Monday, April 25, 2011

Cockroft Column: Road Investment Paying Off

Transportation and infrastructure was a major component of my campaign. With this in mind, I would like to tell you about a report released by Washington, D.C.-based The Road Information Program, which shows that Oklahoma’s investment in roads is paying off.
The report found that the increased road funding approved over the past five years has dramatically reduced the number of deficient bridges and possibly saved lives.
The report shows Oklahoma has reduced the number of structurally deficient, state-maintained bridges by 32 percent. Over the last five years lawmakers have pumped an additional $700 million into the state’s transportation system and an addition $1 billion is scheduled to be provided over the next five years.
Based on an anticipated $1.1 billion in state appropriations for road and bridge repair through 2015, the report projects Oklahoma will reduce the number of structurally deficient state bridges to 504 by 2015, a 57 percent reduction from 2005 levels.
In spite of those successes, Oklahoma still has a long way to go. The state still ranks second in the nation, behind only Pennsylvania, in the number of bridges rated structurally deficient.
New funding also allowed the installation of median barriers along hundreds of miles of roadways, improving road safety. The number of people killed in traffic accidents on Oklahoma roadways dropped from 737 in 2009 to 625 in 2010 – the lowest number of traffic fatalities in the state since 1992, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.
I am proud to support transportation funding. It is among my budget priorities this year. I believe it is a public safety issue and also crucial to our local economy.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Governor Mary Fallin Signs Two Pro-Life Bills into Law

Alex Weintz, Communications Director
(405) 522-8819
Aaron Cooper, Press Secretary
(405) 522-8878

April 20, 2011
OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin today signed two pieces of pro-life legislation into law at a ceremony attended by pro-life legislators and advocates.
House Bill 1888, authored by Representative Pam Peterson and Senator Clark Jolley, creates the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Scientific studies have shown that at 20 weeks an unborn child can feel pain. 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.
Senate Bill 547, authored by Senator Anthony Sykes and Representative Dennis Johnson, ensures standard health insurance policies sold in Oklahoma or sold through a state health insurance exchange do not include elective abortion coverage. The bill prevents Oklahomans from unwillingly subsidizing abortion coverage simply by purchasing health insurance. Under SB 547, those who want abortion coverage could acquire it through optional supplemental coverage with a separate premium.
“I believe in the sanctity of human life and the responsibility of our lawmakers to protect life,” said Governor Fallin. “Together, these two pieces of legislation will expand protections for unborn children and ensure that Oklahomans are not forced to unknowingly or unwillingly help to pay for procedures that run contrary to their values."

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Fallin says "No" to $54 million.

Governor Fallin today reversed her position on accepting $54 million in federal funds tied to Obamacare.

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) applauded Fallin’s decision, disclosed during a media availability today, to reject the $54 million federal grant awarded to the state to begin implementing health insurance exchanges as required under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

“Today Gov. Fallin and our state leaders stood on their campaign promises to protect the people of Oklahoma from the rigid, one-size-fits-all approach of Obamacare,” said Jason Sutton, J.D., health policy analyst for OCPA.

“Oklahoma needs patient-centered health reforms that meet our state’s unique needs. A health insurance exchange could be a useful tool in creating an insurance market based on choice and competition; unfortunately, using the federal grant to build our exchange would handcuff our state to Obamacare. Rejecting those funds is the best decision for Oklahoma.”

“The best way to protect Oklahoma from Obamacare is to not implement Obamacare,” said Michael Carnuccio, OCPA president. “Today, Gov. Fallin and legislative leaders showed that they are willing to put the citizens of Oklahoma above bureaucrats and do what is right for our state. Gov. Fallin has demonstrated the type of true conservative leadership our state and nation need.”

