Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Cockroft Column: Session Update

     The first session of the 55th Oklahoma Legislature has now passed an important deadline. House committee work on House bills has ended. At the same time, we passed several bills on the House floor.

    The Oklahoma House of Representatives has voted to improve the procedure for collecting DNA samples from those individuals convicted of a felony or violent misdemeanor. House Bill 1683 allows the offices of district attorneys to collect the DNA sample from a convicted criminal. The DNA samples are submitted to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation Laboratory for processing and inclusion in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). The legislation was approved by a vote of 93-3.

    A bill aimed at curbing the dangerous trend of texting while driving also passed a vote on the House floor. House Bill 1965 strengthens language aimed at preventing texting while driving, marking a first offense fine at $250. Subsequent offenses would register a $500 fine. The bill passed by a 96-2 margin.

    We also approved a measure that would create Rural Opportunity Zones in counties across the state. House Bill 1747 allows for the creation of 25 Rural Opportunity Zones across the state. For taxable years beginning in 2016, the legislation would allow for a five-year tax exemption for anyone who moves from out-of-state into a county projected to see a population loss between the effective date and 2075 per the 2012 Demographic State of the State Report – Oklahoma State and County Population Projections through 2075. The legislation passed by a 64-11 margin.

    A measure that would ban “dismemberment” abortions was approved by the House. House Bill 1721 was approved by a vote of 84-2.

    Finally, the House unanimously approved a bill that would increase the input from experts on coordinated care of patients with chronic conditions on an advisory panel that helps set state health policies. House Bill 1085 modifies the Home Care and Hospice Advisory Council to include palliative care and specifies membership of the Home Care, Hospice and Palliative Care Advisory Council. The measure directs the council to identify ways to improve the quality and delivery of palliative care.

   The legislation, which will increase the panel’s membership from seven to nine members, was approved by a vote of 90-0.

    In several weeks, these bills will be considered in the Oklahoma Senate. I look forward to telling you about their progress.

    It is an honor to serve you. It matters not if you are Republican, Democrat, or Independent; I am here to serve you. Please visit my policy blog at www.RepJoshCockroft.blogspot.com. Communication is important to me. I want to know how to I can better serve and lead for our district and our state. I am always a phone call away at: (405) 557-7349. You can also email me at: Josh.Cockroft@okhouse.gov.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Cockroft Column: House Session Update - Week 3


As the first session of the 55th Oklahoma Legislature continues, I was proud to see my colleagues support a number of important measures that will improve Oklahoma education, public safety and economic growth. Here are a few of the bills heard on the House floor.

House Bill 1275, which I authored, pairs up election dates for school boards and municipalities with the intent of reducing election costs and encouraging greater voter participation. The legislation was approved by a vote of 63-30 and now heads to the Oklahoma Senate for consideration.

The Oklahoma House of Representatives voted unanimously in support of legislation that would help law enforcement catch human traffickers. House Bill 1006 authorizes the use of wiretaps to investigate human trafficking for labor or commercial sex, the pandering of humans for sex and for the investigation of the prostitution of a child.

We also approved a bill to improve Oklahoma’s business climate. House Bill 1001 allows employers to file documentation for misconduct immediately upon the termination of the employee. In doing this, the employer will be considered to have automatically protested the claim if and when the former employee files for unemployment insurance benefits. The legislation would also provide a reliable unemployment insurance tax rate for new businesses in their first two years in operation. The legislation was approved by a 93-4 vote and now heads to the Oklahoma Senate for consideration.

Finally, legislation approved unanimously by the Oklahoma House of Representatives would improve information sharing between state criminal justice agencies. House Bill 1083 would create a shared information technology infrastructure that would be used by 14 agencies. The legislation would make it possible for a higher level of technology for many of these agencies and is much cheaper than providing additional technologies to each agency.

I also want to mention a tax credit reform bill that was approved in our budget committee. Currently, the Oklahoma pays out roughly $1.7 billion in tax credits. While some of these tax credits are an essential part of creating a pro-business environment, there are no methods in place at this time to determine if a credit is spurring economic growth or simply keeping industries alive that would otherwise fail on their own. House Bill 2182 creates the Incentive Evaluation Commission that will review current and future tax credits, report on their level of success and make recommendations on future policy. The Incentive Evaluation Commission will ensure each tax credit is evaluated every four years by an independent auditor and scored on criteria specific to its purpose.   

