Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Cockroft Column: Overview of Summer Studies

The Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives approves studies every summer to help lawmakers prepare for next year. Held anytime between August and November, these studies aid us in building consensus on touchy subjects and getting the details right on complex policy initiatives.

I believe strongly in the death penalty. It serves as an important deterrent to the taking of a life in our state. It also gives grieving families a much-needed sense of justice. This year’s botched execution gave ammunition to the anti-death penalty movement. One of the studies approved in July will examine or execution and death penalty procedures to ensure our manner of executions are beyond reproach. We will also be looking at what other methods of execution are available as execution drug supplies are increasingly scarce.

Water conservation is going to get more important with each passing year. A second approved study will focus on streamlining and improving on the state’s water plan. We all know how important water is, so I will be watching closely to ensure we are getting solid ideas to move the state forward.
This year, Gov. Mary Fallin advocated for a mandate that would require physicians to check a prescription drug database before prescribing an addictive substance to a patient. Our state has a huge problem with prescription drug overdoses. One approved study will examine the issue in depth, either convincing more state lawmakers to support the bill or uncovering a better way to combat prescription drug abuse.
A bill to require DNA collections regardless of whether or not a person was convicted was defeated this year. The issue will now be up for study and I will be following it closely. I do believe that a person is innocent until proven guilty and should not have his or her privacy invaded via a DNA sample. Even though DNA collection is a useful tool to catch a criminal who is slipping through the cracks, I think the potential abuse is much more troubling. I will report to you on what comes out of that study at a future date.
Lastly, I wanted to mention a study that will examine Red Cedar eradication. Red Cedar trees are extremely flammable and a terrible nuisance in Oklahoma. I am open to any ideas on how to eradicate them in a cost-efficient manner.
Please never hesitate to contact me. It is an honor to serve you! You can contact my office at: 405-557-7349, or by email at:Josh.Cockroft@OKHouse.gov. You can also follow me on Twitter: @VoteCockroft27, Facebook: Representative Josh Cockroft, and on my website: FriendsofJoshCockroft.com 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Cockroft Column: Election Observations, Education in Oklahoma

After taking a couple weeks off after my re-election, it feels great to get back into the routine of my busy schedule. Again, thank you for the overwhelming vote of confidence in me so I can continue serving House District 27. I look forward to these next couple sessions with great anticipation, looking for ways to continue moving Oklahoma forward. I am humbled and honored to serve you.

 

I also hope you and your family had a great Independence Day as we celebrated our great nation and the freedoms we enjoy. May we each seek to protect and preserve these freedoms so we can pass them on to future generations.

 

Every time we go through an election process I am reminded of the incredible process we have the opportunity to be a part of, and the responsibility of each of us to partake. This election cycle was no different. Each year we must make decisions on individuals who will lead our state in a positive direction.

 

There were a couple surprises this year, but none could top the overwhelming victory of Joy Hofmeister over incumbent Janet Barresi for state school superintendent. I have had no hesitation in the past in voicing my disapproval of some of Superintendent Barresi’s policies, but didn’t quite expect the blowout she received statewide. Anytime an incumbent comes in third place in a three-way primary it is an historic election. It is quite obvious a decent portion of the votes Joy received came from Democrats who switched parties to simply vote in this particular race and against the incumbent. It will be intriguing to watch if these individuals will stay registered as Republicans to fight for a particular set of ideals and principles, or if they simply voted out of spite towards one individual. As I stated earlier, I have been no fan of Superintendent Barresi, but in an emotionally charged election it is always important to remember the issues at hand. A better education for our children should be at the forefront of our minds, not simply ousting one person. At the end of the day, the sad reality is that only 25 percent of eighth grade students in Oklahoma are proficient in math and only 29 percent are proficient in reading. This should be our goal to overcome, not a “dentist-turned-teacher.”

 

I will continue to fight for education that originates at the local level, which I believe to be superior to any other method. Education begins in the home and then grows from there. We must encourage strong families and strong local schools before we ever see a change for the better in Oklahoma education. It’s a long fight, but a fight worth fighting.

 

Oklahomans chose well in this primary. Now do we have the fortitude and will to finish what we’ve started?

