Monday, December 29, 2014

Cockroft Column: Time To Revisit Fees, Budgeting Process

The Board of Equalization last week announced that the revenue triggers necessary to invoke a tax cut have been met. The Board of Equalization approved a motion Thursday to certify the income tax cut trigger provisions of Senate Bill 1246. SB 1246 requires a comparison between Fiscal Year 2016 estimated general revenue to the Fiscal Year 2014 certified general revenue total. Because projected FY 16 revenue is $60.7 million more than FY-14 revenues, the personal income tax rate will be reduced from 5.25 percent to 5 percent in tax year 2016. This comes as further proof that conservative policies continue to work for Oklahoma despite what the naysayers say.

The estimates approved by the board project revenues that could be enough to also trigger a deposit of almost $37.8 million in the state’s Rainy Day Fund. Despite this, the Legislature could face budgetary challenges as the projections approved today are 0.3 percent or $25.6 million less than what was certified for last year’s budget. The recent drop in oil prices, although beneficial at the pump, could continue to put pressure on state revenues. Lower prices in agricultural commodity markets will also be a challenge for lawmakers to overcome beginning in February.

Every year new challenges face lawmakers as we begin the budgeting process. The challenges of fluctuating federal monies, off the top spending, and aging infrastructures force legislators to find new ways to craft a budget. Three measures I am introducing this year will force us to focus on true state priorities while planning for the future.

When revenues are uncertain, agencies will turn to fees as a steady source of income. The danger in this is agencies justify the spending before the legislature without the general public even knowing about it. Fee increases are seldom a large increase, but can quickly add up and be passed without many people knowing about it. I have a solid resume in voting against fee increases during my tenure in the legislature. I will be introducing legislation which was run unsuccessfully in 2013 by then Speaker of the House TW Shannon to put a three year moratorium on fee increases; allowing the budgeting process to be transparent. If increases are needed, the people of the state should know about it before it’s passed, not when they get the bill.

Over half of our state revenue is generated from the federal government. We see that number shrink and fluctuate every year, yet we have no plan to deal with the uncertainty of the federal government. I will be filing two measures dealing with how our state reacts to the federal money it receives. One measure seeks to require state agencies to make contingency plans for 5 percent to 10 percent reductions in federal revenues for every year’s budget. Doing so would allow us to be prepared and ready should the funds not be available. The second measure would establish the Federal Funds Commission to study and make recommendations on federal funding in a state’s budget, assess risks of a significant loss of federal funding, and contingency plans for continued services from the state in the event of a reduction of federal assistance. The commission would have members appointed by the Speaker of the House, President of the Senate, and the Governor to meet and make the needed recommendations dealing with federal funds.

The state’s budget is the largest issue we as lawmakers deal with every year. Our state cannot afford to not look at every option to make the process easier, more efficient, smarter, and stream lined. I look forward to working through these measures with my colleagues over the next several months.


It is an honor to serve you. It matters not if you are Republican, Democrat, or Independent; I am here to serve you. Communication is important to me. I want to know how to I can better serve and lead for our district and our state. I am always a phone call away at: (405) 557-7349.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Revenue Estimate Approved, Income Tax Cut


OKLAHOMA CITY — Revenues available for certification for the next appropriated state budget are trending flat but remain sufficient to trigger a personal income tax reduction in tax year 2016, according to projections approved Thursday.

The seven-member Board of Equalization on Thursday certified revenues Gov. Mary Fallin can use to build her FY 2016 executive budget proposal. Under state law, the governor must use the figure certified Thursday for the executive budget that will presented to the Legislature when it convenes Feb. 2.

The board also took action required under legislation enacted in April that will cause the state’s top personal income tax rate to drop from 5.25 percent to 5 percent beginning Jan. 1, 2016. The legislation authorized the income tax reduction if the FY 16 General Revenue Fund (GRF) estimate made by the board Thursday was equal to or greater than the FY 14 GRF estimate made by the board in February 2013. The FY 16 GRF estimate the board reviewed Thursday is $6,004,349,345, which is $60.7 million more than the FY 14 GRF estimate of $5,943,662,805 made in February 2013.

“Oklahomans are getting relief at the gas pump this year, and next year they’ll be getting more relief through a lower personal income tax,” said Secretary of Finance, Administration and Information Technology Preston L. Doerflinger.

The board on Thursday approved an estimate of $6,914,776,463 in available revenue for the FY 2016 executive budget proposal. That amount is $43.3 million, or 0.6 percent, less than what was approved last December for the governor’s FY 15 executive budget, and $298.1 million, or 4.1 percent, less than the legislatively-approved FY 15 appropriated state budget of $7,212,855,361.

“There isn’t more money, but there is adequate money. We have a big enough pie and our job now is slicing it right to meet the needs of the day with the funds available,” Doerflinger said.

Despite the $298.1 million differential between FY 15 total appropriations and the preliminary FY 16 revenue estimate, revenues the board can certify as available for appropriations remain mostly flat. The estimate the board approved Thursday of revenue available for the FY 16 executive budget proposal is $25.6 million, or 0.3 percent, less than the $6,940,352,735 the board approved in February 2014 as available for FY 15 appropriations. However, the enacted FY 15 budget appropriated more than was certified by the board due to its use of $291.7 million in additional funds from various government accounts.

“As is the case most every session, revenues certified by the board do not represent all revenues available for appropriation,” Doerflinger said. “We were well-intentioned in using additional resources to meet needs last session, but next session we’ll have to rely more on cuts to most areas if we’re going to put additional resources anywhere else. We’ll have to prioritize and make tough choices.”

The board will meet again in late February to make a second estimate that will be used in negotiations between the governor and legislators to determine FY 16 appropriations levels for state agencies.

“As always, February’s certification matters way more than this December estimate,” Doerflinger said. “If oil prices continue sliding and the energy sector shrinks, there may be less revenue in February than there is today – we’ll see. In any event, the challenge is not insurmountable and we can and will manage it.”

