Whatzup Politics (1466)
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved legislation renewing exemptions to the Open Meeting Act put in place last year during the coronavirus pandemic.
Senate Bill 1031 by Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat reinstates the same exemptions to the Open Meeting Act that were signed into law in 2020 with some minor changes.
Among the changes from the 2020 exemptions are:
- Requires materials provided to members of the public body during a virtual meeting to immediately be made available to the public on the public body’s web site;
- Requires public bodies to conduct meetings in the manner described on the public notice of the meeting;
- Requires any necessary passcodes to access videoconferencing to be included in the public notice of a meeting; and
- Makes the exemptions effective until Feb. 15, 2022, or until 30 days after the expiration or termination of the state of emergency declared by the governor to respond to the threat of COVID-19, whichever date first occurs.
“The threat from COVID-19 is real and all of us are trying to take the appropriate steps to protect the health and safety of our family, friends and neighbors. That includes public bodies, which need to continue meeting during the ongoing pandemic but in a safe manner. This bill provides public bodies the flexibility to hold virtual public meetings until the pandemic is behind us. I am thankful for the quick action and support of the Oklahoma Senate on this measure and am encouraged that our colleagues in the House have plans to do the same,” said Treat, R-Oklahoma City.
SB 1031 now heads to the Oklahoma House.
OKLAHOMA CITY – In its inaugural meeting Wednesday morning, the House States Rights Committee approved legislation to protect religious freedom and the constitutional right to worship.
Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, authored House Bill 2648, or the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act, which dictates that anything closing places of worship would be considered a substantial burden on people’s freedom of religion.
He said he filed the bill after witnessing how many religious organizations were unable to meet for several weeks due to government restrictions on the size of gatherings or emergency orders that did not deem places of worship as essential.
“Our country was founded on the premise of religious freedom for all, but we have seen and continue to see situations across the country where Americans’ right to worship has been trampled and ignored by overreaching bureaucracy,” Echols said. “A person’s sincerely held faith is an integral part of their life, especially how they cope with difficulties, and forcing places of worship to close for weeks or months at a time during a state of emergency or crisis is un-American and goes against the very core of our nation.”
Rep. Brian Hill, R-Mustang, who co-authored the legislation, presented the bill before the committee.
“For many like myself, my faith is as essential as the food I eat or the air I breathe,” Hill told the committee. “And I think that is constitutionally protected by our First Amendment and by our Oklahoma Constitution.”
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
House Bill 2648 passed committee 5-1 and is now available to be considered on the House floor.
OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Sheila Dills, R-Tulsa, has filed legislation that will protect student funding by clarifying language governing contractual agreements between schools and educational management organizations.
House Bill 1735 will ensure school boards retain control of such contracts and that funding appropriated for students actually goes toward their learning needs and not into private accounts with little or no oversight.
“Several Oklahoma schools have partnered with educational management organizations to help manage items such as grading, testing and other components of a student’s education,” Dills said. “Gaps in statute exist, however, that leave schools paying large amounts to private management companies and leaving questions over whether funding is actually going toward the student they are responsible for educating. It’s incredibly important going forward that we protect student funding and ensure taxpayer dollars are going where they are intended. This measure increases such transparency and accountability.”
HB 1735 clearly defines and distinguishes between public and private dollars. It requires regular accountability audits to ensure the for-profit management company and the school are following the law. The bill also requires fee-for-service contracts and competitive bidding requirements as well as creates fiscal responsibilities of the sponsor, including a cap on the fee the sponsor receives at 3% or $500,000, whichever is less.
In addition, the bill clearly defines the responsibility of the school to adhere to rules for administrative costs and it addresses transparency when conflict of interest exist. It also requires board training for school board members and sponsors.
Dills, the chair of the House Republican Caucus, said HB 1735 builds on important reforms signed into law the last two years that added additional transparency and accountability for Oklahoma’s schools.
“I want better accountability and transparency throughout all education funding,” Dills said. “These changes to statute will provide more protections for our students and reassure our taxpayers that their dollars are being spent wisely and as intended.”
President Biden’s Assault on American Energy
By Congressman Markwayne Mullin
It was no secret President Biden planned to destroy the oil and gas industry if elected president and in the first week of his administration, he took action to do just that. American energy production plays a vital role in our country’s job creation and economic growth, especially in Oklahoma. His assault on the oil and gas industry will threaten our national security, raise prices for American families, and kill jobs.
