addition to the call for a special session, House Democrats reiterated their call for Governor Kevin Stitt to implement a statewide mask mandate.
“In March, in the name of public safety, we passed legislation to protect Oklahoman’s lives and the ability for public bodies to function without the risk of spreading COVID,” Virgin said. “These aren’t my words. These are the words of the Republican leaders who supported this legislation.”
The legislation passed in March was Senate Bill 661. Oklahoma’s average daily cases when the legislation passed were in the 20s. Today, Oklahoma’s case numbers are more than than 2,000 per day. Likewise, COVID deaths have gone from zero in March to more than 1,400 now.
“The COVID situation in Oklahoma has gotten worse, not better, since the Legislature saw it fit to enact this provision,” Virgin said. “To allow this accommodation to expire would be entirely irresponsible. If we all agreed that the situation was dangerous enough in March to allow public bodies to meet this way, then logic dictates we would renew this provision.”
The Democratic leader pointed out that legislators would be at the Capitol during the next week for swearing-in ceremonies and suggested that the opportunity be used for the special session.
“Surely during all of the pomp and circumstance we can find some time to do some work for Oklahomans,” Virgin said.
The Norman lawmaker, while once again advocating for a statewide mask mandate, also spoke about how COVID has affected her family.
“Both of my parents were hospitalized due to COVID,” Virgin said. “I know what Oklahomans are going through when they have to talk to loved ones through nurses and doctors. It is time to stop trying to score political points and implement a statewide mask mandate.”
Thirty-five states have now issued a mask mandate to protect their citizens from COVID.
“Our healthcare providers and hospitals are doing all they can do,” Virgin said. “It’s time for our government leaders to do the same.
“Governor Stitt says he’s asking Oklahomans to do the right thing and protect each other. Well, governor, we’re asking you to do the right thing. Protect Oklahomans by enacting a statewide mask order. If the governors of surrounding states and other red states like Utah can make the decision to enact a statewide mask order, you can too.”
OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Avery Frix, R-Muskogee, today hosted an interim study to examine the impact of last year’s cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for retirees in Oklahoma pension plans.
The study was held before the House Banking, Financial Services and Pensions Committee. Members heard from executive directors of many of the state’s pension plans, including those for teachers, firefighters, police and other law enforcement and public employees.
“After twelve years, last year we were finally able to grant our state pensioners a cost-of-living adjustment,” Frix said. “Today’s study allowed us to look at impact of the COLA on Oklahoman’s public pension systems as well as the opportunity to discuss the potential impacts of granting future COLAs.”
House Bill 3350, authored by Frix, gave a 4% COLA to retirees with more than five years of service to the state and a 2% COLA to those with two to five years of service beginning July 1, 2020.
Benefit managers gave the following effects of the COLA on each pension system:
- Oklahoma Firefighters Pension and Retirement System (OFPRS): 1.1%;
- Oklahoma Law Enforcement Retirement System (OLERS): 0.4%;
- Oklahoma Police Pension Retirement System (OPPRS): 1.7%; this system still remains above 100% funded;
- Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS): 2%; and
- Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System (OTRS): 1.1%
These percentage numbers are only the drop in funding as it relates to the COLA. Some systems have dropped more than this amount, but those percentages are not related to the COLA.
Plan directors discussed other impacts to the systems as well.
Frix said he’s heard from many state retirees that the COLA granted last year was appreciated, but they still face rising costs of health care, insurance premiums and other living expenses. He said those concerns, of course, need to be balanced against the solvency of the plans and their funded status. Last year’s COLA represented a fiscally responsible agreement that kept the state’s pension plans on healthy financial footing, while helping retirees, he said.
Several pension directors said that 90% of the COLA and other retirement benefits remain in Oklahoma, contributing to the Oklahoma economy.
Frix also asked each pension plan manager to speak about the effect future COLAs might have on the upward trajectory of their plans’ funded status.
The committee also heard a financial status report of the retirement systems, the average retiree benefit amount and a discussion of payment outliers, and the economic impact of the 4% COLA for retirees across Oklahoma.
Joseph Fox, executive director of OPERS, discussed the differences between defined benefit and defined contribution plans.
Hank Kim, executive director of the National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems, spoke on what parameters other states use to grant COLAs.
Chase Rankin, executive director of OFPRS, and Chancen Flick, government relations with the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, discussed concepts for granting future COLAs, with Rankin detailing the Consumer Price Index Urban catch and Flick discussing future COLA parameters.
Avery Frix serves District 13 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, which includes portions of McIntosh and Muskogee counties.