Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Senate Sends Small Business Bill to Governor

OKLAHOMA CITY – Small businesses in Cleveland, Oklahoma and Tulsa counties could soon be able to qualify for the Oklahoma Small Employer Quality Jobs Incentive Act thanks to legislation given final approval Tuesday.

 

House Bill 2956, by Rep. Josh Cockroft, is on its way to the governor’s desk after passing unanimously out of the Senate.

 

The bill amends the Oklahoma Small Employer Quality Jobs Incentive Act by eliminating the requirement that qualifying establishments locate in counties with populations under 200,000.

 

“Opening up these small employer incentives statewide will level the playing field and allow for better business development within many of our rural communities,” said Cockroft, R-Wanette. “This gives rural small businesses another tool in the toolbox and encourages continued economic growth in Oklahoma. A win-win for our state."

 

The Small Employer Quality Jobs Incentive Act allows qualifying small businesses with 90 employees or less to receive up to a five percent cash-back incentive for up to seven years to locate or expand in Oklahoma.

 

The bill was supported and requested by the Oklahoma Commerce Department, the State Chamber of Commerce, the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and other city chambers of commerce around the state.  

 

Once signed, the new law will go into effect July 1, 2014

 

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Trooper Pay Increase Bill Advances

OKLAHOMA CITY – A measure aimed at bringing state trooper salaries up to the level of those in other states easily passed off the House floor on Tuesday.

 

Senate Bill 232 won passage by a 94-0 vote. It deletes language from the statute of the Department of Public Safety related to current salary schedules. The bill states that a new table will be created in accordance of the Oklahoma Total Remuneration Study of 2013. The study found that Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper salaries were significantly less than the average salary of troopers in other states.

 

The House author of the bill, state Rep. Scott Martin, said raising trooper pay is important to keeping the OHP trooper force at full strength.

 

“The Oklahoma Highway Patrol is an integral part of our state’s security,” said Martin, R-Norman. “For too long now, we’ve underpaid our troopers while expecting them to perform at high levels. And while they’ve never disappointed us in that regard, the time has come to reward our hard-working troopers and get their salaries in line with those of troopers in other states and other law enforcement agencies in our state.”

 

“Being a retired state trooper, I know what these men and women go through on a daily basis,” said Christian, R-Oklahoma City. “The hours are long, dangerous and you never know what could come your way. These are our bravest and most dedicated Oklahomans – putting their lives on the line daily to make sure we’re safe and secure. I’m glad to see this bill advance and to know that every member of the House agreed to become a co-author on the measure shows how much support there is for our state troopers. I look forward to our OHP troopers getting the pay bump they deserve.”

 

“Getting our state trooper pay up to a proper level is vital,” said Rep. Mike Ritze, chairman of the Public Safety Appropriations and Budget Committee. “Our state troopers work countless hours protecting us on our roads and in our communities. We must ensure they are compensated well so we can continue to have the best and brightest aspire to become members of the OHP.”

 

According to DPS, the proposed cost increase would be $4,829,274 annually and the total annual fiscal impact would be $5,598,692.

 

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Monday, April 14, 2014

House Votes to Ban Violent Sex Offenders from State Parks

OKLAHOMA CITY – Legislation approved by the Oklahoma House of Representatives today would prohibit habitual or aggravated sex offenders from entering a neighborhood, town, county or state park.

 

State Rep. Josh Cockroft, who presented Senate Bill 1364, said aggravated sex offenders are individuals who have committed a crime against a child. Habitual offenders are individuals who have committed more than one sex crime. The bill stems from uncertainty over whether or not state parks are included in a current ban of these offenders from public parks, he said.

“Habitual and aggravated offenders are generally the predatory types of individuals we all imagine when we talk about sex crimes,” said Cockroft, R-Wanette. “We have to continually tweak sex offender laws to ensure that there are no loopholes that allow them access to public places frequented by children. Protecting our children should be top priority.”

