Wednesday, March 28, 2007

One piece of legislation this year which attracted much interest is House Bill 1804. HB 1804 is the immigration reform bill sponsored by Representative Randy Terrel (R-Moore). This bill is viewed as one of the most aggressive pieces of state legislation in the nation dealing with immigration reform.

A few weeks ago after much debate, the bill passed the house on a vote of 88-9. It is now in the hands of the Senate where it appears it faces a strong challenge. Some may wonder what changed between house passage and senate consideration to make the bill more vulnerable.

A key point of contention appears to be an attempt in the bill to hold employers accountable for hiring illegal aliens. The idea is that if employers stop being complicit in offering jobs to illegals, then illegals seeking employment will re-channel their energies into securing legal status.

The bill requires any business working under a state contract to verify social security numbers of their perspective employees in order to ensure they are legal. The bill encourages other businesses (those not under state contract) to verify social security numbers of perspective employees through the following means--it allows American employees who are terminated at a business which does not verify social security numbers to file an action with the Department of Labor if they were terminated while an illegal alien remains on that business payroll.

It is this provision that seems to have drawn the wrath of the Research Institute of Economic Development (RIED). Each year RIED publishes an index that grades legislators on how friendly they are to business interests. Each issue is graded on a scale of -20 to +20. In one of their latest updates, RIED indicated they will be grading immigration reform as a -20 vote. In other words, any lawmaker who votes for immigration reform will likely have a very hard time getting a real strong REID index score.

This is why immigration reform may face an uphill climb in the Senate. If the bill does pass the Senate, it may be a watered-down version which may not prevent employers from turning a blind eye to illegal immigration in their hiring practices. The sad reality of the situation dictates that unless we dry up the jobs, then illegal immigration will probably continue to be a major problem.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A Working Spring Break Brings Families to Capitol

Hello again, everybody! Every year, the Oklahoma Legislature works through the Spring Break that students enjoy across the state.

That leads to one of the Capitol’s most happy traditions. Spring Break at the Capitol is a chance for families to be together as spouses and children of legislators often spend the week in Oklahoma City while we are working.

Jacob and Deena got to come up and stay with me during Spring Break. Most of my colleagues had children or grandchildren visiting and the long marble halls of the Capitol reverberated with the children’s laughter.

Everyone at the Capitol was surprised how big Jacob had gotten. Since I haven’t given a “Jacob Report” in a while, he is now 15 months old and walking (and running) very well. He is full of smiles for his mom and dad, and he had a great time playing in my office and seeing all the people at the Senate.

The week was even more special for my family and me because my Uncle Alva Gumm was the Senate’s chaplain for the week. Uncle Alva – who was born in Marshall County, lives in Grayson County, and pastors Murray Hill Freewill Baptist Church in southern Bryan County – is marking four decades in the ministry.

A member of his congregation at Murray Hill sent me an email several months ago suggesting that it would be appropriate for the Senate to mark Uncle Alva’s achievement of serving the Lord and his congregation for so long. I absolutely agreed.

Last Wednesday, the Senate – in front of dozens of my uncle’s family and members of his congregation – unanimously passed a resolution honoring him for his lifetime of service to the Lord, his family and the people who look to him for spiritual guidance. Uncle Alva has always been a tremendous influence on my life. Clearly, he has been a similar influence on the people of his congregation.

It was a joy to have my family with me last week. Having family close is a luxury we do not often have during the legislative session. Deena and Jacob “recharge my batteries,” and having them close last week helped to keep me focused on what is important about my job as your senator.

In every decision we at the Capitol make, making the future better for Oklahoma families must be at the core of our work. That is true whether it be developing an umbilical cord blood bank to allow more families to take advantage of life-saving procedures, or passing a “Back-to-School” sales tax holiday to keep more money in the pockets of hard-working Oklahomans.

If you have comments, questions or concerns about any issue, please feel free to contact me at (580) 924-2221 or (405) 521-5586. Letter may be sent to me at State Capitol, Room 424, 2300 North Lincoln Boulevard, Oklahoma City, OK 73105. Finally, check my website at to see what is happening at the State Capitol.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

House and Senate Leadership Announces Budget Agreement

Murphey Legislative Update

In the past two years, the size of state government has grown approximately 30%. Had it stayed the same with no growth over the past two years, the state personal income tax could nearly have been eliminated.

