Thursday, February 24, 2011

State Capitol Weekly Wrap

Weekly Wrap
Property Tax Reform Bills Advance
​Two bills to reform Oklahoma’s property tax laws and reduce annual increases cleared the House Rules Committee this week.
House Joint Resolution 1001 would allow Oklahoma citizens to vote to impose a 2-percent annual cap that would limit future property tax increases.
House Joint Resolution 1002 would impose and a permanent freeze on property tax levels for seniors over 65 for as long as they own their homes.
​The bills’ author noted that one recent study by the Tax Foundation showed that Oklahoma has the eighth-fastest growing property tax levy in the nation.
​Under current law, property tax valuations can increase 5 percent each year.
​Oklahoma is not the only state considering such reforms this year.
​New Jersey recently imposed a 2-percent property tax cap in a bipartisan agreement between Republican Gov. Chris Christie and Democratic legislators. And Indiana voters recently approved a 1-percent cap by a hefty 72 percent margin.
Lawmakers Vote to Suspend “Art” in Public Places Act
Legislation approved by a state House committee this week would temporarily end a state law that requires millions of tax dollars to go to “art” projects.
           House Bill 1665 would eliminate the Arts in Public Places Act for the next three years. Under current law, anytime the state has a building project or renovation costing $250,000 or more, 1.5 percent of the cost must be dedicated to “public art.” The cost of that “art” can be as much as $500,000 per project.
           Those expenditures are occurring even as the state faces a $500 million shortfall just one year after grappling with a $1.2 billion shortfall.
           The art law recently drew attention after the state paid a reported $450,000 to mount large rusted disc blades in front of the new Office of State Finance at 30th and Lincoln.
​According to The Oklahoman, about $726,000 has been spent on public art for three new state buildings and two road projects since 2004, and another $3.4 million is budgeted for artwork for more than 20 projects.
Lawmakers Approve New Penalty for Uninsured Motorists
To increase the incentive for all Oklahoma drivers to carry mandatory liability auto insurance, a House committee voted today to prohibit uninsured drivers from being able to sue for vague “pain and suffering” damages after an accident.
           Under House Bill 1045, the “maximum amount” an uninsured driver could receive through a lawsuit following an automobile accident would be limited to “the amount of medical costs, property damage, and lost income.”
​The bill would not allow uninsured drivers to sue for vague “pain and suffering” awards that often result in large settlements, potentially lowering the cost of auto insurance premiums in Oklahoma.
           The bill contains an exemption for situations where an uninsured driver is hit by a drunk driver or if the uninsured motorist was a passenger in a wreck.
​In recent years, several official estimates have indicated Oklahoma has one of the highest rates of uninsured drivers in the nation.
           House Bill 1021 passed out of the House Insurance Committee today. It now advances to the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
Subcommittee Approves Bill to Shift Education Funds to Classroom
Legislation that would require schools to devote a minimum percentage of their spending on direct instructional activities was passed by a House appropriations subcommittee this wee.
           House Bill 1746 would require school districts to spend at least 57 percent of total yearly expenditures on direct instructional activities in the 2011-2012 year, at least 60 percent in the 2012-2013 year, at least 63 percent in the 2013-2014 year, and at least 65 percent in the 2014-2015 year and thereafter. School districts could file for a one-year exemption if they could show that they had reduced administrative expenses
           The legislation would also require school districts to gain approval for any plan to dismiss or lay off teachers.
           Under the bill, total yearly expenditures would not include capital construction, debt or bond payments, which are funded with local tax dollars and not state appropriations.
           The legislation would require school districts to file an annual report to the State Board of Education that would include the percentage of total expenditures that had been used to fund direct instructional activities, the percent of total expenditures used to fund direct instructional activities related to courses that are subject to assessment pursuant to the Oklahoma School Testing Program and the percentage of full-time employees in the district whose job function was to directly provide classroom instruction to students.
Committee Votes to Streamline Process for Firing Bad Teachers
Legislation to simplify and speed up the process to ensure the best teachers remain in the classroom while ensuring educators’ constitutional rights are protected gained bipartisan support in committee this week.
Currently, teachers can appeal a firing in district court, an expensive and time-consuming process for all involved.
The Oklahoman recently reported that it cost Purcell Public Schools around $80,000 to fire a teacher later charged with lewd acts with a child.
Under House Bill 1457, a teacher fired by a school board could instead request a hearing from a three-member panel, whose members would be selected by the state Education Department.
The bill has the support of the state teacher’s union as well as education reformers.
House Bill 1457 passed unanimously in the House Common Education Committee and now goes to the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
House Lawmakers Vote to Give School Grades
Member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives voted this week to implement a new grading system – for schools.
​Under House Bill 1456 Oklahoma’s public schools would be given an annual grade of “A” to “F” based on student performance on state tests.
​Under the legislation, annual reports would be issued giving letter grades to schools based on student performance on the Oklahoma School Testing Program.
​The grades would be as follows:
•​“A”  means schools making excellent progress;
•​“B”  means schools making above average progress;
•​“C” means schools making satisfactory progress;
•​“D” means schools making less than satisfactory progress; and
•​“F” means schools failing to make adequate progress.
