Monday, December 31, 2012

Is There a Silver Lining in the Fiscal Cliff?


 With the President and Congressional leaders at an impasse in their negotiations to reach a deal that would prevent our nation from going over the “fiscal cliff” by January 1, it is looking more likely that big tax increases are coming to our citizens and federal spending in our state will be reduced.

I am angered at the likelihood of tax increases on our citizens for no other reason than Congress has for years failed to live within its means and now needs more revenue to pay for services it has no business providing in the first place.

At the same time, I am hopeful that this event will trigger a reduction in federal spending on state programs.

In 2011, state spending reached an all-time high of $16.6 billion, with nearly half of that coming from the federal government in the form of grants and discretionary spending.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, the federal government is broke!

Approximately $1 out of every $2 the federal government spends is borrowed from other nations. Our current federal budget deficit – the difference between what we received in revenues and spent – is more than $1 trillion. Our current national debt – the amount we have borrowed and must repay – is now more than $16 trillion.

But that number is only partially true. Because of an accounting gimmick where governments pretend future liabilities don’t exist and, therefore, don’t account for them, most Americans don’t know how big the problem really is. The amount typically reported – more than $16 trillion – is actually only the surface of our debt.

According to a June 2010 article in National Review, America’s total debt – when accounting for unfunded future liabilities in Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security and state and local bond debt – exceeds $130 trillion.

Take a moment for that to sink in. $130 trillion.

Now consider this: Currently, there is only approximately $60 trillion in circulation throughout the entire world.

When you consider that our federal government owes more than twice the amount of money that actually exists throughout the world, shouldn’t you question why the same government continues to borrow money and spend it on marginally useful state programs?

If no deal is reached, there will be some relatively minor cuts in federal spending.

According to the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services, federal spending in Oklahoma will be reduced by approximately $137 million as a result. I recognize that is only a drop in the bucket compared to nearly $8 billion in annual federal spending in Oklahoma, but every little bit counts.  After all, they are your hard-earned tax dollars.

The truth is, the awareness and discourse we are having as a nation about federal spending that has consumed us as we head toward the fiscal cliff is actually more helpful that the minor cuts in federal spending we will see if we actually go over it.

If there is a silver lining in this mess, I believe that is it.

It is an honor to serve as your state representative. If you ever need anything, call my state Capitol office at (405) 557-7349. Have a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Cockroft Column, December 17, 2012

As we near the 2013 legislative session, I am starting my weekly column again in an attempt to keep my district informed about the issues we are dealing with at the Oklahoma State Capitol. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to continue my service for my district after a very successful campaign season. The overwhelming support was humbling and I enjoyed spending so much time with the people all across the district. I pray every day that I remain worthy of the support given.

There is much that needs to be done. Just in these few weeks since the election, my days have been filled with meetings and phone calls in preparation for the 2013 session. We are extremely blessed in Oklahoma, but there is always work to do. We have many things state lawmakers must address this year if we want to continue moving Oklahoma in a positive direction. There are major issues that we must make critical, important decisions on.

Our workers’ compensation system will be one issue at the forefront of our discussions as we seek to simplify the system and save Oklahoma businesses millions of dollars. Making sure that our state is protected from onerous and overreaching federal regulations will also be a focus. Our state’s rights cannot be jeopardized; Oklahoma’s problems need Oklahoma answers. Many of us will also fight for more local control over our education system instead of the one-size-fits-all approach that has been forced on them. Our parents, teachers, and administrators know best what our students need. In those cases, where education mandates are helpful, we must completely fund them at the state level instead of passing the bill to our local districts. As always, our commitment to public safety and transportation will only strengthen as we will continue to fund core services of government.

I will be rolling out my legislative agenda in the near future with a large list of issues and bills that I will be tackling this year. Each of these will soon be available online at www.okhouse.gov for your viewing ease.

Once again, I am here for the people of my district. I am in a position of service and want to help in any way that I can. Please never hesitate to contact me at (405) 788-9160 or Josh.Cockroft@okhouse.gov. Follow me on Twitter: @VoteCockroft27 and on Facebook: Representative Josh Cockroft.


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Monday, December 17, 2012

McCullough Offers Plan to Protect Students

State Rep. Mark McCullough announced today his plans to file legislation that will, among other things, allow CLEET-certified teachers and principals to carry firearms at school and at school events.
“We cannot continue to be shackled by politically correct, reflexive, anti-gun sentiment in the face of the obvious – our schools are soft targets,” said McCullough, R-Sapulpa. “It is incredibly irresponsible to leave our schools undefended – to allow mad men to kill dozens of innocents when we have a very simple solution available to us to prevent it. I’ve been considering this proposal for a long time. In light of the savagery on display in Connecticut, I believe it’s an idea whose time has come.
“ I trust my children to my local teachers and principal every day. I want to give these trusted, responsible educators the ability to defend themselves and our children in the same way any normal parent would, in the face of the unthinkable.”
McCullough and many other legislators have been seriously examining our gun laws for revision, beginning with a 2011 legislative study.
“We’ve been doing our due diligence on this topic. It’s important to get it right,” said McCullough. “CLEET certification is the exact same training our law enforcement professionals receive. Obviously we do not want firearms out and about in the school where students might have access to them. For that reason, if educators are allowed to carry firearms, it is necessary that they have them on their person at all times.”
McCullough said he plans to ensure there is funding available for CLEET certification for educators. He would also like to see schools coordinate with local police departments.
“One idea that has been discussed would be to actually designate these educators as reserve officers with local police and sheriff departments,” said McCullough.
Lawmakers are currently in the process of drafting legislation, which must be filed by 4 p.m. on Jan. 17, 2013.



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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Speaker-elect Shannon Announces Committee Leadership Posts

House Speaker-elect T.W. Shannon today announced committee chairs and vice chairs for standing House committees and appropriation subcommittees.

“After careful consideration, we chose members who we believe have the talent, experience and leadership qualities to lead these committees as effectively and efficiently as possible for the people of Oklahoma,” said Shannon, R-Lawton. “I am grateful for each of these members’ willingness to serve, and I look forward to the upcoming session.”