At the beginning of this year's session, the Governor again proposed to increase the size of government by approximately 398 million dollars, raising annual appropriations to over 7 billion dollars, an increase of about 5.9%. The Governor also wished to issue 663 million in new indebtedness spending, and nowhere in his proposal was there a call for tax cuts.

On Monday, leaders of the House Republicans, Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans, announced their alternative to the Governor's plan. Their budget would increase the size of government by nearly 230 million dollars, raising annual appropriations to just under 6.9 billion dollars for a proposed increase of 3.4%. There is no evidence that this budget will incur any long term debt. The plan would also provide four tax cuts. The income tax will be reduced from 5.65% to 5.50%. A child care credit will be issued for those who choose to care for their qualifying children at home rather than placing them in a day care facility. The franchise tax will be eliminated for all businesses owing less than $250 in annual franchise tax liability. A three day back-to-school sales tax holiday for clothing and footwear costing less than $100 will be initiated and begin the first Friday in August. The state will reimburse municipalities for their loss in sales tax revenue.

This legislative plan appears preferable to the Governor's proposal. I am happy that new bonded indebtedness is not proposed and that it appears as though massive growth in the size of government in the last two years may be coming to an end. It is also encouraging that there is some progress in reducing the state income tax rate.

I do have concerns about the legislative budget. An early proposal that won subcommittee approval to cut the income tax in a significant manner was scaled back and now the current tax cut does not go far enough. Until we are able to work in an aggressive manner toward eliminating the state income tax, we will continue to lose economic development to Texas where there is no state income tax.

I am also concerned that the legislative budget is being presented to the House in the form of one bill. There are a number of state agencies which should be consolidated or not funded by state appropriations. Since the budget will be presented to us as one big bill, then it will make it difficult to target this state waste.

Finally, there are concerns about the way the budget is developed. In the past, Oklahoma politicians claimed to have instituted the process of zero based budgeting. A visit to Governor Brad Henry's website ( will demonstrate he is claiming to have helped institute this important reform. However, evidence that the principles of zero based budgeting have been applied to the budget process are mostly lacking. It appears that nearly every agency has been awarded the same amount of money they received last year, with very little change based on performance or need. Until we can incorporate zero based budgeting, it will be nearly impossible to shrink the size of government significantly. Thus both budgets proposal an expansion in government. I am encouraged that the House Speaker placed emphasis on the subcommittee agency review process and am hopeful this will be used by House leadership as a springboard to cut the size of government by instituting effective zero based budgeting in the future.

Based on observations this year, I plan to publish a report with recommendations for agency consolidations and cost savings. As always, your feedback is appreciated as we work to accomplish true reform.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

On the schedule, this was to be a dull week at the Capitol; it did not turn out that way.

We in the Legislature came to a general budget agreement to provide baseline funding for all of state government. I have been working at the Capitol for more than two decades now, and this is the earliest I have ever seen a budget agreement reached by lawmakers.

The budget is a moral document, and should reflect the values we share as a state. Nothing the state does is more important than education, and it is the biggest winner in the budget.

Public schools will get a $60 million supplemental appropriation to cover costs associated with last year’s $3,000 teacher pay raise and rising health insurance costs. Education funding will increase by nearly $150 million and teachers will receive another pay increase. Funding is also included to cover the cost of increased teacher benefits associated with the raise.

The agreement leaves approximately $66 million for us to spend later in the session on other spending priorities. My priorities include finding a solution for the under-funded Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System and to provide money for the public umbilical cord blood bank I have proposed.

The agreement includes four specific tax cuts. Of those, none is more important than my proposal for a “Back-to-School” sales tax holiday.

It is part of the agreement, and if everything goes as planned, no Oklahoma family will have to travel to Texas to save 8 to 9 percent on back-to-school clothing during the first weekend in August. We all will be able to keep our back-to-school dollars in our hometowns, being able to buy school clothes tax-free at our hometown merchants.

It appears not everyone shares our values on a “Back-to-School” sales tax holiday. The state treasurer, Scott Meacham, already criticized the tax cut in a major metropolitan newspaper as being dangerous to city coffers.

I believe opposition to this tax cut is being penny-wise and dollar dumb. In every state that has a “Back-to-School” sales tax holiday, state and municipal revenues have increased, not decreased.

A “Back-to-School” sales tax holiday is good for our cities and towns; it keeps Oklahoma’s economic strength in Oklahoma. More importantly, it is good for families, allowing them to keep more of their hard-earned money during back-to-school shopping.

Most people in public office talk about “family values.” Those words ring hollow unless you value families; a “Back-to-School” sales tax holiday values Oklahoma’s families.