Schools receiving an “A” or those that improve at least two grade levels in a year would be rewarded by granting them greater authority over the allocation of the state-funded portion of the school’s budget.
​Each school’s grade would be based on a combination of student test scores on all criterion-referenced tests and end-of-instruction tests, student learning gains in reading and mathematics, and improvement of the lowest twenty-fifth percentile of students in reading and mathematics.
​For high schools, 50 percent of the school grade would be based on the above-listed factors and the other half of the grade would be graduation rates, student performance on the ACT and SAT, and similar factors.
​The legislation is based on a similar plan in Florida.
​In 1999, the first year Florida issued letter grades for schools, there were 515 schools that received an A or B, while 677 received Ds or Fs. Performance continually improved until 2,317 schools received As or Bs in 2009, and just 217 received Ds or Fs.
​House Bill 1456 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a 65-32 vote.
Committee Clears Eminent Domain Bill
Legislation to ensure Oklahomans who lose property due to a city or other authority’s use of eminent domain have the right to buy back any part of the property that goes unused was passed by a House committee this week.
           House Bill 1226 would also require the city or authority to send the original owner a notice of the right to buy back the property at either its original price or, if it had lost value, at the current appraised value. The original owner or his or her heirs would have 90 days to claim the right to purchase the property.
           House Bill 1226 was passed by the House Judiciary Committee and awaits a hearing by the full House.
Committee Advances Reform of State Board of Education
Legislation to reform the structure and responsibilities of the State Board of Education cleared committee this week.
The House Common Education Committee approved House Bill 2139, which modifies the administration of the State Department of Education. It transfers the administrative control and direction of the Department from the State Board of Education to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
House Bill 2139 also  
• allows the State Superintendent to establish divisions and positions within the Department.
• removes the State Board as the governing board of the Department.  
• requires the State Superintendent to prepare a departmental budget and submit division reports.
• clarifies and updates language relating to the administrative duties of the State Superintendent.  
• establishes powers and duties of the Superintendent related to the Department.
The State Board of Education will remain in charge of supervising public instruction; overseeing curriculum and implementing education policies advanced by the Legislature.
The measure now moves to the full House.        
Pain-Capable Unborn Child Bill Clears Committee
Legislation to make it illegal to perform an abortion on an unborn child who is capable of feeling pain cleared a House committee this week.
​House Bill 1888 creates the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” The proposed law would require abortion providers to determine fetal age prior to an abortion and make it illegal to perform an abortion on an unborn child who is 20-or-more weeks of age.
​The bill exempts situations in which the life of the mother is at risk or when the mother faces “serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment.”
​A similar law has already been enacted in Nebraska.
​The legislation is based on the latest medical research, which now shows that pain receptors (nociceptors) are present throughout an unborn child’s entire body by no later than 16 weeks after fertilization, and nerves linking receptors to the brain’s thalamus and subcortical plate are present no later than 20 weeks.
​In addition, it has been determined that by eight weeks of age an unborn child will react by recoiling from stimuli that would be recognized as painful if applied to an adult.
Research has also found that the application of painful stimuli is associated with significant increases in stress hormones in an unborn child.​That is one reason that fetal anesthesia is routinely administered when surgery is done on unborn children.
​House Bill 1888, which is one of two priority bills for pro-life groups this year, passed the House Public Health Committee and now advances to the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
Lawmakers Vote to Increase Regulation of Abortionists
Legislation approved by a House committee would increase regulatory oversight of abortion providers to increase safeguards for women.
           House Bill 1642 would require any abortion provider to have “clinical privileges at a hospital which offers obstetrical or gynecological care” that is located within 30 miles of the site where abortion is performed or induced.
​State Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, authored the bill. Ritze is a Board Certified Family Practice Physician and Surgeon who has delivered over 2,000 babies.
​Although he is strongly pro-life, Ritze said officials should not ignore the potential medical risks faced by women that undergo abortions, and said the recent case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortion provider, illustrates the need for greater oversight of abortion providers.
​Gosnell is facing murder charges related to the death of a woman who died as the result of a botched abortion provided at his office. In addition, Gosnell faces murder counts for delivering seven babies alive and then killing them with a pair of scissors. It is believed that many of Gosnell’s female patients suffered major medical problems due to the severely unhygienic conditions at his clinic.
           House Bill 1642 passed on a bipartisan vote of 11-0 in the House Public Health Committee. The bill now goes to the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
Lawmakers Vote to Ban Creation of Embryos for Experiments
Legislation that would make it illegal to create human embryos for experiments was approved by a House committee this week.
​House Bill 1442 creates the “Destructive Human Embryo Research Act.” The proposed law would make it illegal to “intentionally or knowingly conduct destructive research on a human embryo” or to “buy, sell, receive, or otherwise transfer a human embryo with the knowledge that such embryo shall be subjected to destructive research.”
​Violations would result in misdemeanor charges.
