Whatzup Politics (1053)
OKLAHOMA CITY – Gov. Kevin Stitt on Monday signed a bill that will exempt the American Legion Department of Oklahoma from sales tax.
House Majority Leader Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, and Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, are authors of House Bill 1003. The measure previously passed unanimously in the House and Senate.
“The American Legion is our state’s largest veterans’ organization, serving in Oklahoma for 100 years,” Sanders said. “I want to thank them for all that they do on behalf of our veterans and their families as well as our youth. I’ve been working for many years to ensure the American Legion has the same tax-exempt status as other organizations with similar missions. I want to thank Senator Thompson for working to help secure passage of this bill and Governor Stitt for signing this legislation.”
Sanders made note of the American Legion’s many patriotic education programs and outreach ministries as well as their dedication to a mission of strong national security. He said he’s been working to secure passage of this tax exemption for many years, but the state’s down economy precluded such action until this year.
“I want to thank Governor Stitt and my fellow members for making this stand for Oklahoma veterans,” Thompson said. “When we say we honor and appreciate our veterans, it’s important to make sure that we’re backing up those words with actions. This modest tax benefit will help the American Legion throughout Oklahoma – an organization that continues to provide vital support and services to our veterans.”
The new law becomes effective July 1, 2019.
(Oklahoma City) – Over 181,000 registered voters in Oklahoma will receive an official Address Confirmation Notice from the State Election Board over the next two months. The notices are required by state law.
State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax (pronounced ZEER-icks) encourages any voter who receives an Address Confirmation Notice to quickly respond.
"A voter who receives an Address Confirmation Notice should confirm their address as soon as possible," Ziriax said. "Voters who do not confirm their address will be designated as 'inactive' and risk removal from the voter rolls after the 2022 General Election, if no voter activity occurs before then."
Not every voter will receive an Address Confirmation Notice.
A 25-year-old state law requires the Election Board to send Address Confirmation Notices for one of seven different reasons. These include voters with a potential duplicate registration in another county or state, voters who surrendered their Oklahoma driver license in another state, voters who had a first-class mailing from the Election Board returned as “undeliverable,” or voters who have had no voter activity since the 2016 General Election.
A voter has 60 days to respond to an Address Confirmation Notice by either returning the address confirmation card to the State Election Board or confirming their address using the Online Voter Tool on the State Election Board website at: http://elections.ok.gov
If an Address Confirmation Notice is returned as “undeliverable,” or if a voter doesn’t respond within 60 days, the voter’s status is required to be changed to “inactive.” An “inactive” voter is still a registered voter and can vote. However, if no voting activity occurs during the next two General Election cycles, those “inactive” voters are required by law to be removed from the voter rolls following the 2022 General Election. “Inactive” voters can automatically change their status back to “active” simply by voting or making an update to their voter registration.
“As the State Election Board Secretary, I want every eligible person to be registered to vote and I want every registered voter to vote. However, I also have a legal responsibility to maintain clean voter rolls to protect against those who would attempt to harm our democracy by using outdated voter lists to tamper with our elections,” Ziriax said.
To learn more about the Address Confirmation Notice process or to confirm your address online, visit: http://elections.ok.gov
Voters can contact their County Election Board or the State Election Board if they have questions regarding their voter registration.
OKLAHOMA CITY – Both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature have passed a bill requiring the State Dept. of Education develop a rubric for implementing quality computer science programs in public schools by the end of 2019.
Senate Bill 593, by Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, and Rep. Jeff Boatman, R-Tulsa, also requests the State Board of Education to set up a grant to fund the development and implementation of high quality computer science courses.
“As technology continues to advance, there is a steady increase in the demand for computer science professionals.” Boatman said. “Funding quality computer science programs in our public schools will help our students excel and get a leg up in future coursework, which will move our entire state forward.”
SB 593 was amended on the House floor, where it passed 93-0. The bill returned to the Senate for the amendment to be considered and passed 43-2 on Thursday.
