Whatzup Politics (1053)
By State Rep. Lundy Kiger
The biggest financial impact to ever affect SE Oklahoma and Western Arkansas was the state’s largest single private investment in the state until 2002 – the AES Shady Point Cogeneration plant.
The new coal-fired facility, which had the latest technology at the time, became and is the cleanest coal-fired power plant in the state and possibly the nation, until recent developments.
With the plant’s technology, this facility is capable of utilizing local Oklahoma coal, out-of-state Wyoming coal, tire chips, chipped railroad ties and other types of solid fuels and natural gas.
With the use of state coal and limestone, this plant helped to create approximately 700 to 1,200 direct and indirect local jobs that changed the economies of LeFlore County and the region like never before.
All of this economic impact was at risk with the AESSP power purchase agreement with OG&E coming to an end. But, with the diligent work of the people of AESSP, this plant was selected in the OG&E Request for Proposals (RFP) as one of two winning bids and later approved by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission by a vote of 3-0.
If AESSP had not been selected as a winner in the OG&E RFP, hundreds of rural jobs would have been lost, along with many home and car loans with local banks also at risk due to possible job losses.
As members of the regions of SE Oklahoma and Western Arkansas, we owe the men and women of AESSP our congratulations of staying the course and working diligently in meeting the requirements and winning the OG&E RFP.
Thank you to our coal mining and limestone people, trucking and the many others who helped keep this plant running.
To the hard working people of what was AES Shady Point yesterday, and now OG&E today, thank you to each of you.
And let me also say thank you to the people of OG&E for helping to keep this wonderful asset operational and remaining a large financial impact to SE Oklahoma and Western Arkansas for years to come.
WASHINGTON— Today, Congressmen Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) and Collin Peterson (D-MN) introduced the Rural Broadband Network Advancement (RBNA) Act, which would invest in expanding broadband access in rural areas.
“My district is the only congressional district in the country where broadband is available to less than half the population,” Mullin said. “Rural consumers need the bandwidth necessary to deliver educational opportunities for children and adults, telemedicine care for patients, news and entertainment content to consumers, and more markets for businesses’ goods and services. This legislation will ensure high cost, rural areas are not stranded and rural Americans are not left behind in the Internet economy.”
“Access to rural broadband is no longer a luxury, it’s important for ensuring folks can compete and connect on a global scale,” said Peterson. “I’ve been fighting for years to ensure rural America has the same kind of access as those living in our urban areas.”
The RBNA Act establishes a new program at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that would collect Network User Fees from edge providers (Netflix, AmazonVideo, etc.) based on the data transported over the last mile of networks. User fees would then be invested by the rural broadband providers to help build, maintain and operate robust broadband networks in high cost rural areas. All rural broadband providers would be eligible for the program if they provide broadband access in high cost rural areas to fewer than 100,000 customers within a state and provide the speeds required by the FCC.
In Oklahoma’s Second District, less than half of the residents have access to broadband Internet, a luxury most people across the country have enjoyed for years. More than 45 percent of individuals living on tribal land in Oklahoma don’t have access to high-speed internet.
Office would provide data to lawmakers, public on agency budgets and performance
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Senate on Tuesday gave approval to legislation creating the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT), an office that would provide independent data to lawmakers and the public on state agency budgets and program performance.
The highlights of Senate Bill 1:
• LOFT will conduct performance evaluations of agencies, programs, or specific divisions;
• LOFT would have open access to all agency data and budgets;
• LOFT would be overseen by a bipartisan committee of Senate and House members;
• LOFT would have a nonpartisan, independent staff of highly educated professionals;
• LOFT reports would be available to the public.
“More transparency in agency spending and program performance will increase and enhance accountability of how tax dollars are used. LOFT will increase transparency by providing lawmakers and the public with independent data on agency budgets and program performance,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma and author of SB 1.
“For too long, lawmakers have been dependent on agencies or those who benefit from state spending for spending and program performance data. That’s not the best system of accountability. The people of Oklahoma deserve and expect that their tax dollars will be used in the best and most efficient manner. LOFT will be a watchdog for the public and policy makers by providing better information to track and evaluate how tax dollars are spent.”
The Fiscal Year 2020 budget includes $1.7 million in funding for LOFT. SB 1 goes to the House for consideration, and if approved, would go to the governor’s desk.
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Senate on Monday passed a bill that provides increased classroom time for students beginning with the 2021-2022 school year.
Senate Bill 441 was one of four agenda items of Senate Republicans for the 2019 session. The bill passed the Senate on Monday by a 30-16 vote.
