Monday, May 23, 2011

Governor’s Cost-Cutting Plan To Be Signed Into Law

OKLAHOMA CITY – Gov. Mary Fallin’s proposal to modernize the state’s vendor payment system will be signed into law on Tuesday.
House Bill 1086 proposes to utilize electronic payments methods such as direct deposit to pay the state's thousands of vendor invoices. The bill is sponsored by state Reps. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, Josh Cockroft, R-McLoud, and state Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond.
Fallin initially called on legislators to approve the reform during her State of the State address. Fallin proposed the change after the Office of State Finance indicated that the state could be spending up to $13.50 per vendor payment for each payment made using traditional paper conveyances such as payment warrants. This compares to electronic payments which cost the state approximately five cents per transfer.
Currently, approximately 230,000 checks are made with traditional paper payment conveyances. House Bill 1086 will require nearly all vendor payments to be made by electronic payment and could result in million dollars of taxpayer dollars being saved.
“This is an important reform,” Murphey explained. “This should have occurred several years ago and I appreciate the leadership of Governor Fallin and Treasurer Ken Miller in introducing and supporting this innovative plan.”
“This legislation will help the Treasurer’s Office in putting the state’s checkbook online,” said Miller, who has pledged to provide the expanded financial transparency. “I appreciate Representative Murphey’s work on this issue. It’s a natural progression of the partnership he and I had in the Legislature and a step forward in providing government accountability.”
He noted that more than a dozen state treasurers maintain online checkbooks to track state spending.
In addition to the electronic payment proposal, House Bill 1086 represents an omnibus approach to using technology to enable taxpayer savings through efficiencies and spending transparencies. It includes Governor Fallin's proposal for a shared state payroll system which is also estimated to save 2 million dollars each year, the placement of common education spending transactions on the website and a one-stop shop for many state documents and annual reports to be located in a searchable format for easy purview by the taxpayers at the website
The law will go into effect later this year.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

2011 Legislative Session Wrap-up

Legislative Session Concludes
The 2011 legislative session concluded this week as lawmakers finished work on a number of bills.
First and foremost, lawmakers approved a balanced budget that dealt with a $500 million shortfall largely by cutting spending, just as working families do in tough times.
Redistricting plans were approved with bipartisan support, crafting new legislative districts in accordance with legal guidelines.
In addition, lawmakers also approved several major reforms in a wide range of areas.

Economic reforms
Lawmakers approved lawsuit reforms to make Oklahoma a more attractive place to do business.
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.
Senate Bill 862 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.
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.
                        Senate Bill 878 reforms workers’ compensation laws. The bill will reduce the fee schedule for medical reimbursement rates by 5 percent and require physicians and the workers’ compensation court to follow national treatment guidelines, called the Official Disability Guidelines, which is expected to also reduce medical costs.
Overall, the measure is designed to reduce “doctor shopping” that can drive up expenses, drive down attorney involvement in cases by encouraging mediation and other remedies, increase the use of vocational rehabilitation, and speed up the process for injured workers to get treatment.

 Pension Reform
            For decades, the financial soundness of our state’s pension systems has been declining. In the last 10 years, we have gone from having an unfunded liability of $6 billion to $16 billion.
            This year, lawmakers tackled that problem head-on, approving reforms that will collectively produce billions in savings over the next 30 years – the largest such debt reduction achievement in state history.
            The major reforms enacted require that cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) be funded when enacted, and adjust the retirement age for those now entering the system to account for the increased life expectancy.

House Bill 1456 requires that Oklahoma’s public schools be given an annual grade of “A” to “F” based on student performance on state tests. The new grading system will provide an easily understood way for parents to obtain a true apples-to-apples comparison between state schools.
            Senate Bill 346 ends social promotion by requiring students entering first grade in the 2011-2012 school year to master grade-appropriate reading skills by the end of third grade in order to be promoted to the fourth grade.
            Senate Bill 969 creates the “Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act.” The bill creates a tax credit for donations to scholarship-granting organizations or educational improvement grant organizations.
Scholarships funded through the tax credit program would serve children from low-income families and allow them to attend private schools. The legislation also funds grants to help rural schools increase offerings in areas where private school is not an option.
            House Bill 2139 grants the State Superintendent of Public Instruction full authority over personnel issues at the Department of Education. 