The House committee chairs and vice chairs for the upcoming legislative session include:

Administrative Rules, Government Oversight and Repealer Committee:
Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Laverne, Chair
Rep. Dan Fisher, R-El Reno, Vice Chair

Agriculture and Wildlife Committee:
Rep. Dale DeWitt, R-Braman, Chair
Rep. Steve Vaughan, R-Ponca City, Vice Chair

Appropriations and Budget Committee:
Rep. Scott Martin, R-Norman, Chair
Rep. Tom Newell, R-Seminole, Vice Chair

Common Education Committee:
Rep. Ann Coody, R-Lawton, Chair
Rep. Dennis Casey, R-Morrison, Vice Chair

Economic Development and Financial Services Committee:
Rep. Randy McDaniel, R-Oklahoma City, Chair
Rep. Dustin Roberts, R-Durant, Vice Chair

Energy and Aerospace Committee:
Rep. John Trebilcock, R-Broken Arrow, Chair
Rep. Weldon Watson, R-Tulsa, Vice Chair

General Government Committee:
Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Midwest City, Chair
Rep. Terry O’Donnell, R-Catoosa, Vice Chair

Government Modernization Committee:
Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, Chair
Rep. Mike Turner, R-Edmond, Vice Chair

Higher Education and CareerTech Committee:
Rep. Harold Wright, R-Weatherford, Chair
Rep. Justin Wood, R-Shawnee, Vice Chair

Human Services Committee:
Rep. Pat Ownbey, R-Ardmore, Chair
Rep. Anastasia Pittman, D-Oklahoma City, Vice Chair

Insurance Committee:
Rep. Dan Kirby, R-Tulsa, Chair
Rep. Marty Quinn, R-Claremore, Vice Chair

Judiciary Committee:
Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, Chair
Rep. Aaron Stiles, R-Norman, Vice Chair

Long-term Care and Senior Services Committee:
Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, Chair
Rep. Donnie Condit, D-McAlester, Vice Chair

Public Health Committee:
Rep. David Derby, R-Owasso, Chair
Rep. Glen Mulready, R-Tulsa, Vice Chair

Public Safety Committee:
Rep. Steve Martin, R-Bartlesville, Chair
Rep. Ken Walker, R-Tulsa, Vice Chair

Rules Committee:
Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell, Chair
Rep. Marian Cooksey, R-Edmond, Vice Chair

States’ Rights Committee:
Rep. Lewis Moore, R-Arcadia, Chair
Rep. Sean Roberts, R-Hominy, Vice Chair

Tourism and International Relations Committee:
Rep. Charles Ortega, R-Altus, Chair
Rep. R.C. Pruett, D-Antlers, Vice Chair

Transportation Committee:
Rep. Charlie Joyner, R-Midwest City, Chair
Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, Vice Chair

Utility and Environmental Regulation Committee:
Rep. Colby Schwartz, R-Yukon, Chair
Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, Vice Chair

Veterans and Military Affairs Committee:
Rep. Gary Banz, R-Midwest City, Chair
Rep. Tommy Hardin, R-Madill, Vice Chair


Appropriations Subcommittees:

CareerTech Subcommittee:
Rep. Skye McNiel, R-Bristow, Chair
Rep. John Enns, R-Enid, Vice Chair

Common Education Subcommittee:
Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, Chair
Rep. Katie Henke, R-Tulsa, Vice Chair

General Government Subcommittee:
Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City, Chair
Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, Vice Chair

Higher Education Subcommittee:
Rep. Lisa Billy, R-Lindsay, Chair
Rep. Randy Grau, R-Edmond, Vice Chair

Human Services Subcommittee:
Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, Chair
Rep. Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs, Vice Chair

Judiciary Subcommittee:
Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa, Chair
Rep. Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha, Vice Chair

Natural Resources and Regulatory Services Subcommittee:
Rep. Don Armes, R-Faxon, Chair
Rep. Josh Cockroft, R-Tecumseh, Vice Chair

Non-Appropriated Subcommittee:
Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, Chair
Rep. David Brumbaugh, R-Broken Arrow, Vice Chair

Public Health and Social Services Subcommittee:
Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, Chair
Rep. Arthur Hulbert, R-Ft. Gibson, Vice Chair

Public Safety Subcommittee:
Rep. Jeff Hickman, R-Dacoma, Chair
Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Norman, Vice Chair

Revenue and Tax Subcommittee:
Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, Chair
Rep. Charles McCall, R-Atoka, Vice Chair

Transportation Subcommittee:
Rep. Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, Chair
Rep. Jason Smalley, R-Stroud, Vice Chair


Special Committees:

Pension Oversight Committee:
Rep. Randy McDaniel, R-Oklahoma City, Chair

Tax Credit & Economic Incentive Oversight Committee:
Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, Chair
Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater, Vice Chair

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Monday, December 3, 2012

Incoming House Speaker Announces Leadership Appointments

Incoming Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon announced the first round of appointments to powerful leadership posts today, tapping a diverse cross-section of the majority Republican Caucus.

"I have worked with these members for years as I served in the legislature, and now it is my honor to serve with them as leaders of this great body," said Speaker-elect Shannon, R-Lawton. "Each of them brings different talents, experiences and perspectives to our leadership team, and they will serve our colleagues well in their new positions."

Shannon chose Rep. Fred Jordan, R-Tulsa, and Rep. Dennis Johnson, R-Duncan, as Majority Leaders to help lead the House. Each will bring a unique perspective and experience to the job. Rep. Jordan, an attorney and businessman from Tulsa, and Rep. Johnson, a small business owner from Duncan, both bring separate talents that will help steer the House agenda both within the House of Representatives and with other branches of government.

Rep. Jordan expressed his eagerness to serve as Majority Leader.

"I'm honored to be serving at such a critical time in Oklahoma's history,” said Jordan. “There are many important issues before us, and it will take a lot of hard work and unity for us to come up with solutions. I look forward to being a part of that process, and I am grateful for the confidence placed in me by Speaker-elect Shannon."

"The House majority party is a diverse group of talented, experienced people who have lots of energy," said Johnson. "All of us will be working hard throughout the next session to push our specific bills through the legislative process. It gets pretty intense at times, so, one of the duties of the Majority Leader will be to help the Caucus stay focused. A unified Majority Caucus with common goals will be crucial to our success. I look forward to the task."

To serve as the next Majority Floor Leader, Shannon chose veteran legislator Pam Peterson, R-Tulsa. A former Majority Whip and senior member of the House, Peterson's legislative experience will serve the House well as the next Majority Floor Leader.

"I'm very humbled and honored to have this opportunity," said Peterson. "I am looking forward to serving with Speaker-elect Shannon in this new leadership role."

To serve as the next Majority Whip, Shannon chose Rep. Todd Thomsen, R-Ada. Rep. Thomsen serves as a coordinator for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

"This is a very humbling opportunity for me, and I am honored that our Speaker-elect would ask me to serve in this capacity," said Thomsen. "I am very thankful to be able to serve my colleagues and my constituents in this leadership role, and I will do my best to earn their trust."