 

Please never hesitate to contact me. It is an honor to serve you! You can contact my office at: 405-557-7349, or by email at: Josh.Cockroft@OKHouse.gov. You can also follow me on Twitter: @VoteCockroft27, Facebook: Representative Josh Cockroft, and on my website:FriendsofJoshCockroft.com 


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Cockroft Column: Budget Process Needs Transparency, Better Oversight

  Every year, the Oklahoma Legislature passes a budget, and as with anything dealing with government, it is met with both praise and criticism. Every year, there are some agencies that gain additional funding and others that receive cuts. We are constitutionally required in Oklahoma to keep a balanced budget from year to year. In this budget year where we faced a $188 million deficit in projected revenue those criticisms will ring even louder. The harsh reality everyone must face is there will never be enough money. We will always want more. In my four years in the legislature I have yet to hear an agency director or any other entity ask the legislature for less money. Obviously there are instances where more appropriations are needed. However, a desire for more is simple human nature.

            With this year’s budget, as with any other year’s, there are winners and losers. There is absolutely no such thing as a perfect budget because at the end of the day, someone will walk away unhappy. It is our responsibility as lawmakers to shape and craft a product which will keep our state on track and moving us in a positive direction.

            I voted for this year’s budget with many reservations, but with the knowledge it moved us forward for one more year. Many individuals don’t recognize the problem, but I believe our budget process is broken or in need of a serious fix. When something is broken, the product it produces will always lack in quality.

            Oklahoma crafts its budget the same as it has always done, with very few people involved. Don’t get me wrong, your legislator still voices their (and your) opinion, but the ultimate decisions are made in closed door negotiation between only a handful of people. When transparency is used, I believe it lessens the need for the accounting tricks which we saw this and other years in using supplementals and revolving funds to balance our budget. All four years I have been in office, I have fought for a more transparent budgeting process that involves more members, and forces each entity which receives money from the state to reconcile every penny needed and spent. 

            Opening this process up to not only the public, but giving legislative members more power over specific areas, will expose waste and infuse transparency into state government. Each member currently serves on sub-committees which are designed to look into specific agencies’ budgets. Yet, usually only the Chairman of that committee who reports to the House Appropriations Chairman really digs into the numbers of their budgets. This results in only a handful of members having a working knowledge of the numbers when there could be 101 members with this knowledge. Also, why are closed door negotiations needed? I believe every citizen should be able to know how their tax dollars are being spent.

            In my first year in the legislature, it was the first year to have committee meetings open to the public. We've come a long way in four years, but we should never settle for complacency. An open government is an effective government. I'll continue to fight to improve the process so we don't have to play games and politics with your hard earned money.

    Never hesitate to call me if I can be of assistance to you. I work for you! My office is always available to assist you. Call my office at: 405-557-7349, or by email at: Josh.Cockroft@okhouse.gov.

 

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

T. Boone Pickens Endorses CNG Fleet, Infrastructure Bill

OKLAHOMA CITY – A legislative proposal that would help counties convert their fleets to compressed natural gas and increase CNG infrastructure now has the endorsement of T. Boone Pickens.

“Oklahoma is looking to make things happen,” Pickens said. “While others are debating the merits of exporting our expanding supplies of domestic natural gas to Europe and Asia, Oklahoma is hard at work on creating demand for this premium fuel, and helping rebuild their economy on the backs of this cleaner, cheaper resource. A good case in point is Oklahoma House Bill 2954, which would move more than 2,400 county vehicles to domestic natural gas. This is a great move for Oklahoma, for the environment and for those who believe in greater fiscal responsibility by our elected officials.”

House Bill 2954, by Rep. Josh Cockroft and Sen. Kyle Loveless, would set up a fund to help counties convert their vehicles to compressed natural gas and encourage development of CNG fuel stations for both government and public use.

“Encouraging the use of compressed natural gas saves government dollars while at the same time boosting the natural gas industry in Oklahoma,” said Cockroft, R-Wanette. “Our legislation gives counties the ability to realize the savings we are already seeing at the state level from the conversion of vehicles to compressed natural gas.”

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has recorded thousands of dollars in savings from the CNG conversion of only 174 vehicles. There are approximately 2,400 county vehicles – excluding law enforcement vehicles – in the state. The legislation requires counties to track fuel savings.

“After converting 174 vehicles to CNG, they recorded $163,451 in net savings in 5 months. That’s $32,690 per month,” Cockroft said.

The measure was approved by a vote of 71-17 in the House and 30-12 in the Senate. It is currently eligible to be heard by both chambers and signed by the governor after passage in the conference committee process.