Doerflinger is director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, which works with the Governor's Office to build the annual executive budget. OMES, in conjunction with the Oklahoma Tax Commission, prepares the revenue estimates that are presented to the Board of Equalization.
The packet the board reviewed Thursday can be accessed on the OMES website: http://www.ok.gov/OSF/documents/boe12182014.pdf


Monday, December 8, 2014

Cockroft Column - The Time Is Now For Major Judicial Reform

In the last century, individuals in our state and every state in the Nation have felt the effects of an ever growing and increasingly powerful judiciary branch. Even during my tenure in the Oklahoma Legislature, I have seen numerous measures struck down in sweeping cases of judicial activism. What many people do not realize because of its convenient failure to be taught in the classroom is that the judicial system was never created to be a co-equal or independent branch having powers to legislate or execute law as it does today. The Federalist Papers were written by our founders to explain the intent of what was meant by the wording of everything we find in our Constitution. Federalist Paper #51 states, "the legislative authority necessarily predominate.” Federalist Paper #78 states, “The judiciary, on the contrary, has no influence over either the sword or the purse; no direction either of the strength or of the wealth of the society; and can take no active resolution whatever. It may truly be said to have neither force nor will. . . . The judiciary, from the nature of its functions, will always be the least dangerous to the political rights of the Constitution. . . . The judiciary is, beyond comparison, the weakest of the three departments of power. . . . and the general liberty of the people can never be endangered from that quarter. Not only was the Judiciary not created to be equal, but it was actually much weaker than the Legislative and Executive! 

Every election cycle when our Supreme Court Justices are on the ballot for retention, I receive many complaints on the lack of transparency or information available on the Justices due to the state statutes here in Oklahoma. Our state is set up on what is commonly known as the “Missouri Plan” for our selection of Supreme Court Justices. The Missouri Plan provides for the appointment of the Justices by the Governor, then places them on a non-partisan retention ballot to allow the people to decide if they should remain as Justices. I believe the difficulties far outweigh the benefits of this system. Holding non-partisan elections often shroud the ability of the people to understand where the individuals stand on the issues. Pointed questions are not allowed. The amount of information of their records is nearly impossible to find for most people. Being as such, over 95% of retention ballots are retained. This process simply regurgitates the problems we are seeing.     

Many things have been on a slow fade away from our Founding Fathers original intent in the 1700’s, but here in Oklahoma I look to help to reverse the course in a small way. This year I will be filing a measure to change our Supreme Court Justice selection process from an appointed one by our Governor to an elected one by the people. By designating districts by population much like our Congressional Districts, the people would elect a Supreme Court Justice for their district to a term in Oklahoma City. The Justices would then elect the Chief Justice from among themselves. Our Founding Fathers very much intended for the judicial process infused by the people and not to be appointed by bureaucrats. Enabling accountability by and from the people begins to make this branch of government realize the consequences, good or bad, of their decisions. 

I realize and am not naive to that fact this is a very bold and new solution. The hill is long and the climb will be hard. However, my responsibility is to look into every solution to move our state in a positive direction. Big problems require bold solutions. I believe in this solution. Beginning the dialog this year will perhaps yield to the change this state needs to provide a more transparent and accountable government. 

Please do not hesitate to give me your thoughts and ideas. That’s why I am here! You can email me at: Josh.Cockroft@OkHouse.gov, call me at: 405-557-7349, follow me on Facebook: Representative Josh Cockroft, Twitter: @VoteCockroft27, and my Website: www.FriendsofJoshCockroft.com


Friday, November 21, 2014

Open Letter to the Citizens of the State of Oklahoma


   
This past week I had the pleasure of joining 34 of my colleagues in drafting an open letter to the citizens of our great state over my great concerns on the lawsuit against Senate Bill 1246 which was passed this past spring. This letter went out to every media outlet in the state and has quickly garnered support and interest. I have attached that letter below for your review. Please feel free to share with your friends and family or submit your thoughts back to me. 
God bless, 

Rep. Josh Cockroft



"An Open Letter to the Citizens of the State of Oklahoma,

    The Oklahoma Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in a lawsuit brought against Senate Bill 1246, which was passed by the Oklahoma Legislature and signed into law by Governor Mary Fallin in the 2014 legislative session.

    That piece of legislation, now state law, was intended to reduce Oklahoma’s personal income tax rate if certain state tax collection targets are met. The lawsuit against the new statute is being aided by vocal opponents of income tax reductions.

    According to those who filed the lawsuit, the new law violates provisions of State Question 640, originally approved by a majority of Oklahoma voters in 1992 with the goal of making it more difficult for state lawmakers to increase taxes paid by Oklahomans.

    In 1992, state lawmakers’ ability to increase taxes and revenue needed to be restrained. The subsequent constitutional restraint requires that bills creating or increasing taxes, or making new revenue sources for the purpose of funding government, start in the state House of Representatives. Also, such bills cannot be passed in the final five days of the legislative session. As well, they must either be submitted to a vote of the people or receive three-fourths approval by both the state Senate and House of Representatives.

    The lawsuit against the new tax reduction attempts to make the case that any bill related to taxes or revenue, whether it increases or decreases taxes paid by Oklahomans, is subject to the provisions of SQ 640. This interpretation violates the plain wording of the amendment and the intent of the voters.

    Taxpaying Oklahomans should be alarmed by arguments made last month before the state Supreme Court justices regarding the intent of SQ 640. It was argued before the Court that, when the citizens voted in 1992 to make it more difficult for the state Legislature to increase their taxes, it was actually the intent of voters to make it more difficult to lower their taxes. Such an interpretation would mean SQ 640 applies to any bill dealing with revenue. This is a direct violation of the plain language of the statute in question and the clear intent of the voters. If a subsequent ruling by the Court reflects such rationale, this will have grave consequences on the ability of the Legislature in the future to provide relief to taxpayers.

    If the state Supreme Court rules according to the lawsuit’s interpretation, there could be serious consequences. Minor or technical amendments to revenue-related statutes, bills lowering fees, and prior personal income tax cuts, business tax cuts, estate tax cuts, credits and deductions for seniors, and retiree and veteran tax relief could all be challenged and overturned. 

    It is even possible that dozens, if not hundreds, of past measures enacting tax relief or the expenditure of revenue could be immediately ruled null and void.

    Such a ruling sets a precedent benefiting only those who want to undo such prior tax relief as the gross production tax compromise, also passed during the 2014 legislative session. 

    As well, any law passed in Oklahoma since 1992 that increased or decreased the amount of funds in the state Treasury could be immediately deemed unconstitutional if it failed to meet the standards of SQ 640. This could include state budget bills, which are routinely passed in the final days of session, jeopardizing funding for schools, public safety, transportation infrastructure and safety net services.

    Tax-relief measures enacted in Oklahoma since SQ 640’s passage in 1992 that could potentially be ruled unconstitutional, should SB 1246 be struck down by the Court, would include:


- Reductions of the state’s personal income tax rate from 6.65 percent down to 5.25 percent; passed in 2005 and 2006.
- Manufacturing exemption against the state’s corporate income tax for distributors; passed in 2005.
- Prohibition of taxation on intangible personal property; sent to the voters for approval in 2012.
- Setting of the state’s gross production tax rate at 2 percent for all new oil and natural gas wells drilled in the state, for the first three years of a well’s production; passed in 2014.
- Repeal of Oklahoma’s estate tax; passed in 2005.
- Tax relief for all disabled military veterans filing personal income tax returns in Oklahoma; passed in 2005.
- Tying of the state’s standard deduction for taxpaying families to match the federal standard deduction; passed in 2006.
- Tax relief for all private-sector retirees filing personal income tax returns in Oklahoma; passed in 2006.
- Tax relief for all military veterans filing personal income tax returns in Oklahoma; passed in 2006.

