Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Best Laws Come from You

By Senator Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant

OKLAHOMA CITY – Hello again, everybody! As the pages of the calendar turn to September, it is time to begin work on the issues that will be considered during the 2008 session.

Over the five years I have served as your senator, the best ideas I take to the Capitol come from you, the people I represent. When compared to some of my colleagues, I am very lucky because my constituents have never been shy about sharing their concerns with me.

The battle two years ago to enact the death penalty for serial child molesters started with a phone call from a grandmother in Marshall County. She wanted us to do a better job of protecting Oklahoma’s children. Because of that phone call, a battle began that ultimately led to the bipartisan passage of landmark legislation to protect children.

The struggle to protect the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer – the underground water supply providing water for many of the communities I represent – began when a concerned group of citizens in Johnston County raised the issue. I will never forget the first visit I made to Tishomingo as a Senate candidate; the Arbuckle-Simpson was the greatest concern expressed.

Those conversations ultimately led to passage of Senate Bill 288 in 2003. That law made certain the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer could not be plundered for profit. The power to protect our future began with the voice of the people.

The “Back-to-School” sales tax holiday was a perennial concern of the people across southern Oklahoma. Hardly a week passed in the last five years that someone did not visit with me about this most common-sense of tax breaks. Those words shared with me by hundreds of you kept the flame burning, and ultimately led to the passage of the sales tax holiday this year.

The case of a former Republican lawmaker who got paid by the state while behind bars on a sex crime caused bipartisan outrage across the state. Oklahomans passed my constitutional amendment to prevent legislators from getting paid if they are behind bars. That was another law that began as a concern expressed by you.

As we begin our work to prepare for the 2008 session, I am again asking for ideas from you. Not every idea we have proposed has become law, but we have new opportunities ahead of us. That is the way democracy is supposed to work, and I am proud to be your voice in the Senate.

If you have any ideas for legislation, comments, questions or concerns, please feel free to contact my Capitol office. You can reach it by calling (580) 924-2221 or (405) 521-5586.

You can also send me an e-mail at or by clicking on the link on my website located at It is an honor to work for Oklahoma, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute,” have a great week, and may God bless you all.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Focusing On What Matters

Recently the Oklahoma Superintendent of Education announced her plan for Oklahoma schools to have several days added to their school year and an additional hour tacked onto the school day. In her presentation, Superintendent Sandy Garrett referenced the success of the Charter School KIPP Academy. KIPP students attend school from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm and twice-monthly on Saturdays.

Principal Tracy McDaniel of KIPP Academy pointed out that going to school for more hours is fine but it will not make a difference if core scholastic instruction is not present during those days.

This comment was backed by feedback I received from an Oklahoma teacher. His letter said in part:

"Our current layout calls for 175 days of classroom instruction and five days of staff development. I can tell you that most of our students are not in the classroom 175 days out of the year. Or even 150 for that matter.

"I am just tired of going to work 175 days a year and facing the many obstacles thrown in my path. It's not just the sports... the countless local, state, and national organizational meetings, dress up days and kids getting out of class to judge schoolmates and have pictures made (we had 10 of them last year), science fairs, speech contests, creed contests, drug meetings, sex ed meetings, homecoming practices and decorations, BETA installations, cooking and decorating for various organizational dinners and prom, class meetings, visits from class ring, athletic shoes for every sport, sr. picture, and letter jacket salespeople, weekly school meetings, people bringing flowers and balloons on Valentine's day, picture days, local, county and state stock shows, students reading for elementary children, students missing class to lifeguard at the local pool for coaches who take their elementary PE classes to swim, and on and on and on. Every minute these things are going on students are not in the classroom - it adds up quickly.

"If we had them in school, free of distraction, for 150 or 175 or 190 days a year, there are no limits to what we could achieve. Our kids are not dumb and our teachers are not inadequate. We just need to be allowed to do our job without interference.

"If the legislature adds 15 days, let them be dead weeks or blacklist weeks. Say these are 15 days where no extracurricular activities can take place, and I promise it will be the most educationally beneficial 15 days of school the State of Oklahoma has seen since the day we wandered out of our one room school houses and the first ping of a public school baseball bat echoed across the prairie."

Can you imagine being a teacher in our public school system and competing with all of those activities? When forced to deal with countless extracurricular events and government mandated political correctness it is no wonder our teachers and administrators are facing such an uphill battle.