            Legislation reforming Oklahoma’s property tax laws will go before the voters next year.
            House Joint Resolution 1002 allows Oklahoma citizens to vote to impose a 3-percent (or rate of inflation) annual cap that would limit future property tax increases.
            Under current law, property tax valuations can increase 5 percent each year.

Pro-life legislation
House Bill 1888 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 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.

Public Safety
House Bill 2131 implements corrections reforms designed to reduce costs and ultimately increase public safety. House Bill 2131 expands community sentencing programs, modifies the governor’s role in the parole process for nonviolent offenders, and establishes requirements for members of the Pardon and Parole Board.

Government Streamlining and Transparency
House Bill 1086 creates the Transparency, Accountability and Innovation in Oklahoma State Government 2.0 Act of 2011. Among other things, the bill requires that all payments disbursed from the State Treasury be made only through an electronic payment mechanism and that the “” website include all spending data subject to publication by the “School District Transparency Act.”
By implementing an electronic payment mechanism, the Office of State Finance predicts a savings of $3.6 million can be accomplished by moving from the current system to the electronic funds transfer system.  The assumption by the Office of State Finance is that the state will save a processing fee of $13.50 per check on 230,000 checks.
House Bill 1304, the Information Technology Consolidation and Coordination Act, is designed to make state IT operations more efficient, secure and effective. Its key proposal is to place all IT operations under the state chief information officer (CIO) rather than spreading the operations out across the state’s hundreds of agencies, boards and commissions.
            Oklahoma’s current IT operation has 76 financial systems, 22 unique time and attendance systems, 17 different imaging systems, 30 data center locations and 129 email and mobile device services. One of the goals of placing IT operations under the CIO is to streamline those services into uniform systems across state government. It’s estimated that the bill could save the state about $360 million over the next five or six years.


Taking On Texas

It is fitting that our upstart Oklahoma City Thunder is taking on a seasoned, veteran opponent in the NBA’s Western Conference Finals.
Like the Thunder, Oklahoma is on the rise. And like the Dallas Mavericks, Texas is an established commodity.
But Texas now has serious Oklahoma competition nipping at its heels, both on and off the basketball court. The public policies put forth by the Oklahoma Legislature this year are designed to make Oklahoma competitive with the nation’s best.
Years ago, Texas reformed how it handles lawsuits and workers’ compensation claims. The state placed limits on damages awarded through civil actions and made workers’ compensation system changes that provided increased savings to employers and put injured workers back on the job faster. Doing so helped Texas lure new companies and produce additional jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Texas led the nation in job creation last year.
However, the Oklahoma Legislature recently produced similar lawsuit and workers’ compensation reforms designed to bring the same results to our state. People are taking notice. A recent survey of 500 CEOs by ranked Oklahoma the eleventh best state for business, an increase of eight spots from last year.
On corrections policy, Texas, years ago, started putting low-risk, nonviolent offenders in community sentencing rather than in prisons, which alleviated the fiscal and social strains of overcrowded prisons.
Oklahoma took a similar step toward corrections reform this year through House Bill 2131.
Even with the progress Texas has made, it does trail Oklahoma in some areas.
First, we have Kevin Durant. We thank the University of Texas for grooming him. He is an Oklahoman now, and we’re just as proud to have him as he is proud to be here.
Second, and on a more serious note, Oklahoma has managed its plentiful water resources extremely well. The latest version of the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan will help the Legislature identify the best strategy to effectively utilize this valuable natural resource.
Texas does not have that luxury. Without enough water to sustain growth, some Texas water districts have sued Oklahoma in hopes of winning access to our water.
Transportation is another area where Oklahoma is beating Texas. Oklahoma has made major investments of public dollars in its transportation infrastructure to ensure roads and highways meet our needs and remain under public control.
Texas, meanwhile, has started relying on private, international companies to build highways in urban areas and across the state. These companies charge for road use and are not accountable to the public. Texas drivers are paying increasing costs just to commute through cities and across the state.
On fiscal matters, Texas this year faced a state budget shortfall of $27 billion, or 15 percent of its last budget. Oklahoma’s state budget shortfall this year was $500 million, or 7 percent of last year’s state budget.
Hopefully soon, Texans will be watching the Thunder dribble past them to the Finals and Oklahoma move past them on the national stage.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Governor Mary Fallin Makes Appointments to Education Boards