 

The measure was approved by a vote of 93-1. If the Senate accepts House amedments, it will proceed to the governor to be signed into law.

Cockroft Column: We've Come A Long Way...

I have found that in many cases individuals who are involved in public policy, from legislators to constituents, can become wrapped up in the policy, discussions, and arguments that we lose sight of our goal and mission. It is easy to be focused on the moment and the challenges it presents and become oblivious to what is happening right around us. We wait for the proverbial dust to settle following legislative sessions to see how far we have come, or to "survey the damage". 

However, sometimes it is important to step back and remember the battles won and the challenges conquered even in the midst of them. I don't believe anyone would refute the claim that we are all blessed to live in this wonderful state that we love. We experience freedoms and liberties which other states do not have the privilege to share in. There will always be challenges that face us, but facing those challenges is what has made us who we are today. 

In the last several years alone we have moved our state in the right direction. Not long ago Oklahoma's unemployment rate was 7.2%. It is now 5.4%. When our recession hit in 2008 we had $2.03 in our "Rainy Day Fund". Currently there is $530 million. In 2011 the state faced a $500 million budget shortfall. Yet every year we continue to balance the budget. Oklahoma continues to grow our private sector with more small business jobs being added every year. In 2010 Oklahoma had a pension system that had $17 billion in unfunded liability. We made tough choices to get that number down to $10 billion. Oklahoma has protected our businesses through massive workers' compensation and tort reform. Oklahoma continues to reduce the tax burden on the individual and business. 

This legislative session we are doing the same. Once again, we find ourselves in a budget shortfall by $188 million. We will responsibly balance it. Our state workers deserve a pay raise and currently have a pension system that has $10 billion in unfunded liability. HB2630 includes needed pension reform and pay raise language. Our schools deserve proper funding and our students need real local control. We have many measures that increase funding to our schools and give our administrators, teachers, and parents more say in how their students are taught. Our DHS system needs reform in many areas. We have champions in the legislature this year looking out for Oklahoma's children in every way possible. 

There will always be discussions and arguments on how to best implement these needed changes and reforms. I would humbly submit to you that Oklahoma has faced opposition before, and we will continue to do so. However, the conservative, common sense solutions we have passed are moving us in the right direction. I believe in our state and believe we will continue to be a leader for the nation and world to look up to. We are in the midst of the battle right now. Soon the dust will settle and we will see just how far we have come. 

It is an honor to serve you in the legislature. If there is ever anything I can do for you, please don't hesitate to contact my office. That is why I am here! My office phone is: 405-557-7349. My email is: Josh.Cockroft@okhouse.gov. Follow my policy blog at: www.RepJoshCockroft.blogspot.com.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cockroft Column - March Wrap-Up

March Legislative Update

 

March marked the midpoint of the legislative session. The Oklahoma House of Representatives sent a number of bills to the state Senate. Many reflected the concerns that I hear about on a daily basis from constituents.

 

I want to begin by reporting that government modernization bill I authored is close to becoming law. House Bill 2954 was approved on the House floor in February. In March, Senate committees greenlighted the measure for a consideration on the Senate floor. The legislation provides a funding mechanism to aid counties in the conversion of their vehicles to compressed natural gas, which will reduce their fuel costs considerably. The bill will also provide for an increase in state infrastructure devoted to CNG fuel stations.

 

We sent the following bills to the Senate:

 

House Bill 2589 adds morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone and benzodiazepine to current drug trafficking laws. Carrying 1,000 grams of a morphine mixture, 400 grams of an oxycodone mixture, 50 grams of an oxycodone substance or 15 grams of an benzodiazepine mixture would carry a penalty of up to $500,000 fine and prison time. This bill has also been approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

 

House Bill 2539 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.

 

House Bill 2676 will make Oklahoma Highway Patrol dash cam footage open to the public.

