Whatzup Politics (1053)
By State Rep. Mike Sanders
OKLAHOMA CITY – House Majority Leader Mike Sanders (R-Kingfisher) said close to 500 new volunteer firefighters have joined rural fire departments four years after he successfully ran legislation that eliminated the age limit for new volunteers. He expects to see an even greater increase with the passage of another law that takes effect today.
House Bill 2005, authored by Sanders, took effect Nov. 1, 2015. The law eliminated the 45-year-old age limit for new firefighters by giving them the ability to join a department without the requirement that they be added to the state’s pension plan.
This year, Sanders saw his House Bill 2051 passed and signed into law. The measure, which became effective today, allows retired firefighters who are already part of the state’s pension program to return to service in volunteer fire departments without it affecting their current retirement benefit and without it counting as an accrued retirement benefit against the state’s pension plan.
“Saving lives and property is behind my commitment to continue to increase the number of firefighters who serve our state, especially our volunteers who help run our rural fire service programs,” Sanders said. “By allowing those who are willing to serve to do so without harming the state’s pension program gives us more resources to protect our citizens and our communities.”
Sanders said about 85 percent of the firefighters in Oklahoma are volunteers, and 95 percent of the state’s fire departments are certified with the Rural Fire Defense Program, meaning they serve rural populations.
State law, however, previously prohibited willing volunteers over the age of 45 from becoming firefighters because the state’s pension and retirement plan simply could not afford them.
Sanders said he asked constituents above the age of 45 if they would be interested in volunteering and about whether or not they needed a pension. Most said they already had pensions but would be more than willing to serve.
Sanders worked with former Council of Firefighter Training (COFT) Executive Director the late Jon Hansen on HB 2005 and with the Oklahoma State Firefighters Association on HB 2051. Lawmakers and rural fire coordinators from across the state helped in the drafting of both bills.
In addition to saving lives and property, Sanders said the laws also can help lower insurance rates.
House Bills 2005 and 2051 both were approved unanimously in the Oklahoma House of Representatives and the Oklahoma Senate before being signed into law by the governor.
By Congressman Markwayne Mullin
Under the guidance of President Trump, our nation continues to make the world a safer, freer, and more prosperous place. While Pelosi Democrats are busy playing politics on Capitol Hill with secret impeachment proceedings and closed-door hearings, our president is hard at work for the American people. This leadership is what our country and the world needs.
Our men and women in uniform have diligently pursued ISIS and other terror organizations across the globe. Our nation has made incredible strides in defeating the threat that terrorism poses to our country, our families, and our way of life.
Just this week our nation located and brought the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to justice. Days later, they also found his likely successor and completed that mission. Regardless of what is happening in Washington, D.C., our men and women in uniform go out each day to uphold our Constitution and protect us from our enemies. I want to thank them and their families for their service to our country.
With the partisan bickering and the attacks our president faces daily from political foes, important missions like this one could have easily been overlooked and sidelined. Instead, his focus remains on what is good for our country and puts its priorities first.
The House of Representatives should take a page out of his playbook and turn our focus back to the American people. Playing political games only distracts us from improving the lives of everyday Americans.
OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Zack Taylor (R-Seminole) today commented on a new law that will give people with felonies on their records the opportunity to seek occupational licensing for a number of professions as long as the crimes are not violent or sexual in nature.
Taylor was the author of House Bill 1373, known as “Fresh Start,” which takes effect Nov. 1. The measure reforms occupational licensure in conjunction with criminal justice reform.
“This will give people that have made mistakes in their past a second chance at professional licensing,” Taylor said. “This doesn’t hide a person’s criminal record or require a business to hire them, but it does remove the barrier of restrictive licensing in many cases.”
Taylor said his effort is aimed at helping reduce Oklahoma’s incarceration rate in a way that still protects public safety. The law applies to most licensed trades, he said.
Previously, state law was vague in the matter of occupational licenses, requiring that applicants be “of good moral character or have not been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude.” HB 1373 requires the state entity charged with oversight of occupational licensure to explicitly list the specific criminal records that would disqualify an applicant for a particular occupation, and allows for denial of licensure only for a conviction of a crime that substantially relates to the practice of that occupation and poses a reasonable threat to public safety.
The measure also specifies that disqualification for a criminal conviction may last for a period no longer than five years, as long as the crime is not violent or sexual in nature and there have been no convictions within that five-year period.
The bill passed the House on final reading by a vote of 90-2 and the state Senate by a vote of 42-0 before being signed into law by Gov. Stitt.
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By Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy CEO Joe Dorman
One of the pleasures of getting to work with the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) is meeting people who are so inspired to help young Oklahomans that they dedicate a significant portion of their time, money and livelihood to this great cause.
