Thursday, April 14, 2011

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

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