    Clearly, this was not the intent of Oklahoma voters when they approved SQ 640 in 1992. Such actions by the state Supreme Court would inflict unnecessary hardship on Oklahoma families, retirees, veterans, entrepreneurs and job-creators.

    It is our sincere hope that the Oklahoma Supreme Court will use discretion and sound judgment and not rule in such fashion as to throw out two decades-worth of tax reductions for Oklahoma taxpayers. It is truly bizarre to imagine that Oklahoma voters desired in 1992 to make it more difficult than it had previously been for state lawmakers to take less of their money.

    Since 1992, Oklahomans have benefited from numerous state-level tax reductions and suffered few state-level tax increases. SQ 640 has been a good protection against rapid escalation of state-level tax rates and unnecessary growth of state government. Our state and its people have benefited as a result.

Sincerely, 

Rep. Josh Cockroft"

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Cockroft Column - Regents Out of Touch With Priorities

    In the news this past week was the headline stating the Regents for Oklahoma High Education have requested an additional $98.7 million in state appropriations for the next fiscal year. While their claim is the additional money is for necessary increases, I wonder if their request shows a lack of recognition of the priorities of our state budget and Oklahoma’s conservative majority. 

    Chancellor Glen Johnson cited Gov. Mary Fallin’s Complete College America Initiative as a justification of the large request. The goal of that initiative is to increase the number of career credentials and college degrees earned by 1,700 each year for 12 years. In the first year of the initiative, the goal was surpassed with an increase of 2,945 additional career credentials and college degrees. In the second year, there were 3,577 additional credentials and degrees. Of the $98.7 million increase, $88.3 million would be used in support of the initiative. Johnson also notes that the increase would bring funding back to pre-recession levels.

    The request makes it very clear that Johnson and the Regents of Higher Education do not understand conservative governing principles. Higher education received cuts or flat budgets in past years, because it was flush with funding. The success of the initiative so far shows that they are neither underfunded nor in crisis. If this request is to be honored it would place overall funding for higher education in Oklahoma over $1.086 Billion. Meanwhile, state prisons and K-12 schools, which both rank higher on my priority list, do not have adequate funding or flexibility in their spending. Higher education has long been the sacred cow of state government. Past state legislatures poured money into it with very few tough questions or analysis of the results of that funding. We can not continue to blindly fund such a large portion of our budget. We must continue looking at our state budget in the same way we as families look at our household budgets. Responsibly. 


    When we get to work in the coming year on the Fiscal Year 2016 budget, I will be among those encouraging lawmakers to focus on common education, career technology schools and other critical needs in Oklahoma. I am no enemy of higher education and I certainly see the positives that our higher education system produces, but I also believe in living within the means. When so many other areas of our state budget are short and stretched thin I think a massive increase to an agency that is flush with funding would be irresponsible and foolish.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Cockroft Column: With Voter Confusion, Judicial Reform Being Discussed

Elections are always a good indicator of how tuned in the people around you are to politics. There are always people who know a lot about what’s going on in the world and those who know less. Year after year though, it is very clear that almost no one knows much about their judges and justices. The most common question I am asked during each election season is my thoughts on the retention ballots. Many people become frustrated with the lack of information on the judicial candidates, which stems from an effort to keep the judicial system non-partisan. For these reason, many of my colleagues and I have discussed measures to increase judicial accountability. For me, there is no clear path to take with this topic, but it is worth discussing and looking into. Infusing transparency and openness into state government is always a worthwhile endeavor. 

Senate Joint Resolution 21, a piece of legislation that failed to garner the necessary votes last year, would have introduced a reform to the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission. This 15-member commission nominates candidates to fill vacant judgeships across Oklahoma. The Governor then chooses judges from among their nominees. Six members of the commission are always attorneys and the rest are always non-lawyers. Currently, the six attorneys are elected to seats on the commission by members of the Oklahoma Bar Association. SJR 21 would have allowed the Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives to appoint three of the attorneys and the Senate President Pro Tempore to appoint three members.

Opponents of the reform have criticized it as a partisan move similar to gerrymandering, basically that Republicans want to further increase their power by having a stronger hand in the nominating process. The simple truth though is that any change to election law is going to look like the majority party is making a power play no matter if it is by the Democrats or Republicans. Instead of responding to such cynical criticism, I am going to simply state the facts. The courts have made questionable judgements on legislation that would have a positive impact for most Oklahomans, but a negative impact on lawyers. The Oklahoma Bar Association’s strong part in the current process gives them a lot of impact on affecting those court decisions. Placing that power instead in the hands of elected officials, returns some of that power to the people.

Other reforms we have discussed include a constitutional amendment that would allow the governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate, to appoint the Supreme Court of Oklahoma’s chief justice. Another constitutional amendment would place 20-year term limits on state justices and appeals court judges. Yet another constitutional amendment would place an age limit on Oklahoma’s Supreme Court Judges. All of these measures would go to a vote of the people. 


Oklahoma has a history of tinkering with its government system, a lot of which has led to improved accountability. Corruption has always been a problem in our state, so the people have time and time again tried to limit it with thoughtful reforms. These reforms are no different and I plan to continue to look into them in the upcoming session.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Cockroft Column - 2014 State Questions

    As the November election approaches, I like to do my part to remind everyone of the state questions that will be on the ballot. I have the benefit of already voting once for each of these questions since the legislature recommends each question before being sent to the public to vote on. Oklahoma has one of the largest state constitution's in the nation. In order to change policy, we often have to make constitutional changes. These policy changes require the direct input of Oklahomans. 

    The first state question on this year's ballot addresses military service while in public office. In the past, many officials have had to step down in order to serve our country. A vote of yes on State Question 789 will allow state legislators, agency commission and board members, statewide officials, judges, district attorneys and county officials to serve in state military services while in office. A vote of no will mean that officials continue to serve either in public office or a military role, but not both. This question began with a legal challenge and was passed as Senate Joint Resolution 33 by the legislature in 2013.

    The other two state questions that will appear on the ballot concern homestead exemptions. State Question 770 asks voters to do decide whether or not to allow a homestead exemption for qualifying disabled veterans or their surviving spouse. State Question 771 asks voters to decide whether or not to create a homestead exemption for the surviving spouse of military men and women who die in the line of duty. Both of these questions were contained in House Bill 2621 passed by the legislature this past spring. Our veterans and their families have sacrificed and given so much to our country, these simple measures are the least we can do to say thank you. Oklahoma is currently the most friendly state for veterans and their families to live in. I pray this is a trend we continue in.