Freshman GOP Representatives Encourage Return of Federal “Obamacare” Funds

OKLAHOMA CITY – Freshman Republican representatives are encouraging state officials to not accept federal funds promised to Oklahoma under an “Early Innovator” grant authorized by the federal Affordable Care Act.
            In February, the House approved HB 2130, which establishes a state health insurance exchange.  The bill did not include a provision to accept or deny the $54M grant.
            “What we voted for was a free-market exchange based on choice and competition, which will ultimately lower health care costs,” said Rep. Randy Grau, R-Edmond.  “We did not vote to accept federal money that may require us to set up a federal health care system.”
            “Since the vote on HB 2130, it has become increasingly apparent that we cannot accept this money without also accepting the strings attached to it,” said Rep. Elise Hall, R-Oklahoma City.  “It is time to go on record that we do not want this money, but instead, we want to set up an exchange that is right for Oklahoma, not Washington D.C.”
            “We join Senator Tom Coburn and many conservative organizations in supporting health insurance exchanges like that established in Utah,” said Rep. Tom Newell, R-Seminole.  “But we think it is important to sever any ties to Obamacare, which means that the federal funds need to be rejected.”
            “The idea of an exchange based upon free-market principles comes from the Heritage Foundation, a leading conservative think tank,” said Rep. Sean Roberts, R-Hominy.  “The idea was around before President Obama, but it appears he is now trying to use exchanges to push federal health care.”
            “We will continue to work with the Governor and House leadership in promoting Oklahoma health care solutions, not Washington D.C. solutions,” said Rep. Marty Quinn, R-Claremore.
            “Many of us in the House campaigned on the platform of free market principles. If we accept federal money with strings attached, we are going back on our word,” said Rep. Josh Cockroft, R-Tecumseh. “It is time for us to sever any ties to Obamacare and allow the private sector to thrive under these free market principles.”
            “I strongly support the private sector and oppose Obamacare and the use of federal money for a health care exchange,” said Rep. Dennis Casey, R-Morrison.
            “The state must learn to stop accepting federal money and let Oklahomans take care of Oklahoma,” said Rep. Aaron Stiles, R-Norman.
            “The attachment of the federal money and its link to federal health care was not fully recognized before the vote on the exchange,” said Rep. Dustin Roberts, R-Durant.
            “Clarification of the issue seems to tie federal grant money to the Obamacare effort,” said Rep. Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs.  “I support an Oklahoma health insurance exchange without any federal ties.”

Weekly Wrap Up from the Capitol

State Revenue Picture Improving
​Although Oklahomans continue to feel the impact of the national recession, state tax collections are on the upswing, indicating that Oklahoma may be finally emerging from the downturn.
​For March, total General Revenue Fund collections surpassed last year’s receipts for the same month by $37.3 million and exceeded the estimates used to develop the current year state budget by $42 million.
​In fact, the Office of State Finance reports that total year-to-date collections this year have now come within 15 percent of meeting total collection numbers through March 2008 before the recession impacted Oklahoma.
​All major tax collection categories for March increased over the same month a year ago. Sales taxes, a strong indicator of economic activity, were up 11.2 percent from March 2010 and ran 3.9 percent higher than the estimate.
The OSF report showed total, year-to-date General Revenue Fund collections are $3.541 billion, which is $142.7 million or 4.2 percent above the estimate for the fiscal year and $308.6 million or 9.5 percent above prior year collections for this same period of time.
Congressional Redistricting Plan Unveiled
​Congressional redistricting could soon be approved now that the House has unveiled its proposed map for the state’s five congressional seats.
House Bill 1527 creates the “Oklahoma Congressional Redistricting Act of 2011.” According to the 2010 Census, Oklahoma’s total population is 3,751,351; therefore, each congressional district should have approximately 750,270 people.