“The goal is to ensure access to the professional development training necessary for educators who will be integrating computer science and programming in a range of courses,” Stanislawski said. “This means we will better prepare Oklahoma students so they can compete in a world that is increasingly driven by technology.”
The bill is now available to be signed into law by the governor.
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Column by State Rep. Lundy Kiger
Earlier in the year, the House of Representatives passed with a large margin a 4 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for state retirees in House Bill 2304 by Rep. Avery Frix.
The bill was sent to the Senate for a vote. The Senate amended the House bill reducing the COLA to 2 percent, but they held off on final passage of the bill and referred it instead to Legislative Actuary under statute 62 O.S., Section 3108.
The Senate did this to ensure the 2 percent COLA would not harm current funding levels of the pension plans.
Pension plans for state retirees at one point were dangerously low and underfunded. Over the years, additional money has been put into the plans, increasing funding levels to between 72 percent and over 100 percent for several. A pension plan funded at 80 percent is commonly considered fully funded.
In sending the 2 percent COLA to the Legislative Actuary, the Senate specified that study must be complete and a response sent back to the Senate by early December 2019.
Today, the House Rules Committee, on which I serve as co-chair, passed House Bill 2485 to send the House plan of a 4 percent COLA to the same study group to see if 4 percent would harm funding levels of the current pension plans. The 4 percent passed today is the original amount the House agreed to and passed earlier in the year for retirees.
The study for the House amount of 4 percent will be completed and sent back to the House by early January. This will be in time for a new bill to be heard and passed in the 2020 legislative session when both the Senate and House learns how the 2 percent or 4 percent COLAs will affect the current pension plans.
Once again, the Oklahoma House of Representatives believes retirees have been left without an increase in their COLA for too long. Retirees have been strapped with cost of living increases, including higher insurance premiums, and 4 percent is the right amount to be provided as soon as possible.
State Rep. Lundy Kiger represents House District 3 in Leflore County in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
By Congressman Markwayne Mullin
Sunday, May 5, is the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women. We are experiencing an epidemic of violence in our tribal communities: 80 percent of Native men and women experience violence, 34 percent of Native women experience sexual violence in their lifetimes, and murder is the third-leading cause of death for American Indian and Alaska Native women. Native women and girls are also disproportionately likely to become victims of sex trafficking. And we don’t even have a full picture of these incidents because of underreporting and unprosecuted cases.
The silent crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women is wreaking havoc on our families and our communities.
While there are federal programs and resources available to combat violent crime in Indian Country, unfortunately there is not currently an overarching plan or strategy to do so. This has resulted in the failure to efficiently coordinate services and federal resources to effectively serve Native communities.
In response to this, my colleagues, Reps. Deb Haaland (D-NM), Tom Cole (R-OK), Sharice Davids (D-KS), and I introduced the Not Invisible Act. Our bipartisan bill would establish an advisory committee on violent crime made up of law enforcement, tribal leaders, federal partners, service providers, and survivors to make recommendations to the Department of Interior and Department of Justice and establish best practices for law enforcement on combatting the epidemic of missing persons, murder, and trafficking of Native Americans and Alaska Natives. Additionally, this legislation will ensure that the unique challenges faced by tribal communities are considered when combatting crime, violence, and human trafficking.
This is an important step in the right direction because we cannot stand by and let this crisis continue. Our priority must be to protect women and children from becoming one of these alarming statistics. All parties have to work together to raise awareness and find the most effective ways to fight back against this epidemic.
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 – Oklahoma’s more than 4,100 foster families will soon get some financial relief following the signing of Senate Bill 893 Tuesday. Sen. Paul Scott, R-Duncan, and Rep. Rande Worthen, R-Lawton, authored the bill, which will provide a $5,000 income tax exemption for anyone contracting with a child-placing agency for taxable years beginning on or after January 1, 2019.
“There are nearly 8,000 children in state custody who have been removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect. No child should ever have to go through this but fortunately Oklahoma has families who selflessly open their hearts and homes to help these kids and their biological families,” Scott said. “DHS is always in need of more foster homes to meet the needs of the children in their care. This exemption will provide foster families with some financial relief as well as hopefully help recruit many more great families.”