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin today announced appointments to the board of regents for Rose State College, Northern Oklahoma College and Redlands Community College. The Oklahoma State Senate confirmed the nominees on Tuesday.

“These nominees are leaders in their respective fields and bring with them a commitment to ensuring our colleges and universities continue to provide a quality education to our students,” Fallin said.

Tracey Wills, Redlands Community College

Tracey Wills of Edmond is appointed to the Board of Regents for Redlands Community College. She is founder of The Wills Group, a company that specializes in health-care related business ventures.

Wills is a member of the Oklahoma chapter of the International Women’s Forum and the Women’s Presidents Organization. She also serves on the advisory board of First Liberty Bank in Oklahoma City.

In the past, Will has worked with the Redlands Community College Foundation and helped raise significant financial support for the foundation.

Wills is a registered nurse and graduate of Redlands Community College. She will serve a seven-year term and will replace Billy Pope.

Keith James, Northern Oklahoma College

Keith James of Enid is reappointed to the Board of Regents for Northern Oklahoma College. He operates JKJ Real Estate and Auction Company and has a farming and ranching operation in the Pond Creek area.

James has served on the Northern Oklahoma College regents since 1995. He was first appointed by Governor Frank Keating and reappointed twice by Governor Brad Henry.

He is active with Oklahoma Future Farmers of America and is a member of the Oklahoma State Auctioneers Association. He previously served on the Pond Creek–Hunter school board.

James is a graduate of Oklahoma State University. He will serve a five-year term.

Russell Smith, Rose State College

Russell Smith of Midwest City is appointed to the Board of Regents for Rose State College. He owns and operates Loudean Properties, a real estate development company.

Smith previously served as mayor of Midwest City. During his tenure, he served as secretary treasurer of the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments and on the board of directors of both the Oklahoma Conference of Mayors and the Oklahoma Municipal League.

He currently serves on the boards of the Midwest Regional Medical Center, Mid–Del Group Homes, and the Rose State College Foundation.

Smith earned an associate’s degree from Rose State College and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Oklahoma. He will serve a seven-year term and will replace James Howell.


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Monday, May 16, 2011

Cockroft Column: Oklahoma's Budget Bills

House lawmakers spent a painstakingly drawn out day debating appropriations bills that form the state budget Friday. Although I supported most of what was negotiated between the governor and legislative leaders, I could not support one bill that essentially borrowed money to pay the bills for this year’s budget.

The proposed budget protects core government agencies like education, public safety, health and human services to a greater extent than other agencies. The cut for K-12 schools was held to 4.1 percent, a tough cut I would have liked to spread out more among less important areas of government spending. I was pleased though that supplemental funding was found for ad valorem reimbursements, which is money the state is behind on paying to certain schools.

I was also pleased that Rural Economic Action Plan funding remained in the budget, despite a cut. This funding helps volunteer fire departments keep our community safe. We also held public safety to a 4 percent cut. The Department of Corrections, which has to contend with a growing prison population, was held to a 0.5 percent cut that should prevent the furlough of corrections officers.