​The legislation states that the destruction of human embryos to obtain embryonic stem cells “raises grave moral, ethical, scientific, and medical issues that must be addressed,” and that the moral justification for medical or scientific research “cannot be based upon the dehumanizing and utilitarian premise that the end justifies any means.”
​In spite of millions spent, the bill’s author noted that embryonic stem cell research has not produced a single treatment and typically generates cancer tumors, not cures.
​In fact, Dr. Kevin Donovan, director of the Oklahoma Bioethics Center at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine in Tulsa, told the Tulsa World (April 24, 2009 edition) that “embryonic stem cell research so far and in the future is a dead end. There are no foreseeable cures in the next decade for certain.”
​In addition, embryonic stem cell research also has a supply problem.
A report by the RAND Corporation found that only 2.8 percent of so-called “leftover” embryos at fertility clinics have been specifically designated for research while 88.2 percent continue to be held for family planning. (
​The RAND report also found that 11,000 embryos would generate just 275 new embryonic stem cell lines.
​Locally, KOTV in Tulsa reported in 2009 that the Integris Fertility Clinic in Oklahoma City had 230 sets of embryos stored for later use, 20 sets for embryo adoption, and just two sets designated for research. The clinic indicated that each “set” can contain anywhere from two to 11 embryos each.
​As a result, the only viable way to conduct embryonic stem cell research is to create thousands of new embryos specifically to harvest them for stem cells.
​Rather than support embryo destruction, Oklahoma officials have dedicated millions to adult stem cell research, which has resulted in 70 treatments already. Researchers have also been able to “reprogram” adult stem cells to duplicate embryonic stem cells without destroying an unborn child.
​In 2009, the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust committed $500,000 for a year-long planning phase for adult stem cell research funding, followed by $1 million per year funding for the following five-year implementation phase, for a total of $5.5 million.
​House Bill 1442 passed the House Public Health Committee. It now proceeds to the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
Native American Caucus Elects New Co-Chairs
The Native American Caucus has elected state Rep. Dan Kirby (R-Tulsa) and Rep. Chuck Hoskin (D-Vinita) to serve as co-chairs of the caucus for the 53rd Legislature.
           State Rep. Anastasia Pittman (D-Oklahoma City) was re-elected to serve as secretary of the caucus.
           The purpose of the caucus is to identify and prioritize issues, support the establishment and maintenance of state-tribal communications and policy processes pertaining to sovereignty. Oklahoma has 39 federally-recognized tribes.
           The caucus held its first 2011 monthly meeting Feb. 8. It was established in 2006 through the foresight of state Rep. Lisa Billy and former state Rep. Shane Jett. The National Council of Native American Legislators was formed in the 1980s and was reformed as the National Caucus of Native American State Legislators in 1992.
Committee Green-lights Bill Requiring Generators in Large Assisted Living Facilities
Legislation to require Oklahoma assisted living facilities with 50 or more beds to have a backup generator for emergency power in case of a disaster cleared committee this week.
           House Bill 2002 includes a provision allowing a facility to request an exemption if they could show financial hardship. The legislation also requires facilities to file an emergency evacuation plan with their local fire department and county emergency management director.
​The legislation was filed after the author heard of a facility that did not have a backup generator during an ice-storm related power outage.
           During a legislative study the Oklahoma Department of Health Long Term Care Service reported that of 133 facilities surveyed, 89 had a backup generator. OSDH also stated that they strongly supported onsite sheltering as opposed to the transfer of residents to another facility during a natural disaster.
           House Bill 2002 passed out of the Long-term Care and Senior Services Committee by a vote of 7-1.
Firearms Freedom Act Clears Committee
Legislation declaring that firearms made and kept in Oklahoma are not subject to regulation by the federal government has passed out of a House committee.
           House Bill 1645 creates the “Firearms Freedom Act.” The legislation references the Second, Ninth and 10th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and declares firearms, accessories and ammunition made and sold in Oklahoma to be free from federal regulations.
           Under the bill, guns must be clearly marked “Made in Oklahoma.
           House Bill 1645 was approved by the House Judiciary Committee and now proceeds to the full House for consideration. In 2010, it passed the House by a vote of 89-9 and the Senate by a vote of 37-7 before being vetoed by the governor.
Committee Clears Nullification of ObamaCare
Legislation passed by a House committee this week would effectively nullify the new federal health care law in Oklahoma.
           House Bill 1276 notes that the Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution defines the total scope of federal powers “as being those which have been delegated by the people of the several states to the federal government, and all powers not delegated to the federal government in the Constitution of the United States are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people themselves.”
           The bill then notes that the assumption of federal power made with passage of the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” and “Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010” is “nowhere expressly granted by the United States Constitution and interferes with the right of the people of the State of Oklahoma to regulate health care as they see fit.”
           Because those two federal laws were “not authorized by the Constitution of the United States,” the bill then declares them to be “invalid in the State of Oklahoma” and states that they “shall not be recognized by this state, are specifically rejected by this state, and shall be considered null and void and of no effect in this state.”
           House Bill 1276 was passed by the House Judiciary Committee and now awaits consideration by the full House.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Press release: Feb. 23, 2011