It is an honor to serve you. It matters not if you are Republican, Democrat, or Independent; I am here to serve you. Please visit my policy blog at www.RepJoshCockroft.blogspot.com. Communication is important to me. I want to know how to I can better serve and lead for our district and our state. I am always a phone call away at: (405) 557-7349. You can also email me at: Josh.Cockroft@okhouse.gov.

 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Cockroft Column: House Springs Into Action - Week 2 Update


    We are off to a fast start this year. House lawmakers have already approved one of Governor Mary Fallin’s agenda items. House Bill 1948 requires physicians and other medical providers to check a prescription drug database before writing new prescriptions or renewing old ones. I voted against the measure, because I believe it will overly burden medical providers. Oklahomans have made it clear that they don’t want government to be in charge of their healthcare. However, I do support the intent, which is to reduce prescription drug abuse. We will see and vote on the measure again after changes are made in the Senate. I hope to see an increase in the flexibility between healthcare providers and their patients before I am able to support the measure.

     I have also been following the votes of the House Elections and Ethics Committee, which heard one of my bills this week. House Bill 1275 will pair up election dates for school boards and municipalities. My intent is to save local tax dollars and encourage greater voter participation. The committee advanced the measure by a vote of 5-2. I noted a second election reform bill’s passage. House Bill 1559 allows voters to become permanent absentee voters. It was approved by a vote of 7-0.

    I also had a public safety bill approved in committee. House Bill 1276 updates Oklahoma’s bomb squad statutes and strengthens the state’s terrorism laws. I think it was a testament to how aware our legislators are of the dangers of the current international climate that they unanimously advanced my proposal, 11-0.

     Natural gas is abundant in Oklahoma. It is a cheaper source of fuel for vehicles. Where we have used compressed natural gas at the state level, we have saved tax dollars. I want to encourage counties to make the same leap. House Bill 1277 will create a state fund that uses existing oil and gas taxes to create compressed natural gas infrastructure within county vehicle fleets. The legislation was approved in committee by a 7-4 vote and now will go to the appropriations and budget committee before a vote on the House floor.

     Finally, I want to mention the committee passage of a school public safety bill. House Bill 1684 will require schools to create a sexual abuse prevention program. Unfortunately, sexual abuse is a common problem in Oklahoma and even extends to our public schools.

     I may not agree with every bill we pass this year, but I am pleased with the speed in which we are getting through the legislative work we face this year. I will continue to fight to represent your voice at the Capitol.

    It is an honor to serve you. It matter not if you are Republican, Democrat, or Independent; I am here to serve you. Please visit my policy blog at www.RepJoshCockroft.blogspot.com. Communication is important to me. I want to know how to I can better serve and lead for our district and our state. I am always a phone call away at: (405) 557-7349. You can also email me at: Josh.Cockroft@okhouse.gov.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Cockroft Column: Gov. Fallin Gives State of the State Address, Legislative Session Begins

    I had the pleasure of hearing Gov. Mary Fallin’s State of the State address and executive budget proposal Monday as we began the 2015 Legislative Session. The governor’s executive budget proposal offers agency revolving funds as a solution to this year's budget hole and calls for increases to core services.

    The governor’s executive budget proposal is a good starting point to the discussion, but rarely aligns perfectly with the end result of negotiations. For example, she is calling for a $25 million increase to education and a $15 million increase to Oklahoma's prisons. Some state lawmakers would like to see a greater increase, especially instead of a $20 million increase she would give to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. Other lawmakers are calling for a more scrutinizing overview of our appropriations process in a conservative effort.

    In education, the governor said she would like to see 75 percent of fourth-grade students scoring proficiently on the state reading test by 2018. She also advocated for a greater use of mental health, drug and veterans courts to steer non-violent offenders into treatment programs. I wholeheartedly agree with initiatives to reduce over-criminalization in our state for non-violent crimes. With prison overcrowding and our corrections budget in dire need of proper funding, we must take a look into serious reform.

    Gov. Fallin also stated her support for prescription drug monitoring, a texting while driving ban, and “smoke free” public schools. Prescription drug monitoring bills were rejected in past years because many felt there would be too much work laid at the feet of doctor’s offices. The texting while driving ban has not made it through the process in past years because many legislators consider it a step to far in government's continued push towards a “nanny state.” We must protect the freedoms of every individual while looking at the needs facing our state.