The proposed map makes only minor modifications to the current congressional lines while meeting the population goals specified by federal law. In fact, four of the five districts have exactly the same number of people, and the other congressional district has just one extra person. It is amazing how precise the process has become.
Congressional District 1 would be composed of Tulsa, Wagoner, and Washington counties, as well as portions of Creek and Rogers counties, totaling 750,270 people.
Congressional District 2 would be composed of Adair, Atoka, Bryan, Cherokee, Choctaw, Coal, Craig, Delaware, Haskell, Hughes, Johnston, Latimer, LeFlore, Marshall, Mayes, McCurtain, McIntosh, Muskogee, Nowata, Okfuskee, Okmulgee, Ottawa, Pittsburg, Pushmataha, and Sequoyah counties, and a majority of Rogers County, totaling 750,270 people.
Congressional District 3 would be composed of Alfalfa, Beaver, Beckham, Blaine, Caddo, Cimarron, Custer, Dewey, Ellis, Garfield, Grant, Greer, Harmon, Harper, Jackson, Kay, Kingfisher, Kiowa, Lincoln, Logan, Major, Noble, Osage, Pawnee, Payne, Roger Mills, Texas, Washita, Woods, and Woodward Counties, and a majority of Canadian and Creek counties, totaling 750,270 people.
Congressional District 4 would be composed of Carter, Cleveland, Comanche, Cotton, Garvin, Grady, Jefferson, Love, McClain, Murray, Pontotoc, Stephens, and Tillman counties, and portions of Canadian and Oklahoma Counties, totaling 750,270 people.
Congressional District 5 would be composed of Pottawatomie and Seminole counties, and a majority of Oklahoma County, totaling 750,271 people.
If approved, the Oklahoma Congressional Redistricting Act of 2011 will be effective at the beginning of the terms of U.S. Representatives elected in November 2012, provided the State Election Board is required to conduct elections for Oklahoma congressional offices according to the act.
Execution Drug Bill Sent to Governor
​Legislation that would address a problem in implementing the death penalty has been sent to the governor to be signed into law.
​The legislation authorizes the Department of Corrections to use a lethal quantity of any “drug or drugs” when the state carries out the death penalty.
​Current law requires the state to use an “ultrashort acting barbiturate in combination with a paralytic agent.” Because that law is so specific, the state could face legal complications if the formula is changed.
A recent nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental recently forced the state to replace one of the drugs typically used to execute inmates.
Under House Bill 1991, that problem will not lead to any delay of justice.
Governor Signs Education Reform Bill Eliminating ‘Trial de Novo’
This week Governor Mary Fallin signed into law House Bill 1380, an education reform measure that makes it easier to dismiss underperforming teachers.
​Under the current system, tenured teachers who are dismissed by local school boards can appeal that decision in district court. The appeals process, known as “trial de novo,” assures that dismissing underperforming teachers is both a lengthy and expensive process for schools.
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.
HB 1380 eliminates “trial de novo” and reforms the system to allow locally elected school boards to let teachers go without a long and costly appeals process.
House Sends Pain-Capable Unborn Child Bill to Governor
The Oklahoma House of Representatives gave final approval this week to legislation to make it illegal to perform an abortion on an unborn child who is capable of feeling pain.
​The legislation passed with broad bipartisan support.
​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 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 Oklahoma House of Representatives on 85-7 vote. It now goes to Gov. Mary Fallin to be signed into law.
Pro-life Insurance Measure Headed to Governor
Members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives voted this week to ensure that Oklahomans are not forced to fund abortions when they purchase insurance.
​Senate Bill 547 would ensure that standard health insurance policies sold in Oklahoma do not include elective abortion coverage.
Under the bill, individuals wanting to abortion coverage could do so through by optional supplemental coverage with a separate premium.
​Senate Bill 547 previously passed the state Senate on a bipartisan 36-10 vote. This week it passed out of the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a bipartisan 84-10 vote.
​Senate Bill 547 now goes to Gov. Mary Fallin to be signed into law.w