 

House Bill 2541 reduces the penalties for teens exchanging sexually explicit messages and photographs via electronic devices, a practice better known as “sexting.” In Oklahoma, anyone convicted of sexting-style offenses are immediately labeled sex offenders and receive a felony conviction. This bill reduces the penalty for individuals under 18 years of age who “sext” with another minor over the age of 13 to a misdemeanor. The measure also empowers the court to order the offender and his or her parent or guardian to complete an education course regarding the legal and social consequences of sexting.

 

House Bill 2625 would replace automatic retention with a team made up of a parent or guardian, teacher, school principal and a reading specialist who would decide whether or not to promote or retain the child. The legislation has since been changed in Senate committee to allow a superintendent to veto a decision by this team.

 

House Bill 2377 raises the monthly expense allowance for all commissioned law enforcement offices of the Department of Public Safety from $150 a month to $300 a month. Troopers are required to purchase multiple items for their job, from duty ammunition and footwear to uniform tailoring and weapons cleaning supplies. The bill also raises the monthly expense allowance for cadets, law enforcement personnel on provisional or probationary status as well as all other uniformed department members from $100 a month to $200 a month.

 

House Bill 3294 will streamline a process in place to protect employees from unreasonable termination. The current system includes a lengthy and complicated hiring process that would be simplified with consistent practices across all agencies when implemented. The current grievance process for state employees is a 15-step process and would be streamlined to a 4-step process under the bill.

 

House Bill 2596 requires a person convicted of human trafficking to register as a sex offender if the offense involved trafficking a minor for commercial sex.

 

House Bill 2329 legalizes the possession of a handgun in locked cars in school parking lots, provided the gun owner is properly licensed.

 

House Bill 2851 would make property used in or derived from violations of the Oklahoma Antiterrorism Act subject to forfeiture. The bill also allows a person injured as a result of a criminal offense under the Oklahoma Antiterrorism Act or law enforcement agency or other governmental agency that participated in an investigation under the Oklahoma Antiterrorism Act to file a claim for costs or damages against such seized property.

 

House Bill 3293 would set aside 3 percent of the previous fiscal year’s payroll costs for salary adjustments each year. The bill would also remove salary structures from statute and give authority to the Office of Management Enterprise Services to set pay structures and determine if targeted pay band adjustments are necessary, rather than the state doling out across-the-board pay raises as in years past.

 

House Bill 3085 would exempt sales of tangible personal property or services to the American Legion, whether the purchase is made by the entity chartered by the United States Congress or is an entity organized under the laws of this or another state pursuant to the authority of the national American Legion organization.

 

House Bill 2642 would create the Securing Educational Excellence Fund for the State Board of Education. The money in the fund would be used to increase the per-pupil expenditure through the state aid formula. Contingent upon a Oklahoma Board of Equalization estimate of an increase of 1 percent in revenue to the General Revenue Fund, the Securing Educational Excellence Fund would receive $57.5 million in fiscal year 2015. The amount would increase by another $57.5million in each subsequent fiscal year, dependent upon a 1 percent estimate increase in revenue, up to $575 million.

 

House Bill 3399 calls for the state of Oklahoma to opt for Option B under No Child Left Behind. Option B allows states to create elementary and secondary school standards that are certified by state higher education institutions to be college and career ready. If signed into law, HB 3399 would order the State Board of Education to adopt education standards that are college and career ready by August 1, 2016. By adopting Option B of No Child Left Behind, the State Board will maintain independence from any national or state compact standards, and school districts will control the learning materials and curriculum adopted to meet the new set of standards.

 

In late March, we began work on Senate bills in committee. The House Judiciary Committee passed two bills favorable to noncustodial parents. Senate Bill 1784 allowsfamily court judges leeway in suspending or revoking professional licenses of parents who are in arrears on child support payment. Current law gives judges no choice in the matter. Senate Bill 1620 allows noncustodial parents to seek relief from child support payments if a custodial parent refuses to comply with visitation orders. Both bills are nowavailable on the House floor for consideration.

