Monday, March 31, 2008

Defending Family Values and Representative Sally Kern

There has been a lot of nationwide attention paid to State Representative Sally Kern's comments regarding what is becoming an obviously well financed and planned attack on traditional family values. Those behind this effort have gone on the attack and suggested that Kern is a hateful person who should resign from office.

Based on my experience as a member of the House, I believe there are few legislators kinder or more caring than Kern. She is the last person in the House I would think of as hateful. Her soft-spoken kindness may initially mask the fact that she unafraid to fight for what she believes is right. Whether it is asking the tough questions or just being one of the first lawmakers to post a vote against inappropriate spending, she is not afraid to take a tough stand.

Two years ago, Kern learned that books endorsing the homosexual lifestyle could be made available in the children's section of Oklahoma public libraries. She led the fight to require libraries to segregate these books to keep them away from children. To this date, Kern has been firmly resolved to expose the agenda that places these types of materials in front of our children.

As part of this ongoing effort, Kern has given a presentation to various groups in which she talks about this agenda and posits that if the homosexual lifestyle is allowed to expand by being openly marketed to our youth, a grave threat is posed to our society. Kern believes, as do I, that America's greatness is because of traditional Judeo-Christian family values. I believe that children need and desire the traditional family environment. Because of the attack on traditional values, too often our children are not being raised in stable households, which is what they so badly need.

I see this firsthand as a member of the Human Services Committee where I serve with Rep. Kern. Because of the breakdown of the family, there are now 19,000 children in state custody. As a member of the Corrections Committee, I know that Oklahoma prisons are filled to capacity and the government struggles to deal with the fallout from the lack of adherence to traditional values. There are no easy solutions to these problems because the massive cost falls upon the taxpayers, but these challenges, if left unchecked, will eventually be too large for the government to handle.

Rep. Kern has come under attack for suggesting that the breakdown of family values poses a grave threat to our society. Despite enormous pressure, she has courageously refused to back down from her beliefs. I appreciate and agree with her stand and consider it an honor to be able to serve with her in the Legislature.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Nobler Mission

By Senator Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant

Hello again, everybody! The word “bipartisan” often is tossed around in politics to suggest if something has bipartisan support, then it is a good thing.

That is not necessarily the case. A perfect example of a bill with bipartisan support that I believe is bad policy was one relating to education that passed the Senate and was sent to the House of Representatives a couple of weeks ago.

Euphemistically called the “New Hope Scholarship Program,” the measure would give a 50 percent tax credit to individuals who donate to a fund providing private school scholarships. For students to qualify, they would have to be in low performing, urban public school districts. This tax credit would be on top of any charitable tax deduction donors would get.

Ironically, the program is based on a scholarship program started by philanthropists in San Antonio to help kids in a challenged district there. The key difference is that these philanthropists got no additional tax credit for their good will.

The Oklahoma bill creates a voucher system that would take public dollars and transfer them through the use of the tax credits to private schools. That means those kids who, for whatever reason, cannot escape the poor public school are left behind in a school with fewer resources.

The argument used by supporters of this voucher scheme is that these public schools are so irreparably broken that we have to provide an escape route for a lucky few. For us, however, to abandon the rest of the kids in such a school is social Darwinism at its most perverse. Only the strong – or lucky – will survive under this scheme.

This is the easy answer; this bill encourages the “cherry picking” of a few kids, lifting them out of a poor school, and leaving behind hundreds of others. The harder mission – and the far nobler one – is to improve the school for every kid. It is not beyond our ability to do so; it just will be more difficult.

Nevertheless, the mission of public education is a difficult one. Unlike private schools, public schools have a responsibility to educate every child. Every Oklahoman – even those families who put their children in private schools or philanthropists who give to a voucher scheme like this one – benefits because we offer a free public education to every child.

It is my strongly held belief that America owes its position as the world’s last remaining superpower to the fact every child – regardless of the wealth of his or her parents – can get a public education. Giving every child a chance to become everything God intends for him or her to become creates opportunity for all of us.

With the “New Hope Scholarship Program,” we have said, “We give up; we cannot give every kid a chance.” I believe that is the dead wrong message for us to send.

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

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

One hot button issue this year is the need for ethics reform in
Oklahoma government. This issue is addressed in House Bill 2196.

This is a legitimate need because lobbyists and special interests
appear to be spending millions of dollars to buy personal gifts and
make political contributions to politicians in each election cycle.

The desire of the special interest groups to "invest" in politicians
has only increased over the years as government has gotten bigger and
bigger, enabling politicians to use the power of the government to
either benefit or hurt industries that hire lobbyists.