    Past years' ballots have been stuffed full of state questions on various issues which can be confusing and controversial. This comes as a testimony to the legislature’s ability to work with the Governor’s office and each other and the large amount which has been accomplished through state questions to change our state constitution in the last decade. I think it is a nice change that they will focus exclusively this year on veterans' issues. I believe each of these three questions is worthy of a yes vote.


    In other state news, lawmakers continue to conduct policy studies in October. House committees have studied fracking, school funding, agency revolving funds and state care for veterans and seniors. These studies help us to plan for next year's budget discussions and policy questions. Information on the studies can be found at: http://www.okhouse.gov/Committees/ShowInterimStudies.aspx. We also record audio from these meetings, which can be found at http://www.okhouse.gov/Video/Default.aspx. These meetings are also open to the public at the Capitol. We always welcome your participation in your government. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

New Report Predicts Oklahoma to be a National Leader in Economic Growth in 2015


OKLAHOMA CITY – FROM THE OFFICE OF THE GOVERNOR.

A new report by Standard & Poor’s, a national financial research firm, predicts that Oklahoma will be one of four states to lead the nation in economic growth next year. The report forecasts how the national economy is expected to fare through the remainder of this year and into the next. It predicts Oklahoma’s economic output will grow by more than 3.5 percent.

Governor Mary Fallin said the report was another sign that Oklahoma's economy is once again moving in the right direction and continues to grow.

"This report from Standard & Poor’s is another indication that Oklahoma's economy is back on track and our families and businesses are doing better," said Fallin. “Since 2011 we've created over 102,000 jobs, seen median household income grow at twice the national average, and replenished the Rainy Day Fund from just $2.03 to over $530 million. Our job now is to continue that forward momentum, and it is great news to see organizations like Standard & Poor’s predicting that Oklahoma will continue to be a leader in economic growth and prosperity."

 For more on this report, click here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Cockroft Column - Forget Medicaid Expansion

Medicaid expansion in Oklahoma isn't happening, but advocates refuse to receive that message. They probably just can’t accept this reality, because the expansion is happening in so many other parts of the country.

It is irresponsible to spend money we don’t have into the federal Medicaid program. The federal government provides a large portion of that money and the state’s portion is smaller, but that doesn’t mean we can afford it. Right now in our state are over 818,000 Oklahomans who depend on Medicaid. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority estimates the state needs $164 million more right now just to cover current needs. To add to that number through accepting more federal dollars and more state responsibility would be foolish from a state budget viewpoint.

The big picture view of what is happening in Oklahoma is that we are a low-income state with limited resources. That history has made us more focused than most on the proper management of what resources we have in building our state budget. We invest heavily in education (over half of our budget) and then try to ensure that we maintain public safety, road and bridge infrastructure, current health programs and a number of other priority services.

Even though education receives a majority of the state budget, our schools are not flushed with money. Despite receiving a large slice of the state budget, they struggle financially. The reason for that is that Oklahoma does not have a huge budget. Schools are receiving a large slice, but that slice is from a small pie.

Right now, we have a prison system that is in dire straits. Corrections officers receive low pay, which has led to a dwindling workforce. Prison populations continue to grow and we do not see an easy fix to this growing problem.

Our road and bridge infrastructure is finally on track, but that will continue to require investment. We also support the current level of Medicaid and a number of other health and social services programs.

I know that there are a lot of Oklahomans who are in need. Unfortunately, I also know that to put too much of our state’s money in Medicaid, would cripple other equally important endeavors.

I also believe that Medicaid, like other federal programs, creates a number of problems in the health care industry. One of the blessings in Oklahoma is having lower health care costs. The silver lining of being unable to fund a Medicaid expansion is that it gives us the opportunity to look at other free market ways to improve the system.

I hope you will keep these things in mind as the Medicaid expansion advocates continue to hammer away at us. The Oklahoma Legislature has made many wise decisions with the limited resources we have. It would be a shame to undo that hard work.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Errant Weekly Column

"As someone once said, modern technology is a great thing – until you try to use it. Human error has a way of undermining years of technological advances. That was certainly the case when I recently submitted my legislative column to area newspapers.

At the time, I was working at home on both my column and an upcoming speech focused on traditional marriage. While preparing for that speech, I pulled an article by Ryan T. Anderson from the Heritage Foundation and placed it in my notes for future reference. I planned to include some of that material in the speech (with attribution).

Unfortunately, I had two files open on my computer at the same time: the file for my weekly column and the file for my speech notes. At some point, I accidently copied the speech notes file and submitted it as my weekly column by mistake. Thus, Mr. Anderson’s work was wrongly presented as my own.

It was never my intention to take credit for another person’s work, but that is what I did, albeit accidently. I apologize to Mr. Anderson, the papers that received the column, and the people of House District 27. I failed to double-check my work, and my haste created a situation that embarrasses me deeply.

With sincerest regrets,"

 

Rep. Josh Cockroft

Thursday, October 9, 2014

(Corrected) The Case For Traditional Marriage


Note: After being made aware I had posted an errant column, I have removed it and replaced it with the correct version. The previous version was never meant to be published, but was for my records alone, were personal notes for an upcoming speech, and were published through an honest mistake. That version had many direct quotes without proper credit given to the author. I have fixed the problem and promise to be more aware in the future.    

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear an appeal to a federal district court’s earlier ruling, essentially removing Oklahoma’s ban on homosexual marriage.

I, as well as multiple other state officials, immediately expressed my outrage to the blatant disregard of the very moral fibers upon which this country was founded and for the gross overreach of the federal judicial system. In an issue which boils down to state's rights, three individuals in a federal district court overturned what 1.1 million people stated in defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

I have spent the last several days stating and restating my personal opinion, but for this column, I want to take a step back and look at this issue from a practical standpoint, ask a few questions and provide answers on this important issue.

What is marriage, why does traditional marriage matter for public policy, and what would be the consequences of redefining marriage?

We first have to ask ourselves why the institution of marriage exists. The simple answer would be so that population and society as we know can continue. Practically, marriage brings one man and one woman together to be a father and mother to the children their union produces. This union is founded on the indisputable truth that men and women are made differently, yet made complementary at the same time. Without these differences, including the physical differences which allow reproduction and the rearing of their children, marriage would just be another relationship. Without marriage, there would be no civilization. Marriage has many public purposes that even go beyond its private purposes. This fact is why a majority of states have attempted to affirm and place into state statute that marriage is between a man and a woman.