 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Rep. Newell says Obama Supporters Call Hard-Working Oklahomans ‘Fat Cats’

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Tom Newell, R-Seminole, released the following statement today in response to misinformation being distributed to lawmakers and Oklahomans that the only people who benefit from low, competitive gross production taxes are ‘Fat Cats’ on ‘Wall Street’:

 

“It’s alarming that a leftist group is misinforming Oklahomans by claiming that only ‘Fat Cats on Wall Street’ benefit from the current tax rates on gross production. In their effort to increase taxes they are using the tactics of the politics of envy, the favored tactic of President Obama and liberal billionaires in Oklahoma. Reality does not fit their rhetoric. I doubt anyone would label teachers, police officers, fire fighters, and state employees as ‘Wall Street Fat Cats.’

 

“According to the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System and the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System, these systems have more than $1.5 billion invested in oil and gas related activities. Oklahoma’s other state pension systems have funds invested in oil and gas related activities as well.

 

“These funds – which include the millions in annual retirement contributions by government employees – are crucial to keeping the promise to government employees that funds will be available to pay for government workers’ hard earned retirement. Government pensions use gains and dividends from investments to provide cash flow for the payment of monthly retirement benefits.According to Reuters, corporate stocks comprise about a third of public pension holdings nationwide.

 

“If Oklahoma increases its gross production tax by 600 percent, those funds are extracted from the economy and investors, reducing gains and value to teachers, police officers, law enforcement officers like highway patrol officers, firefighters, corrections officers, social workers and hardworking state employees who depend on these investments for their pension systems.

 

“It is also important to note that approximately 1.7 million hard working Oklahomans received $2.5 billion in royalty payments in 2012. These royalty owners pay gross production taxes as well.

 

“We can have a debate about what is the right tax policy, but demonizing government workers, retirees, and hard-working Oklahomans as ‘Fat Cats’ is offensive and should stop. Making policy decisions based on the myth that only the ‘rich’ participate in ‘Wall Street’ and benefit from low taxes is na├»ve and not conducive to moving Oklahoma forward.”

 

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Monday, May 12, 2014

Cockroft Column: Finalized Legislation, Veto-Overrides, and Budget Negotiations

Budget negotiations are underway and state lawmakers are awaiting a final agreement. Key areas of dispute are whether or not to fund Capitol repairs through direct appropriation or a bond proposal and the amount of money given to essential services.
 
We have agreed to a supplemental appropriation for the Department of Corrections. Senate Bill 2126 will provide a $13 million supplemental appropriation to the agency.
 
The Oklahoma Legislature has sent a bill to the governor’s desk to ensure caregivers are informed about when a patient is being discharged and given follow-up care instructions. Senate Bill 1536 allows hospital patients to designate a lay caregiver upon formal admission.  The hospital must also notify the designated caregiver of the patient’s discharge and consult with the caregiver about aftercare.
 
According to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, in fiscal year 2013 the agency spent almost $63 million for hospital readmissions with 30 days of discharge for Medicaid patients. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported that preventable hospital readmissions within 30 days of discharge costs Medicare approximately $17 billion each year.
 
In addition to the trooper pay raise, Gov. Mary Fallin has signed legislation into law that will lower the age limit for commissioned officers within the Department of Public Safety from 23 to 21 years of age and provide educational credits to those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Senate Bill 1372 also modifies the number of hours of accredited college or university experience to include military service. Applicants can use up to three years of military service to count a total of 30 hours towards the education requirement.
 
The governor also signed a measure requiring public school students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at least once a week. Senate Bill 1143 would allow students to opt out if they do not wish to say the Pledge of Allegiance, but would require that schools hold a pledge recitation.
 
Republican members of the House elected House Speaker Jeff Hickman as Speaker-designate for the 55th Oklahoma Legislature in 2015 and 2016. The speaker has done a good job in a year which he was not able to prepare for due to his sudden election in February.
 
The Oklahoma Transportation Commission voted to sell the Sooner Sub to the Stillwater Central Railroad. The Stillwater Central Railroad is the current operator of the Sooner Sub, a 97.5 mile stretch of railroad line the state has owned for the past 16 years. This vote concludes a six month process passed by the Oklahoma Legislature last year. I believe that more rail opportunities will always be positive for the line's surrounding areas. Economic growth and opportunities from productive rail lines affect not only the immediate area, but reaches for miles around. A win-win for everyone!

Finally, the Legislature overrode the governor’s veto of a Second Amendment rights measure. This was the first override by the legislature while Governor Fallin has been in office. An override should never be taken lightly, and while I feel this action was hasty and rushed before having more communication with the Governor's office, I was proud to support this second amendment legislation. House Bill 2461 requires a sheriff or chief of police to execute any request for documents relating to the purchase of firearms defined by the National Firearms Act within 15 days if the purchaser is not prohibited of possessing a firearm.
The bill essentially requires chief law enforcement officers to sign off on applications for tax stamps for NFA items such as silencers, suppressors, short barreled rifles and shotguns and automatic weapons.
The measure will now become law on Nov. 1.
 