Last week, I highlighted great work being done by adults on behalf of children. This week, I am pleased to dedicate this column space to honoring Oklahomans under the age of eighteen who have done remarkable work to help their peers: other youth. These young Oklahomans have been honored with OICA’s Melvin and Jasmine Moran Kidizenship Award, presented annually to children under 18 who have elevated a service-oriented program to new heights. The recognition includes a trophy and a donation to them or their program.
We are proud to name this award after the Morans, who decided many years ago that Oklahoma needed a children’s museum to provide a place for young people to play and learn. They worked with community leaders in Seminole to establish this place of joy and it has grown to be one of most beloved destinations in the state for young people.
This year, three young Oklahomans were selected by a committee and the OICA Board of Directors to receive the Kidizenship Award.
The first is Lilly Coate, a 13 year old who founded Lilly’s Coats for Kids. When she was 8, Lilly saw a small child without a coat in the winter and she wanted to help. She formed her organization and seven years later, she has collected more than 2,500 coats for children in the Oklahoma City area.
The next is Mary Owen, a 17 year old who founded Foster Family Night Out, a program to serve Grady County and the surrounding areas. Mary has worked with peers to help dedicate an evening of fun for foster youth and their bridge families and it has turned into a monthly event. This provides a time for youth to connect and foster parents to have time to run necessary errands.
Our third winner is William Harkin, a 17 year-old student-athlete who has turned his passion for swimming into a way to give back to the community. William volunteers for King Marlin Swim School to teach underprivileged Oklahomans to swim. He also serves as a swim coach for USA Swimming Diversity & Inclusion swim meets.
Each of these students do far more good work than we had room to mention. We are proud of each of these outstanding teenagers for the work they have accomplished and look forward to the many great things ahead for them as they approach adulthood. By recognizing their talent now, we hope this will encourage them to continue their great works throughout their lives, much as Melvin and Jasmine Moran have done.
I am also pleased to announce that OICA will undertake a new initiative in 2020. We are creating a youth advisory council to help provide better insight for us into youth issues. The Oklahoma Youth Parliament will meet quarterly, and will discuss current problems faced and learn about state government and advocacy. Each youth program that is an OICA member will be allowed one member of our parliament to participate. Watch more for this at oica.org in the next few weeks or how to become involved.
The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy was established in 1983 by a group of citizens, to create a strong advocacy network that would provide a voice for the needs of children and youth in Oklahoma, particularly those in the state’s care and those growing up amid poverty, violence, abuse and neglect, disparities, or other situations that put their lives and future at risk.
Our mission statement: “Creating awareness, taking action and changing policy to improve the health, safety and well-being of Oklahoma’s children.“
State Rep. Lundy Kiger (R-Poteau) today commented on the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) final report on Heavener water and the amount of damages owed by Veolia North America.
“When you read the full letter from DEQ to Veolia North America explaining the number of violations with detailed analysis, you get a crystal clear picture of the total neglect and incompetence by this French company and their employees and why DEQ states in the report that there's now a real threat to the public's health in Heavener,” Kiger said.
“With high Turbidity (cloudy and dirty water) with possible bacteria and living organisms, along with low Ph that creates corrosive water and little to no chlorine, this puts the people in Heavener at a higher risk of health concerns.
“A low Ph over time creates corrosive water, and this water enters the water distribution system (pipes) and is sent into homes. A low Ph water is one of several reasons the city's water pipes have been eaten away and have broken and why so many water breaks occurred when the city prepared for DEQ's visit. The city had over nine water line breaks in three weeks.
“Imagine, if corrosive water from low Ph water can eat away the insides of a metal pipe – breaking up the metal and loosening the trapped chemicals to flake off and flow down the water pipes into the homes - what can this same corrosive water do to someone's stomach when the water is consumed, or if that person is very young or older and frail and they are showering in it? The human body isn't made to endure corrosive water; this is why it's so important that municipalities produce the cleanest water possible.
“Because of receiving so many health complaints from Heavener residents I asked the public to email me at to tell me their stories of health problems related to skin rashes with burns and sometime scarring, as well as illnesses related to unknown stomach viruses. I'm also receiving emails from people who grew up in Heavener and suffered from some of these symptoms and still continue to receive medication for their health problems.
“My office is compiling each of these stories, and I've asked the State Health Department to begin taking a close look at each of the health complaints in Heavener to see if this warrants a closer look. The Health Department agreed to comply.