The reason government recognizes marriage is for its benefits to society. No other institution produces the kinds of results that marriage does. Proper child-rearing and the encouragement by the state to take responsibility of the family structure are among the many benefits. 

As Ryan T. Anderson from the Heritage Foundation said in an article titled "Marriage: What It Is, Why It Matters, and the Consequences of Redefining It” (2013): "Promoting traditional marriage does not at any time ban any type of relationship. Adults are free to make choices about their relationships, and they do not need government sanction or license to do so. All Americans have the freedom to live as they choose, but no one has a right to redefine marriage for everyone else."

What we as a society are doing in redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships is placing the desires of adults of more importance than the needs of the children within these relationships. Selfishness is blinding our eyes to the needs of the next generation. Additionally, redefining marriage within state and federal governments reduces the institution to whatever government at the time defines it as. In other words, if an individual has an emotional connection to a rock or even (although it now sounds outrageous) a young child, then government could recognize and give the definition of marriage in that instance. 

I believe we are traveling down the slippery slope of convenience over principle and a false definition of equality over practicality. 

Never hesitate to contact me. Email me at: Josh.Cockroft@okhouse.gov. Call me at: (405) 557-7349. Follow me on Facebook: Representative Josh Cockroft, and Twitter: @VoteCockroft27.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Cockroft Column - Cronyism and Failure in Oklahoma's Education Department

   
Although I continue to be an advocate for education reform, I think it is clear the State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi is the wrong person for the job. Not only has she continued to fail state schools on a number of leadership fronts, she has now resorting to cronyism in her hiring practices, which is almost comical considering how little time there will be until a new superintendent cleans house.
    My colleague State Representative Jason Smalley, myself, and many others are calling for the resignation of Barresi and two staffers, Dr. Larry Birney and Kim Richey. The hire of Dr. Birney resulted in the resignation of a longtime and respected member of the office, Lynn Jones. Birney, who has not worked in education before, was the spouse of Kim Richey, the general counsel. Hiring him was not illegal, but Oklahomans have long recognized nepotism or cronyism as an immoral practice in state government. When it causes good employees to resign, it is effectively burning down the house before the new superintendent comes on. A new position was created to hire Birney, which also means taxpayer dollars were spent to fund this nepotism to the tune of $90,000 per year. 
    Due to this situation, I am looking into possible legislation which would prevent outgoing state officials and lawmakers who have been defeated in their election from making non-essential hires or creating new positions. I believe if an individual has been defeated within the democratic process, their constituents have clearly spoken their desire to move on. There should be no reasonable reason to create new positions or hire for non-essential positions. Unfortunately, this latest move is not uncommon in state government. Oftentimes outgoing officials will spend budgets and hire individuals rapidly, leaving very little for their successor to begin with. Simple legislation could fix this problem. 
    After last week’s release of the latest A-F scores, I am hearing of and seeing the failures in the implementation of the A-F grading system. A lot of money that could have been put into other projects has now gone down the drain as we continue to push a testing system that has not been properly calibrated or executed. I think the A-F system was an ambitious project to infuse accountability and transparency into our educational system. However, it’s implementation has been horrible at best. It needs to include a great deal of input from local schools during every step of the process and to this point, state officials have refused to do this. Many factors such as attendance rates and poverty levels are graded, putting rural schools at an immediate disadvantage. While many schools within my district continue to struggle based upon the state’s grading system, I will continue to stand by them because I know the other side of the story. Instead of seeing a letter grade based on incomplete data, I see administrators, teachers, and parents alike who put everything they have into our local schools. We aren’t without our struggles for sure, but I have much more confidence in them than our state does. 


    Change cannot come soon enough to the highest education office in Oklahoma. I look forward to working with whoever replaces Barresi as we try to create positive momentum for Oklahoma students.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Cockroft Column: Knowing The Numbers In State Government

Every year as we inch closer to opening a new legislative session in Oklahoma, the debates of spending priorities and budget needs begin with renewed fury. It has always been fascinating to me as I have presided over budget hearings in January to hear agency heads and lobbyist groups advocate for additional dollars every year. Only a small handful of times have I heard them ask for less taxpayer funds to properly operate. While there is always a demand for appropriations to deliver needed services, as a conservative I believe in asking the tough questions of how we can better spend the taxpayer dollar. Efficiency and reduction in government, paired with growth and prosperity in the private sector is always an amiable goal. However, this is seldom the rhetoric coming from Washington, D.C., or even Oklahoma City.

Many times we are told by agencies, the media, and individuals alike that there is a growing need for more money within our government structure. We are told year after year areas such as education, health care, and public safety have dire needs for more funds. We are told there aren’t enough appropriations to go around and that agencies will be forced to make dangerous cuts. I would simply caution against such language and would instead point to the real numbers.

The most recent fiscal year ended on June 30, and the data shows that state government revenues are actually at an all-time high. Preston Doerflinger, Oklahoma’s Secretary of Finance, Administration, and Information Technology, reported earlier in the summer the general revenue fund maintained levels from the prior year and even exceeded them slightly. Last time I checked, that’s not a deficit.

But it’s not just the general revenue fund which has grown. According to Secretary Doerflinger and State Treasurer Ken Miller, total state tax collections set another record. Treasurer Miller reported in his recent summary: “Gross receipts to the treasury, a good snapshot of our state’s productivity, incomes, and consumption, are higher than ever before .... Collections have been higher than the same month of the prior year in 45 of the past 51 months, which indicates a steady economic expansion.”

Remember, all of this comes after a decade of eliminating death taxes and cutting the top personal income tax rate by 25 percent. During that same time the standard deduction increased and a child tax credit was added for many Oklahomans. All of these actions were claimed by critics to be the decimation of Oklahoma’s economy. The numbers don’t lie; these critics were wrong.

Unfortunately for Oklahomans, the same statistic which stated revenues were at an all-time high, show that state government spending is also at an all-time high. In my experience in the legislature, lawmakers are much too willing to spend taxpayer dollars without hesitation while hiding under the “conservative” label.

Obviously, most state spending is needed and is even directed towards the proper needs. However, it doesn’t take long to see the low hanging fruit which needs to be trimmed. Countless other areas need to be re-prioritized to assure every penny is being used wisely. It’s what most of us do in our daily, personal lives. Why not in state government?