This is something I feel so strongly about that I have put in place a
policy to not accept gifts or contributions from lobbyists or groups
that employ them.

The author of House Bill 2196 has established a noble goal and I
believe his intent is just as noble. HB 2196 purports to place a ban
on any political giving during the legislative session. The logic
follows that a politician should not be receiving donations at the
same time he or she is voting on important laws.

However, this law would also apply to the challenger of that
incumbent. What this means is that HB 2196 would create an incumbent
protection scheme so strong, it would be almost impossible for an
incumbent to be defeated in the primary election process.

Many of Oklahoma's legislative districts, including the one I
represent, are heavily tilted in favor of one party. This means that
the winner of the July primary is almost certain to win in the
November general election. Because HB 2196 places a blackout on the
ability of the challenger to raise money from January through June
(the legislative session), a challenger who decided to run for office
after the blackout started would not be able to raise money from
friends, family and supporters until just days away from the primary
election. Meanwhile, most legislative incumbents would have built a
sizeable lobbyist-funded war chest over the months preceding the
legislative session and would have no problem using this funding to
attack the challenger while the challenger stood by helplessly, unable
to fund his/her campaign. The challenger could not even raise money to
fund the mandatory filing for office fee required in early June.

Because this bill contains an emergency clause, it could take effect
this very year. I believe it is very inappropriate for legislators in
the name of "ethics reform" to put in place a huge barrier to those
who would seek to remove them from office.

I think a better idea would be to simply prohibit lobbyists and the
groups that employ them from being able to give during the legislative
session. This common sense law, proposed a few years ago by Rep. John
Trebilcock, would help restore the balance of power in favor of the

There is another solution that would not require the enactment of any
law. If the constituents of each legislative district would insist
that their legislators put in place a policy to refuse gifts or
contributions from lobbyists or groups that employ them, I think that
as more and more legislators made that commitment, the pressure would
mount on all legislators to do the same.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Moral Obligation to Protect the Most Vulnerable

By Senator Jay Paul Gumm

Hello again, everybody! The time comes in every legislative session when an issue arises on which there are bitter divisions among legislators and the people we serve.

When that time arrives, some legislators decide using wild claims to provide political cover is more important than shooting straight with Oklahomans. “Silly Season,” as I call it, officially began last week.

The story starts with consideration of Senate Bill 2114. Many of us hoped the bill would have started a serious discussion about a real patients’ bill of rights.

The bill would have required your health insurance policy to cover treatment your doctor says you need. Doctors would make medical decisions, not insurance company accountants.It was a straightforward bill, without the legalese you often see. A final version would have required far more detail.

The vote that broke down on party lines: every Senate Democrat supported the bill, while every Republican who voted opposed it. For any bill to pass the evenly divided Senate requires support from members of both parties. A party-line vote means a bill fails; that is what happened to the patients’ bill of rights.

The debate on the floor was honest about the policy. While I was disappointed the bill failed, the debate was the kind we should expect from the Capitol.

The measure failed Thursday two weeks ago, and those of us supporting it used a parliamentary move to give us three legislative days to try again: the next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Then came the weekend.

Late Sunday night, just hours before we were to return to the Capitol, I received a telephone message from one of my friends in Oklahomans for Life, a group – like me – opposed to abortion. In the message, he said the group was going to oppose the patients’ bill of rights because it would have required coverage for abortions.

I was shocked. That suggestion was never discussed during the debate; even opponents of the bill knew that was not the measure’s intent.

It looks like those who honestly opposed the bill were beginning to feel the heat. Desperate to find some political cover, it took them three days to come up with a farfetched scenario that was in a Monday morning press release.

No one has stood more firmly to protect the unborn than I. To me, it is ludicrous to suggest a patients’ bill of rights is anything other than steadfastly “pro-life.”

I believe we have a moral obligation to protect the most vulnerable among us. Few Oklahomans are more vulnerable than those who drain their wallets to buy health insurance only to have needed treatment denied because some accountant overrules a doctor.

We all deserve an honest debate on this issue. Instead, we got the same old game, and Oklahoma families were the ones who lost.

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

Monday, March 17, 2008

Breaking Up The Crime Bubble

The House of Representatives recently finished consideration of the bills that have been introduced this year by State Representatives. This included consideration of HB 2513 which I was honored to present to the House. HB 2513 passed the House with bi-partisan support and a 65-36 vote of the members.

This year I presented a number of bill because they were requested by local citizens. HB 2513 was introduced per the request of a resident of Guthrie.

HB 2513, which is advocated for by the National Rifle Association, supports our veterans and active duty military personnel by giving them the right to defend themselves and others when they are attending or teaching classes at one of Oklahoma's state colleges and universities, provided they notify the university that they are in possession of a concealed carry license.