Within hours of being sworn in, President Biden issued an executive order cancelling a key permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline. The economic impact of this is significant. It will directly cost 2,000 American jobs, with many already laid-off, and severely impact thousands more. Over 100 miles of the pipeline have already been constructed and billions of dollars have been invested in both the U.S. and Canada.
No president should have the authority to unilaterally cancel such a large project that brings good-paying jobs and economic development to our country. That’s why I introduced the Promoting Cross-Border Energy Infrastructure Act, which will prevent further political decisions from destroying the energy industry.
President Biden also signed another executive order banning new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters. During the Obama Administration, these same policies resulted in gas prices higher than $4 per gallon, utility bills that skyrocketed, and thousands of jobs lost. This is the last thing we need during a global pandemic when many families are already struggling to make ends meet.
With the stroke of a pen, years-worth of progress toward American energy independence was undone. President Biden promised to work for all Americans in his inaugural address, but these unilateral executive actions are taking our country in the wrong direction. I will continue to fight back against these reckless decisions.
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 – A bill to allow for public bodies to meet virtually has been filed for the 58th Legislative Session.
House Bill 1758, authored by Rep. Trish Ranson, D-Stillwater, permits public bodies to host meetings or allow members to attend virtually if the posted agenda announces the body’s intention to do so.
“It is the 21st Century,” Ranson said. “We have the capability to not only let the public view but also participate virtually, and we should use it.”
Ranson credits the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as inspiration for the bill.
“We got into a situation where it wasn’t safe for our public bodies to meet,” Ranson said. “The Legislature, failing to act, just compounded the problem. Putting this into place now would prevent us from being in this situation in the future, which will protect local governments’ ability to act and respond to their citizen’s needs in time of emergency.”
If you support protecting this protection for local governments, contact your area legislator in support of HB1758.
WASHINGTON— Congressman Markwayne Mullin (OK-02) today announced seven nominees from Oklahoma’s Second Congressional District to our country’s service academies. Nominations are available for the U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Air Force Academy, and U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. Receiving a nomination from a congressional office is the first step in the process of attending a service academy and a nomination does not guarantee admission.
“Attending a service academy is an invaluable experience that shapes young men and women into our next generation of leaders,” Mullin said. “This year, there was more interest than ever in applying to the academies and I am honored to nominate seven students for three of the academies. I wish these bright applicants the best as they continue the application process.”
The list below includes the names, hometowns, and high schools of the students, as well as the academy to which they have been nominated.
U.S. Naval Academy
Rowan Howell, Beggs, Okla. – Lakeside High School
Blake Simmons, Muskogee, Okla. – Muskogee High School
Christian Tidwell, McAlester, Okla. – McAlester High School
U.S. Air Force Academy
Coby Buck, Durant, Okla. – Calera High School
U.S. Military Academy at West Point
Henry Auer, Lenapah, Okla. – Oklahoma Union
Blaine Jones, Tahlequah, Okla. – Tahlequah High School
Bailey Ross, Watts, Okla. – Westville High School
OKLAHOMA CITY – House Republicans reacted favorably to components of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s State of the State speech Monday.
On the State of the State speech: “Governor Stitt’s leadership has Oklahoma positioned for big success this session. The governor will find strong support in the House for keeping the economy open, resuming in-person school, empowering parents and improving school finances. On those and all other issues, we appreciate and will reciprocate the governor’s pledge to work together and have a productive session for all Oklahomans.” - House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka
On vaccination progress: “I’m grateful Governor Stitt is actively encouraging Oklahomans to do their research and consider receiving the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to them. Herd immunity would allow Oklahomans to return to our schools, help our businesses thrive and return to our normal lives. I'm pleased our state is making significant strides in rolling out the vaccine.” - Rep. Cynthia Roe, R-Lindsay
On public school funding formula reform: “Every year our schools receive less money per student because our formula sends out money for ghost students, students that do not actually exist. We must end this practice of watering down school finances by funding schools based on the number of students they actually have in their classrooms.” - Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Bristow
On open transfer: “Our parents and children deserve to choose the education model that works best for their student, and I’m glad the governor is encouraging schools to offer multiple learning options. Our parents and students need the flexibility offered by open transfer, and a one-size-fits-all approach to education does not serve anybody’s best interest.” - Rep. Brad Boles, R-Marlow
On civil service reform: “It is very encouraging to hear Governor Stitt prioritize the type of civil service reform that can positively transform state government for employees, managers and - most importantly - the taxpaying citizens. Having worked on this issue for years, I am pleased Governor Stitt is at the table with all stakeholders this session to help get this to the finish line.” - Rep. Mike Osburn, R-Edmond
The governor’s State of the State address marked the launch of the first session of the 58th Legislature. A recording of his address is available at www.okhouse.gov.