“I want to make certain whether this corrosive water has caused senseless health issues for the men, women and children in this town or not. If it can be confirmed that some or many of these illnesses has been caused by the dirty noncompliant water produced by Veolia, then I'll do everything possible to hold this company responsible in their final amount owed, which would well exceed $3 million.
“I have other concerns related to what this company has or hasn't done while getting paid almost $200,000 a month from the city, and I strongly believe that Veolia owes the people of Heavener compensation for not only health-related issues, but for personal property that has been damaged or destroyed for the past 25 years.
“I have seen and heard countless stories of appliances, clothing, water filtration systems and swimming pools rendered useless at large costs to these citizens, including water bills averaging over $100 each month. And to make it worse, these people can't even drink or use the water for many of their daily needs, and many who can afford it are buying bottled water to drink and cook. But not everyone is able to buy $100 of bottled water each month, and many of these people are making complaints that may be valid.
“So no, a fine of $3 million isn't nearly enough for this company that has almost destroyed this town and the health of these residents and the economics of the businesses located in Heavener! Maybe a good start while Veolia is working to fix the neglect they created at the water treatment plant is for Veolia to consider replacing all of the water pipes in town that this company helped destroy over the past 25 years. Then the next step would be for Veolia to pack up and move out of Heavener and the state of Oklahoma for good!”
By Congressman Markwayne Mullin
The opioid epidemic is personal to all of us. It is blind to party affiliation, socioeconomic status, geographic location, or age. We all know someone who has been affected by the opioid epidemic, whether it’s a friend, family member, or loved one.
Too many lives have been cut short by overdoses. In 2017, our country lost 70,237 people, including 775 Oklahomans, to drug overdoses. Since the start of the 21st century, we have lost nearly the same number of lives to the opioid crisis as we lost in World War II.
There is no silver bullet to remedy the opioid epidemic, but both sides worked together to turn the tide of the crisis by passing legislation that has had real impact on lives in our communities. One year ago, President Trump signed the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act into law. It is the single largest congressional effort to combat a drug crisis in history.
The SUPPORT Act advances treatment and recovery initiatives for patients across the country, helping them to get access to the treatment they need. Communities also now have resources that help them find grants and other funding opportunities to combat the epidemic. Additionally, the SUPPORT Act takes steps to protect our communities and bolster our efforts to fight deadly synthetic drugs, like fentanyl.
Two pieces of legislation that I sponsored were included in the SUPPORT Act: the Every Prescription Conveyed Securely (EPCS) Act and the Tribal Addiction and Recovery Act (TARA). With doctors writing 710 prescriptions for every 1,000 individuals insured in Oklahoma in 2017, it is clear we need to bring more accountability to opioid prescribing. The EPCS Act mandates e-prescriptions for all controlled substances under Medicare Part D so prescriptions can be tracked electronically across state lines.
Combatting the opioid crisis in Indian Country has been an uphill battle. American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest overdose rates among minorities and tribal health is chronically underfunded. Originally tribes had to partition states for access to opioid grants. TARA protects tribal sovereignty by providing tribes with direct access to State Targeted Response grants to fight the opioid crisis. My bill provides tribes with the resources needed to turn the tide of the opioid crisis in Indian Country.
Now, we’re seeing progress. Preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows that overdose deaths are declining for the first time in nearly three decades.
The SUPPORT Act is a shining example of what can get done when we put politics aside and work together. But we can’t stop now. There is more that can be done and I remain committed to fighting back until we end this crisis once and for all.
Voters in LeFlore County who want to have absentee ballots mailed to them for the November 12 Special Election for the Town of Shady Point and Bokoshe School District should apply now, County Election Board Secretary Sharon Steele said today. Although the County Election Board can accept applications for absentee ballots until 5.00p.m. on Wednesday, November 6, Steele urged voters who want to vote by absentee ballot to apply early.
Absentee ballot application forms are available at the County Election Board office located at 103 N. Church St. An online version of the form can be filled out and submitted electronically at: www.elections.ok.gov
A print form can also be downloaded at that address.
Ballots must be in the hands of County Election Board officials by 7 p.m. on Election Day to be counted.
Steele said any registered voter may vote by absentee ballot in any election in which he/she is eligible to vote.
However, a voter must be registered and reside at an address within the geographical boundaries of a school district or a municipality to be eligible to vote in school district or municipal elections.
It is not necessary to give a reason for voting absentee.
" While anyone can vote absentee without giving a reason, the law still provides several advantages to absentee voters in some categories," Steele said.
By stating one of the following reasons on their applications, absentee voters can activate special conditions that make it easier for them to use absentee ballots.