Over the past 12 years, more than 60,000 Oklahomans have made the decision to defend themselves by going through the background examination (including mental health record checks) and taking the time to receive training for a concealed carry license.

There appears to be very little evidence that Oklahoma's concealed carry program has been anything less than a sensational success, with very few incidents of inappropriate behavior by the licensees. Certainly, I am not aware of any example of an innocent person being harmed by the inappropriate weapon usage of a concealed carry licensee.

Unfortunately, since the inception of this program, it appears that every state college and university in Oklahoma has put in place a policy that does not allow concealed carry licensees to defend themselves in what is becoming a very dangerous environment; the college campus.

Earlier this year, the Governor received a report from a task force which recommended 16 million dollars be spent on enhancing campus security. This proposed expenditure comes at a time when Oklahomans are already forced to deal with massive tuition increases, high taxes and a government that continues to incur long term debt. What better way to solve some of our security challenges than to take advantage of the training of our military veterans and active duty military personnel who also maintain concealed carry licenses? House Bill 2513 would allow them to defend themselves and their fellow students and teachers. In many cases, these personnel have training that is equal to or exceeds the training of the law enforcement officers charged with protecting our campuses. This is a service that would be provided with little or no cost to the state.

House Bill 2513 also seeks to end the practice of surrounding our campuses with a gun-free bubble. Currently, college campuses are a wide open area which a criminal can enter with confidence, knowing that it is most unlikely that their victims will be able to defend themselves. It seems you can hardly turn on the news without seeing or hearing of another incident of violence committed on a college campus.

Just as they did 12 years ago, the critics of concealed carry will point to any number of possible negative outcomes in allowing the people the right to defend themselves. Fortunately, history has not been kind to those critics, as Oklahomans have proven that they possess the good judgment to defend themselves appropriately. Now, some of the elite in the higher education system are again resorting to the same tired excuses as they attempt to discredit the ability of our military personnel to use good judgment. I believe that we have the finest military in the world and I find it offensive that some in the higher education community have begun to question the judgment of our military men and women. I also believe that just as a strong majority of Oklahoma's State Representatives have been able to see through these excuses, so do a majority of Oklahomans.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Open Door Policy - March 11, 2008

I'm happy to report that House Bill 3081, my legislation that defines the premium checks for 4-H and FFA students passed the House of Representatives on Tuesday by a vote of 96 to 4. This defines the check as a scholarship which provides that state and federal taxes would be exempted on this and it is no longer considered income. I appreciate the calls and letters that many of you sent to legislators on behalf of this bill and expect that it will pass the Senate and become law this year. I'm not certain yet on if this will exempt the checks for this year or we will have to wait until next year for this to kick in.

Two of my other bills are scheduled for floor action. The bill setting standards for boating safety and my updates on Tax Increment Financing will both be heard this week in session. Two other issues that I was pursuing will now have to be heard as amendments. I'm running resolutions to create two different task forces to deal with issues that have been brought to me. One is setting a group to discuss reintegration facilities and corrections issues that would lend to prisoners not returning to a life of crime. Another assembles experts to look at incentives to get medical personnel to attend secondary school athletic events and provide "good Samaritan" assistance in case there is an injury. Both these resolutions should be heard in two weeks.

This is the last week we will hear House bills under our deadline. Anything not brought up will not receive action this year. Several issues I presented will have to wait until next year since there are rules in place that prevent amendments that pertain to similar issues seen in bills that failed. I will keep working on those issues and I appreciate your input. I also am thankful for all the surveys that have been returned to my office. I'm going over each of them in the evenings after session.

It is an honor to represent your views at the State Capitol. If you wish to contact me and discuss one of these or another issue, I can be reached at my office in Oklahoma City toll-free at 1-800-522-8502, or directly at 1-405-557-7305. My home number for work is 1-580-476-2626. My e-mail address is at work. My mailing address is PO Box 559, Rush Springs, OK 73082 and my website is on the Internet. Thank you for taking time to read this column and I look forward to seeing you soon.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Oklahoma Senate Takes First Step to Cord Blood Bank

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Senate approved an amendment today that could ultimately give Oklahoma families a way to preserve umbilical cord blood and the life-saving adult stem cells in it.

Senator Jay Paul Gumm submitted the amendment to Senate Bill 1708, a measure by Senate Co-President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee on organ donations. The amendment and the bill were both passed with bipartisan majorities.

Gumm’s amendment would direct the state Commissioner of Health to request information from one or more umbilical cord banks to determine whether the banks would or could establish a public cord blood collection operation in Oklahoma. The Commissioner would report back to the Legislature by Jan. 1, 2009 on the best way to develop partnerships.