Bill to Phase Out Income Tax
Scheduled for ‘Non-vote’ Hearing Thursday
OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Josh Cockroft announced today that his legislation to further lower the state income tax to 5 percent in 2011 and phase it out by 2016 would get a “non-vote” hearing by a House appropriations subcommittee at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.
            House Bill 1543 would reduce the income tax by 1 percent each year, down to 0 percent in 2016. The House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Revenue and Taxation will hear discussion of the bill in room 432A.
            “I am grateful for Committee Chair David Dank for agreeing to a discussion of the bill before the committee,” Cockroft, R-McLoud, said. “Phasing out the income tax in Oklahoma would dramatically increase our state’s ability to keep and attract employers and jobs. And it would empower individual Oklahomans to have more control over their own economic destiny.”
            Cockroft said that an interim study is being held to determine the fiscal impact of reducing and eliminating the state income tax.
            “I will be very interested to hear the results of that study,” Cockroft said. “Groups such as the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and others have even proposed, and rightly so I believe, that getting rid of Oklahoma’s personal income tax could be the single greatest move we could make to energize our state’s economy. I am simply asking leaders of this state to hear the people’s will on this issue and enact serious policy towards the reduction and elimination of the personal state income tax.”

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Weekly column: Feb 21-25

Cockroft Column: Firefighter and Police Pensions
By Rep. Josh Cockroft
One of the greatest financial challenges currently facing Oklahoma is the status of our state pension systems. The total unfunded actuarial accrued liability of all seven Oklahoma pensions systems is currently over $16 billion – about $4,275 per Oklahoman and more than twice the size of the entire state budget. A study by Northwestern University’s Joshua D. Rauh predicts that the state’s retirement funds will be broke by 2020.
This has prompted House lawmakers to begin shoring up the system so retirees are protected. I consider this a top priority.
House Bill 1221 will reform the Oklahoma Firefighters Pension and Retirement System and the Oklahoma Police Pension and Retirement System. The most recent information available for the firefighters’ plan shows a 53.4 percent funded level. For police, it is 74.9 percent. The actuary soundness for a private plan is a minimum of 80 percent. 
In its current form, House Bill 1221 would adjust benefit levels for new workers entering the system starting in November 2011. Benefits for current firefighters or police would not be impacted. The bill contains four major changes for those new members entering the system. First, it would change the multiplier from 2.5 percent to 2 percent. The bill would increase the retirement age for those entering the system starting next year so retirement would occur in 25 years instead of 20. It would also raise the employee contribution from 8 percent to 12 percent. And, finally, the bill would eliminate the Drop plan, which impartial and independent research indicates is a fiscal drain on the pension system.
I welcome input from firefighters and police officers as this legislation moves through the process.
If you have questions or need information, please contact my office at or (405) 557-7349. Rep. Cockroft is on Facebook and on Twitter, votecockroft27. Video footage of the House Chamber is also available at

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Kris Steele Editorial

Right-sizing Oklahoma state government is one of my top priorities as Speaker of the House. To help achieve this goal, House Bill 2140 proposes to consolidate seven of Oklahoma’s central service state agencies into one agency based on similar mission and subject matter. This is an important step toward making state government more efficient, accountable, and responsive to the needs of Oklahoma taxpayers.
            In December, the Government Modernization Committee conducted an interim study to analyze the possible benefits of combining several of Oklahoma’s central service agencies. Central service agencies are state agencies that provide services to other Oklahoma state agencies.
The study identified a possible savings of $10 million per year if the coordination results in a reduction of just 20 percent of appropriated dollars. Additional savings would accrue through the reduction of overhead and administrative costs.
           Currently, state employees must access multiple bureaucracies to utilize state shared services. A consolidated central services agency would allow procurement officers to deal with one entity, thus simplifying and streamlining the process.
            In some cases, it is difficult for a state agency director to determine which shared service agencies to use under our current system. For example, the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of State Finance provide almost identical shared financial services. Because there is not a clear set of performance metrics by which state agencies can gauge and account for the services they employ, the current process is cumbersome and inefficient.
It is not prudent for Oklahoma’s central service agencies to provide duplicative services to state agencies. Clearly, this level of red tape slows down the ability of the state to quickly provide services to Oklahoma taxpayers.
Under HB 2140, Department of Central Services, Office of Personnel Management, Oklahoma Merit Protection Commission, Oklahoma Department of Libraries, Oklahoma State Employees Benefits Council and Oklahoma State and Education Employees Group Insurance Board would be streamlined into the Office of State Finance.
This proposal is patterned after the central services governance structures in Montana, Indiana and Utah. House Bill 2140 advances Governor Fallin’s agenda to modernize state agencies and increase efficiencies in state government.
Oklahoma must live within its means, and the House of Representatives is  committed to making government smaller, smarter and more efficient in order to save taxpayer dollars and better serve the citizens of Oklahoma.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Week at the Capitol: Feb. 14-18

