Whatzup Politics (1399)
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.
OKLAHOMA CITY – House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, is scheduled to host a press conference Tuesday to call on the Legislature to enter into a special session and renew the exemption for in-person public meetings during the pandemic and to once again call on Gov. Kevin Stitt to implement a statewide mask mandate.
“Earlier this year, the Legislature felt it prudent to have legislation to protect public bodies and ensure they could continue to operate without fear of spreading COVID-19,” Virgin said. “As this pandemic continues to grow in Oklahoma, it is common sense that we would extend this exemption and protect the lives of Oklahomans. At this juncture, we need to increase our defenses not put them down.”
By Congressman Markwayne Mullin
The United States of America is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We are blessed to live in the greatest country in the world where we choose our leaders and the direction we want our country to go every election. Our vote is our voice and it counts.
This election has been more polarizing than any other previous election and has further divided our country. No matter what the outcome is, half of the country will be upset and disappointed.
But we cannot forget that at the end of the day, we are more than our political beliefs. Our fellow Americans are not our enemies just because they have a different opinion than we do. Our neighbors are still our neighbors and an election doesn’t make the Oklahoma Standard disappear.
We can agree to disagree and continue to love one another. There will always be far more that unites us than divides us.
Every morning, I say, “love the people, love the call” and I truly mean it. I love our state, our country, and the people in it. As we move forward from this election, I encourage everyone to love the people and come together for the good of our country.
Oklahoma Voter Registrations Surge Before 2020 General Election For first time, Republicans top 50% of Registered Voters
(Oklahoma City) – Oklahoma’s voter registrations have surged ahead of the 2020 General Election, with a net increase of more than 169,000 registered voters since January 15 and a net increase of nearly 53,000 since September 30. The State Election Board’s official pre-election voter registration statistics show the total number of registered voters is the largest before a Presidential Election since Oklahoma began tracking pre-election voter registration statistics in 2000.
Oklahoma’s voter registration statistics also show that registered Republicans now make up more than 50% of Oklahoma’s registered voters for the first time. The last time a majority of voters belonged to an Oklahoma political party prior to a Presidential Election was November 1, 2004, when Democrats made up 51.3% of registered voters.
“The surge in voter registrations is a clear indication that Oklahomans are highly interested in the 2020 General Election. It is a positive sign for higher voter participation this year,” said Paul Ziriax, Secretary of the State Election Board. “The new statistics also continue the decades-long growth trend for Republicans and Independents as a percentage of Oklahoma’s electorate.”
Net change in voter registrations since January 15, 2020
Total Voters: +169,006
Comparison of Registered Voter Percentages
As of November 1, 2020, Republicans are 50.01% of registered voters, while Democrats are 33.23%, Independents are 16.10%, and Libertarians are 0.66%.
On January 15, 2020, Republicans were 48.25% of registered voters, while Democrats were 35.32%, Independents were 15.89%, and Libertarians were 0.53%.
On November 1, 2016, Republicans were 45.61% of registered voters, while Democrats were 39.71%, Independents were 14.52%, and Libertarians were 0.17%.
LeFlore County has
13,305 - Registered Republicans
123 - Registered Libertarians
10,762 - Registered Democrats
4,228 - Independentant Voters
28,418 - Total Voters
MUSKOGEE, OKLAHOMA – United States Attorney Brian Kuester announced today the efforts of his Office in connection with the Justice Department’s nationwide Election Day Program for the upcoming November 3, 2020, general election. Assistant United States Attorney Nalani Ching will serve as the District Election Officer (DEO) for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, and in that capacity is responsible for overseeing the District’s handling of complaints of election fraud and voting rights concerns in consultation with Justice Department Headquarters in Washington.
United States Attorney Kuester said, “Every citizen must be able to vote without interference or discrimination and to have that vote counted without it being stolen because of fraud. The Department of Justice will always act appropriately to protect the integrity of the election process.”
The Department of Justice has an important role in deterring election fraud and discrimination at the polls, and combating these violations whenever and wherever they occur. The Department’s long-standing Election Day Program furthers these goals, and also seeks to ensure public confidence in the integrity of the election process by providing local points of contact within the Department for the public to report possible election fraud and voting rights violations while the polls are open through Election Day.
Federal law protects against such crimes as intimidating or bribing voters, buying and selling votes, impersonating voters, altering vote tallies, stuffing ballot boxes, and marking ballots for voters against their wishes or without their input. It also contains special protections for the rights of voters, and provides that they can vote free from acts that intimidate or harass them. For example, actions of persons designed to interrupt or intimidate voters at polling places by questioning or challenging them, or by photographing or videotaping them, under the pretext that these are actions to uncover illegal voting may violate federal voting rights law. Further, federal law protects the right of voters to mark their own ballot or to be assisted by a person of their choice (where voters need assistance because of disability or illiteracy).
The franchise is the cornerstone of American democracy. We all must ensure that those who are entitled to the franchise exercise it if they choose, and that those who seek to corrupt it are brought to justice. In order to respond to complaints of election fraud or voting rights concerns during the voting period that ends on November 3, 2020, and to ensure that such complaints are directed to the appropriate authorities. AUSA Ching will be on duty in this District while the polls are open. She can be reached by the public at 918-684-5100.
In addition, the FBI will have special agents available in each field office and resident agency throughout the country to receive allegations of election fraud and other election abuses on Election Day. The FBI field office serving the Eastern District of Oklahoma can be reached by the public at 918-687-7500.
Complaints about possible violations of the federal voting rights laws can be made directly to the Civil Rights Division in Washington, DC by phone at 800-253-3931 or by complaint form at https://civilrights.justice.gov/.
Please note in the case of a crime of violence or intimidation, please call 911 immediately and before contacting federal authorities. State and local police have primary jurisdiction over polling places, and almost always have faster reaction capacity in an emergency.
United States Attorney Kuester said, “Ensuring free and fair elections depends in large part on the cooperation of the American electorate. It is imperative that those who have specific information about discrimination or election fraud make that information available to my Office, the FBI, or the Civil Rights Division.”