The transportation bond that I felt I had to oppose as a fiscal conservative would have authorized a bond to pay for transportation projects. There was bipartisan opposition to it, but it narrowly passed by a 51-45 vote. Whether or not we passed it, we could have funded road projects. This simply means we will be borrowing money to complete the Department of Transportation’s eight-year plan, rather than just finding the funding in the budget.

Overall, I think House leadership worked hard to try to negotiate a fiscally conservative budget, but there are many players involved and I think they did the best they could under the circumstances. If I were able to create the budget alone, I would have made different choices. To see the complete line item budget, go to my blog at:

Next week, I want to talk to you about the House redistricting plan. This plan will reshape our district and I want to ensure everyone knows exactly where the new district boundaries will be.

If you have questions or need information, please contact my office at or (405) 557-7349.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Oklahoma House approves $6.5 billion state budget

The budget bill now goes to the Oklahoma Senate, which is expected to take up the measure early next week. The House of Representatives approved legislation Friday containing a key piece of the $6.5 billion budget agreement for the upcoming 2012 fiscal year.

The House, after discussing House Bill 2170 for about three hours, passed the measure by a vote of 61-36. Republicans, who outnumber Democrats 70-31, voted for it, while Democrats and a handful of Republicans voted against it.
The measure now goes to the Senate, which is expected to take up the bill early next week.
The House approved the budget deal, which was announced earlier this week by the governor and GOP legislative leaders, in a rare Friday session. The Senate also is meeting Friday to take up its redistricting plan and budget-related measures.
House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, said it's possible the House may be able to adjourn May 20, a week earlier than the last Friday in May deadline for legislators to wrap up their work.
The budget for the 2012 fiscal year includes cuts for agencies mostly ranging from less than 1 percent to 9 percent. Legislators face a $500 million shortfall in the 2012 fiscal year beginning July 1.
The $6.5 billion package is 3.2 percent less than this fiscal year's budget of $6.7 billion.
Legislators were authorized to spend $6.3 billion this session, but the agreement includes using about $200 million from various other sources. They include about $125 million in cash reserves, nearly $100 million in remaining federal stimulus funds and $20 million from various revolving fund accounts to increase the total to $6.5 billion.

Weekly wrap-up: Long week, but many issues have been discussed.