Weekly Wrap
Speaker Names Investigatory Committee Members
This week, House Speaker Kris Steele named the eight members of the special bipartisan committee that will investigate the allegations that led to state Rep. Randy Terrill being charged with felony bribery.
​The committee’s makeup is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.
​State Rep. Fred Jordan, R-Jenks, will chair the committee. Jordan is a former Marine Corps Judge Advocate and attorney who chairs the House Judiciary Committee.
​State Rep. Ben Sherrer, D-Pryor and an attorney, will serve as vice-chair.
​The other six members of the committee are
•​State Rep. Gary Banz, R-Midwest City
•​State Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove
•​State Rep. Steve Kouplen, D-Beggs
•​State Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa
•​State Rep. Harold Wright, R-Weatherford
•​State Rep. Purcy Walker, D-Elk City
​The committee met briefly to adopt the rules that will govern the investigatory process. The group is charged with gathering evidence and ultimately making a recommendation to the full House if the Committee finds sufficient evidence exists that the legislator in question “has engaged in conduct which impairs the ability of the member to perform the duties of his or her office, or substantially impairs public confidence in the Legislature.”
​The group’s work is not a criminal investigation.
​Under the rules adopted, the committee members cannot discuss the investigation while it is ongoing to protect the member under investigation and all witnesses, as well as to protect the integrity of the process.
​However, all the group’s findings and recommendation will be released to the public.
​The rules adopted call for a multi-part process.
​In the first phase, the committee or its counsel will conduct an investigation and gather evidence. Upon completion of the gathering process, all information will be provided to members of the committee.
​At that point, committee members will determine if the evidence is sufficient to warrant additional proceedings. If so, a written report outlining the evidence will then be provided to the member under investigation, who will then have 14 days to respond in writing and to request an opportunity to present additional evidence.
​At the conclusion of that process, the committee will vote on whether or not to recommend disciplinary action to the full body of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
​Throughout the process, the committee will have subpoena power to compel witness testimony and production of documentary evidence.
​Upon completion of its work, the committee will submit a report of its findings to the House, which will be filed in the chief clerk’s office. The report will be made available to the public.
​The final decision would then be left up to the full membership of the Oklahoma House of Representatives during a floor session.
Bill to combine school superintendents advances
Legislation providing financial incentives to school districts that hire the same superintendent as part of an effort to consolidate administrative functions cleared a subcommittee this week.
​House Bill 2115 would allow school districts that share administrators to receive funding from the School Consolidation Assistance Fund. The extra funding would cover up to 50 percent of the superintendent’s salary for three consecutive years up to $200,000 total.
​Cash in the School Consolidation Assistance Fund comes from the state lottery.
​The bill’s author said it is an incentive for school districts to reduce administrative costs and devote more money to the classroom.
​Oklahoma currently has 526 school districts.
​House Bill 2115 passed unanimously out of the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Education and now proceeds to the full House A&B Committee.
Bill Would Grade School Performance
Under legislation approved this week, Oklahoma students won’t be the only ones receiving a grade; their schools will as well.
​Under House Bill 1456 Oklahoma’s public schools would be given an annual grade of “A” to “F” based on student performance on state tests.
​The legislation is based on a similar plan in Florida.
​In 1999, the first year Florida issued letter grades for schools, there were 616 schools that received an A or B, while 877 received Ds or Fs. Performance continually improved until 2,317 schools received As or Bs in 2009, and just 217 received Ds or Fs.
​Under the legislation, annual reports would be issued giving letter grades to schools based on student performance on the Oklahoma School Testing Program.
​The grades would be as follows:
•​“A”  means schools making excellent progress;
•​“B”  means schools making above average progress;
•​“C” means schools making satisfactory progress;
•​“D” means schools making less than satisfactory progress; and
•​“F” means schools failing to make adequate progress.
Schools receiving an “A” or those that improve at least two grade levels in a year would be rewarded by granting them greater authority over the allocation of the state-funded portion of the school’s budget.
​Each school’s grade would be based on a combination of student test scores on all criterion-referenced tests and end-of-instruction tests, student learning gains in reading and mathematics, and improvement of the lowest twenty-fifth percentile of students in reading and mathematics.
​For high schools, 50 percent of the school grade would be based on the above-listed factors and the other half of the grade would be based on
•​the district’s high school graduation rate;
•​performance and participation of students in College Board Advanced Placement courses, International Baccalaureate courses, concurrent enrollment courses, Advanced International Certificate of Education courses, and national industry certification;
•​students’ SAT and ACT scores;
•​the high school graduation rate of students who scored as limited or unsatisfactory on eighth-grade criterion-referenced tests in reading and mathematics; and
•​student performance on the end-of-instruction tests.
House Bill 1456 passed out of the House Common Education Committee. It will now proceed to the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
Communities Could Soon Have Local Control of Smoking Regulation
​Lawmakers voted this week to grant local control of tobacco regulations to Oklahoma communities.
​House Bill 2135 would allow local communities the right to set local smoking regulations.
The state of Oklahoma already grants communities similar power when it comes to setting “social host” ordinances regarding alcoholic beverages.
And Oklahoma is one of only two states in the country with restrictions that do not allow local decisions on tobacco regulation.
​Productivity losses from smoking-caused early deaths are estimated to exceed $1.7 billion annually in Oklahoma. Smokers, on average, miss over 50 percent more days of work due to sickness compared to nonsmokers. The cost for those missed days for current smokers is an estimated $4,430/year compared with $3,246/year for former smokers and just $2,623/year for nonsmokers.