And finally, Shannon tapped Norman Republican Scott Martin to chair the powerful Appropriations and Budget Committee. Rep. Martin currently serves as the vice-chair of the Appropriations and Budget Committee.

"Chairing the Budget Committee is probably one of the toughest jobs in the House, but I'm up to the task," said Martin. "You don't make a lot of friends when you have to tell people 'no', but taking care of our tax dollars means we have to say 'no' to a lot of spending items.

“Considering all the uncertainty we are seeing with the federal budget, this could prove to be a difficult year for our budget here in Oklahoma. I'm honored to have this position, and I will work hard every day to watch over our tax dollars."

Shannon said he will be announcing other leadership positions in the coming weeks, including the list of committee chairmen and vice-chairmen.

"We haven't finalized every position yet, but I feel very confident we have a strong and talented group of leaders from throughout the Caucus," said Shannon. "Things feel really good right now. Our Caucus is energized and unified, and I am very optimistic about what we can accomplish this session."

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Cockroft Applauds Rejection of Exchange, Medicaid Expansion

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Josh Cockroft today praised Gov. Mary Fallin’s announcement that Oklahoma would reject the expansion of our state Medicaid program as provided for in the federal healthcare reform law and would not begin implementation of an insurance exchange as required under the law.
            “I applaud Governor Fallin for listening to the vast majority of her constituents in making this wise decision. In 2010, nearly 65 percent of Oklahomans voted to oppose the federal government’s takeover of our health care system and Governor Fallin’s decision today reinforces those wishes,” Cockroft said.
            The Tecumseh lawmaker said claims that the choice was between a state-run exchange or a federally run one were false.
            “The reality is that a ‘state’ exchange would not truly be run by the state. Anytime we deal with federal funding, the process is dictated by the guidelines set by the federal government. This means we really wouldn’t get any true input. I want Oklahoma to have control over our health care system, not Washington, D.C.,” Cockroft said.
            Cockroft said the state can’t afford the Medicaid expansion provided for in the Affordable Care Act.
            “We cannot afford the financial burden that expanding Medicaid would bring on the state. An additional half a billion dollars in the next eight years is an irresponsible and foolish burden to take on. It would require further cuts to vital areas of state government such as education, public safety and transportation,” Cockroft said.
            “We must continue standing behind Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s ongoing legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act and searching for local, Oklahoma-grown solutions for the problems we face.”

Monday, November 19, 2012

Governor Fallin: Oklahoma Will Not Pursue a State-Based Exchange or Medicaid Expansion

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin today released the following statement announcing that Oklahoma will not pursue the creation of a state-based exchange or participate in the Medicaid expansion in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA):

“For the past few months, my staff and I have worked with other lawmakers, Oklahoma stakeholders and health care experts across the country to determine the best course of action for Oklahoma in regards to both the creation of a health insurance exchange and the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Our priority has been to ascertain what can be done to increase quality and access to health care, contain costs, and do so without placing an undue burden on taxpayers or the state. As I have stated many times before, it is my firm belief that PPACA fails to further these goals, and will in fact decrease the quality of health care across the United States while contributing to the nation’s growing deficit crisis.

“Despite my ongoing opposition to the federal health care law, the state of Oklahoma is legally obligated to either build an exchange that is PPACA compliant and approved by the Obama Administration, or to default to an exchange run by the federal government. This choice has been forced on the people of Oklahoma by the Obama Administration in spite of the fact that voters have overwhelmingly expressed their opposition to the federal health care law through their support of State Question 756, a constitutional amendment prohibiting the implementation of key components of PPACA.

“After careful consideration, I have today informed U.S. Secretary of Health Kathleen Sebelius that Oklahoma will not pursue the creation of its own health insurance exchange. Any exchange that is PPACA compliant will necessarily be ‘state-run’ in name only and would require Oklahoma resources, staff and tax dollars to implement. It does not benefit Oklahoma taxpayers to actively support and fund a new government program that will ultimately be under the control of the federal government, that is opposed by a clear majority of Oklahomans, and that will further the implementation of a law that threatens to erode both the quality of American health care and the fiscal stability of the nation.

“Furthermore, I have also decided that Oklahoma will not be participating in the Obama Administration’s proposed expansion of Medicaid. Such an expansion would be unaffordable, costing the state of Oklahoma up to $475 million between now and 2020, with escalating annual expenses in subsequent years. It would also further Oklahoma’s reliance on federal money that may or may not be available in the future given the dire fiscal problems facing the federal government. On a state level, massive new costs associated with Medicaid expansion would require cuts to important government priorities such as education and public safety. Furthermore, the proposed Medicaid expansion offers no meaningful reform to a massive entitlement program already contributing to the out-of-control spending of the federal government.

“Moving forward, the state of Oklahoma will pursue two actions simultaneously. The first will be to continue our support for Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s ongoing legal challenge of PPACA. General Pruitt’s lawsuit raises different Constitutional questions than previous legal challenges, and both he and I remain optimistic that Oklahoma’s challenge can succeed.

“Our second and equally important task will be to pursue state-based solutions that improve health outcomes and contain costs for Oklahoma families. Serious reform, for instance, should be pursued in the area of Medicaid and public health, where effective chronic disease prevention and management programs could address the trend of skyrocketing medical bills linked to avoidable hospital and emergency room visits. I look forward to working with legislative leaders and lawmakers in both parties to pursue Oklahoma health care solutions for Oklahoma families.”


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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

2012 Oklahoma State Questions

State Questions on the 2012 Ballot

SQ 758 Rep. Dank/Sen. Reynolds
A yes vote would reduce the allowable cap on annual property tax increases from 5% to 3% for homesteads and agricultural land.  Oklahoma’s property taxes are the 8th fastest growing in the nation.  The property tax is the only automatic tax increase we have in Oklahoma.  This is not a cut, this is a fiscal restraint.  This measure would not affect the property tax freeze for people who are at least 65 years of age and meet household income guidelines.
SQ 759 Rep. Osborn/Sen. R. Johnson
A yes vote on this question would end any affirmative action in the state of Oklahoma that utilizes taxpayer dollars.  Current uses of taxpayer dollars that allow preference due to race or gender include some college scholarships and municipal contracting.  No special treatment or discrimination would be allowed in public employment, education, or public contracting.  Any private entities would still be able to utilize affirmative action with their private dollars. Similar legislation has been passed in the states of Washington, Michigan, Nebraska, Arizona, and California.  This is about fairness and equal treatment for all Oklahomans regardless of race, religion, color, sex, or national origin.
SQ 762 Rep. Steele/Sen. Brecheen
A yes vote on this measure would give the state pardon and parole board the power to review and decide parole requests for nonviolent offenders.  For violent offenses, the parole board would continue to make recommendations to the Governor, who would make the final decision.  Oklahoma is the only state that requires Gubernatorial approval for all paroles. This should make our pardon and parole process more efficient and according to the 2007 MGT audit save the state $40 million over the next decade.
SQ 764 Rep. Richardson/Sen. Crain
A yes vote on this measure would sustain and expand the Oklahoma Water Resources Board water and wastewater infrastructure financing program.  Projections are that over the next 50 years water infrastructure replacement across the state will grow exponentially.  The OWRB currently administers bond issues for municipalities and water districts to replace and repair that infrastructure.  In the decades that this has been the practice of the OWRB there has never been a bond not repaid.  This is due to strict criteria and monitoring of the repayment abilities.  This state question would allow more bonding to be permitted under the same guidelines as before, to address the critical water needs across our state.  This measure allows the OWRB to issue up to $300 million in general obligation bonds, that will be repaid, to cover the reserve fund for the water and sewage treatment program.