Budget Deal Announced
An agreement was reached to balance the state budget without raising taxes.
Addressing a $500 million shortfall, the budget deal relies primarily on targeted budget cuts. However, the plan also calls for streamlining some areas of government through consolidating several state agencies under the Office of State Finance, consolidating the state’s Internet Technology services, and moving the Human Rights Commission into the Attorney General’s Office.
​Under the proposed FY 2012 budget, cuts to state agencies vary, generally ranging from 1 percent to 9 percent. However, efforts were made to shield core services. As a result, the Department of Education was cut just 4.1 percent, the Department of Public Safety was cut just 4 percent, and total spending for Health and Human Services was cut just 1.2 percent.
Although transportation is receiving a 7 percent cut, the budget includes a $70 million bond issue that will offset much of that cut and allow the agency to complete its eight year work plan on time.
​In addition, the Department of Corrections received a cut of only 0.5 percent, preventing further furloughs, and the Rural Economic Action Program (REAP) was preserved, although it also faced cuts.
House Redistricting Plan Advances
A bill redrawing the lines for all 101 state House districts is advancing through the Legislature and gaining bipartisan support.
​House Bill 2145 creates the “State House of Representatives Redistricting Act of 2011.”
​According to the 2010 Census, Oklahoma’s total population is 3,751,351. Based upon the total state population, each state House district should have an ideal population of 37,142 people. Under the plan contained in House Bill 2145, the districts populations range from 36,900 to 37,200, minimizing the variation in accordance with legal guidelines.
​House Bill 2145 delineates 101 House districts by county, voting tabulation district (VTD), and Census Block.
​The measure requires the Department of Transportation (ODOT) to publish maps of the state House districts to be provided to the State Election Board. The maps will be prepared by House staff and provided to ODOT.
​The State House of Representatives Redistricting Act of 2011 will be effective at the beginning of the terms of state representatives elected in November 2012.
Governor Fallin Signs Corrections Reform Legislation in to Law
This week Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law new corrections reform legislation.
House Bill 2131 is designed to relieve widespread fiscal and social strains caused by Oklahoma’s nation-leading incarceration rates.
​House Bill 2131 has three key proposals:
1. Expand offender eligibility for community sentencing programs
2. Modify the governor’s role in the parole process for nonviolent offenders
3. Establish requirements for members of the Pardon and Parole Board
​Community sentencing is significantly less expensive than traditional incarceration. States such as Texas, Indiana and Kansas have seen dramatic cost savings and reductions in crime rates by adopting community sentencing policies like those proposed in HB 2131.
​In Oklahoma, it costs about $56 a day to incarcerate someone. By comparison, it costs about $3.50 a day to send an offender to supervised community sentencing.
​HB 2131 also calls for increased use of Global Positioning System (GPS) monitoring of offenders. GPS monitoring costs about $4.75 per day. Releasing nonviolent offenders under GPS monitoring improves public safety and helps the offender reintegrate into society in a positive way, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.
​Overall, the bill is expected to eventually save the Department of Corrections at least $5 million a year. Oklahoma’s prisons are at 96 percent capacity, but staffing levels at the Department of Corrections are at 69 percent of authorized levels.
​Many community sentencing programs provide treatment for substance abuse and teach offenders vocational and relationship skills.
Under HB 2131, decisions made by the Pardon and Parole Board on paroles for most nonviolent offenders will be honored if the governor does not act on that parole within 30 days after receipt.
​The governor would still be required to act on all paroles for violent offenders and could act on any nonviolent parole matter if she chose to do so.
​HB 2131 also proposes specific qualification requirements for Pardon and Parole Board members. There are currently no requirements.
​This bill becomes effective November 1, 2011.
Governor Fallin Signs Legislation Suspending Art in Public Places Act
Governor Mary Fallin has signed into law House Bill 1665, which suspends the Art in Public Places Act.  In the last three fiscal years, the law required $3.4 million to be spent on “public art” as part of various public building projects.
​HB 1665 suspends the requirements of the Art in Public Places Act for state agencies during fiscal years 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Child Safety Reform Goes to Governor
Legislation designed to ensure children are placed in safe environments when they leave state custody is on its way to the governor.
​In order to achieve this goal, House Bill 2136 makes several reforms to the child safety investigation procedures used by the Department of Human Services.
The bill’s three main proposals are to:
• Require background checks on all adults living in homes that children in state custody may be placed into as part of a reunification with their family or legal guardian;
• Make more records about a child’s past available to child welfare officials, courts and families;
• Require child welfare officials to investigate all abuse or neglect complaints made against those who have had three or more past abuse or neglect complaints made against them.
House Bill 2136 passed the House today, 93-0.
​The proposals in the bill are the result of a legislative interim study last year that focused on the child abuse and neglect review system used by DHS. The study came in response to the disappearance and subsequent death last year of a seven-year-old Oklahoma girl, Aja Johnson, who had been in state custody shortly before her death.
​The legislative study found background checks were not always being performed on the adults who were living in homes that children in state custody were being placed into by state child welfare officials.
Gov. Fallin Signs Major Pension Reforms into Law
Gov. Mary Fallin signed several major pension reform bills into law this week.
The pension bills signed into law include the following:
• House Bill 2132 requires that all cost of living adjustments (COLAs) have a funding source, reducing the total unfunded liability of all six of Oklahoma’s pension systems by $5.4 billion;
• Senate Bill 377 raises the normal retirement age for new teachers from 62 to 65 years of age and establishes a minimum age of 60 for full retirement benefits for teachers who meet the rule of 90 (age plus years of service equals 90);
• Senate Bill 794 reforms state law so elected officials are treated the same as public employees when calculating retirement benefits;
• Senate Bill 347 requires that municipal employees forfeit retirement benefits if they have been convicted of crimes related to their office; and
• House Bill 1010 increases the retirement age for new members of the Uniform Retirement System for Justices and Judges (URSJJ) who started work after January 1st of this year.
House Passes Legislation to Ban Kids in Ads for State Lottery
House lawmakers have voted to restrict the use of children younger than 18 years of age in the promotion or advertising of the state lottery or any lottery games.
           Supporters of House Bill 1321 argue that promoting or advertising the lottery is no different from promoting or advertising liquor or tobacco. In short, children should not be used to advertise products or activities that they cannot legally participate in.
           House Bill 1321 passed 81-10 today and has been sent to the state Senate for final approval before going to the governor.
Transportation Transparency Act Nears Gov’s Desk
House lawmakers voted this week to allow easier public scrutiny of state road revenue.
           House Bill 1489, the Taxpayer Transparency Act, passed unanimously in the Oklahoma House of Representatives and goes to the state Senate for final approval.
​The bill requires specific data on road funding to be placed on the Open Books Web site. The information must include historical and current revenue collections and apportionment data on fuel tax collections, gross production tax collections, motor vehicle collections and motor vehicle excise tax collections.

