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.”





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.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Cockroft Column: April's Monthly Legislative Update

April's legislative work consisted of the Oklahoma House of Representatives reviewing and acting on bill sent over from the state Senate. House members also got to see our bills approved in the Senate and sent onto the governor.

The most notable accomplishment of April was the signing of a Senate tax cut plan into law. The Oklahoma House of Representatives expedited the bill's enactment by approving it without amendments so that it would go directly to the governor's desk.

Senate Bill 1246 calls for two tax cuts that are tied to revenue triggers. This means that they will only take effect if revenues reach a certain level. The first would occur no earlier than Fiscal Year 2016. It would drop Oklahoma's top income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 5 percent. A second cut would not take effect until two year after the first cut. It would drop the rate to 4.85 percent.

Oklahoma's top income tax bracket applies to individuals earning more than $8,700 a year or couples earning more than $15,000 a year. The Tax Commission estimates that approximately 1.7 million taxpayers will be placed in the top income tax bracket in tax year 2016.

In 1998, the Legislature passed and Gov. Frank Keating signed a bill reducing the top income tax rate from 7 percent to 6.75 percent. Despite the cut, tax revenue grew to new heights. Legislation enacted during the 2005 to 2007 legislative sessions reduced the top income tax rate from 6.65 percent to 5.5 percent. Revenues further increased.

A second important accomplishment in April was the enactment of a 14 percent pay raise for Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers. Troopers, prison workers, teachers and child welfare employees are all drastically underpaid. This not only affects those hardworking public servants, but also affects the quality of these critical state services.

I was very pleased to see this the trooper pay raise signed into law, but would like to see more done for those state workers who have not yet been brought up to the pay level that is necessary to address shortages and staffing problems.

I was proud to join 61 of my House colleagues in defeating a proposal to borrow up to $160 million to finance an overhaul of the state Capitol. We feel that we can fund these repairs out of the budget, either via the Rainy Day Fund or by eliminating wasteful spending items. I do not believe that there is any need to harm our essential services in order to do this, but I do think it is going to be tricky to get an agreement worked out between the governor, state Senate and House. This fight isn't over, but at least I know that the House is determined to pay for things in the right way, rather than incurring future debt.

I supported a bill that has now been signed into law to ban the off-label use of the drug RU486. The drug is used during the first seven weeks of a pregnancy to induce an abortion.

The Oklahoma House of Representatives voted down a proposal to allow district attorneys to collect delinquent state sales taxes. Senate Bill 865 specifies three levels of fees that could be assessed against debtors, according to the length of the delinquency and the amount of tax in arrears. The measure also would allow a prosecutor to enter into a restitution agreement with a defendant to defer prosecution for up to three years on an embezzlement charge. The legislation failed on a 35-59 vote.

We also amended a bill to ensure active-duty military personnel and veterans can get lifetime handgun carry licenses. Senate Bill 1442 was originally intended only to allow current and former court officials to carry handguns.  A lifetime license would cost a veteran $125, but a lifetime license for active-duty personnel would be free. A veteran who already has a handgun license issued prior to Nov. 1, 2014, could request a lifetime license upon completing a renewal application and paying a $25 renewal fee. The revised SB 1442 passed the House, 58-23, and was returned to the Senate for consideration of House amendments.

The governor vetoed House Bill 2539, which redefines the use of deadly force in defending a third party. Current law only authorizes the use of deadly force in defending one's "husband, wife, parent, child, master, mistress or servant." This measure replaces it with language allowing for a person to use force necessary to prevent death or bodily harm to anyone or to terminate or prevent the commission of a forcible felony. Although I disagreed with the governor's veto, I will note that the courts have interpreted the current law to expand the use of self-defense beyond the current language.

The governor signed House Bill 2676 into law, making Oklahoma Highway Patrol dash cam footage open to the public.

A lot of legislation is currently in flux as state senators and House members work out their differences on the language of major legislation such as pension reforms and Capitol repairs. We also have a budget to negotiate. At the end of April, the governor publicly criticized the House for not moving more of her agenda forward and not being far enough in budget negotiations. I hope this kind of negative public fighting will not derail any of the work we have left to do this year.

I look forward to telling you about more progress in a future update.