Tuesday, January 21, 2014

2014 Legislative Agenda and Pressing Issues

With every passing month I have had the honor of serving in the Oklahoma Legislature, I am reminded of the blessings our state have been given, but also the challenges that we face. I believe that Oklahoma is truly a beacon of hope for our nation. However, with every blessing comes the responsibility to face our every challenge head on. As we begin this 2014 legislative session many of these challenges face us as difficult issues that frequent news headlines. They are the many issues that I hear about on a daily basis from constituents and advocates. Yet I remain positive in my belief of Oklahoma, and the hope that we will “not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer,” as President John F. Kennedy said.

There will be multiple issues I will be focusing on this year as we seek to move our state forward. As I have done every year since I was first elected I want to give details of every bill I am currently principle author of:

-          HB2954, which creates a revolving fund that uses a small percentage of existing oil and gas taxes to create CNG infrastructure within county vehicle fleets. The legislation creates massive county savings from unleaded fuel costs and the bill is a constituent request.
-          HB1887, which is leftover from 2013. The legislation couples election dates for school board positions with municipal elections. It encourages greater participation in school board races and creates cost savings. The bill is a constituent  request.
-          HB1888, which  is also leftover from 2013. It creates a “one stop shop” website for open records requests. The legislation streamlines the process and makes open records documents easily accessible. 
-          HB1890, which revises sex offender “zone of safety.” The legislation revises age restriction. It is a request from Pottawatomie County Sheriff’s Office.
-          HB2955, which updates current Oklahoma bomb squad statutes with clearer intent language and equips law enforcement to better prevent terrorist activities. The legislation is a constituent request.
-          HB2956, which allows for certain broader incentives to small businesses through the Small Employer Quality Jobs Small Incentive Act. The legislation promotes greater opportunities for small businesses.
-          HB2957, which eliminates fingerprinting procedures for SDA concealed carry license application. It is a constituent request.  
-          HB2958, the forgiveness bill, which allows for application of SDA concealed carry license by persons convicted of drug related misdemeanor provided 10 years have passed since last conviction. The legislation is a constituent request.
-          HB2959, which creates the Oklahoma – A STEM State of Mind Act to promote STEM education and provides for further opportunities in the career tech system.
-          HB2960, which authorizes military courts to use video conferencing for long distance court proceedings. It is a constituent request.
-          HB2961, which authorizes road service vehicle companies to use certain flashing lights on road service vehicles. It is a constituent request.

Keep in mind that these are only the introduced versions of these bills. Language can and often does change dramatically throughout the course of a session. To view complete language of each of mine and other member’s legislation, go to: www.okhouse.gov/legislation

As we view the overall challenges that we face this year, there are a couple areas that I believe we must address. I will continue to push for a “Priority based Budget” that encourages growth through freedom, and prosperity through funding our core responsibilities before conveniences. We must realize there are specific responsibilities we are required to and should fund first. Our Department of Public Safety, Corrections Department, and State Employees are due a pay raise but have not been given one in almost a decade. Our rural schools have taken cuts and are having to make decisions on whether or not to retain certain teachers and programs because they simply can’t afford to keep them. We have a public pension system that is multiple billions of dollars in debt and needs to be shored up to ensure retirees retain their full retirement. All of this can sound bleak and like political rhetoric, but in reality I believe it is truly possible to move our state in a positive direction. We must assure that our priorities are in the right place and we are being efficient and responsible with every cent of the taxpayer’s money. Government cannot create wealth. Government only redistributes that wealth. I will continue to fight for an Oklahoma government which does only what is necessary with your money, and leaves the rest to you. That is when government works and the individual prospers.

Making sure our education system is focused around the child should be every individual’s passion. I believe in a strong local school that can make the necessary curricular, employer, and financial decisions without fear of overreach from the state or federal government. Local control of our schools is best. Parents, Teachers, and local Administrators know what each student needs much better than Oklahoma City or Washington D.C. Our education system’s appropriations which receive over 53% of our annual budget, common core curriculum, graduation and testing requirements, and teacher’s pay raises will all be discussed this year. I am committed to our teachers and receiving the funds it takes to run our schools properly. I support a teacher’s pay raise, but no additional dollars for any area will be available unless we cut back on spending of conveniences in state government and place those funds towards state responsibilities.

We have a long road ahead of us, but we've already come a long way. It is an honor to serve you. It matters not if you are Republican, Democrat, or Independent; I am here to serve you. I just added a new website to enhance your ability to communicate your desires and ideas with me as well as see where I stand on any range of topics. www.FriendsofJoshCockroft.com also has a link to my policy blog: www.RepJoshCockroft.blogspot.com where you can keep up with what is happening in Oklahoma City. 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. Our legislative session is always fast paced and hectic, but knowing where each individual stands on the issues is invaluable to me. Looking forward to another great year!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Prioritized Budget A Must For 2014 Session

Recently a story surfaced referencing a comment made by Governor Mary Fallin’s staff claiming that current low staffing levels at our state prisons is adequate to provide for the safety of the corrections officers and the general public.
Having a correctional facility in my district and hearing from multiple employees, I could not disagree more.
Corrections officers are currently working mandatory overtime and double-shifts. This is not just a temporary thing or a new problem. Without raising pay and attracting new corrections officers, it will continue, day in and day out.
Without a pay raise, we can also expect the situation to get worse. In fact, a pay raise will only be a small step in the direction of recruiting new corrections officers and retaining those who are already there.
Public safety must be a priority for us in the Oklahoma Legislature and real reform of our public safety system, including pay raises should be looked at as soon as possible. I am aware that the budget is not conducive to any pay raises this year, but when our priorities include giving away large tax breaks to corporations who do not need them and spending too much on non-essential services, we arrive at the current public safety crisis we are at today. True conservative policy prioritizes core functions before conveniences.
This year, House members will be looking at the state compensation system, which is rife with a variety of problems. In general, public employees are paid below the market value of their work and that makes it extremely difficult to retain good employees, or in the case of corrections, enough employees. Generally, the state pension system is a slightly higher percentage than in the private sector, but since that percentage is based on salary, the amount that public employees receive in pension benefits is actually less than in the private sector.
I hope that my fellow lawmakers and I will be able to persuade the Governor of the importance of approving pay raises for our hardworking corrections officers.
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.