​House Bill 2135 passed out of the House Public Health and Safety Committee and now goes to the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
Lawmakers Consider Major Pension Reforms
Lawmakers are considering major reforms to shore up Oklahoma’s state pensions and provide opportunity for participants to have increased personal control.
​Many bills have been filed and will be heard on the subject.
​Among others, House Bill 1004 creates the “Leadership by Example Act” and would place all new members of the Oklahoma Legislature and statewide officials into a new defined contribution plan.
           Some groups have opposed reform, especially if it requires moving their future employees into a defined contribution plan. The Legislature will not ask other groups to do something that they are not willing to do themselves.
           The new defined contribution plan, “Save Oklahoma,” will build on the existing and successful SoonerSave program. As of June 30, 2010, it had 35,134 participants with net assets of $458 million and no unfunded liability.
           Another pair of bills would significantly improve the financial standing of state pensions in future years.
           House Bill 2132 would require that all COLAs be fully funded when authorized.
           House Bill 1006 would help stabilize state pensions by requiring that a pension system be at least 80-percent funded before a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) can be authorized for the system.
           House Bill 1011 would provide a funding source for COLAs. Under the bill, a portion of the revenues received by the Commissioners of the Land Office would be dedicated to funding COLAs for retired teachers. If enacted into law, House Bill 1011 would be the first dedicated funding source for COLAs in state history.
           The Commissioners of the Land Office, also known as the “School Land Trust,” manages state-owned public lands to produce income for education.
Ten years ago the state’s unfunded pension liability was just over $6 billion. According to official actuarial reports, the unfunded liability now totals more than $16 billion – more than twice the size of the entire state budget.
​With a growing portion of the state’s budget being needed to fund retirement plans, there are fewer tax dollars available to support core government services.
​In addition, the unfunded liability threatens the state’s bond rating.
​All four of these measures, along with several other important reform bills, were considered this week in the House Economic Development, Tourism and Financial Services Committee, where the executive directors of the major pension plans were invited to make public comment.
Legislation to Expand Visitation Rights Clears Committee
Legislation to allow judges to consider granting former legal guardians visitation rights to a child passed a House committee this week.
           House Bill 1199 makes it possible for a judge to grant former legal guardians visitation rights to a child.
​The bill’s author noted that there are many scenarios where a child lives with adults who are not their biological relatives, but who care for them as if they were. Under House Bill 1199, those individuals can continue to play a role in the child’s life.
           House Bill 1199 passed the House Judiciary Committee and now awaits consideration by the full House.
Committee Green-lights Initiative Petition Bill to Require Funding Source
Legislation to require initiative petitions that mandate new spending to identify a funding source passed out of a House committee this week.
​The bill was prompted, in part, by State Question 744, which went to the voters last fall. It would have required up to $1.7 billion in new education spending, but provided no funding source. The measure was defeated.
           House Bill 1225 would require those submitting a petition to include a statement “outlining all sources of funding to be used in the measure.”
           House Bill 1225 was passed by the House Rules Committee and now awaits consideration by the full House.
Bill Targeting Funeral Protests Clears Committee
Legislation to further restrict the activities of protestors at funerals passed out of the House Judiciary Committee this week.
​House Bill 1074 would make it illegal to picket within 1,000 feet of the property line of a cemetery, mortuary, church or other place where any portion of a funeral service is held. The prohibition would begin an hour prior to the service until one hour after its completion.
​Violations could result in a fine of up to $500 and up to 30 days in jail.
Current law imposes only a 500-foot restriction.
The Westboro Baptist Church, a radical group unaffiliated with any denomination, has gained national notoriety in recent years for protesting soldiers’ funerals, claiming the deaths of U.S. military personnel are a sign of God’s judgment on this country.
House Bill 1074 passed out of the House Judiciary Committee. It will now proceed to the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
Lawmakers Vote to Crack Down on Child Abusers
Legislation approved by a committee this week would provide new consequences for child abusers.
​House Bill 1549 would allow any individual who was exploited as a child in the production of pornography to “bring a civil action against the producer, promoter, or intentional possessor of such child pornography, regardless of whether the victim is now
​The legislation has the support of the Office of the Attorney General.
​House Bill 1549 passed unanimously in the House Judiciary Committee this week. It now proceeds to the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
Committee Clears Bill to Regulate Abortion-inducing Drugs
Legislation to further restrict the use of abortion-inducing drugs and provide for the safety of pregnant women passed a House committee this week.
           House Bill 1970 would require physicians to conduct an exam and schedule a follow-up appointment before prescribing an abortion-inducing drug.
           House Bill 1970 requires a follow-up appointment to ensure that adverse effects from the use of an abortion-inducing drug are caught and dealt with. The legislation would also require the physician to report any complications resulting from the use of the drug and the physician provide a patient with the drug manufacturer’s guide to anything prescribed to induce an abortion.
Lawmakers Seek to Cut Overhead for Local Businesses
Legislation passed by a House committee this week would reduce fees for local pharmacies with soda fountains.
           House Bill 1938 would slash in half the annual Health Department fee paid by pharmacies for health inspections, cutting it from $250 to $125.
​Since pharmacies do very little food business the cost of the health inspection often makes little sense, according to the bill’s author.
           House Bill 1938 passed unanimously in the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. It now goes to the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Josh Cockroft on Pat Campell, 1170 KFAQ