“More instructional time is a critical element in the formula of student success. That’s why Senate Republicans made this piece of legislation one of our four agenda items for this year’s session. When we look at education policy, everything we do should put the focus on the student. Senate Bill 441 puts student achievement squarely in focus by getting them more time in the classroom with a quality, professional educator,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City.
Senator Marty Quinn, R-Claremore, is the author of the bill.
“Everyone can agree that it’s beneficial for a student to spend more time in the classroom learning from a quality teacher. More time in the classroom should help improve student outcomes and potentially reduce the rates of college remedial enrollment. It’s also important to preserve the right of local school districts to make decisions that are best to meet their needs. Senate Bill 441 is a great piece of legislation that puts the focus on the students and lets local schools make the ultimate decision on their school calendar. This bill has been the culmination of a lot of hard work by members of the Senate and I appreciate those senators who supported this bill,” Quinn said.
The bill now goes to the House. If the House approves SB 441, the bill would go to the governor’s desk for consideration.
Key parts of SB 441:
For the 2019-2020 and the 2020-2021 school year, there would be no change to existing law so school districts can choose to pursue 180 days of instruction or 1,080 hours of instruction with no restrictions.
Beginning in 2021-2022 school year school districts will have three options:
165 days of classroom time
1,080 hours with a minimum of 165 days of classroom time
1,080 hours with no minimum of days of classroom time if districts are able to meet the minimum guidelines for school performance and cost savings
The Oklahoma State Department of Education will promulgate rules on minimum guidelines focusing on student achievement and fiscal savings to receive an exemption.
The Oklahoma Legislature would have to approve the State Department of Education exemption rules.
Budget Puts $230 Million into Savings, New Money into Classrooms, Teacher Pay Raises and Healthcare
OKLAHOMA CITY – The House of Representatives passed the Fiscal Year-2020 general appropriations bill today, approving an $8.1 billion state budget that includes historic savings, pay raises for teachers and state employees and builds upon the historic investment made in common education by the Legislature last year.
The budget is a $633 million increase – or 7.8 percent – over the FY-2019 appropriated budget. The Legislature provided an additional $157.7 million for common education, which comes just one year after providing $480 million in new funding for public schools. The Legislature has now increased funding for public schools 26.25 percent during the last two years. The $157.7 million in new funding includes an average $1,220 teacher pay raise and $74 million for classrooms and increases to flex benefits.
The budget also includes $230 million in savings, with $29 million of that set aside in an FMAP Preservation fund to be available for future reductions in Oklahoma’s Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) rate, a formula used by the federal government to determine each state’s match rate for Medicaid. Those rates fluctuate based upon each state’s per capita income levels. The remaining $201 million will stay in the state’s General Revenue Fund to be saved for future economic downturns. Combined with expected deposits in the state’s Rainy Day Fund, Oklahoma will have close to $1.2 billion in savings by the end of June.
The Legislature provided $37.7 million to give state employees a pay raise for the second consecutive year and an additional $3.3 million to higher education to fully fund concurrent enrollment options, which allows seniors the opportunity to earn college credit while still in high school. The Fiscal Year 2019 budget included $7.5 million for concurrent enrollment, meaning the Legislature has increased funding for the program by $10.8 million since last year, bringing the program’s annual budget up to $11.7 million. Higher education also received a total increase of $28 million for the second consecutive year over the previous year’s appropriation, giving them more than $56 million in new funding during the last two years.
Lawmakers provided $2 million to decrease the wait lists for the Developmental Disability Services (DDSD) wait list and $8 million to increase provider reimbursement rates by 4 percent for doctors to care for those DDSD patients. The budget also provides funding to increase Medicaid provider reimbursement rates by 5 percent for doctors and healthcare facilities and funding to create an incentive reimbursement program for nursing homes that would improve health outcomes and quality of life for patients.
The State Auditor’s Office received a $700,000 increase to hire new auditors, and lawmakers approved $1.7 million to create a legislative-level budget office to give the House and Senate more resources to review agency budgets and analyze programs and services.
The budget also fully funds the Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s 8-Year Construction Work Plan to maintain and build new roads and bridges and provides an additional $30 million for the County Improvements for Roads and Bridges (CIRB) Program on top of their annual $120 million budget.
Lawmakers also provided a $3 million increase to the Rural Economic Action Plan (REAP) for economic development in rural communities, a $1 million increase for county extension offices and $19 million for the governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund, which helps attract new businesses to Oklahoma.
“House Republicans had several priorities at the start of the 2019 legislative session that we based on conversations we had with voters on the doorsteps during the summer,” said House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka. “Those priorities included another teacher pay raise on top of the historic pay raise we provided last session, more money for the classroom on top of the large investment we made to public education last session, reestablishing our county infrastructure investment plan, more resources devoted toward rooting out waste and inefficiencies in government spending and increasing our savings to be better prepared for future economic downturns. We have accomplished all of those goals with this budget agreement.