I believe this is one of the reasons that alternative forms of education have been so successful. In the KIPP Charter School, students tend to focus on academics. In a recent Oklahoman story, a KIPP student was quoted as saying, “Before, my dream was basketball or something like that. Now, I want to be a businessman, and KIPP helped me set my goal.” The possibility of academic success is enhanced when students are allowed to focus on what is really important.

As always please continue to supply me with your feedback. It is greatly appreciated. I have placed the entire letter from the teacher on my blog, which can be accessed from

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Legislative Work Continues with Interim Studies

By Senator Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant

Hello again, everybody! The legislative schedule has much in common with annual school schedule Oklahoma’s children follow.

The annual session of the Oklahoma Legislature ends in late May just as thousands of Oklahoma students begin summer vacations. In the late summer/early fall, school starts up again and the Capitol begins to buzz with activity.

While the 2008 session of the Legislature is still more than five months away, legislative committees are beginning to work on issues that will be before us next year. This process is called “interim studies,” and is the time we in the Legislature use to look at issues without the enormous time pressure of the regular four-month session.

The idea is to gather as much information as possible. That way, when crunch-time arrives in February, we will be better prepared to make decisions in the best interest of the people we represent.

As the Democratic chair of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee, my co-chair and I are in the process of looking at study requests assigned to our committee. Jointly, we will decide how to conduct the investigation.

Five studies have been assigned to the Energy Committee; in addition, the committee – along with the House Energy Committee – will serve as a statutory task force to examine regulation of the state’s electric utilities. All of that will lead to a number of meetings during the fall and early winter.

The list of studies assigned to the Energy and Environment Committee includes:

● A review of Oklahoma’s environmental laws and their effect on construction permitted for state projects;
● An investigation into “balanced energy use”;
● An examination of current oil and gas reserves in Oklahoma and the economic impact that depleting reserves may have on state budgets in the years ahead; and
● A pair of studies relating to the use of Oklahoma’s water resources.

The studies into the Oklahoma’s oil and gas reserves and our water resources are the most intriguing of those assigned to the committee. Both studies will look into gifts the Lord has given Oklahoma and our stewardship of them.

Our state’s energy reserves have been a key component of our economic strength since statehood. The economy of my Senate district is being strengthened because of the new exploration for gas in southeastern and south-central Oklahoma – areas that have not enjoyed this kind of large-scale exploration.

Of course, few issues are as emotional and important as the proper use of Oklahoma’s water resources. Some of the bitterest legislative fights in which I have participated have been about protecting our water so that it can be used to build a brighter future for our area.

The stage is set again for more clashes. Hopefully, the studies will allow us to develop a plan that is in the best interest of all Oklahomans. That is my goal, and I look forward to the work ahead.

Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute,” have a great week, and may God bless you all.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Giving Oklahoma Students A Chance

Giving Oklahoma Students A Chance

One of the most exciting and encouraging events of my first year in the legislature occurred this week as I was privileged to visit the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) and meet with KIPP principal Tracy McDaniel. KIPP is an inner city charter school located on the second floor of the F.D. Moon Academy at 13th and Martin Luther King Blvd. in Oklahoma City.

A few years ago, I visited the F.D. Middle School to speak to the students. I remember thinking how deplorable the conditions of the school were and observed the lack of discipline in the students. The school was the lowest-performing in the state. Principal McDaniel explained that in the past, the school was handicapped by inadequate staff, making it difficult to achieve success. He indicated that of approximately 50 teachers, he believed 45 were simply not up to the task of providing a quality education. As a result, F.D. Moon remained one of the lowest performing schools in the state. That is when McDaniel took action. He spent a year out of state in training with the KIPP program and then returned to Oklahoma and the F.D. Moon school, where he now runs the KIPP Charter School.

Now, despite the same tremendous social and economic challenges, KIPP eighth-grade students dominated the 2006 Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test (OCCT), with 100 percent passing both the state math and writing tests and 97 percent passing the state reading test. This compares to the statewide average of 72 percent of eighth graders passing the math test and 59 percent of Oklahoma City students passing it. The average Academic Performance Index (API) score for all Oklahoma students is 1180. The average score for Oklahoma City students is 1006. Students attending KIPP averaged 1393 out of 1500, which surpassed even Oklahoma City’s Classen School of Advanced Studies, the 17th best high school in the country according to Newsweek. Records indicate that 73 percent of those who enter KIPP at the fifth grade level read at a third-grade level or less, but by the time students reach eighth grade, 97 percent are passing the state reading test.