Below is the link for my latest interview on my HB 1543 on the Pat Campell show in tulsa, 1170KFAQ.

Friday, February 11, 2011

House Adopts Historic Rules Reform to Increase Transparency

This week marked the beginning of Oklahoma’s 53rd Legislature and already historic strides have taken place. In addition to hearing the State of the State delivered by our state’s first female Governor, House lawmakers voted to dramatically reform the chamber’s rules of operation by increasing openness and public oversight.
            The newly adopted rules represent a major shift in the way business is conducted at the state Capitol. While tremendous progress toward increased transparency has occurred in recent years, the rule changes recently adopted dramatically increase the opportunity for public scrutiny of legislative actions. The new rules also better equip members to make informed decisions, and provide better safeguards against last-minute changes escaping thorough review.
            The reforms produce a more transparent process. Ordinarily, when the House and Senate vote in favor of different versions of the same bill, the legislation is often sent to a joint conference committee where a final version is negotiated. Previously, those conference committees did not convene in any actual meeting of the members and no votes were cast in public.
            Under the reforms adopted this week, standing conference committees will be established to handle measures assigned to conference. These committees will now hold public meetings and all votes will be recorded. In addition, a detailed listing of bills on the agenda for each conference committee meeting will be publicly posted in advance.
            The reforms include a steadfast 24-hour rule requiring conference committee reports to be filed and posted online for a full day before they are eligible to be considered on the House floor.
            In addition, the House and Senate are in the process of proposing joint rules to eliminate “shell” appropriation bills.  In past sessions, shell bills were measures that did not contain actual dollar amounts.  After these bills passed through both chambers, in the final weeks of session, a conference committee was formed to reach a budget agreement.   
            The new joint rules will eliminate the time previously wasted on shell bills by removing them from the legislative process.  Instead, all appropriation measures will be sent directly to a new joint House/Senate committee on appropriations and budget, thus allowing work on the budget to proceed in a more timely and efficient manner.
            Public scrutiny and oversight are vital to a healthy democracy. The rule changes recently enacted are bold reforms that set the right tone for the start of this legislative session. 
An excellent article submitted by Speaker Steele on the House rules that were adopted this week!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Weekly NewsPaper Column

    Governor Mary Fallin spoke eloquently in her first State of the State address and touched on the concern of most Oklahomans, that state government has grown too big. I could not be more proud to serve alongside the state's first female governor, especially one who so represents the conservative values of average Oklahomans.

    The governor affirmed what I believe to be true - state agencies can continue to operate effectively with less money. Her proposed budget would reduce education funding by 2.9 percent and generally cut agencies by 3 to 5 percent. In her speech, she stated her goals of creating greater efficiency through a statewide transition to paperless billing and payments, a consolidation of IT and personnel services and a uniform financial system to be used by all state agencies. With these cost-savings measures and agency budget cuts, the overall state budget would be reduced by 5.4 percent.
I support the idea of spreading the cuts out in a way so that no agency is given too drastic a budget reduction. Priority state services should receive smaller cuts than agencies that do not provide core services. It was also notable that transportation funding was increased so as to continue the repair and replacement of the state's roads and bridges.

    Governor Fallin stated her commitment to addressing the $16 billion in unfunded liability in the state's pension systems and her support of education reform. I could not agree more that it is past time to ensure Oklahoma students receive a quality education and to fix our pension system so that we are able to meet the obligations we have set forth.

    The governor's address confirmed that she and lawmakers have the same goals and a similar plan of action. I am looking forward to the Legislature's collaboration with her in moving our state forward.