It is always a pleasure to serve you! I can always be reached through my Capitol office at (405) 557-7349 and by email at:Josh.Cockroft@okhouse.gov. Additionally, you can follow me on Facebook: Representative Josh Cockroft, Twitter: @VoteCockroft27, and at www.FriendsofJoshCockroft.com. My door is always open to you.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Cockroft Column - Workers' Comp Improving, Earthquakes on the Radar

It wasn't long ago that Oklahoma's workers' compensation system was one of the hottest political topics. For decades Republicans and Democrats alike fought for meaningful reform of an antiquated compensation system. The skyrocketing costs and abuse of that system finally saw a remedy when we passed a measure which I was an author of in 2013. The measure set up an administrative system which we are now seeing the positive results of.

Last week, the National Council on Compensation Insurance reported that workers' compensation rates will decrease by 7.8 percent for next year. This follows on the last year's report of a 14.6 percent cost decline. The State Chamber of Oklahoma estimates that since workers' comp reform was passed in the state, Oklahoma businesses have saved more than $220 million. It is by far not a perfect system, but we have taken great leaps of improvement.

The workers' comp reform was not made lightly, without deliberation and discussion of the best way to move forward. Many opponents of the reforms were concerned whether we would really see positive changes in rates. These results prove that these reforms are working.

Likewise, we are now approaching the issues of earthquakes in the same deliberate manner. Over the last several years in Oklahoma, earthquakes have become one of the newest concerns. Questions have abounded of how Oklahoma can make policy decisions which protects its citizens, while protecting the free market system and protecting freedom to our businesses and the energy sector.

Gov. Mary Fallin has recently created a panel to coordinate earthquake studies in the state. The Coordinating Council on Seismic Activity will connect researchers, officials and energy industry experts. Oklahoma Secretary of Energy and Environment Michael Teague will lead the panel. It will include input from the Oklahoma Geological Survey, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board, Oklahoma State University, the University of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association and the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association.

According to the Oklahoma Geological Survey, 3.0 magnitude or greater earthquakes have increased from an average of less than 5 to about 40 a year. There were more than 200 this year so far. Some studies have pointed to natural causes while others have pointed to the oil and natural gas industry.

I am highly concerned about what these earthquakes mean for homeowners and public safety. Will they get worse? Do we need to require earthquake coverage? Do we need to limit what techniques can be practiced in close vicinity to property? We really haven't received a clear answer. Trying to get a bird's eye view by coordinating the studies is an important first step in figuring out the state's course going forward.

I will always fight to protect conservative principles and against overreaching state and local government. However, we must ask some tough questions to see whether state government is doing everything within its power to place our state in a safe position. This is treading on new ground for our state. I look forward to being part of the discussion over the next few years.

It is always a pleasure to serve you! I can be reached through my Capitol office at (405) 557-7349 and by email at:Josh.Cockroft@okhouse.gov. My door is always open to you.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Cockroft Column - Politics or Policies?

   
    With the news this past week that the federal government denied the extension of Oklahoma’s Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA) No Child Left Behind waiver, the finger pointing immediately began. Democrats like House Minority Leader Scott Inman blamed all Republicans for their “abysmal” record on issues in education like common core and education budgets which resulted in the federal decision. Republicans like Governor Mary Fallin blasted the federal government for “playing politics” with our children’s education. As with many decisions which are handed down from Washington, D.C., the lines of partisan politics have quickly been drawn. To my fellow colleagues on both sides of the aisle, public servants, and educational organizations who have had these type of responses, I have a simple message: Stop it. We must stop playing politics with our future, because our children deserve better.
    Instead of drawing lines between political parties, shouldn’t we be looking towards the best interests of the children who are affected by these decisions? Why don’t we start talking about the failing schools across Oklahoma and not just skip over the students being swept under the rug for an agenda’s sake? These aren’t policies we are talking about, they’re lives. They are our future. Perhaps if we took a step outside of political halls and into the classrooms of the real world we would start to see this reality. Unlike the perception which the analysts and political talking heads will have us believe, having a locally controlled education system with rigorous academic standards is possible. It begins with proper recognition of the role of government and the will of the people whom those in public service represent. 
    If anything, those who have sharply pointed fingers at each other across Oklahoma’s political landscape should instead direct blame towards a federal government which is grossly overstepping its bounds of responsibility. It is overtly apparent this decision comes as a political punishment for the repeal of common core this past spring by the Oklahoma legislature; something a massive majority of Oklahoma parents were pleading for. Allowing bureaucrats in Washington to dictate our educational landscape in Oklahoma is unacceptable whether you are Republican or Democrat. I believe in our parents, teachers, and administrators much more than career politicians in D.C.
    Now these decisions are in the past and we must work towards a brighter future. The reality is that we have lost the waiver. That was today; what about tomorrow? Shouldn’t our failing schools and failing grades gain as much focus as political headlines? No matter what your feelings are on the A-F school grading system and what your individual school’s grade is, you have to be blind to not see room for improvement in our schools. Let’s focus on that.
    To my Democratic colleagues: Using this decision to spread the fear of lost funds among lawmakers and teachers alike is misleading and dishonest. This decision doesn’t change anything for funding levels. The federal government did not even state that there would be the 20 percent of Title 1 funds set aside for tutoring by parents, forcing the state to lose flexibility as has been incorrectly rumored. Additionally, to demand additional support from the federal government is completely hypocritical to the cries coming from your caucus over the last four years for “more local control”. You can’t have it both ways. 
To my Republican colleagues: The party of less government and conservative principles cannot pause in its fight to point out the proper roles of the federal, state, and local government. If you believe in less government, fight for it! Unfortunately, many within the Republican party today are not controlled by ideas, but by the desire to be in control. This is a posture which creates little motivation for bold change. The public is looking for bold change, not the hard-to-control desire for power in our system today. Not political winds, nor contributor’s dollars, should sway the truth one way or the other. Never apologize for doing what you believe to be right. 

    Yes, we have challenges ahead of us. However, we must let ideas and hard facts guide us in policy decisions. Instead of pointing fingers, let’s work together. I firmly believe history will judge those who use cheap scare tactics to hold back common sense policies as the real extremists and as protectors of the status quo. Our children deserve better than squabbles which promote one party over the other. Our students are watching, what will they see we’re leaving them with?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Cockroft Column: Overview of Summer Studies

The Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives approves studies every summer to help lawmakers prepare for next year. Held anytime between August and November, these studies aid us in building consensus on touchy subjects and getting the details right on complex policy initiatives.

I believe strongly in the death penalty. It serves as an important deterrent to the taking of a life in our state. It also gives grieving families a much-needed sense of justice. This year’s botched execution gave ammunition to the anti-death penalty movement. One of the studies approved in July will examine or execution and death penalty procedures to ensure our manner of executions are beyond reproach. We will also be looking at what other methods of execution are available as execution drug supplies are increasingly scarce.