It would be a blunder of epic proportions if Treasurer Meacham advises the governor to veto the “Back-to-School” sales tax holiday. Hopefully, the treasurer and governor will stand with Oklahoma families instead of with the small group of city bureaucrats fighting this common-sense tax cut.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Murphey Legislative Update

One of the most disturbing trends in recent legislation is the push for placing corporate welfare projects into state statute. This involves the legislature writing laws which financially benefit certain corporate interests.

In essence, if powerful corporate leaders can make enough friends in the legislature through campaign contributions and special interest lobbying, they can develop the power to initiate laws which are self-serving. Usually, proponents of corporate welfare carefully craft their arguments, claiming that if the legislature provides them with special incentives, a massive amount of economic development will occur. This argument puts pressure on other legislators to support the incentive, since they do not want to be seen as voting against economic development.

This concern could not have been better demonstrated than by House Bill 2019. HB 2019 seeks to place a new law on the books which would allow a group of individuals to benefit financially for building a hotel next to Remington Park. Once the hotel is constructed, the state government would send the owners a check straight from the Oklahoma treasury, equaling the amount of income generated by sales tax on materials used in building the hotel.

How many Oklahoma small businesses would like to receive a big refund check for all the sales tax revenue they generated when they were building their business? How fair is it that one group can get this payment and not others? I believe it becomes dangerous when the Oklahoma Legislature starts writing laws which pick individual members of the business community to benefit from the public treasury, while others are forced to pay high sales tax rates that eat into their profit margin. Instead, we need to focus on reducing taxes across the board for Oklahoma individuals and businesses. It is this policy that will result in true economic development.

If we continue to implement a policy of high taxation with selective deductions for the privileged few, we encourage those who seek corporate welfare handouts, as well as lobbyists who jockey for access to politicians to ensure that their clients are the recipients of taxpayer largess. I fear this process gives far too much power to special interests and to the politicians who dole out favors.

HB 2019 passed the house by three and now heads over to the Senate. If HB 2019 comes back to the House for for another vote, I will again vote against it. I continue to believe that a strong majority of House District 31 constituents prefer small government and low taxation. Small government leads to significantly less potential for corruption and encourages true economic growth.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Murphey Legislative Update 3/7/2007

In the preface of his 1828 dictionary, Noah Webster made the following statement. “In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government ought to be instructed... No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.”

Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence wrote, "I lament that we waste so much time and money in punishing crimes and take so little pains to prevent them…we neglect the only means of establishing and perpetuating our republican form of government; that is, the universal education of our youth in the principles of Christianity by means of the Bible; for this Divine Book, above all others, constitutes the soul of republicanism.” “By withholding the knowledge of [the Scriptures] from children, we deprive ourselves of the best means of awakening moral sensibility in their minds.”

As a member of the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee, I see firsthand the results of a society which no longer places emphasis on the values of the Christian faith. During each meeting of the committee, it seems we are forced to vote on finding solutions to new criminal activity. The Department of Corrections faces a nightmare scenario of prison overcrowding. They must deal with more and more attempts to initiate early release of criminals, placing them back into the society which they have victimized. As the government grows due to the increasing number of laws required to police a lawless society, the financial burden placed on law-abiding citizens increases also. And sadly, a big government in a society lacking in morality will in and of itself consist of an increased number of government officials without standards. In short, it is this lack of morality that makes our republican form of government more difficult to maintain.

This is why I was honored to support a recent proposal by fellow freshman Republican Dennis Johnson. Johnson authored HB 1874 to designate "Celebrate Freedom Week" for Oklahoma schools during the same week in November in which we honor veterans. "Celebrate Freedom Week" would be used to instruct students about the importance of the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights and other founding documents and historical American figures.

Johnson expressed the belief that some things should absolutely be taught in school, and the core principles of our nation’s freedom must be emphasized so they can be passed on to future generations.

In speaking for the bill, Representative Paul Wesselhoft said, "My daughter attends Yale University and she’s been surprised at the lack of awareness about our nation’s history among her fellow students – even simple things like the opening preamble to the Declaration of Independence. If elementary school, middle school and high school aren’t the place where students learn about these things, when and where is the appropriate place? I’m surprised and disappointed that anyone would oppose this measure."