KIPP students attend school from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm and twice-monthly on Saturdays. Students are encouraged to call teachers after hours if they have problems with homework. McDaniel uses these calls as a way of reviewing the performance of teachers. If there are a large number of calls about a particular subject, then the manner in which the concept has been taught is subject to review. As such, the job performance of McDaniel's staff is consistently analyzed and improved upon.

This idea of holding the employees (teachers), responsible to the customers (students), is one that ensures the school operates according to the established principles which are successful in the private sector and are all too absent in the world of government-run schools.

The most enjoyable part of the visit was speaking to the students about their experience at KIPP. The students are able to look you in the eye and clearly articulate how KIPP has changed their lives and their goals of continuing on to academic success in both high school and college. KIPP student career plans range from medicine and law to forensic science and engineering.

A visit to KIPP will restore faith in inner city students. If these young people can succeed in the midst of some of the worst economic conditions, think of how the program would enable the students in the rest of the state!

This year in the legislature I was able to see firsthand how advocates of a government-dominated monopoly on common education tried hard to limit the ability of these types of schools to expand. Now I understand why it is so important to them that the KIPP success story is not repeated in the future. The success of outside-the-box projects like KIPP is no doubt one of the greatest threats to the education status-quo which imprisons many inner city students in a system of government-run failure, dooming them to a life of economic blight.

As lawmakers, we owe it to future generations to enable students access to charter schools, private schools and homeschool programs which will contribute to their success.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Tough on Crime; Smart on Crime

By Senator Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant

Hello again, everybody! A constant we face is the responsibility to keep law-abiding Oklahoma families safe from those who would harm them.

If you have read or heard the news recently, you know we again are facing a prison crisis. A crisis occurs when the Corrections Department does not have the resources to lock up all the criminals our state laws say deserve to be in prison.

Oklahoma is locking up new criminals faster than existing convicts are completing their sentences. Our prison system has reached 98 percent of its capacity. The director of the Corrections Department calls the situation “the most critical point in three decades” because there are so few options.

Some want to turn to private prisons to expand our capacity. That simply won’t work because the underlying problem still exists: more inmates than resources.

Should Oklahoma become dependent on private prisons to hold our inmates, there is nothing to prevent these private companies from hiking their rates to astronomical levels, making our problem even worse. To fall victim to that trap is simply poor public policy, and something I strongly oppose.

The governor has suggested using alternative means of punishment. He proposed a “mix of programs,” including more drug and alcohol treatment and an expansion of the tremendously successful “drug court” program. Also, the governor has said we need to increase the number of beds at the maximum security Oklahoma State Penitentiary.

On balance, those suggestions sound reasonable and deserve speedy consideration when the Legislature reconvenes in February. Most of us hope we get to wait that long before we have to pump more resources into prisons.

The same ingredients I wrote about last year that could lead to a devastating riot are in place again this year. We have extraordinarily hot temperatures and a system filled almost to capacity. We have made it this long without a riot by the grace of God, and the men and women of Corrections have done an amazing job with too few resources.

While we increased this year’s budget for the Department of Corrections, it already appears we will need to put even more dollars into the system when session begins next year just to stay where we are – and that is if nothing else happens to shake the delicate balance that exists.

For me, I believe one of the top priorities we have as a state should be to keep our families safe from those who would prey on them. That is why, in this column a year ago, I said I would support increased funding for the Department of Corrections. I make that pledge again this year.

Oklahoma families cannot afford for us to be soft on crime. Oklahoma taxpayers, however, have a right to expect that when we are spending their money, we be smart on crime.

Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute,” have a great week, and may God bless you all.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Courts To Decide Illegal Immigration Issue

Courts To Decide Illegal Immigration Issue

Perhaps the bill approved during this legislative session with some of the most far reaching consequences was House Bill 1804. House Bill 1804 is reportedly the most stringent immigration reform bill in the nation and takes a number of dramatic steps to crack down on the illegal immigration problem.

HB 1804 is designed to stop illegals from getting both jobs and public benefits. It also contains a requirements that local law enforcement enforce federal immigration law and includes punishments for people who knowingly harbor or transport undocumented aliens.

The passage of House Bill 1804 represented the culmination of two years of work by State Representative Randy Terrill (R-Moore). The bill passed a number of hurdles including a last minute public decision by Governor Brad Henry to not veto the law. Now, the law faces what may be it's toughest challenge yet.

A group known as "The United Front Task Force" has formed as a response to House Bill 1804 and kicked off their opposition to bill by launching a public-awareness campaign, including a billboard going up in the Tulsa area. The billboard asks the question "Is if Ok ... for Oklahoma to have a law that promotes hate among people?"