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Weekly Wrap: April 4-8

Lawsuit Reform Measures Signed by Governor
Although the session is barely past the halfway point, major pieces of legislation are already being sent to the governor’s desk and signed into law, showing that legislators are getting more work done in a shorter amount of time compared to past sessions.
House Bill 2128 caps vague noneconomic damages (commonly known as “pain and suffering”) at $350,000 in all civil actions.
Under the bill, individuals could still receive unlimited awards for actual economic damages, such as lost wages and medical expenses.
The $350,000 limit on noneconomic damages can also be lifted in cases where the defendant is determined to have acted with gross negligence or with reckless disregard.
The governor also signed Senate Bill 862, which eliminates joint and several liability, sometimes known as the “deep pocket” rule, where each and every defendant in a tort lawsuit is liable for the entire amount of a plaintiff’s damage regardless of their degree of fault. SB 862 ensures that plaintiffs seek defendants who are most at fault rather than defendants with the most financial assets.
Another measures signed into law, Senate Bill 865, requires that juries be instructed in civil cases that no part of an award for damages for personal injury or wrongful death is subject to federal or state income tax; and the jury should not consider income taxes when determining a proper compensation award.
Caps on non-economic damages have been proven to help create jobs and lower medical liability insurance premiums in other states. A 2008 study by the Perryman Group reports that after implementing non-economic damage caps, the state of Texas created 223,700 jobs, increased annual consumer and business spending by $55.3 billion, and grew state revenues by $1.4 billion. The study also reported that medical liability insurance premiums decreased by 21.3 percent and the number of lawsuits filed against hospitals decreased by 70 percent. Thirty states have now placed similar hard caps on non-economic damages, not including Oklahoma.
House Committee Advances Anti-Discrimination Measure
Oklahoma voters could soon have the opportunity to outlaw state-sanctioned discrimination under legislation approved by a House committee today.
Senate Joint Resolution 15 would submit a proposed constitutional amendment to a vote of the people. The proposed amendment declares, “The state shall not grant preferential treatment to, or discriminate against, any individual or group on the basis of race, color, sex, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.”
Senate Joint Resolution 15 previously passed the state Senate on a 31-15 vote. The measure passed the House Rules Committee today on a 10-3 vote and now proceeds to the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
State School Board Reform Approved by House
House lawmakers approved Senate Bill 435, a reform bill that would reconstitute the State Board of Education. The board would be comprised of appointments made by the governor upon election.  The members would represent each congressional district and one at-large appointment as well as the State Superintendent.  Senate Bill 435 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives 63-35 and now returns to the state Senate.
Bill Could Give State Greater Control of Federal Funds
​Legislation advancing from committee this week would allow Oklahoma to participate in an interstate compact that would give states greater control over federal Medicaid and Medicare funds.
​Senate Bill 722 would allow Oklahoma to enter into a multi-state health care compact that would create a funding formula for the federal programs based on population and inflation. Oklahoma receives about $9.1 billion a year in Medicaid and Medicare money.
​Similar legislation has been filed this year in 11 other states and two of those states have already approved the concept.
Ultimately, the U.S. Congress would have to agree to allow the states to carry out the terms of the compact since federal money is involved.
Senate Bill 722 passed out of the House Judiciary Committee and now advances to the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
Bill Requiring Candidates to Prove Eligibility for Office Advances
Under Senate Bill 91, candidates filing with the state Election Board would be required to provide proof of identity and eligibility to hold the office
The bill also contains language requiring presidential candidates to present certified copies of a birth certificate, a U.S. certificate of birth abroad or a report of birth abroad of a U.S. citizen to suffice for proof of citizenship
Senate Bill 91 passed out of the House Rules Committee and now awaits a vote from the full Oklahoma House of Representatives.
Legislation Would End Social Promotion in Oklahoma Schools
​House lawmakers have advanced a second piece of legislation that would prevent Oklahoma schools from promoting third-grade students who cannot read at grade level.  
Under Senate Bill 345, students entering first grade in the 2011-2012 school year would be required to pass a reading test when they complete the third grade to be promoted to the fourth grade.
The legislation requires school districts to notify parents when a child has a reading deficiency and notifying them that their child could be held back if they do not improve. Public schools would be required to develop a plan to work with parents to help address a child’s reading needs.
The bill allows for aggressive intervention in the first and second grades to avoid retention in the third grade and to also help schools better address a student’s challenges over several years instead of having a “one and done” approach in the third grade.
The legislation gained approval from the House Common Education Committee and now goes to the full House.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Cockroft Column: Halfway Through

The legislative session is half over. House lawmakers have poured through a portion of the 1,209 bills and joint resolutions filed in the Oklahoma House of Representatives and advanced 257 of those bills and six joint resolutions. I thought it would be a good time to tell you what has been accomplished so far and what’s coming up.
Facing a $500 million shortfall this year, conservatives were keen to pass reforms that would eliminate wasteful spending. An example of this is House Bill 1304, which would streamline technology systems in state government. A report by the Capgemini consulting firm found that Oklahoma is rife with the use of separate redundant software systems. The study indicates Oklahoma is spending $35.6 million more than the average IT expenditures of similar entities.
Conservatives also approved lawsuit reform and workers’ compensation reform to improve the pro-job climate of Oklahoma. Both systems have been overdue for change and currently benefit lawyers more than anyone else. The workers’ compensation reforms we have enacted will ensure injured workers continue to receive benefits but will reduce the cost of determining the benefit.
Education reform is another crucial part of bringing jobs to Oklahoma. House lawmakers approved an “A-F” grading system for schools that has been proven to be effective in creating greater accountability. We also approved legislation that adds elementary and assistant superintendents to a list of positions included in a current administrative expenditure cap.
The House also approved corrections reform that will increase the rate of rehabilitation of nonviolent offenders while reducing the cost of addressing their crimes. The legislation will increase the use of GPS monitoring systems and alternative sentencing programs for low-level crimes. We also advanced new immigration reforms.
There was widespread bipartisan support of pro-life bills this session. One important bill notes the medical advances that have shown that fetuses feel pain quite early. The legislation limits how late an abortion can be performed. We also passed legislation to enact greater regulation of abortion pills so that women truly know the potential side effects of using such destructive medicine. An important Second Amendment bill will allow individuals to keep a firearm in their locked car on technology center grounds. It is currently a felony to do so.
Approximately 200 House appropriations measures remain alive and await action in a joint budget committee. For the next few weeks, House members will review the legislation sent to us by the state Senate, which approved 367 Senate bills and joint resolution out of the 1,016 that were introduced. House members have until April 14 to complete committee work on Senate bills and then have until April 28 to give Senate bills a hearing on the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
If you have questions or need information, please contact my office at or (405) 557-7349.