Cockroft Describes First Days Of Session

    Dist. 27 Rep. Josh Cockroft reported late Tuesday that the first two days of the Oklahoma Legislature were interesting and exciting.
    Calling The Countywide & Sun on his way home to Tecumseh from the Capitol, Cockroft said he was “very encouraged” by Gov. Mary Fallin’s State of the State address Monday, “especially from the standpoint of the economy and looking ahead to this next year. We have to have responsible government. I believe we can do it.
    “When you hear your governor talking about cuts across the board – well, I was very pleased to hear everything. Especially near and dear to my heart was her plan for reducing and eventually cutting the income tax.” Cockroft is sponsoring a bill on that issue and said he is “excited to be working with her (Fallin) on it.”
Cockroft, who grew up in the McLoud area, moved to Tecumseh after his marriage last month.
    For more on Cockroft’s impression of the first two days of the legislative session, see this week’s print edition of The Countywide & Sun.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Legislation Would Phase Out Income Taxes

Legislation Would Phase Out Income Tax
Direct Link to This Story     

Contact: State Rep. Josh Cockroft
Capitol: (405) 557-7349

OKLAHOMA CITY (February 8, 2011) – Legislation authored by state Rep. Josh Cockroft would further lower the state income tax to 5 percent in 2011 and phase it out by 2016.

House Bill 1543 would reduce the income tax by 1 percent each year, down to 0 percent in 2016.

“I think that Oklahomans no longer support the state income tax and would like lawmakers to come up with a new way to fund state government,” Cockroft, R-Tecumseh, said. “Texas gets by without a state income tax and I think that Oklahoma can as well.”

Cockroft said that in addition to changing the source of revenue, the Legislature would focus on reducing state spending.

“The state needs to eliminate wasteful spending and join the 21st century as an affordable and efficient form of government,” Cockroft said. “I think that there are many places where reform and common sense will result in effective government services for less.”

Monday, February 7, 2011

Josh Cockroft Begins Political Career

(by Robby Short, Shawnee News Star)

Rep. Josh Cockroft, who at 21 is one of the three youngest members serving in the Oklahoma House of Representatives in the session which begins Monday, is author of seven bills.
 Cockroft is one of eight children. All eight were home schooled by both parents. Cockroft also attended online classes at Calvary Chapel Bible College in California for two semesters.
“I was really blessed to be in the situation that I was in, having my parents teach me,” Cockroft said. “My mom majored in journalism in college and my dad majored in math. I was extremely fortunate to receive a high quality education. Given the chance to do it again, I would in a heartbeat.”
Cockroft said he will continue working as an apprentice for Efficient Heating and Cooling in Moore following the legislative session.
“I am taking time off for the legislative session, but will return to work for the company in June,” Cockroft said. “I will obtain my journeyman license in early summer and will be a certified technician at that point. I’ve worked with this company for about eight months, and will probably be working with them for some time to come.”
Cockroft is author of H.B. 1543, the Taxpayer Relief Act of 2011, which would set a five year phase-out of the state income tax.
“This will allow taxpayers to retain more of their hard earned money which will in turn, stimulate our economy,” Cockroft said. “It is best when the government takes a step back and allows individuals to live their lives freely.
Three of Cockroft seven bills deal with education.
H.B. 1544 would change school board election dates to match state, county, and local election cycles. H.B. 1546 would give students elective credit for administration-approved volunteer community service. And H.B. 1545 would give all military personnel in-state status, which would wave out-of-state tuition for service members living and attending college in the state.
“We must find out how we can help our students gain the highest quality of education they can. We need to look at how technology can help us in the classroom,” Cockroft said. “We must look at getting out of the, ‘we’ve done it this way for years’ mentality, and look for new innovative ways to help our students.” 
HJR 1017 will redirect a percentage of new growth from property taxes toward county funds that are used to cover transportation costs for the state.
“Over the next year, I want to look at how we can redirect some of the taxes that are gained from diesel and gasoline, as well as tag and license fees, that are going to the general revenue right now, and place them in the transportation budget,” Cockroft explained. “This will allow more funds that were meant for transportation to be used in the construction and maintenance of roadways and bridges.”
The remaining bills authored by Cockroft are H.B. 1547 which would eliminate local fees for concealed carry permit applicants, and H.B. 1542 which he said would brand drivers’ licenses for DUI and DWI offenders.
“I don’t have any political aspirations at all right now. I don’t believe a statesman should ever plan his next step in politics, because when you plan it out, it becomes easier to compromise your beliefs to gain votes,” Cockroft said. “If God has bigger plans for me in politics, I don’t know. I’ll take that one step at a time. I want to focus on doing the best where I am now before worrying about my next move.”

And so it begins...

    It has been a while since my last post, but a lot has definitely happened. Over the last month I have gotten married, gone on a honeymoon, filed final legislation, and now today have started the legislative session. I am definitely ready to get to work!

    This is an exciting time for our State! We must make sure that our State government is efficient and responsible, always doing what is best for the people of this great State. I will begin to update you in the following days and weeks about the legislation that is coming up on the floor and out of committees. I have several bills that I have authored and will be talking with you about. I look forward to the next several months as I get the priviledge to serve you!

God Bless,
Rep. Josh Cockroft