SQ 765 Rep. Steele/Sen. Treat
A yes vote on this State Question would abolish the Commission for Human Services, a constitutionally mandated, 9 member group of unelected volunteers.  It is a 1930’s governance model that can be traced to the agency’s major problems with an unaccountable commission and an insulated director.  With the passage of this measure The DHS director will be appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate.  This would place the agency’s leadership closer to the people because the Governor is accountable to all the people of the state.  DHS would basically now be answering directly to the public,  not an unelected, unaccountable commission.
SQ 766 Rep. Dank/Sen. Mazzei
A yes vote on this State Question would exempt all intangible personal property from property taxes in our state.  An intangible personal property item is something such as a trademark, logo, intellectual property, client list etc.  If passed this would take effect on January 13, 2013.  Approval of this state question will protect Oklahoma from a competitive advantage with surrounding states that do not have this unquantifiable, discriminatory tax.  This would also repeal the very unpopular Business Activity Tax that was passed in 2010. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Gov. Mary Fallin Announces Federal Assistance Appeal Approved for Cleveland County

Governor Mary Fallin today announced the appeal for disaster aid for Cleveland County has been approved by the federal government, making individual assistance available to residents and business owners affected by this summer’s wildfires.

Oklahoma and Payne counties again were denied federal assistance.

“I am pleased the federal government has accepted our appeal and finally decided to provide help to Cleveland County,” Fallin said. “Unfortunately, the White House has once again denied aid to Oklahoma and Payne counties. Having visited wildfire damage in all three locations and seen families left with no home and businesses burned to the ground, I continue to believe the residents of Oklahoma and Payne counties are deserving of federal aid. The state of Oklahoma will continue to look for ways to provide assistance to the victims of wildfires, regardless of which county they live in.”

The August wildfires damaged nearly 300 homes in Cleveland, Oklahoma and Payne counties. This number includes 270 homes that were destroyed. An estimated 85 percent of the homes damaged or destroyed were not insured. One person died in the fire in Cleveland County. Creek County was previously approved for assistance related to the fires.

On August 13, Governor Fallin requested individual assistance for Cleveland, Creek, Oklahoma and Payne counties. Creek County was granted federal assistance August 22, but FEMA denied assistance for victims in the other three counties.  The governor appealed the FEMA denial.

Oklahomans who suffered uninsured fire damage in Cleveland County are now eligible for assistance for housing repairs or temporary housing, U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) low-interest loans for individuals and businesses to repair or replace damaged property, disaster unemployment assistance and grants for serious needs and necessary disaster expenses not met by other programs.

To apply for disaster assistance, individuals and business owners in Cleveland County must call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or go online to www.disasterassistance.gov. There is a limited amount of time available to apply.

Cleveland County residents who have already called FEMA to report damage prior to the appeal are asked to please call again now to confirm their registration.

For those impacted by wildfires in Oklahoma and Payne counties, the state is continuing to work to bring assistance through the SBA. Such assistance would make low interest disaster loans available to homeowners, renters and business owners in these counties. Further information will be provided when available.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Reforms Save Millions, Millions More Possible

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma taxpayers are saving more than $60 million each year due to a series of reforms approved by the Oklahoma Legislature and signed into law during the past few years.
            The House Government Modernization Committee heard testimony today from a series of state officials regarding the ongoing savings from past reforms and the opportunity for additional savings if lawmakers continue advancing modernization proposals.
            Reforms resulting in savings include the consolidation of the state’s information technology infrastructure ($40 million annually), centralized purchasing reforms ($14 million), consolidation of central services agencies ($6 million), electronic distribution of state payments that saved the Oklahoma Tax Commission $500,000 last year and could save state agencies an additional $2 million each year, centralized fleet management reforms ($300,000) and a telework pilot program ($36,000).
            Oklahoma Chief Information Officer Alex Pettit told committee member that the savings resulting from the information technology consolidation have increased from $30 million to $40 million since this time last year.
            “We had two major goals with Information Technology consolidation.  One was to make our state government run more efficiently by replacing a fragmented and antiquated IT system build up haphazardly over the years.  The other was to save taxpayers money.  I’m happy to report we have made tremendous strides in both areas and have surpassed our initial goal for taxpayer savings,” Pettit said.
            The state also continues to realize increasing levels of savings from reforms to the purchasing system. Committee members were told the amount saved each year by state and local governments from these  reforms has increased from $8 million to $14 million each year.
            Committee members also heard testimony regarding additional potential  savings which could be realized with additional legislative action.
            Speaking on behalf of the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority, Deputy Chief Executive Officer Nico Gomez told committee members that the implementation of a telework pilot program had resulted in $36,000 in cost savings. The expansion of the program could significantly increase cost savings to the taxpayers.
            The director of the state's shared human resources division, Lucinda Meltabarger told committee members that significant savings would be possible should the state copy the successful Utah consolidation of its human resource management infrastructure.
            “It is our responsibility as legislators to always follow-up on past modernization reforms to ensure they are delivering savings for the taxpayers,” said state Rep. Jason Murphey, who chairs the House Modernization Committee. “It is also imperative for us to continue sourcing new ideas for reform and apply them to reduce the size of state government and make it less burdensome to Oklahomans.”
            Murphey credited Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin and her appointees for advancing new reform proposals and ensuring the already approved proposals were properly implemented.
            “Governor Fallin and her appointees have done a fantastic job of both suggesting new reforms and carrying out the intent of past reform proposals. Without their commitment to these concepts the savings would not have been nearly as significant,” said Murphey, R-Guthrie.
            House Speaker Kris Steele thanked Murphey for continuing to lead the House’s ongoing government modernization efforts.
            “We’re proud to report to taxpayers that efficiency is becoming the new normal in Oklahoma government,” said Steele, R-Shawnee. “These significant savings and improvements are a testament to the commitment policymakers have shown to building a leaner, more efficient, more effective government.”