    I feel cautiously optimistic after the governor’s speech. I appreciate the overall vision she cast. I appreciate her seriousness in budget matters, even if I might push harder for certain areas of funding. We have proven in past years that we are able to serve as a check and override the governor when necessary, but there is a general feeling that she is on our same page for the most part. As we begin this legislative session, your voice becomes even more important. Please don’t hesitate to make your thoughts and opinions heard. Your feedback is invaluable to me and my office.

    It is an honor to serve you. It matter not if you are Republican, Democrat, or Independent; I am here to serve you. Please visit my policy blog at www.RepJoshCockroft.blogspot.com. Communication is important to me. I want to know how to I can better serve and lead for our district and our state. I am always a phone call away at: (405) 557-7349. You can also email me at: Josh.Cockroft@okhouse.gov.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Rep. Josh Cockroft Announces Aggressive, Common Sense Conservative Agenda

    The first session of the 55th Oklahoma legislature will convene on February 2nd at 12:00 noon and the state’s legislators will begin deliberating over this year’s issues. This legislative session I will be aggressively pushing a common sense conservative agenda focused on the serious issues in our state. During the entire interim, I have been working, communicating, and consulting with constituents and am now ready to get to work moving our state forward. As I have done every year I have been in office, I am releasing my agenda for your viewing as we begin the legislative process.

My legislative focus will be centered around five core areas. I’ve outlined each of the measures below:

State Government Efficiency and Effectiveness

I have filed House Bill 1275, which couples election dates for school boards and municipalities. This will save tax dollars while encouraging greater voter participation in historically low-turnout races. My House Bill 1285 will prohibit agencies from increasing fees without proper justification and disclosure. My House Bill 1286 will require state agencies to develop contingency plans for times when the federal government makes funding reductions. My House Bill 1287 sets up an online presence for making Open Record requests. Two other reforms I will pursue are a constitutional amendment to make Oklahoma Supreme Court justices subject to a vote of the people and the creation of an Oklahoma Federal Funds Commission to study the state’s financial stability and dependency on the federal government.

Public Safety and County Government 

My House Bill 1276 updates current Oklahoma bomb squad statutes with clearer intent language and equips law enforcement to better prevent terrorist activities. My House Bill 1284 enables law enforcement to contract out mental health transports, saving resources and funds. My House Bill 1279 revises county government purchasing procedures. My House Bill 1278 promotes and provides aftercare services to juvenile offenders aging out of the Office of Juvenile Affairs. My House Bill 1288 authorizes road service vehicle companies to use certain flashing lights on road service vehicles.

Energy and Regulatory Services 

House Bill 1277 will create a state fund that uses existing oil and gas taxes to create CNG infrastructure within county vehicle fleets. House Bill 1282 provides safety guidelines for CNG infrastructure and equipment. Finally, House Bill 1283 provides guidelines for distribution of CNG, LNG, and gasoline products. It is intended to prevent federal overreach.

Child Services and Procedures 

House Bill 1280 sets requirements for the Department of Human Services to follow when taking complaints towards child care facilities. It will saves funds and resources and streamline complaint procedures. I also filed House Bill 1281, which provides procedures for establishing scholarships for Child Development Associate and Child Care Professionals, thus removing federal oversight.

Protection of Human Life

Finally, I filed House Bill 1289, which creates the Protection of Human Life Act and prohibits embryonic stem cell research within Oklahoma.

Despite the challenges we face as a state, I remain optimistic for our future. We face financial struggles and policy changes which could change the direction of our state. However, I believe conservative values and policies are what have worked, are working, and will continue to work in the future. It is a dependency on Almighty God and a steadfastness in the beliefs which have brought us here that will continue to make Oklahoma a shining beacon for others to see. We must set the example.    


It is an honor to serve you. It matter not if you are Republican, Democrat, or Independent; I am here to serve you. Please visit my policy blog at www.RepJoshCockroft.blogspot.com. Communication is important to me. I want to know how to I can better serve and lead for our district and our state. I am always a phone call away at: (405) 557-7349. You can also email me at: Josh.Cockroft@okhouse.gov.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Budget Shortfall, Changes Face Lawmakers Starting February 1st

    State lawmakers are currently discussing the budget picture as we prepare to begin the legislative session in February. The budget forecast is difficult but not insurmountable. We had a budget hole last year that we filled with one-time revenue sources. This year we will fall back to the standard sources and that will mean we need a new strategy.