“We believe increasing teacher pay directly addresses the teacher shortage by incentivizing new teachers into the classroom and keeping the veteran teachers we already have, and we think the nearly 1,200 new teachers we have hired since the previous pay raise reinforces that belief. We have provided nearly $640 million in new funding and increased the total common education budget by more than 26 percent during the last two years. We also prioritized funding for nursing homes, state employees and corrections officers and concurrent enrollment programs for high school seniors. This budget is an investment in Oklahoma, and I am very grateful for my colleagues in the House for getting this bill across the finish line.”
“I said last year to ‘not let the perfect be the enemy of the good,’ but this year I said to ‘not let the perfect be the enemy of the great’,” said House Appropriations and Budget Chairman Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston. “The Fiscal Year 2019 budget was the best budget that I had seen since I arrived in the House, and I believe the Fiscal Year 2020 budget is substantially better. This is a great budget, and it has a little bit of everything, including new funding to meet the needs of our most vital government agencies and a historic savings of surplus funds that will put future Legislatures in a much better financial position than we arrived in.”
House Bill 2765 passed out of the House by a vote of 76-23 and now heads to the Senate for consideration.
OKLAHOMA CITY – Members of the Oklahoma House Democratic Education Caucus released the following statements in response to the House voting 72 to 20 to remove the April 1 public education funding deadline.
“Noncompliance is not a good reason to repeal a state statute,” said Rep. Kelly Albright (D-Midwest City). “This legislation feels like an attack on education advocates that continue to fight for proper education funding.”
“Oklahoma’s Legislature has one constitutional mandate: to pass a balanced budget,” said Rep. Andy Fugate (D-OKC). “That should always be our top priority ahead of ALL other business. That’s our job and our responsibility to the people of Oklahoma. If we made this Constitutional obligation a priority like we should, meeting this deadline wouldn’t be impossible, it would be easy.”
“I just voted against a measure on the floor to repeal the statutory requirement to approve an education budget by April 1 of each year,” said Rep. Melissa Provenzano (D-Tulsa). “School districts could plan better for the coming year if they knew their budget by the April 1 deadline. The requirement has only been met twice since inception. It’s possible and it’s not too much to ask. This is an optics issue, plain and simple. Nobody likes to look bad when they can’t get their job done on time. Is that the best reason to repeal this law? We don’t think so.”
“I find it troubling that the powers that be can simply change a statute just because they don’t want to follow a statute,” said Rep. Jacob Rosecrants (D-Norman). “Providing a fully funded budget for our schools by April 1st shows that we indeed do prioritize our schools. Taking it away is a step back, not a step forward. Funding education should always be our number one priority.”
“The April 1 deadline was put in place to help Oklahoma administrators have the ability to plan ahead,” said Rep. John Waldron (D-Tulsa). “We should be striving to meet this goal every year not working to get rid of it. Our education professionals desperately need stability and consistency from the Legislature, and I am afraid that removing this deadline is a step away from both.”
WASHINGTON— Congressman Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) released the following statement after voting against Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats’ Obamacare bailout package that passed the House yesterday. The package uses savings from bills to lower the cost of prescription drugs, which amounts to nearly $5 billion, to prop up Obamacare.
“We had a real chance to work together to lower the cost of prescription drugs, but Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Leadership showed us once again they are more interested in playing politics than making a difference for the American people,” Mullin said. “Both sides have been working together to address this problem. We passed legislation to make prescription drugs more affordable out of the Energy and Commerce Committee with unanimous support. But instead of bringing those bills to the floor on their own, Nancy Pelosi packed it with a poison pill Obamacare bailout, all but ensuring the legislation will never get signed into law. It’s disappointing that the Democrats turned a bipartisan effort into a partisan, political show and continue to put politics above the American people.”
Mullin supported the bipartisan drug pricing legislation when it was passed out of the Energy and Commerce Committee last month. He recently cosponsored H.R. 2700, which contains all three bills to lower the cost of prescription drugs that passed out of committee. The bill uses the nearly $5 billion in savings to extend funding for one year for all the public health programs, including community health centers and the special diabetes programs. Funding for these public health programs is set to expire at the end of September 2019. Click here to read the text.
By Congressman Markwayne Mullin
It’s no secret that Oklahoma and Texas have a rich history in oil and gas. In the early 1900s, people from all over the country rushed to the two states to drill and communities were built around the oilfields. To this day, thousands of families depend on the oil and gas industry for their livelihoods and the states rely on the economic opportunity it brings.