Monday, August 20, 2012

Cockroft Column: Dealing with Seismic Operators

I have heard from numerous constituents about their frustrations over seismic operators who are entering private property amd causing extensive damage without providing proper compensation for that damage. The damage quickly becomes a financial and logistical headache for the property owner. After looking into the matter, I wanted to pass on information that may be helpful to those of you dealing with this problem.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has had rules in place that dictate the procedures which each seismic company must follow for entry, as well as the customary amount paid to surface owners for damage done to the surface owners’ property. The rules state that payment shall range from $5 to $15 per acre. This has always been the typical fee. The rules also state that the company doing the exploration is responsible for excessive damages. Until this year, these rules haven't been in state statute.    

I understand the frustration of a land owner who is having problems with a seismic company trying to encroach on their property and causing extensive damage. I also know that seismic companies sometimes apply tremendous pressure on landowners to comply with their demands for seismic exploration. The $5-15 they provide per acre can seem like a pittance in the face of the damage incurred.

I would advise individuals facing such problems to contact the seismic company in question and inquire as to which company has hired them to do the seismic drilling. Once you obtain the name of the company, then contact them. It is in the best interest of the energy company who hires the seismic exploration company to make sure all disputes are settled. I have talked to several energy companies and have found that they want to do what is best for everyone, especially landowners. They understand that the seismic exploration is a great inconvenience and want to make it right if damage occurs. That’s just good business. They hire the seismic companies, so they want to make sure it is done right and everyone is happy.

If the energy company doesn’t fix the problem, I would contact the Corporation Commission next. I have spoken with Donna Darnell, who is the Oil & Gas Complaints Manager at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. She is the liaison between you and the energy companies and is always available at (405) 521-2613.  In most cases, disputes are easily settled by arbitration. It is almost always handled without involving an attorney.

I would urge you to use this process to approach the problem. If I can be of further assistance, please call my Capitol office at (405) 557-7349.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Tecumseh Lawmaker Calls for Relief for Farmers

State Rep. Josh Cockroft is calling on the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Central Oklahoma Master Conservancy District and the Oklahoma Water Resources Board to work together to release water from Lake Thunderbird into the Little River basin.
            “Farmers and ranchers have been pleading for relief as their wells and irrigation systems are drying up due to the drought,” said Cockroft, R-Tecumseh. “My office has sent letters to each of these agencies asking for water to be released. Many farmers and ranchers wells have already dried up and crops have been ruined due to the lack of water in the river basin. I am confident that water could be safely released without hurting Norman’s water supply.”
            Cockroft represents House District 27, which includes the outskirts of Norman and the towns of Little Axe, Pink, Macomb, Tribbey, Tecumseh, Harjo and Maud. Each of these areas is directly affected by the Little River basin.
            Lake Thunderbird is a federally-owned water storage facility under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation. The Central Oklahoma Master Conservancy District operates and maintains the dam, lake and raw water pumping and delivery system under contract with the Bureau of Reclamation.
            The amount of water used by the cities of Norman, Del City and Midwest City for municipal water purposes is based on a surface water permit issued by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board to the Central Oklahoma Master Conservancy District. The Oklahoma Water Resources Board regulates the maximum amount of water used for water supply purposes.
            “I have studied this issue thoroughly at the request of farmers and ranchers in my district and I believe this is an appropriate and much-needed solution to local drought conditions. I expect a quick response from the agencies involved,” Cockroft said.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Celebrating Our Freedoms

On the Fourth of July, we celebrate our American heritage and the men and women responsible for defending us from tyranny and terrorism. Today’s active-duty military men and women endure harsh desert conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan. These brave men and women also sacrifice time with their families while risking their lives to protect Americans and deter dangerous dictators and groups seeking to prey upon the weak and the oppressed.

On this Fourth of July, I would ask that we all take time to ponder the freedoms that we have and give thanks to those who have contributed to or who continue to contribute to our security and liberty today. We are a nation of free thinkers and courageous lovers of freedom and are so privileged to be able to enjoy the protection of a robust military force. For that we should all celebrate.

We should also celebrate the sure judgment our Founding Fathers, men who were devoted to forming a better nation with never-seen-before ideals of protecting its citizens from the tyranny of an overreaching government. Leaders throughout our nation’s history have worked to improve our government’s respect for its citizens and to lead them through difficult times. I for one am extremely grateful to them.

May God richly bless you  and may you have an excellent Fourth of July weekend!

During the interim I will be traveling throughout the district, but will be available anytime for your calls or emails to my office. Call me at:(405) 557-7349 or email me at: https://webmail.okhouse.gov/owa/redir.aspx?C=a28451f52f0d473caade1e368353d0ea&URL=mailto%3aJosh.Cockroft%40okhouse.gov.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Tecumseh Lawmaker Deeply Disappointed by Supreme Court Decision


State Rep. Josh Cockroft said today he is deeply disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the federal health care law.
            “Today the Supreme Court basically told Congress and President Barack Obama that any mandate goes, as long as there is a financial penalty attached to it. I am outraged that the Supreme Court would allow the federal government so much power,” said Cockroft, R-Tecumseh.
            “The reality is this: the health care law will result in the largest tax increase in American history. The effect will be disastrous for individuals and businesses alike. This law will give us all less control over our personal health care decisions while driving up costs across the board. This gives the government unprecedented, sweeping power over its citizens, as long as it includes some form of a tax. As an American, I am hurt and saddened by this decision.”
            Cockroft urged Americans to use this difficult period in our history to take control over our government.
            “These decisions today must spark a passion inside every American, a desire to listen and understand the gravity of where this country is headed. We cannot continue to push our problems down the road, but rather we must take a stand for what is right,” said Cockroft.
           

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Lankford: Holder has No One to Blame but Himself

Washington, D.C. – Representative James Lankford (R-OK) issued the following statement after today's vote in the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to hold the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Attorney General Eric Holder in Contempt of Congress.

“The Committee has patiently asked for specific documents regarding the Fast and Furious operation,” Representative Lankford said. “Unfortunately, the DOJ and AG Holder have used every excuse in the book to stall, delay, and obstruct our investigation.  AG Holder also informed our Committee that the statements given to Congress were not false, they were ‘evolving truth.’”

