Friday, May 13, 2011
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.