In order to qualify for the exemption, the taxpayer must have been under contract and providing care for at least six months or claim a pro rata exemption based on the difference.
DHS hopes to have recruited another 400 foster families by the end of June to hit their annual goal of 900 new, approved foster homes. They specifically are needing families who will take in teenagers, large sibling groups, and children with mental health issues or other special medical needs. Of the 8,000 children in foster care, around 500 are also legally free and waiting to be adopted.
“Foster families make sacrifices within their own households to care for children who have been abused and neglected. DHS and the State of Oklahoma are continually developing ways to better support our foster families as we recruit more to this critical role,” said DHS Director Ed Lake. “We greatly appreciate Sen. Scott’s legislation, which will financially benefit current foster families and also help our ongoing foster care recruitment efforts.”
SB 893 will go into effect November 1, 2019.
Column by State Rep. Lundy Kiger
There are only a few ways to pass funding for education. One is by passing legislation where both legislative chambers and the governor agree on specific language and he signs it into law. The other is getting to the end of deadline week without getting significant agreements on funding and hoping to reach an agreement in budget talks before the session ends.
When the latter occurs, this means all three entities (House, Senate and Governor) could not agree on the specifics of the increase, but it does not mean they all disagree on funding education.
When I ran for this seat my goal was to begin working with others to fix education funding. I knew it wouldn’t be done overnight. But the House majority caucus made education our top priority, so we don’t plan to end this legislative session without accomplishing our funding goals.
The reason education is so vital to our caucus is because we understand without qualified teachers our children will not receive the education needed to compete for future jobs.
To find additional qualified teachers we have to increase teacher pay to top regional levels for people who are qualified and motivated to teach.
Over the past several years we’ve seen a lot of bickering and division in education due to funding. The time is now for education to be properly funded. That includes higher wages for our teachers, more funding for our public school classrooms and increased pay for school support staff.
Over the next few weeks we’ll continue fighting for education funding, and we will reach an acceptable agreement before we adjourn. In the meantime, I would ask educators, parents and support staff to call your elected officials and let them know education is a priority!
You can reach House members by calling 1-800-522-8502, Senate members at 405-524-0126 and the Governor’s office at 405-521-2342. Tell them funding education is priority for our children and their futures.
State Rep. Lundy Kiger represents House District 3 in Leflore County in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Senate gave final unanimous approval Monday to Senate Bill 446 to better prepare teachers and other school employees to deal with the mental health needs of Oklahoma students. Sen. John Haste, R-Broken Arrow, and Rep. Sheila Dills, R-Tulsa, authored the legislation requiring the State Department of Education and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, in consultation with school superintendents and school boards, to develop educator training and resources on student mental health.
“Educators are very concerned with having more training and tools to address the mental health issues of their students, which are becoming more prevalent each year. Typically, only counselors receive this type of training but it’s important that all school employees know how to recognize the signs and help youth who are struggling,” Haste said. “It’s so important to students’ well-being as well as their academic success that they be surrounded by adults they can trust who will listen and help them. These may be the only trustworthy adults in their lives who truly care about them so we must make sure they are properly equipped. This could potentially change the trajectory of their life.”
The training and resources will include information on:
• services provided by community-based organizations
• the impact trauma can have on a student’s ability to learn
• the availability of mental health evaluation and treatment by telemedicine
• evidence-based strategies for prevention of at-risk behaviors
“Providing mental health information and training to teachers and school employees will help address the mental health needs of students by ensuring they receive the support they need while at school,” Dills said. “Our students spend so much of their day at school, and it’s important that they’re surrounded by teachers, coaches and administrators who can listen to what they’re going through and help them as much as possible.”
SB 446 will next be considered by the Governor.