OKLAHOMA CITY - Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, issued the following statement on the Governor's State of the State address:
“I appreciate the optimism of Governor Stitt’s state of the state speech. Senate Republicans are ready to work with the governor and our House colleagues to help Oklahoma rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, grow and diversify our economy, help state government deliver services more efficiently to taxpayers, and invest in the people of Oklahoma. I appreciate the governor’s acknowledgement of the constitutional authority of each branch of government and look forward to working with him as the session progresses.”
OKLAHOMA CITY -- House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, released the following statement in response to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s State of the State Address:
“We heard a rosy picture painted by the Governor today, but the reality is that his actions, or more often, his failure to act, have cost Oklahomans financially, emotionally, and physically.
“At times during the past year, instead of focusing on our state’s pandemic response and at times our surging COVID case numbers and hospitalizations, Gov. Stitt has been distracted by national politics and political patronage.
“Today’s State of the State speech was no different. It was far from the call for unity Oklahomans desire. I’ve listened in the House Chamber to 11 different State of the State Addresses. Today’s speech was by far the most divisive. Unfortunately, the governor, today, chose to bring DC politics to Oklahoma, delivering more of a campaign speech than the united message that we need as a state and as a nation.
“The version of the last year that the governor sold to Oklahomans today was nothing more than revisionist history.
“Let me be clear, as COVID-19 rages in Oklahoma - January was our worst month, yet - no state wishes they would have responded to this pandemic as Oklahoma has.
“From his own lack of personal responsibility to the lack of public health policies enacted, Governor’s Stitt’s response to this pandemic has been an example of failed leadership.”
By State Rep. Rick West
Last week, I attended several budget meetings at the state Capitol.
The first was a presentation by State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister. She said the State Department of Education is asking for an additional $17 million this year to pay for health care for teachers, bringing the total for the benefit to $552,578,785. She also wants $60,600 for textbooks, a $27,600 increase. Her total ask from the state for Fiscal Year 2022 is almost $3.2 billion – an almost $191.4 million increase. Another almost $1.6 billion is expected to come to the department from the federal government, including almost $826 million Coronavirus relief funds. Much of the federal funding covers child nutrition and special education services as well as the other federal title programs.
We also heard from the Oklahoma Regents for Higher Education. For Fiscal Year 2022, the Regents are asking for an additional $88.8 million over their FY21 appropriation – a total of more than $859.2 million. Part of that is an additional $4 million to fully reimburse colleges and universities for the concurrent enrollment programs for high school juniors and seniors. Concurrent enrollment is a great program. It allows high school students to take college classes at no charge to themselves or their families. This earns them some college credit and gives them a good start if they decide to pursue a college degree.
Also last week, I attended the Appropriations and Budget for Public Safety Subcommittee meeting where we heard from the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET). I questioned the director on current qualifications that allow people with resident-alien status to be CLEET certified. In other words, people who are not citizens of the United States of American can get certified to arrest citizens. My House Bill 1118 would correct this by removing that language from statute.
We also heard from Department of Corrections Director Scott Crow. I got to ask him about prison farms. We have beef cattle and dairy operations in McAlester and a beef cattle operation in Stringtown, which sell their products to other facilities in the system. The catch is if wardens find cheaper prices elsewhere, they are not allowed to purchase them. My contract purchasing bill will help address this problem and others for our prisons and other state agencies.
I also asked Director Crow how big of a problem contraband tobacco is in our prisons. He held his arms wide open and said huge. My House Bill 1114 would correct this. It would allow inmates the ability to purchase tobacco from the prison canteens to smoke in designated areas. This would cut down on contraband and result in fewer write-ups that keep inmates in prison longer.
I’ll talk more in depth about each of these bills as they make their way through the legislative process. In the meantime, make sure to listen for me on KPRV radio every Thursday morning during the legislative session, I will give updates from the Capitol as well as discuss local issues. I want to make sure you know you always have a voice and a listening ear in state government.
If I can help you with anything, feel free to call my Capitol office at (405) 557-7413 or email me at .
- Rick West represents District 3 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, which includes part of LeFlore County.