The reasons are:
• Voters who are physically incapacitated and voters who care for physically incapacitated persons who cannot be left unattended may vote absentee. They may apply only by mail, by fax, by email, online or via an
agent who is at least 16 years of age and who is not employed by or related within the third degree of consanguinity or affinity to any person whose name appears on the ballot.
• Voters who are confined to nursing homes in the county may vote absentee. An Absentee Voting Board actually goes to the nursing home a few days before the election, sets up a small polling place and allows these persons to vote under circumstances similar to those at a regular precinct polling place. They may apply only by mail, by fax, by email, online or via an agent who is at least 16 years of age and who is not employed by or related within the third degree of consanguinity or affinity to any person whose name appears on the ballot.
• Military personnel and residents of the county living overseas and the spouses and dependents of each group are eligible receive absentee ballots. These voters may apply only by mail, fax, or by email. Military personnel should contact the Voting Service Officers in their units for application forms and additional information or visit the Federal Voting Assistance Program website (www.fvap.gov/oklahoma) for more information and instructions.
Residents of Oklahoma living overseas can obtain the same materials from any United States military installation and from United States Embassies and Consulates as well as on the FVAP website.
This was a joint release done with Senator Allen and Lundy Kiger
OKLAHOMA CITY – A dangerous five-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 59 (State Highway 9) in LeFlore County was finally advanced on the Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s $6.5 billion 2020-2027 Eight-Year Construction Work Plan. Local officials and citizens have been eagerly awaiting the road repairs for several years. According to ODOT, the section of four-lane highway has been delayed in the plan since 2005 because of alignment issues, increased costs and state and federal budget cuts.
State Sen. Mark Allen, R-Spiro, and Rep. Lundy Kiger, R-Poteau, were pleased with last week’s announcement and looking forward to the final phase of the project in FY’24.
“This is exciting news for residents and business owners who regularly drive on Highway 59 as well as visitors to the area. Not only will this new project improve the safety of the roadway but it will ensure a smoother ride, which benefits us all but especially local businesses when drivers aren’t avoiding bad roads,” Allen said. “On behalf of the people of LeFlore County and myself, I want to thank ODOT and our division engineer for their hard work in making this project a reality, and also Representative Kiger for continually working with me to better the quality of life for our citizens.”
The letting of the Right-of-Way portion of the project is scheduled to begin in mid-November of this year. The project will take place on US-59 from Sunset Corners extending west five miles. This first phase is estimated to cost $7.13 million.
The second phase will be the relocation of utilities, which is set to begin in FY’21 at an estimated cost of around $3.3 million. The grading of the road and bridge reconstruction is set to take place in FY’23 at an estimated cost of $10.9 million. The project will be completed with the surfacing of the roadway scheduled to begin in FY’24 at an estimated cost of $25 million.
“I want to thank ODOT Director Tim Gatz and Division 2 Engineer Anthony Echelle for recognizing the danger and importance of moving this project up and to begin letting the Right of Way next month,” Kiger said. “I also want to say that I'm proud to team up with Senator Allen on our district highway projects and making ODOT aware of the dangers of some of our highways, especially Highway 9 going west from Sunset Corners. Senator Allen has been a constant champion for highway projects over the past nine years in our area.”
Kiger also thanked ODOT for installing the turn lane on Long Lake Hill noting that it helped greatly in reducing possible accidents involving RVs and trailers trying to turn into the resort as well as cars racing to the top of Long Lake Hill traveling north to Poteau.
In all, the Eight-Year Plan includes nearly 1,400 projects. Another LeFlore County project approved for FY’20 is an intersection modification at US-271 and SH-112 at an estimated cost of $1.06 million.
In FY’21, the US-270 bridge over Caston Creek nearly one mile south of the US-271 Junction will be reconstructed at an estimated cost of just over $6.1 million.
Three more FY’24 projects were approved for LeFlore County including two new bridges at US-271 over Fourche Maline Creek 26 miles north of the Pushmataha County line and along SH-112 over Poteau River nearly half a mile north of Poteau. Another bridge along US-271 over an abandoned railroad track will also be removed just over 1.5 miles south of the US-270 Junction. The three projects are estimated to cost just over $15.5 million.
ODOT further explained that sometimes states do not have shovel ready projects available to start and cannot utilize their federal transportation appropriations. Those funds are reallocated through fourth quarter adjustments to states that do have projects available. In May, ODOT was informed that Oklahoma would be receiving $62 million in additional funding through the adjustment, which allowed the US-59 project to be moved up in the Eight-Year Plan.
Representatives Hern & Mullin denied access to non-classified impeachment inquiry materials, demand transparency
WASHINGTON— This morning, Representatives Kevin Hern (OK-01) and Markwayne Mullin (OK-02) requested access to the non-classified transcript of Ambassador Volker’s testimony with the Intelligence Committee but were turned away by Committee staff.