Senator Haste explains the bill
OKLAHOMA CITY – As part of ongoing criminal justice reform, the Senate approved legislation Thursday to reduce incarceration rates of repeat nonviolent offenders. House Bill 2009, authored by Sen. Bill Coleman (R-Ponca City) and Rep. Garry Mize (R-Guthrie), will reduce the sentences of repeat nonviolent offenders with no history of violent or sexual offenses.
“Right now in Oklahoma, offenders serve 70 percent longer for property crimes and 79 percent longer for drug crimes than the national average. Excessive sentencing for repeat nonviolent offenders has caused Oklahoma to have the highest incarceration rates in the nation, which is extremely expensive for taxpayers and does nothing to help these individuals re-enter society as self-sufficient, productive citizens,” Coleman said. “Texas, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana...they’ve all reduced crime and incarceration rates at the same time. I think it’s time for Oklahoma to do the same. Let’s get our growing prison population under control and make Oklahoma more in line with the rest of the country on sentencing for nonviolent offenders.”
Currently, a second or subsequent offense of nonviolent crime carries as much as twice the original crime sentence. Under HB 2009, subsequent offenses will get no more than the maximum sentence plus an additional quarter of the maximum. For example, a 10-year sentence can currently become a 20-year sentence on repeat offenses. Under HB 2009, a ten-year sentence could only increase to a 12.5-year sentence for nonviolent second and subsequent offenses.
“I am happy to author House Bill 2009. Oklahomans are asking for strides to be made in regards to Criminal Justice Reform,” Mize said. “This priority bill takes a step in the right direction to help get our prison population under control and move us out of the #1 spot in a category we don’t want to head.”
It is estimated that HB 2009 could reduce Oklahoma’s prison population by as much as 17 percent over ten years providing cost savings to the Department of Corrections (DOC) depending on how many individuals receive the reduced sentence. According to DOC, it costs an average of $58.70/day or $21,425.50/year to incarcerate an inmate.
HB 2009 now returns to the House for final consideration.
By Congressman Markwayne Mullin
Before President Trump took office, the U.S.’s southern border was only covered by man-made barriers along roughly a third of the border. These 654 miles of physical barriers are primarily located in California, Arizona, and New Mexico – leaving the vast majority of the Texas border wide open. Of the 654 miles of barriers, 300 miles are what is called vehicle fencing, low to the ground and meant for stopping cars, but completely ineffective when it comes to stopping people. The remaining 354 miles are made up of pedestrian fencing, which is designed to specifically prevent people from crossing.
The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) reported apprehending more than 361,000 illegal aliens at the southern border in the first six months of Fiscal Year 2019, which is more than a 108 percent increase from the previous year. On March 25, 2019, CBP reported 4,000 apprehensions and encounters – the highest number in a single day for more than a decade. Just days later that record was broken again with 4,117 apprehensions and encounters in one day.
President Trump remains committed to securing our border and saving American lives. Since taking office in 2017, President Trump, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Department of Defense (DoD) have awarded numerous contracts to replace old, legacy fences and install new physical barriers.
By December 2018, DHS had already completed construction on nearly 40 miles of replacement barriers in high target areas such as El Paso, Texas. DHS also awarded contracts for 82 additional miles of physical barriers in areas like the Rio Grande Valley and Yuma, Arizona. In February 2019, construction began to replace 14 miles of old barriers in San Diego. In April 2019, DoD awarded contracts to replace 46 miles of vehicle barriers with 18- to 30-foot-tall pedestrian fencing in New Mexico and replace 11 miles of vehicle barriers and wire-mesh fencing with pedestrian fencing in Arizona. DHS is currently in the process of awarding contracts to construct an additional 55 miles of new barriers.
Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats have proven time and again that they have no interest in securing our southern border and protecting American citizens. On April 23, 2019, at the request of Pelosi, the House of Representatives’ General Counsel filed a motion asking a federal judge to block President Trump from using DoD funds to build additional border barriers.
With record-breaking numbers of CBP apprehensions and encounters on the southern border, it is time for Pelosi Democrats to stop putting politics before people. Every American life is worth safeguarding and I will continue to stand with President Trump in his continued efforts to build the wall and ensure our borders are secure.