Perhaps the group's most effective tool against the law is their plan to file a lawsuit before the law takes effect.

Their effort gained momentum when a federal judge in Pennsylvania struck down an illegal immigration reform law that had been passed by the small Pennsylvania town of Hazelton. The judge asserted that the town's law was pre-empted by federal law and would breach due-process rights. "Hazleton, in its zeal to control the presence of a group deemed undesirable, violated the rights of such people, as well as others within the community," he said in his opinion.

One of the attorneys who is a member of this task force is publicly soliciting for illegal immigrants to serve as plaintiffs as part of the strategy of filing lawsuits. In his solicitation attorney Russel Abbott makes the following statement. "Undocumented workers are not criminals who are here to do us harm, they are simply poor people trying to survive, and to provide for their families. Some people in Oklahoma openly hate immigrants, but I believe they are only a minority, albeit with a tendency to be extremely vocal about their beliefs. I think most Oklahomans have compassion for the less fortunate, even those who do not speak English. I believe most Oklahomans do not wish to deploy their law enforcement officers in an unnecessary and racist effort to police the American border with Mexico...National organizations, including the ACLU and MALDEF, are getting involved to help with the court case."

Representative Terrill has responded by asking the group to declare who it is that will be financing the planned lawsuits. "The failure to disclose donors prevents media scrutiny and keeps the public from knowing the real agenda of those who are promoting the judicial equivalent of a ballot measure," Terrill said. "This group is trying to use the judiciary to indirectly accomplish a goal they cannot achieve through the political process," he added.

I certainly concur with Terrill's remarks. I believe this will be a significant test of state's rights. Hopefully the federal court system will do the right thing and uphold the people of Oklahoma's right to make laws discouraging illegal immigration.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

A Quality Education for Every Child

By Senator Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant

Hello again, everybody! Across Oklahoma, schools are about to start for the year, and children are preparing for another year of learning.

The annual battles over the future of public education are beginning to take shape. No battle we fight at the State Capitol is more important than the one over educating our children.

The one institution committed to that goal is public education, which – by law – must provide a quality education for every child. For me, the battles over public education are all based on the premise of lifting up every child and truly leaving no child behind.

I will always oppose any proposal that would inject an “only the strong or wealthy survive” mentality into public education. I call that “social Darwinism,” and it has no place in discussions about the institution created to educate everyone. In fact, the “only the strong survive” mentality is inconsistent with the purpose of public schools.

A few weeks ago, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Sandy Garrett called for a longer school year and longer school days. Her proposal is to add an hour to each school day and five days to the annual school year.

The average length of the school year in the United States is 180 days of instruction; technically, that is what Oklahoma requires, but students only have to be in the classroom for 175 days. That compares poorly to other countries that have school years of 220 to 240 days.

I look forward to studying this proposal before the 2008 session of the Legislature convenes in February. It certainly deserves serious consideration because it will impact the future of almost every child in our state.

Sadly, though, some prefer to use our children’s future as a political football. Because the position of state Superintendent is an elected post, some took her proposal as a chance to take political shots at the superintendent rather than engage in a serious discussion of her proposal, questioning why education is not better under her leadership.

The opponents of public education suggest the institution should be “perfect.” The reality is public education’s opponents know that no institution created by man will ever be perfect. They use that premise to undermine the institution, to the detriment of us all.

We do, however, have a responsibility to constantly improve public education. There will, no doubt, be disagreements on the best way to make public education better. The cornerstone I always use in those debates is my unshakable belief that public education must serve all the students, every child from every background.

We have what I believe to be a sacred responsibility to make public schools the best they can be for every child, period. If one child is left behind, our entire future is diminished and our children deserve better than that.

Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute,” have a great week, and may God bless you all.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Taxpayers Should Not Be Funding Child Abusers

Last Thursday the House Human Services committee held a public hearing as part of an interim study looking into procedures by which the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) licenses child care centers.

In all of the committee meetings I have attended as a member, I have never been part of one that produced the level of public interest as this one has. Our committee room was filled to capacity as interested parties sought to view the hearing.

The interest was due to the proposal of reforms to the system by which child care centers are licensed. These reforms are in response to a tragic incident which occurred in May at a Tulsa area home day care center.

Known as the "Noah's Ark Child Care Home," the day care center received its license to operate in January 2003. Policy dictates that DHS perform three site inspections at day care centers each year. From 2003-2007, these inspections documented a number of care and safety deficiencies at the child care home. During this time, a total of eight referrals alleging various forms of physical abuse or neglect were received by DHS. The referrals were serious enough that DHS requested the center to "voluntarily" cease operations on four different occasions while the referrals were investigated. Each time the owner of the home refused the request.