 

The House Human Services Committee approved a measure to reduce Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits to adults who violate state and federal prohibitions against the use of TANF debit cards in casinos, liquor stores and adult entertainment establishments. On March 31, the Oklahoma House of Representatives voted to send Senate Bill 1706 to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.

The House Agriculture and Wildlife Committee approved measure to protect our children from domestic animal attacks. Senate Bill 1591 restricts commercial pet breeders from setting up shop within 2,500 feet of a school or day care facility in a municipality with a population of more than 300,000.

 

The House Public Safety Committee approved a measure to make buying guns more difficult for mentally ill people. Senate Bill 1845 requires state courts to notify the FBI of adjudications involving serious mental illness. Those records would be added to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System database, which is used to verify retail gun sales in the United States. State and federal law bans mentally ill people from gun ownership, but the FBI database often lacks information on such judgments. The legislation provides an appeals process for modifying or expunging mental illness findings from the FBI records. The National Rifle Association supports the bill.

 

The House General Government Committee approved a bill to preempt cities or counties from establishing their own minimum wage requirements.

 

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

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Rep. Cockroft Praises Vote on Bill to Reject Common Core Standards

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Josh Cockroft today praised the vote by the Oklahoma House of Representatives to reverse a law requiring the implementation of Common Core standards.

 

“There are too many questions about the national education standards and what they mean,” said Cockroft, R-Wanette, a co-author of the bill. “House lawmakers decided the better course was to allow state higher education institutions to develop local standards and give schools flexibility in how they meet those standards.

 

“I have heard loud and clear from many of the teachers in my district with concerns on what implementation of Common Core will do to our education system in Oklahoma. Our teachers demand high standards, but with local control; not federal intrusion. Our teachers know what is best for our students. Not the federal government. Not state overreach through less local control. I am proud to stand with my teachers on this vote.”

 

House Bill 3399 calls for the state of Oklahoma to opt for Option B under No Child Left Behind. Option B allows states to create elementary and secondary school standards that are certified by state higher education institutions to be college and career ready.

 

If signed into law, HB 3399 would order the State Board of Education to adopt education standards that are college and career ready by August 1, 2016. By adopting Option B of No Child Left Behind, the State Board will maintain independence from any national or state compact standards, and school districts will control the learning materials and curriculum adopted to meet the new set of standards.

 

The legislation cedes exclusive authority to schools districts on the curriculum they develop to meet state standards.

 

The legislation was approved by a 78-12 vote and will now proceed to the Oklahoma Senate for consideration.

 

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

House Votes to Fund Education ‘Off the Top’

OKLAHOMA CITY – A bill approved by the Oklahoma House of Representatives today would create a fund to provide millions of dollars in “off the top” funding for education.

 

HB 2642, by state Rep. Lee Denney, would create the Securing Educational Excellence Fund for the State Board of Education. The money in the fund would be used to increase the per-pupil expenditure through the state aid formula.

 

Contingent upon a Oklahoma Board of Equalization estimate of an increase of 1 percent in revenue to the General Revenue Fund, the Securing Educational Excellence Fund would receive $57.5 million in fiscal year 2015. The amount would increase by another $57.5 million in each subsequent fiscal year, dependent upon a 1 percent estimate increase in revenue, up to $575 million.

 

“The intent of this bill is to insulate schools from the uncertainty of the appropriations process and ensure they remain a top funding priority,” said Denney, R-Cushing. “There is a revenue trigger in the bill, but as long as revenues continue on their current track, schools can expect to see $57.5 million in ‘off-the-top’ funding for fiscal year 2015, and eventually as much as $575 million in ‘off-the-top funding. It’s our way of showing a commitment to education funding.”

 

The legislation was approved by a 94-1 vote and will now advance to the Oklahoma Senate.

 

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