Reps. Hern & Mullin reaction after rejection from Intelligence Committee
Later in the morning, Reps. Hern and Mullin again attempted access to the SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility) with over 40 Members of Congress and were able to gain access to the Intelligence Committee hearing, briefly, before Chairman Adam Schiff ended the hearing.
“Many of my constituents didn’t believe me when I told them that Members of Congress were being barred from access to impeachment materials,” said Rep. Hern. “Oklahomans are being completely shut out of this process – not one of the five representatives in our delegation are on any of the committees participating in the impeachment inquiry. Since this inquiry is happening behind closed doors, there are no Oklahomans with access to important documents, testimonies, and hearings. Instead, three of Congress’s most radical, anti-Trump socialists are there: Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. To watch this process move forward like this is baffling. I urge all Americans to keep fighting, call Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Schiff every day and demand transparency in the process. You deserve to know what’s going on deep in the heart of our Capitol.”
“The most frustrating thing is that we’re talking about impeaching the President of the United States and it’s not transparent,” Mullin said. “Chairman Schiff and the Democrats won’t let other Members of Congress into the hearings or open them up to the public. Instead they are leaking one-sided statements that don’t give us the full picture of what’s happening in the hearings. The past two impeachments, Nixon and Clinton, were open and transparent for the American people to see, but this is nothing more than a political witch hunt.”
By Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy CEO Joe Dorman
The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) exists to help improve conditions for children and to promote their well-being. It is a broad mission, which means we are active on many fronts: educating the public and lawmakers about our issues, helping to craft policy solutions and push legislation, training advocates, and in some cases (like OKFoster Wishes, our holiday gift-drive for foster kids), directly providing services and resources to children.
Sometimes, however, our role is less direct, although just as rewarding. There are many individuals in the state outside of OICA who are doing excellent work on behalf of children, and we think part of our job is to shine a light on that work. At our Fall Forum, held earlier this month, we did just that by presenting two awards to individuals whose efforts on behalf of children are inspiring.
The first award we handed out was the Laura Choate Resilience Award. For those of you who do not know her story, Laura was a child in Oklahoma’s juvenile justice system in the late 1970s. Like many children in her position, she was physically abused within that system and left traumatized. But Laura persevered, becoming a plaintiff in the “Terry D.” lawsuit against the state which brought to light widespread abuses and helped to transform and dramatically improve conditions for children in state custody. She continues to be a passionate advocate for children to this day.
The Laura Choate Resilience Award is given to someone who endures trauma as a child but who rises above that trauma to make a positive impact for Oklahoma’s children. The OICA selection committee was proud to give this award to Joyce Rock, a specialist with the Oklahoma State Department of Education who found herself in a generational cycle of poverty, becoming pregnant as a teenager. She had someone believe in her and encourage her, which led her to become a teacher. She then went on to work for the state in some of the most high-risk school districts to become that a role model for countless young Oklahomans. We are inspired by her story and proud to highlight her achievements.
Our next award was established to recognize an unsung hero in child advocacy. The Steven A. Novick Advocacy Award was created to highlight the work of someone who dedicates their life to making the lives of children better. Mr. Novick was the attorney who pushed forward with the “Terry D” Lawsuit in which Laura Choate was a plaintiff. His legal success restructured how state government treated justice-involved youth.
OICA was honored to present the Stephen A. Novick Advocacy Award to Martha Cordell, a supporter of Tulsa Lawyers for Children. In addition to representing abused children, she supported a two-year research project to identify how to improve legal representation for children in foster care. We are very grateful to Martha for her dedication to Oklahoma’s children.
Next week, I will share with you the winners of the Melvin and Jasmine Moran Kidizenship Award. This award, created as a way to recognize the dedication of young Oklahomans who help other young Oklahomans, carries on in the tradition of the Kids Who Care Award, presented by KOCO Channel 5 and the Junior League of Oklahoma City. Our goal is to highlight the great work done by those under the age of 18 to make our state a better place.
There are many ways to help children, but one of them is to simply recognize and reward the good work being done on their behalf. Our hope at OICA is that by bringing attention to these dedicated and selfless individuals we are able to inspire others to follow in their footsteps and accomplish great things on behalf of Oklahoma’s kids.
(left to right) OICA CEO Joe Dorman, Martha Cordell and Steven Novick.
(left to right) Joyce Rock, OICA CEO Joe Dorman, Deborah Cornelison, and Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister. Deborah is a school support specialist at the Oklahoma State Department of Education and nominated Joyce Rock for her award.