A copy of the report considered in today’s hearing can be viewed here.

“Refusing to comply with a congressional subpoena comes with consequences including the loss of public trust and being held in contempt,” Representative Lankford continued. “The American people and the Terry family deserve honest answers regarding the Fast and Furious operation, and I am frustrated with DOJ’s disingenuous attempts to circumvent that responsibility.

“My goal is to answer the following questions: who authorized the Fast and Furious actions; why were the actions authorized; who was in charge of operational oversight; and why were the actions allowed to continue?  Now, we must also add the question, what is the Administration trying to hide with such extraordinary methods?

“The Administration has previously denied involvement in the Fast and Furious operation, but now they have invoked Executive Privilege. If no wrongdoing occurred, why would the Administration ardently fight investigation? Executive Privilege only increases the speculation that facts are being withheld to protect people rather than resolve the issue. Candidate Obama's pledge of transparency and openness has deteriorated into Executive Privilege and obfuscating a congressional subpoena.

“We must make sure this type of operation and loose oversight never occurs again. We will hold this Administration accountable for its misconduct,” Representative Lankford concluded.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Governor Fallin Signs ‘Open Carry’ Legislation into Law

Governor Mary Fallin today signed into law Senate Bill 1733, a measure that allows Oklahoma citizens to openly carry firearms.  The bill permits those who are licensed, or already have been licensed, to carry a firearm under the Oklahoma Self Defense Act to openly carry a weapon or conceal it.  It also allows property owners to openly carry a firearm on their property without a concealed carry permit for the purpose of self defense.

To receive a license under the Oklahoma Self Defense Act, applicants must take a firearms safety and training course and submit to a background check by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.  Those convicted of felonies and certain misdemeanors may not receive a handgun license.

With Governor Fallin’s signature on SB 1733, Oklahoma becomes the 25th state with either “permissive open carry” laws (no permit required) or “licensed open carry” (permit required). Oklahoma now joins Utah, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Hawaii and Massachusetts as a “licensed open carry” state.

“As a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and a gun owner myself, I’m happy to sign this bill into law and grant law-abiding citizens the ability to openly carry firearms,” Fallin said.  “Senate Bill 1733 sends a strong message that Oklahoma values the rights of its citizens to defend themselves, their family and their property. It does so in a responsible way, by requiring those citizens who choose to ‘open carry’ to undergo both firearms training and a background check.”

Businesses may continue to prohibit firearms to be carried on their premises.  SB 1733 prohibits carrying firearms on properties owned or leased by the city, state or federal government, at corrections facilities, in schools or college campuses, liquor stores and at sports arenas during sporting events.

The bill was sponsored by Senator Anthony Sykes and Representative Jeff Hickman.

“I want to thank Senator Sykes and Representative Hickman, as well as the entire Legislature, for their commitment to protecting the Second Amendment rights of Oklahomans,” Fallin said.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Cockroft Column: Cost-savings legislation progresses

Initial proposals for an income tax cut and phase-out have been altered significantly, because of budget concerns and opposition to the elimination of key tax exemptions and credits. Although the cuts will be smaller than we had originally believed, I believe we are still paving the way for future, responsible taxt cuts, through legislation that will improve our management of State resources. The large focus of this years legislative session has been our budget. Even though major tax cuts aren't on the table for this year, we have passed numerous cost-saving measures. Here are just a few examples:

House Bill 2262 authorizes the sale of excess state properties in order to pay for the maintenance needs of important state-owned buildings like the Oklahoma State Capitol.

Senate Bill 1096 initiates an energy conservation program for state agencies, institutions and assets. This program would save hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars by directing all state agencies and higher education institutions to achieve an energy efficiency and conservation improvement target of at least 20 percent by the year 2020.

An energy conservation program that began in 2007 at Oklahoma State University has decreased energy consumption campus-wide by 19 percent, resulting in some $19 million of savings. Conservative projections show the state could potentially reduce energy consumption by 20 to 30 percent, resulting in approximately $300 to $500 million in net savings over ten years.

Under House Bill 2204, anyone who knowingly continues to receive unemployment benefits after securing a new job would be required to pay back all of the falsely obtained benefits plus a penalty equal to 25 percent of the overpayments. The money raised by the penalties would go back into the unemployment trust fund which helps keep taxes low, while a portion will be used to pay for fraud investigations. The bill also allows employers that terminate employees who test positive for drugs or alcohol without being required to provide those terminated employee’s unemployment benefits.

    The entire budget process has been a long continued conversation. I believe it’s been a great process of bi-partisan work to meet in the middle on this issue. You can be proud that your legislators are working diligently to iron out the details to do what is best for Oklahoma. When this happens, the result is a better, safer Oklahoma!  

To contact my office, call (405) 557-7349 or e-mail josh.cockroft@okhouse.gov. I am also available on Facebook and on Twitter at votecockroft27.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Weekly Capitol Wrap


Bill to Deter Drunk Driving Signed into Law
Under legislation signed into law, a drunk driver who caused an accident resulting in great bodily harm could face a maximum of 10 years in prison.
            House Bill 2568 increases the current five-year maximum sentence for personal injury accidents involving a DUI that result in great bodily harm.
            More than 3,000 injuries took place in Oklahoma in 2010 as a result of drunk driving, according to data from the National Highway Safety Administration and the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office.

Firefighter Legislation Signed into Law
Legislation signed into law will create a better firefighter tax credit system.
            House Bill 1835 changes the firefighter tax credit system to better adhere to the training needs of rural fire departments.
            House Bill 1835 requires a volunteer to complete 12 initial credit hours toward the State Support or State Basic Firefighter or Firefighter I, an equivalent or other training approved by the Council of Firefighter Training in order to receive a tax credit.
            The legislation also allows local fire chiefs to approve volunteer firefighter training and requires volunteer firefighters to annually complete six hours of State Support or State Basic Firefighter or Firefighter I.
Volunteers who have completed these courses must complete six hours of Intermediate or Advance Firefighter or Firefighter I to be eligible for the tax credit.
The measure modifies the membership and appointment requirements of the Council on Firefighter Training, increases the number of annual meetings of the council to six and makes the council responsible for consistent basic and continuing education programs for all ranks and positions.