But what you might not know is that Oklahoma and Texas are also rich in renewables. Yes, that’s right, two of the top oil and gas producing states are also the leaders in renewable power.
We have come a long way in a hundred years and so have our energy resources. Texas is ranked the number one wind energy producer in the nation, generating enough to power over 7 million homes. Oklahoma is ranked number three, generating enough to power almost 3 million homes. Both states combined have more than $60 billion in total investment from renewable energy and that amount continues to grow. They have also been the leading states in reducing carbon emissions.
Recently, Senator Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have continued to push their Green New Deal, which would require 100 percent of U.S. electricity to come from renewable energy sources in the next 10 years. It would cost taxpayers trillions of dollars and eliminate thousands of jobs, even entire industries.
Oklahoma and Texas are the perfect examples that it doesn’t have to be one way or another. It wasn’t a Green New Deal that forced them to invest in renewable energy. They simply answered consumers’ demands for more affordable energy from cleaner sources and innovated to achieve that goal. Now, these states are home to the most affordable power in the nation.
Americans deserve better than to be on the hook for the Green New Deal’s reckless, expensive, and unattainable goals. While Senator Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez talk about what we should be doing, Oklahoma and Texas have already done it through diversification and giving consumers a choice. Free markets work!
OK Veterans Registry created by Legislature in 2017, is live months ahead of schedule
OKLAHOMA CITY – Legislation providing for greater inclusiveness of Oklahoma military personnel and veterans in the Oklahoma Veterans Registry was signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt in late April.
The Oklahoma Veterans Registry is a voluntary registry of all Oklahoma residents serving on active duty or in the Oklahoma National Guard, as well as all honorably discharged veterans residing in the state. The purpose of the registry is to provide better access to state and federal benefits.
Rep. Tommy Hardin (R-Madill) and Sen. Frank Simpson (R-Ardmore) were the authors of House Bill 1198, which created the registry in 2017. The law stipulated that the registry must be completed by 2020.
"This tool provides a straightforward way for our veterans to access information about their current state and federal benefits, as well as find out about other benefits they may be eligible for,” Hardin said. “The registry is a simple way for our state to increase the level of care we can provide for our veterans.”
A bill passed this session, Senate Bill 358 by Simpson and Hardin, creates a new requirement that the State Dept. of Health provide a list of all deaths of Oklahoma veterans to the Veterans Registry so that the registry remains current.
Hardin said the registry went live Wednesday. He and Simpson are both veterans and were the first Oklahoma veterans to sign up for the registry. On Thursday, members of the Legislature’s bicameral, bipartisan Veterans Caucus also enrolled in Veterans Registry.
“I am proud to have played a small part in the creation of the Oklahoma Veterans Registry," Simpson said. "Our state agencies will now be able to verify veteran status. This will ensure that only our veterans are receiving benefits reserved for them and prevent those who do not qualify from abusing those benefits.”
Oklahoma veterans can sign up for the registry at okvets.ok.gov by clicking on the Oklahoma Veterans Registry link.
OKLAHOMA CITY – A bill that revises the entire Oklahoma state military code passed the House of Representatives last week and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.
House Bill 2632, authored by State Rep. Chris Kannady, R-Oklahoma City, repeals the current state military code and reconstitutes it with changes that purposefully mirror the active duty Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which is proven and familiar to new members of the national guard coming off of active-duty as well as providing preparation to non-prior service guardsmen for future active-duty deployments.
“This revision of the state Uniform Code of Military Justice was a comprehensive work that took months to complete,” Kannady said. “I worked closely with members of the Oklahoma Legislature’s bicameral, bipartisan Veterans Caucus as well as the Oklahoma Military Department and the Army and Air National Guard JAGs to completely update our state code matching it with our national code.
"The Oklahoma Uniform Code of Military Justice (O-UCMJ) covers all the major areas of military justice such as apprehension, warrants, arrests, restraint, confinement, punishment, court martials, trials, sentencing and punitive articles as well as post-trial procedures and reviews. Perhaps, most importantly for the national guard, the new code provides a robust non-judicial punishment provision which is much more likely than a court-martial to come into play with traditional guardsmen.”
The measure updates language dealing with personal liability in the line of duty, protection of assets vital to national security and gender references. It also brings all Oklahoma military forces under the purview of the O-UCMJ, thus providing the tools necessary for commanders to maintain good order and discipline in their respective units.
Other important changes include a new requirement that all military publications created by the Oklahoma National Guard be published and archived with Oklahoma Secretary of State for the sake of transparency, due process and creation of a good historical record. The measure also creates a more robust and functional appellate process in the event of a court-martial proceeding.