Water conservation is going to get more important with each passing year. A second approved study will focus on streamlining and improving on the state’s water plan. We all know how important water is, so I will be watching closely to ensure we are getting solid ideas to move the state forward.
This year, Gov. Mary Fallin advocated for a mandate that would require physicians to check a prescription drug database before prescribing an addictive substance to a patient. Our state has a huge problem with prescription drug overdoses. One approved study will examine the issue in depth, either convincing more state lawmakers to support the bill or uncovering a better way to combat prescription drug abuse.
A bill to require DNA collections regardless of whether or not a person was convicted was defeated this year. The issue will now be up for study and I will be following it closely. I do believe that a person is innocent until proven guilty and should not have his or her privacy invaded via a DNA sample. Even though DNA collection is a useful tool to catch a criminal who is slipping through the cracks, I think the potential abuse is much more troubling. I will report to you on what comes out of that study at a future date.
Lastly, I wanted to mention a study that will examine Red Cedar eradication. Red Cedar trees are extremely flammable and a terrible nuisance in Oklahoma. I am open to any ideas on how to eradicate them in a cost-efficient manner.
Please never hesitate to contact me. It is an honor to serve you! You can contact my office at: 405-557-7349, or by email at:Josh.Cockroft@OKHouse.gov. You can also follow me on Twitter: @VoteCockroft27, Facebook: Representative Josh Cockroft, and on my website: FriendsofJoshCockroft.com 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Cockroft Column: Election Observations, Education in Oklahoma

After taking a couple weeks off after my re-election, it feels great to get back into the routine of my busy schedule. Again, thank you for the overwhelming vote of confidence in me so I can continue serving House District 27. I look forward to these next couple sessions with great anticipation, looking for ways to continue moving Oklahoma forward. I am humbled and honored to serve you.

 

I also hope you and your family had a great Independence Day as we celebrated our great nation and the freedoms we enjoy. May we each seek to protect and preserve these freedoms so we can pass them on to future generations.

 

Every time we go through an election process I am reminded of the incredible process we have the opportunity to be a part of, and the responsibility of each of us to partake. This election cycle was no different. Each year we must make decisions on individuals who will lead our state in a positive direction.

 

There were a couple surprises this year, but none could top the overwhelming victory of Joy Hofmeister over incumbent Janet Barresi for state school superintendent. I have had no hesitation in the past in voicing my disapproval of some of Superintendent Barresi’s policies, but didn’t quite expect the blowout she received statewide. Anytime an incumbent comes in third place in a three-way primary it is an historic election. It is quite obvious a decent portion of the votes Joy received came from Democrats who switched parties to simply vote in this particular race and against the incumbent. It will be intriguing to watch if these individuals will stay registered as Republicans to fight for a particular set of ideals and principles, or if they simply voted out of spite towards one individual. As I stated earlier, I have been no fan of Superintendent Barresi, but in an emotionally charged election it is always important to remember the issues at hand. A better education for our children should be at the forefront of our minds, not simply ousting one person. At the end of the day, the sad reality is that only 25 percent of eighth grade students in Oklahoma are proficient in math and only 29 percent are proficient in reading. This should be our goal to overcome, not a “dentist-turned-teacher.”

 

I will continue to fight for education that originates at the local level, which I believe to be superior to any other method. Education begins in the home and then grows from there. We must encourage strong families and strong local schools before we ever see a change for the better in Oklahoma education. It’s a long fight, but a fight worth fighting.

 

Oklahomans chose well in this primary. Now do we have the fortitude and will to finish what we’ve started?

 

Please never hesitate to contact me. It is an honor to serve you! You can contact my office at: 405-557-7349, or by email at: Josh.Cockroft@OKHouse.gov. You can also follow me on Twitter: @VoteCockroft27, Facebook: Representative Josh Cockroft, and on my website:FriendsofJoshCockroft.com 


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Cockroft Column: Budget Process Needs Transparency, Better Oversight

  Every year, the Oklahoma Legislature passes a budget, and as with anything dealing with government, it is met with both praise and criticism. Every year, there are some agencies that gain additional funding and others that receive cuts. We are constitutionally required in Oklahoma to keep a balanced budget from year to year. In this budget year where we faced a $188 million deficit in projected revenue those criticisms will ring even louder. The harsh reality everyone must face is there will never be enough money. We will always want more. In my four years in the legislature I have yet to hear an agency director or any other entity ask the legislature for less money. Obviously there are instances where more appropriations are needed. However, a desire for more is simple human nature.

            With this year’s budget, as with any other year’s, there are winners and losers. There is absolutely no such thing as a perfect budget because at the end of the day, someone will walk away unhappy. It is our responsibility as lawmakers to shape and craft a product which will keep our state on track and moving us in a positive direction.

            I voted for this year’s budget with many reservations, but with the knowledge it moved us forward for one more year. Many individuals don’t recognize the problem, but I believe our budget process is broken or in need of a serious fix. When something is broken, the product it produces will always lack in quality.

            Oklahoma crafts its budget the same as it has always done, with very few people involved. Don’t get me wrong, your legislator still voices their (and your) opinion, but the ultimate decisions are made in closed door negotiation between only a handful of people. When transparency is used, I believe it lessens the need for the accounting tricks which we saw this and other years in using supplementals and revolving funds to balance our budget. All four years I have been in office, I have fought for a more transparent budgeting process that involves more members, and forces each entity which receives money from the state to reconcile every penny needed and spent. 

            Opening this process up to not only the public, but giving legislative members more power over specific areas, will expose waste and infuse transparency into state government. Each member currently serves on sub-committees which are designed to look into specific agencies’ budgets. Yet, usually only the Chairman of that committee who reports to the House Appropriations Chairman really digs into the numbers of their budgets. This results in only a handful of members having a working knowledge of the numbers when there could be 101 members with this knowledge. Also, why are closed door negotiations needed? I believe every citizen should be able to know how their tax dollars are being spent.

            In my first year in the legislature, it was the first year to have committee meetings open to the public. We've come a long way in four years, but we should never settle for complacency. An open government is an effective government. I'll continue to fight to improve the process so we don't have to play games and politics with your hard earned money.

    Never hesitate to call me if I can be of assistance to you. I work for you! My office is always available to assist you. Call my office at: 405-557-7349, or by email at: Josh.Cockroft@okhouse.gov.

 

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

T. Boone Pickens Endorses CNG Fleet, Infrastructure Bill

OKLAHOMA CITY – A legislative proposal that would help counties convert their fleets to compressed natural gas and increase CNG infrastructure now has the endorsement of T. Boone Pickens.