In November of 2005, not only was the alleged inappropriate behavior substantiated, but the person committing the offense was caught trying to cover it up. In April of 2007, a police investigator noted eight one-half inch slash marks on the upper back of one of the children. The owner of the day care center admitted to committing the abuse. Despite this admission, DHS made the decision not to seek the closure of the center until charges were filed by the police. This decision would have tragic consequences, as one month later, a two-year-old child died after the owner of the day care center bound his hands and covered his mouth with masking tap. Incredibly, on May 17th, after this incident, the owner of the day care again refused to "voluntarily" close her day care center. DHS closed the home day care on May 18th.

In reaction to this case, DHS is proposing a series of reforms. One of these proposed reforms would streamline the process by which emergency closure orders can be issued. Another reform would require day care centers to allow immediate access to parents of recent DHS findings concerning the center in question. Some of this information will also be placed online for parents to access.

The Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth (OCCY) Office of Juvenile System Oversight, the watchdog agency for DHS, submitted to our committee a detailed report containing details of the failures of DHS and recommendations for changes. The report and work of OCCY confirms the need for the important role OCCY plays in providing an oversight role of DHS. OCCY's role was recently strengthened as a result of reforms following the Kelsey Smith-Briggs case. I feel their role needs to continue to be strengthened in the future.

I also believe that DHS should develop a policy of revoking state subsidized day care payments to those who are committing acts of abuse. One of the most frustrating facts of this case is the number of the children in this center that appear to have been subsidized by the taxpayers. This made the center little more than an extension of state government, meaning that you and I were providing the income for this person to commit these acts. I do not want my money to be used to provide an income for child abusers. Had state payments been cut off when the first case of inappropriate conduct was documented in 2005, the center may have closed. As of now, DHS shows very little inclination to address the issue of cutting off taxpayer funding for dangerous day care centers.

I remain committed to advocating for Human Services reform, but I need your help. Please continue to call me with your experiences and suggestions about Human Services issues. I can be reached at 557-7350 or online at

Friday, August 3, 2007

A Great Weekend for Oklahoma Families

By Senator Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant

Hello again, everybody! After a long wait, Oklahomans this weekend finally get to take advantage of a “Back-to-School” sales tax holiday.

Beginning at 12:01 a.m., Friday, August 3 and running through midnight, Sunday August 5, Oklahomans will be able to buy clothing and footwear with a purchase price of under $100 tax free. Every eligible item with an individual purchase price of less than $100 will be tax free.

For us in southern Oklahoma, we watched our neighbors in Texas enjoy such a sales tax holiday for a decade now. Many Oklahomans crossed the border to take advantage of the holiday. Who could blame them?

With Oklahoma’s first sales tax holiday, many communities are going all out to make the most of it. Retailers and chambers of commerce across the state are having special promotions to capitalize on this historic event.

The amazingly positive response from individuals and communities to the sales tax holiday is great news for our state, and a harsh blow to those who fought against the sales tax holiday. The Oklahoma Municipal League along with some city bureaucrats and big city mayors opposed the sales tax holiday. After years of work, we were able to overcome their opposition.

Also, our friends in Texas made a terrible tactical error with their sales tax holiday. The Texas Legislature moved the Texas sales tax holiday back two weeks to the middle of August. Oklahoma has the first weekend in August all to itself, hopefully attracting Texas shoppers to our state and reversing the flow of economic strength the first weekend in August.

During my two years as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, I was proud to have sponsored the two largest tax cuts in Oklahoma’s history. I am even more proud of the “Back-to-School” sales tax holiday.

Now, we all can stay in our hometowns, keeping our economic strength in Oklahoma, and still enjoy the benefit of a tax cut we can see at the cash register. For families struggling to make ends meet, this is a tax cut that will benefit them the most because sales taxes hit working families the hardest.

As percentage of income, working families pay much more of their hard-earned money to cover sales taxes than do the wealthiest among us. By eliminating the sales tax on clothing and footwear this weekend, we help make the playing field more level, reducing the burden on those who deserve and need it the most.

This will be a great weekend for Oklahoma families and Oklahoma retailers. I am proud to be a part of making the first “Back-to-School” sales tax holiday a reality. For as long as I serve as your senator, I will work hard to find ways to improve our quality of life, and the “Back-to-School” sales tax holiday will make our state stronger and an even better place for families.

Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute,” have a great week, and may God bless you all.