Bill to Sell Unneeded State Properties Signed into Law
Legislation recently signed into law authorizes the sale of unneeded state properties and directs that the money generated be used to maintain other buildings.
House Bill 2262 creates a Maintenance of State Buildings Revolving Fund, which will receive the revenue generated by proceeds from the sale of state-owned land and buildings. Money in the fund would then be used to maintain and repair other state properties and buildings.
In addition, the bill requires that the state’s Long Range Capital Plan include an index ranking state buildings based on maintenance needs. Money in the Maintenance of State Buildings Revolving Fund would be allocated to projects based on those with greatest need.
The new law builds on the Oklahoma State Government Asset Reduction and Cost Savings Program, a measure signed into law last year. That legislation required the Director of the Department of Central Services to identify 5 percent of the most underutilized state-owned properties on a yearly basis with an eye toward liquidating them.
Recent estimates indicate there are thousands of state-owned properties, but no one knows how many the state owns for sure.
Lawmakers Vote to Increase Women’s Safety
Physicians could face a felony if they prescribe a pill known as RU-486 or milfepristone for the inducement of an abortion without being physically present under a bill approved by House lawmakers.
House Bill 2381 is needed because current law would allow physicians to give an exam and prescribe the pill over the Internet, according to the bill’s author, state Rep. Josh Cockroft.
State Rep. Sean Roberts, a co-author, said a proper examination is needed to check for ectopic pregnancies and other contraindications which would make the abortion pill potentially dangerous.
Felonies are punishable by a fine of $1,000 or up to two years incarceration in the Department of Corrections. The legislation would also make physicians liable for damages.
House Bill 2381 now proceeds to the Senate for consideration.

Pittman Promotes May Rally and Documentary on Bullying
State Rep. Anastasia A. Pittman today urged students, parents, educators and other organizations to participate in a May 11 rally to raise awareness about bullying.
Pittman urged potential participants to see the film Bully, which includes the story of Ty Field-Smalley, an 11-year-old Perkins boy who shot himself after bullying incidents that ultimately resulted in his suspension despite his being the victim.
Field-Smalley’s story is among a handful of stories in the film, which includes the story of Kelby Johnson, who grew up in Tuttle, and Alex Libby, who now lives in Edmond after being bullied in Sioux City, Iowa.
The May 11 rally will take place at the Oklahoma State Capitol, on the North steps from 10 a.m. to noon. It will feature artist and speaker Richard Hight, Kirk Smalley with Stand For the Silent, Michael Allen and student testimonials.Registration will take place on the Fourth Floor Rotunda at 9:30 a.m. Visiting booths on the Fourth Floor Rotunda will take place beginning at 12:30 p.m.
Gun safety will be among the topics and Pittman said she hopes to include the National Rifle Association.
The rally is free and open to the public. If you plan to attend, notify the office of state Rep. Anastasia A. Pittman at (405) 557-7393 or anastasia.pittman@okhouse.gov.

Holt’s Community Service Legislation Heads to Governor’s Desk
Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, praised the final passage of Senate Bill 1875, a measure allowing counties in Oklahoma to create community service programs for convicted criminals, putting offenders in position to make a positive contribution to their communities while serving their sentence.
The legislation, authored in the House by Rep. Gary Banz, R-Midwest City, was named the “Safari McDoulett Community Service Act,” after an employee in the office of Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan.
Maughan’s SHINE program is the model for the bill, and McDoulett helped administer the program until her untimely death earlier this year. SHINE stands for Start Helping Impacted Neighborhoods Everywhere.
Holt’s legislation gives counties the authority to create a community service program, and then authorizes judges to assess a fine on criminals they sentence to community service. That fine would then pay for supervisors and equipment so local governments can put those offenders to work removing graffiti, picking up litter or doing other projects to enhance the community.
SB 1875 was approved unanimously in the Senate by a 41-0 vote and now heads to the governor’s desk for consideration.

Legislators Praise Governor’s Signing of Pro-Life Measure
State Representatives Josh Cockroft and Sean Roberts praised Gov. Mary Fallin for signing into law yesterday a significant pro-life bill.
House Bill 2381 would make it a felony for a physician to prescribe a pill known as RU-486 or milfepristone for the inducement of an abortion without being physically present.
Cockroft said the legislation is needed because a loophole in a measure passed last session allows physicians to give an exam and prescribe the pill over the Internet. That measure required physicians to provide an examination and set up a follow-up appointment before prescribing RU-486 for the inducement of an abortion.
State Rep. Sean Roberts, who co-authored the bill, said a proper examination is needed to check for ectopic pregnancies and other contraindications that would make the abortion pill dangerous and potentially lead to serious complications such as hypotension, cardiac problems or hemorrhaging.
Felonies are punishable by a fine of $1,000 or up to two years incarceration in the Department of Corrections. The legislation would also make physicians liable for damages.
The measure will be effective November 1, 2012.

House Sends Informed Consent Remedy Measure to Governor
A measure protecting women from being coerced or misled into having an abortion passed out of the House of Representatives today and now awaits the governor’s signature.
House Bill 2561, by state Rep. Paul Wesselh√∂ft, provides that if a physician negligently fails to obtain a woman’s informed consent in violation of state law and causes the death of an unborn child through an abortion, then the woman would have the same civil and criminal remedies available to her as she would if the physician failed to obtain her consent at all.
The measure provides that no physician would be liable for performing an abortion unless the physician violated Oklahoma’s informed consent or parental consent laws.
House Bill 2561 passed out of the House by a vote of 89-0 and now heads to the governor’s desk to await her signature.



Governor approves funding for new Lake Murray State Park lodge
Construction of a new lodge in Lake Murray State Park will soon be underway following the Governor’s approval of Senate Bill 1913 Tuesday. The legislation by Sen. Frank Simpson and Rep. Pat Ownbey, authorizes the Department of Tourism to use $15 million from the State Park Trust Fund for the construction and maintenance of the new facility.
Gov. Fallin praised legislators for their quick action on the important tourism legislation.
Now that the bill has been signed, Department of Tourism officials can begin the process of finding an architect and engineer. Construction will begin next year and the lodge is expected to be completed by September 2015.
Lake Murray currently attracts over 13,000 vacationers a year who contribute $1.4 million to the local economy. Local officials expect those numbers to increase after the new lodge is constructed.
Ownbey noted that the self-sufficient project will be of great benefit to local communities and the state’s tourism efforts.
Oklahoma operates 41 state park properties and owns another 14 state parks. Royalty payments from the parks owned by the state are used for capital improvements at all of the parks. With nearly 12,500 acres, Lake Murray State Park is larger than all the other state-owned parks combined. The park has brought in over $15 million worth of royalty payments. SB 1913 will allow that money to be used for the construction of the lodge as well as any maintenance costs through June 30, 2020.
SB 1913 will go into effect July 1, 2012.