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 website to see where I stand on any range of topics at www.FriendsofJoshCockroft.com and 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.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Cockroft Column: April's Monthly Legislative Update

April's legislative work consisted of the Oklahoma House of Representatives reviewing and acting on bill sent over from the state Senate. House members also got to see our bills approved in the Senate and sent onto the governor.

The most notable accomplishment of April was the signing of a Senate tax cut plan into law. The Oklahoma House of Representatives expedited the bill's enactment by approving it without amendments so that it would go directly to the governor's desk.

Senate Bill 1246 calls for two tax cuts that are tied to revenue triggers. This means that they will only take effect if revenues reach a certain level. The first would occur no earlier than Fiscal Year 2016. It would drop Oklahoma's top income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 5 percent. A second cut would not take effect until two year after the first cut. It would drop the rate to 4.85 percent.

Oklahoma's top income tax bracket applies to individuals earning more than $8,700 a year or couples earning more than $15,000 a year. The Tax Commission estimates that approximately 1.7 million taxpayers will be placed in the top income tax bracket in tax year 2016.

In 1998, the Legislature passed and Gov. Frank Keating signed a bill reducing the top income tax rate from 7 percent to 6.75 percent. Despite the cut, tax revenue grew to new heights. Legislation enacted during the 2005 to 2007 legislative sessions reduced the top income tax rate from 6.65 percent to 5.5 percent. Revenues further increased.

A second important accomplishment in April was the enactment of a 14 percent pay raise for Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers. Troopers, prison workers, teachers and child welfare employees are all drastically underpaid. This not only affects those hardworking public servants, but also affects the quality of these critical state services.

I was very pleased to see this the trooper pay raise signed into law, but would like to see more done for those state workers who have not yet been brought up to the pay level that is necessary to address shortages and staffing problems.

I was proud to join 61 of my House colleagues in defeating a proposal to borrow up to $160 million to finance an overhaul of the state Capitol. We feel that we can fund these repairs out of the budget, either via the Rainy Day Fund or by eliminating wasteful spending items. I do not believe that there is any need to harm our essential services in order to do this, but I do think it is going to be tricky to get an agreement worked out between the governor, state Senate and House. This fight isn't over, but at least I know that the House is determined to pay for things in the right way, rather than incurring future debt.

I supported a bill that has now been signed into law to ban the off-label use of the drug RU486. The drug is used during the first seven weeks of a pregnancy to induce an abortion.

The Oklahoma House of Representatives voted down a proposal to allow district attorneys to collect delinquent state sales taxes. Senate Bill 865 specifies three levels of fees that could be assessed against debtors, according to the length of the delinquency and the amount of tax in arrears. The measure also would allow a prosecutor to enter into a restitution agreement with a defendant to defer prosecution for up to three years on an embezzlement charge. The legislation failed on a 35-59 vote.

We also amended a bill to ensure active-duty military personnel and veterans can get lifetime handgun carry licenses. Senate Bill 1442 was originally intended only to allow current and former court officials to carry handguns.  A lifetime license would cost a veteran $125, but a lifetime license for active-duty personnel would be free. A veteran who already has a handgun license issued prior to Nov. 1, 2014, could request a lifetime license upon completing a renewal application and paying a $25 renewal fee. The revised SB 1442 passed the House, 58-23, and was returned to the Senate for consideration of House amendments.

The governor vetoed House Bill 2539, which redefines the use of deadly force in defending a third party. Current law only authorizes the use of deadly force in defending one's "husband, wife, parent, child, master, mistress or servant." This measure replaces it with language allowing for a person to use force necessary to prevent death or bodily harm to anyone or to terminate or prevent the commission of a forcible felony. Although I disagreed with the governor's veto, I will note that the courts have interpreted the current law to expand the use of self-defense beyond the current language.


The governor signed House Bill 2676 into law, making Oklahoma Highway Patrol dash cam footage open to the public.


A lot of legislation is currently in flux as state senators and House members work out their differences on the language of major legislation such as pension reforms and Capitol repairs. We also have a budget to negotiate. At the end of April, the governor publicly criticized the House for not moving more of her agenda forward and not being far enough in budget negotiations. I hope this kind of negative public fighting will not derail any of the work we have left to do this year.

I look forward to telling you about more progress in a future update.