Governor Signs Legislation to Crack Down on Child Abusers
Under legislation signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin, individuals who were exploited as a child in the production of pornography will have a new tool to seek justice.
           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 an adult.”
           The new law will take effect Nov. 1, 2011.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Governor Fallin, Legislative Leaders Announce Budget Deal

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Governor Mary Fallin, House Speaker Kris Steele and Senate Pro Tempore Brian Bingman today announced a budget agreement laying out a fiscally responsible plan to balance the state budget without raising taxes. Addressing a $500 million shortfall, today’s budget deal relies primarily on targeted budget cuts.

As part of the budget agreement, both the speaker and the pro tem have committed to passing key government modernization bills, including legislation to consolidate several state agencies under the Office of State Finance and legislation to consolidate the state’s Internet Technology services. Both items include projected savings and were included as part of Fallin’s legislative agenda.

Under the proposed FY 2012 budget, cuts to state agencies vary, generally ranging from 1 to 9 percent. Both the governor and legislative leaders made shielding core government functions a priority. For that reason, cuts to the Department of Education (4.1 percent), the Department of Public Safety (4.0 percent) and total spending for Health and Human Services (1.2 percent) are significantly less than cuts to other agencies. Transportation, also identified as a priority, is receiving a 7 percent cut, although the budget proposes a $70 million bond issue that will allow the department to complete its eight year work plan on time.

Governor Fallin said, “At the beginning of this legislative session, I asked lawmakers to send me a plan that accomplishes three things: balance the budget without raising taxes; prioritize spending to protect core government agencies like education, public safety, transportation, and health and human services; and pass  legislation that makes our state government smaller, smarter and more efficient.

“This budget accomplishes all of those goals. It makes tough, but realistic spending cuts while shielding government priorities from the highest reductions. Furthermore, I have received a commitment from our legislative leaders that important government modernization efforts will be passed and sent to my desk, so that we can keep our promise to voters to make government operate more effectively.”

Speaker Steele said, “We faced a challenging financial situation again this year, but I am pleased we were able to put our heads together and come up with a balanced budget that protects the core services our citizens expect,” said Steele. “Oklahomans will be pleased with the results this budget will produce."

Senate Pro Tem Brian Bingman said, “This budget reflects our commitment to fiscal responsibility while preserving core services to the citizens of Oklahoma.  We are prioritizing our needs in the areas of public safety, education and transportation funding.  I want to thank Governor Fallin and Speaker Steele for their work in this effort, and my Appropriations Chair Senator David Myers for his hard work in leading the Senate budgeting process.”