    The Oklahoma State Board of Equalization has estimated that we will have less revenue growth for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2015. This is due to the recent drop in oil prices and lower prices in agricultural commodity markets. Combined with that lack of revenue growth are other factors such as the loss of one-time revenue sources. The state’s overall projections and agency budget requests for this fiscal year were off from available revenue by around $300 million, but we are facing an actual deficit of around $25 million.

    Tax cut critics are going to overlook the factors I have described above and simply say, look, they cut taxes, and now we have less. The truth though is that tax cuts have led to revenue growth. However, as the revenue has grown so has our funding needs for education, transportation and public safety. We have cut some non-essential spending, but to balance our budget, we need to continue to prioritize better.

    This year, Speaker Jeff Hickman is already discussing reductions to tax incentives that the state gives to special interests. I agree overall with the goal of these incentives. Many were created in order to attract or keep business in the state. Specific oil and gas incentives have been proven to be highly effective. However, over time, we have seen that most do not give us a proper return on our investment. Currently our state gives around $1.7 billion every year in credits, subsidies and incentives. We need to make sure every penny is spent wisely and is being used effectively to actually attract or keep business in our state and not just be given away.

    We are also discussing change the way in which we craft the budget. A constitutional amendment has been filed that would make one session a budget-only session every two years. There has been vocal support for this plan by the governor. A second proposed change would allow us to focus on needs rather than how much we want to add to current expenses. We basically start from last year’s budget when we build the next year’s budget and this would have us go back to the drawing board and make sure we do not waste money on programs that are no longer a high priority.

    As your state representative this year, I will work to reduce tax credits and incentives, provide adequate funding for high priority needs and improve the budget process.


    It is an honor to serve you. It matter not if you are Republican, Democrat, or Independent; I am here to serve you. Please visit my policy blog at www.RepJoshCockroft.blogspot.com. Communication is important to me. I want to know how to I can better serve and lead for our district and our state. I am always a phone call away at: (405) 557-7349. You can also email me at: Josh.Cockroft@okhouse.gov.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Cockroft Column: Changing School Board Election Dates A Must

    As I attended this year’s first legislative event on Tuesday, the Organizational Day at the Oklahoma State Capitol, I felt optimistic about the opportunities that will be presented this session. Every election changes the makeup of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, making it possible for new ideas to be infused into the process and allow measures that failed narrowly in past years to get a new chance.

    I have a great deal of respect for our educators. I also have deep respect for the leaders of our community who throw their hat in the ring to serve on our school boards. There are many things that teachers, administrators and school board members are doing right. I have said many times before that our educators are the backbone of our communities. Often doing a thankless job, they shape our state’s future everyday with the work they do in the classroom as well as the board room. I believe their job to be one of the most important any person could hold.

    However, we all know that there are some changes needed in public education. Among the discussion of more funding for education, more local control for our school districts, and less overreaching mandates from the State and Federal government, are smaller, yet significant improvements that can be made. One of the best ways to enact change is to attract new blood and broaden the public conversation about the problems facing education. However, due to the timing of school board elections, those discussions are rarely held, and new blood is rarely attracted. Constituents have pointed out to me again and again that school board elections receive low voter turnout. Election return numbers from all across the state back these claims up. An Oklahoma City election in February of 2009 garnered only eight percent of registered voters. In rural areas of the state, that eight percent is actually a very high number. 

    One way I feel that this process could be improved is by tying school board elections to other elections already being held, such as municipal elections. This reform would also save the state money while encouraging more participation in the process.

    Unions and special interest groups have successfully controlled school board elections across the state for years. Yet, when individual teachers were surveyed by the Professional Oklahoma Educators Association in 2009 and asked whether school board elections should be coupled with already existing elections, 85 percent replied yes. When you control the way elections are held you can control who wins. I prefer transparency and engagement over control.

    I have run this legislation every year I have been in office because it is something I believe in and have heard clearly from my constituents. Last year, I received a floor vote but did not receive the votes needed to pass legislation to institute this reform. It failed on the floor by a vote of 44-47. However, this year, there is new blood in the House and I hope to see it receive greater support. This fight isn’t as large as some of the issues we discuss and debate every year, but this reform is a small step in the right direction. I believe it will effectively engage more people in the decisions made by our local communities.


    It is an honor to serve you. It matter not if you are Republican, Democrat, or Independent; I am here to serve you. Please visit my policy blog at www.RepJoshCockroft.blogspot.com. Communication is important to me. I want to know how to I can better serve and lead for our district and our state. I am always a phone call away at: (405) 557-7349. You can also email me at: Josh.Cockroft@okhouse.gov.