Lawmakers Send Bingman Energy Conservation Bill to Governor
Legislation sent to the desk of Governor Mary Fallin on Wednesday by the state Senate would initiate an energy conservation program for state agencies, institutions and assets that would result in hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars being saved. Senate Bill 1096, authored by Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, creates the Oklahoma State Facilities Energy Conservation Program and directs all state agencies and higher education institutions to achieve an energy efficiency and conservation improvement target of at least 20 percent by the year 2020.
SB 1096 was given final approval in the Senate Wednesday with a unanimous vote of 42-0. Bingman said the program is inspired, in part, by an energy conservation program that began in 2007 at Oklahoma State University (OSU). Since initiating a behavior-modification energy efficiency program, OSU has decreased energy consumption campus-wide by 19 percent, resulting in some $19 million of savings.       SB 1096 sets a cumulative energy savings target of at least 20 percent by the year 2020 when compared to 2012 fiscal year utility expenditures. Conservative projections show the state could potentially reduce energy consumption by 20 to 30 percent, resulting in approximately $300 to $500 million in net savings over ten years.
Under the Oklahoma State Facilities Energy Conservation Program, the Director of the Office of State Finance, or an OSF designee, would oversee development and implementation of the energy conservation program. The measure ensures all costs associated with the implementation of SB 1096 would be fully funded by savings generated as a result of energy conservation.
Derby Methamphetamine Reduction Bill Sent to Governor
Oklahoma state Rep. David Derby (R-Owasso) released the following statement today after the Oklahoma House of Representatives voted to accept Senate amendments to House Bill 2941 and send it to the governor:
“If signed into law, House Bill 2941 will give pharmacists and law enforcement officials a critical tool to block illegal pseudoephedrine sales and track down meth criminals. Meth is a drug that destroys families and is far too prevalent in Oklahoma. We are seeing explosions from the production of meth in Tulsa County. This bill will enhance Oklahoma’s electronic tracking system and will improve our meth offender registry, ensuring that criminal data is being provided to law enforcement up to the second. I am very pleased to see this legislation on its way to Governor Fallin’s desk.” – State Rep. David Derby (R-Owasso)
House Bill 2941 is designed to curb methamphetamine production in Oklahoma by targeting meth criminals and protecting law-abiding consumers’ access to safe and effective medicines containing pseudoephedrine (PSE) such as Advil Cold and Sinus and Mucinex-D.
Under the legislation, the electronic tracking system will issue a stop-sale alert if the completion of the sale would violate quantity limits. Persons violating the limit would be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000. It also allows pharmacists to establish service charge that is kept if the purchaser shows up on the meth registry, but otherwise will go towards the purchase price.
HB2941 lowers the quantity of pseudoephedrine product a person may purchase to 3.6 grams per day, 7.2 grams per 30-day period or 60 grams within a 12-month period. Persons with a prior conviction of manufacturing or attempting to manufacture meth will be guilty of a felony if they attempt to purchase pseudoephedrine and would face a minimum of 14 years in prison.

Resolution Disapproving A Through F School Grading System Clears Committee
A resolution that would disapprove recent administrative rules written by the Department of Education that relate to the A-F Grading system for schools and teachers passed out of the House Administrative Rules & Government Oversight Committee today.
            Shelton said the promulgated by the Department of Education do not reflect the intent of the Legislature when it approved the grading system last year and are convoluted, difficult to understand, read or follow.
For example, the rules assign a score of 93.7 percent as an “A,” which Shelton said is misleading.
Shelton said during the rule writing process, calculations ran by the Department of Education resulted in too many schools receiving a grade of “A” when the corresponding score was set at 90 percent.
Following the committee vote, Gov. Mary Fallin released a statement indicating that she had already approved the rules.
Shelton said, however, that the Legislature has the power to disapprove agency rules by resolution regardless of any action taken by the governor.

Numerous educators and school administrators attended the committee meeting today in support of the resolution.
House Joint Resolution 1125, by state Rep. Mike Shelton, cleared the committee by a vote of 9-1 and now moves to a vote in the full House.

Measure Aimed at Reducing Unemployment Benefit Fraud Heads to Governor
Legislation that could significantly reduce unemployment benefit fraud and abuse passed overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives today and now awaits the governor’s signature.
House Bill 2204, by state Rep. Randy McDaniel, provides that anyone who knowingly continues to receive unemployment benefits after securing a new job would be required to pay back all of the falsely obtained benefits plus a penalty equal to 25 percent of the overpayments. The money raised by the penalties would go back into the unemployment trust fund which helps keep taxes low, while a portion will be used to pay for fraud investigations.
The bill also requires those who file for unemployment to provide documentation of job search efforts within one week of obtaining benefits and includes a provision that will eliminate paperwork costs in the system. The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC) will afford employers and unemployed workers the option of receiving e-mail notifications instead of physical paper copies of all documents.
In addition, the bill provides that employers that terminate employees who test positive for drugs or alcohol will not be required to provide those terminated employees unemployment benefits.
House Bill 2204 passed out of the House by a vote of 83-7 and now heads to the governor to await her signature.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Legislators Praise Governor’s Signing of Pro-Life Measure

State Representatives Josh Cockroft and Sean Roberts praised Gov. MaryFallin for signing into law yesterday a significant pro-life bill.

House Bill 2381 would make it a felony for a physician to prescribe a pill known as RU-486 or milfepristone for the inducement of an abortion without being physically present.

“Regardless of your position on the abortion issue, this bill is about the safety of our citizens,” said Cockroft, R-Tecumseh, and primary author of the bill. “To allow a physician to prescribe this pill without conducting a proper examination of the patient to determine whether the drug will create a harmful reaction is unacceptable, which is why the Legislature attempted to deal with this issue last year.”

Cockroft said the legislation is needed because a loophole in a measure passed last session allows physicians to give an exam and prescribe the pill over the Internet. That measure required physicians to provide an examination and set up a follow-up appointment before prescribing RU-486 for the inducement of an abortion.

State Rep. Sean Roberts, who co-authored the bill, said a proper examination is needed to check for ectopic pregnancies and other contraindications that would make the abortion pill dangerous and potentially lead to serious complications such as hypotension, cardiac problems or hemorrhaging.

“This is not like taking an aspirin for a headache,” said Roberts. “RU-486 creates a major bio-physical reaction in the human body that necessitates a pre-examination of the patient and the physical presence of a physician during the procedure to treat any harmful effects. I’m grateful for the partnership of Rep. Cockroft and Gov. Fallin on this pro-life issue.”

Felonies are punishable by a fine of $1,000 or up to two years incarceration in the Department of Corrections. The legislation would also make physicians liable for damages.

The measure will be effective November 1, 2012.