“Oklahoma is looking to make things happen,” Pickens said. “While others are debating the merits of exporting our expanding supplies of domestic natural gas to Europe and Asia, Oklahoma is hard at work on creating demand for this premium fuel, and helping rebuild their economy on the backs of this cleaner, cheaper resource. A good case in point is Oklahoma House Bill 2954, which would move more than 2,400 county vehicles to domestic natural gas. This is a great move for Oklahoma, for the environment and for those who believe in greater fiscal responsibility by our elected officials.”

House Bill 2954, by Rep. Josh Cockroft and Sen. Kyle Loveless, would set up a fund to help counties convert their vehicles to compressed natural gas and encourage development of CNG fuel stations for both government and public use.

“Encouraging the use of compressed natural gas saves government dollars while at the same time boosting the natural gas industry in Oklahoma,” said Cockroft, R-Wanette. “Our legislation gives counties the ability to realize the savings we are already seeing at the state level from the conversion of vehicles to compressed natural gas.”

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has recorded thousands of dollars in savings from the CNG conversion of only 174 vehicles. There are approximately 2,400 county vehicles – excluding law enforcement vehicles – in the state. The legislation requires counties to track fuel savings.

“After converting 174 vehicles to CNG, they recorded $163,451 in net savings in 5 months. That’s $32,690 per month,” Cockroft said.

The measure was approved by a vote of 71-17 in the House and 30-12 in the Senate. It is currently eligible to be heard by both chambers and signed by the governor after passage in the conference committee process.

 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Rep. Newell says Obama Supporters Call Hard-Working Oklahomans ‘Fat Cats’

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Tom Newell, R-Seminole, released the following statement today in response to misinformation being distributed to lawmakers and Oklahomans that the only people who benefit from low, competitive gross production taxes are ‘Fat Cats’ on ‘Wall Street’:

 

“It’s alarming that a leftist group is misinforming Oklahomans by claiming that only ‘Fat Cats on Wall Street’ benefit from the current tax rates on gross production. In their effort to increase taxes they are using the tactics of the politics of envy, the favored tactic of President Obama and liberal billionaires in Oklahoma. Reality does not fit their rhetoric. I doubt anyone would label teachers, police officers, fire fighters, and state employees as ‘Wall Street Fat Cats.’

 

“According to the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System and the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System, these systems have more than $1.5 billion invested in oil and gas related activities. Oklahoma’s other state pension systems have funds invested in oil and gas related activities as well.

 

“These funds – which include the millions in annual retirement contributions by government employees – are crucial to keeping the promise to government employees that funds will be available to pay for government workers’ hard earned retirement. Government pensions use gains and dividends from investments to provide cash flow for the payment of monthly retirement benefits.According to Reuters, corporate stocks comprise about a third of public pension holdings nationwide.

 

“If Oklahoma increases its gross production tax by 600 percent, those funds are extracted from the economy and investors, reducing gains and value to teachers, police officers, law enforcement officers like highway patrol officers, firefighters, corrections officers, social workers and hardworking state employees who depend on these investments for their pension systems.

 

“It is also important to note that approximately 1.7 million hard working Oklahomans received $2.5 billion in royalty payments in 2012. These royalty owners pay gross production taxes as well.

 

“We can have a debate about what is the right tax policy, but demonizing government workers, retirees, and hard-working Oklahomans as ‘Fat Cats’ is offensive and should stop. Making policy decisions based on the myth that only the ‘rich’ participate in ‘Wall Street’ and benefit from low taxes is na├»ve and not conducive to moving Oklahoma forward.”

 

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Monday, May 12, 2014

Cockroft Column: Finalized Legislation, Veto-Overrides, and Budget Negotiations

Budget negotiations are underway and state lawmakers are awaiting a final agreement. Key areas of dispute are whether or not to fund Capitol repairs through direct appropriation or a bond proposal and the amount of money given to essential services.
 
We have agreed to a supplemental appropriation for the Department of Corrections. Senate Bill 2126 will provide a $13 million supplemental appropriation to the agency.
 
The Oklahoma Legislature has sent a bill to the governor’s desk to ensure caregivers are informed about when a patient is being discharged and given follow-up care instructions. Senate Bill 1536 allows hospital patients to designate a lay caregiver upon formal admission.  The hospital must also notify the designated caregiver of the patient’s discharge and consult with the caregiver about aftercare.
 
According to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, in fiscal year 2013 the agency spent almost $63 million for hospital readmissions with 30 days of discharge for Medicaid patients. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported that preventable hospital readmissions within 30 days of discharge costs Medicare approximately $17 billion each year.
 
In addition to the trooper pay raise, Gov. Mary Fallin has signed legislation into law that will lower the age limit for commissioned officers within the Department of Public Safety from 23 to 21 years of age and provide educational credits to those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Senate Bill 1372 also modifies the number of hours of accredited college or university experience to include military service. Applicants can use up to three years of military service to count a total of 30 hours towards the education requirement.
 
The governor also signed a measure requiring public school students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at least once a week. Senate Bill 1143 would allow students to opt out if they do not wish to say the Pledge of Allegiance, but would require that schools hold a pledge recitation.
 
Republican members of the House elected House Speaker Jeff Hickman as Speaker-designate for the 55th Oklahoma Legislature in 2015 and 2016. The speaker has done a good job in a year which he was not able to prepare for due to his sudden election in February.
 
The Oklahoma Transportation Commission voted to sell the Sooner Sub to the Stillwater Central Railroad. The Stillwater Central Railroad is the current operator of the Sooner Sub, a 97.5 mile stretch of railroad line the state has owned for the past 16 years. This vote concludes a six month process passed by the Oklahoma Legislature last year. I believe that more rail opportunities will always be positive for the line's surrounding areas. Economic growth and opportunities from productive rail lines affect not only the immediate area, but reaches for miles around. A win-win for everyone!

Finally, the Legislature overrode the governor’s veto of a Second Amendment rights measure. This was the first override by the legislature while Governor Fallin has been in office. An override should never be taken lightly, and while I feel this action was hasty and rushed before having more communication with the Governor's office, I was proud to support this second amendment legislation. House Bill 2461 requires a sheriff or chief of police to execute any request for documents relating to the purchase of firearms defined by the National Firearms Act within 15 days if the purchaser is not prohibited of possessing a firearm.
The bill essentially requires chief law enforcement officers to sign off on applications for tax stamps for NFA items such as silencers, suppressors, short barreled rifles and shotguns and automatic weapons.
The measure will now become law on Nov. 1.
 
It is an honor to serve you. It matters not if you are Republican, Democrat, or Independent; I am here to serve you. Please visit my website to see where I stand on any range of topics at www.FriendsofJoshCockroft.com and my policy blog at www.RepJoshCockroft.blogspot.com. Communication is important to me. I want to know how to I can better serve and lead for our district and our state. I am always a phone call away at: (405) 557-7349.