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Weekly column: Budget Negotiations

Budget negotiations are taking place now. The House Republican caucus regularly discusses our priorities for the budget, but the governor, House Democrats, Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats all play a part in negotiations. I believe I will have more information on developments soon.
Legislation on its way to the governor’s office will end the practice of charging insured drivers court costs if they fail to have their insurance card in their vehicle when they are pulled over but are able to present a valid proof of insurance to the court clerk. Many cities do not charge a court cost, but some charge as high as $200. I was proud to support House Bill 1520 at a time when the real problem in Oklahoma is the number of uninsured drivers.
I also wanted to mention the passage of legislation that would create new penalties for child abusers. House Bill 1549 was sent to the governor to be signed into law this past week.
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 an adult.” It was passed unanimously in the House.
If you have questions or need information, please contact my office at or (405) 557-7349.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Government Going Modern - Editorial by Speaker Kris Steele

       A buzzword at the Capitol is “government modernization.” The work taking place in this area is similar to renovating an old house that has failed to keep up with the times. Most neighborhoods have an old house that was once grand but now leaks water through busted pipes and loses energy through unsealed, broken windows. State government is a lot like this. Many of the systematic processes that keep state government running are outdated, inefficient and in great need of updating.

    To help fix this, the Legislature is looking at several proposals that call for using newer technology wherever possible and consolidating or reforming several services. A lot of these proposals are in line with what Gov. Mary Fallin will discuss on May 6, when she gives the keynote address at the Gov2.0a Oklahoma City conference.

Government 2.0 is a process occurring nationwide that encourages inventive uses of technology in government as a means to make it more efficient and accessible to the public. The Oklahoma House of Representatives embraces the Government 2.0 concept as part of a larger goal to modernize government wherever possible in ways that increase openness and efficiencies with taxpayer dollars. Oklahoma is fortunate to have several legislators and elected officials who are working to enact these types of reforms, including my colleague Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, who is also speaking at the Gov2.0a conference next week.

While I am not much of a technology user myself (call me old fashioned, but I love paper!), I absolutely understand the value that technology can bring to state government. House Bill 2140 was drafted to begin the process of consolidating several state agencies that share similar functions into the Office of State Finance. The bill requires that the agency do this in a way that reduces the cost of providing these functions by at least 15 percent.

Also under consideration are other ideas such as establishing a robust electronic payment system to replace many of the state’s outdated and overly expensive manual payment processes, consolidating several payroll services that are currently spread across multiple bureaucracies, and requiring that certain state documents be filed electronically rather than physically in order to save on printing costs, among other things.

One of the main proposals is to launch new state websites where many state forms and documents will be publicly available. This improves government transparency and reduces administrative costs that are incurred when records need to be viewed or forms need to be distributed.

These measures place Oklahoma on the right track to finally bring our government into the 21st century.

House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, represents House District 26.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Cockroft Column: The Death of Osama bin Laden

I know that my business is the operation of our state government and not the War on Terror, but I can’t help but comment on the historic success Americans learned about this weekend.
After so many years of living with the unsettling fact that the orchestrator of the September 11 attacks remained alive, Americans finally got the news that the U.S. military have killed him. Although it does not mean the end of the struggle against global terrorism, it does represent a major blow to the Al-Quaeda network and a victory for all of us who have prayed  for justice.
Several lawmakers were close to the tragedy on September 11, 2001. One senator lost a brother in the World Trade Center attack. A state representative I serve alongside was working as the Director of Interns at the White House at the time. And those of us who were not so close to the tragedy felt the impact of it, nonetheless.
I would like to praise our troops who are bravely fighting global terrorism and especially commend those who took part in the operation to end the life of Osama bin Laden. Our military is one of the most highly-trained and professional in the world, and the success of this operation is a reminder of their ability to get the job done.
Next week, I will tell you more about what is going on up here at the Legislature. For now, let us celebrate the end of a terrible man.
If you have questions or need information, please contact my office at or (405) 557-7349.