So who would oppose such a measure? One aspect of Johnson's bill that may have drawn the ire of opponents was language which requires that religious references in the writing of the founding fathers not be censored. Perhaps some prefer that public schools students not be exposed to quotes similar to those of Noah Webster and Benjamin Rush. But can you imagine the positive impact on Oklahoma students if they understood that Christian principles make the republican form of government and our rights and privileges as a free people easier to maintain?

Fortunately Johnson's bill passed the house by a strong margin, though several legislators debated against it and 18 voted in opposition. I was honored to support Johnson's effort to refocus the attention of our public school system on the values that made our country great, and look forward to opportunities to do so in the future.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Protecting the Families of America's Heroes

This is the second of three weeks devoted to considering bills and resolutions on the Senate floor. We are wading through bills that originated in the Senate, while our colleagues in the House of Representatives are considering those measures that originated in that body.

While fewer bills were approved by committees than in past years, still hundreds of measures are being explained and debated. Just moments before I write this week’s column, the Senate passed a bill that was requested by the people I represent.

We in southern Oklahoma share a solemn commitment to honor the memory of our fallen heroes who sacrifice their lives so that we my live free. As we in southern Oklahoma know all too well, there are some woefully misguided individuals – sick people, really – who use the funerals of our fallen war dead as a platform for their twisted political agenda.

Last year, we in the Oklahoma Legislature passed one of the strongest laws in the nation to put a clamp on these individuals who dishonor the memories of Oklahoma’s and America’s heroes. Under that law, the picketing cannot occur from one hour before the funeral until one our after it, and the picketers have to be at least 500 feet away.

The law we passed last year is an extraordinarily strong statement against this abuse of our right to free speech. It was as far as we believed the courts would let us go to protect the families of our fallen heroes.

Now, it is time we “push the envelope.” Our heroes deserve to have their memories respected, and families have the inalienable right to mourn a loss none of us can even imagine.

Senate Bill 756, which passed just moments before this column is written, would extend the time before and after a funeral during which picketing is illegal from one hour to three hours. Also, the bill would make it illegal to picket a funeral within 1,000 feet of the ceremony during the forbidden hours.

Certainly, no one wants to curtail the right to free speech; it is one of the principles for which our heroes put their lives on the line. Still, families have the free speech right to mourn in their own way and without interference from people seeking to use a personal tragedy for a political platform.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously. I have high hopes our colleagues in the House of Representatives will speak as strongly and as quickly to protect the memories of our honored dead.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Protecting Oklahoma's Women Should Not Be Partisan

Last week was the deadline for any Senate bill to be considered and passed by a Senate committee.

The power-sharing agreement brokered between Democrats and Republicans – a result of the historic 24-24 tie in the Senate – has already caused one of its expected results. Fewer bills were approved by Senate committees than at any time in recent memory.

The only bills that survived are those that have bipartisan support, and many did. The parties have worked together remarkably well.

That is not to say that partisanship did not rear its head in the past three weeks. A number of bills were killed on straight, party-line votes. Each committee is made up of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans and a tie vote kills a bill.

Sometimes, there was good debate illustrating an honest disagreement between the two parties. Other times, it was pure partisanship that killed a bill.

Most troubling were those times when one party locked up against a bill without so much as an explanation. If either one of the parties is going to “lock up” to block vote against a bill, those members owe it to the people of Oklahoma and their colleagues to explain why a bill deserves to fail.

A bill I proposed, one that was suggested to me by one of my constituents, suffered just such a fate. Senate Bill 11 would have ensured that women covered by small group health insurance policies are treated fairly under Oklahoma law.

Under current Oklahoma law, every health insurance policy – no matter how small the group – must cover prostate examinations for men. There is, however, no requirement that obstetrical/gynecological examinations for women be covered by health insurance group policies with 50 or fewer members. My bill would have corrected that inequity.

The bill died in committee on a straight, party-line vote with Democrats voting in favor of the bill and Republicans opposing. There was no debate when the bill came before the committee, and no reason for this to have become a partisan issue. In fact, my House sponsor of the bill was a Republican woman from Lawton.

I simply cannot understand why anyone – regardless of party affiliation – would not enthusiastically support a bill to give a majority of Oklahoma’s population the same protection men have. Census figures indicate women comprise 50.6 percent of Oklahoma’s population.

Ensuring state law is fair to a majority of our population should not be a partisan issue. We have the responsibility to do the right thing; sadly, Republicans on the Senate Retirement & Insurance Committee did not agree.

Despite that setback, I will continue my efforts to protect Oklahoma’s women. The time will come when not even partisanship can kill a good idea.