“This is a way for us to give Oklahoma families a chance to bank umbilical cord blood without the huge startup costs,” said Gumm, a Democrat from Durant. “In a tight budget year, this will ‘kick start’ the process of giving Oklahomans affordable access to potentially life-saving procedures.”

Cord blood is often discarded as medical waste in the delivery room, but can have extraordinary medical applications. Adult stem cells found in cord blood can treat a variety of ailments, including cancer, leukemia, blood, and immune disorders.

The lawmaker noted a story broadcast on NBC-TV’s Today Show Tuesday that told of a two-year-old boy with cerebral palsy who is now showing fewer signs of the disorder since an infusion of his own stem cells. The boy’s parents saved his cord blood. Gumm said every Oklahoma family should have the same opportunity.

“It is very expensive to preserve cord blood,” he concluded. “By establishing a partnership like we have proposed, we can give every Oklahoma family the same opportunity this family had. You cannot put a price tag on that.”

This is the second year Gumm has passed cord blood legislation out of the Senate. Last year, a cord blood bank bill sailed through the Senate only to stall in the House of Representatives.

“I believe we have a moral obligation to make a public cord blood bank available to Oklahoma families,” Gumm said. “There is no greater responsibility we have than to save lives and improve life for those we can; making a public cord blood bank available to Oklahoma families is a huge step in that direction.”

The amended bill will next be considered by a House of Representatives committee.

Fixing Oklahoma Roads

Last week the House of Representatives passed a bill designed to correct what I believe to be one of the Oklahoma Legislature's most egregious ongoing policy mistakes. Each year, Oklahoma citizens spend millions of dollars in motor vehicles taxes such as car registration. I believe this money should be used to pave roads and build bridges. However, each year about 447 million of these dollars are diverted for non-transportation related items.

House Bill 3342, authored by Representative Mike Thompson, would direct about 227 million of this money back to the funding of roads where it belongs. Thompson is the Chairman of the Transportation Committee of which I am a member, and I have enjoyed working with him on advancing the issue of properly funding Oklahoma's roads and bridges.

HB 3342 proposes to direct the motor vehicle money to transportation in six separate increments over the next few years.

Some of the concern over the bill appears to come from representatives of the Oklahoma Education Association. The OEA is worried that redirecting these funds would reduce the amount of money that is currently being channeled into education from the state's general fund. This concern is despite the fact that even under Thompson's proposal, approximately 218 million dollars that goes to schools in motor vehicle fee money would not be affected.

Another area of concern has been raised by county officials who are worried that Thompson's proposal as it stands does not go far enough in addressing county road issues. HB 3342 is mostly focused on funding state maintained highways, interstates and the bridges that are on those highways.

As the author of a bill that encourages these motor vehicle fees to be used for high trafficked county roads, I certainly believe that a percent of this money should go to county roads. However, I believe that this new money should be carefully targeted to the most needy county roads through a fund administered by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

It is a sad fact that due to past neglect, many county line roads remain unpaved. For example: in Logan County, only 16% of county roads are hard surfaced. Of the 229 county maintained bridges, 125 are structurally deficient and 8 are functionally obsolete. Only 30% of county roads in the entire state of Oklahoma are hard surface.

I believe it is important that we pay for the upgrade of these county roads through a fund that is professionally administered and targeted to the most needy roads. It is inexcusable that in the 21st century, 70% of Oklahoma county roads remain unpaved.

I am confident that due to the leadership of Rep. Thompson and the commitment of Oklahoma Representatives to Oklahoma's roads and bridges, we will see significant reform this year.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Open Door Policy - March 3, 2008

I want to start the column this week by thanking Pastor Leon Shade and the congregation at First Baptist Church in Apache. I was invited to speak to the church on Sunday about prison ministry work and the problems we are facing with the corrections system here in Oklahoma. We have some great volunteers here in Oklahoma, such as Billie Ruth McDonald from Lawton who spend time inside the prison walls ministering to the inmates to help them find faith.
I'm carrying legislation (HCR 1008) to create a task force to look at establishing a "reintegration facility" here in Oklahoma. This would turn an existing facility into a place where inmates would go one year from release to learn how to survive outside the walls by taking life skills classes. This will cut down on recidivism and save money down the road by teaching them how to live a normal existence and not return to a life of crime.
This is a heavily debated issue where some people say we are being "soft on crime" by trying to prepare these convicts to learn how to live outside prison again and others saying that religious groups should not be involved in prison ministry work due to the separation of church and state. Both these arguments are silly in my opinion. This is giving the inmates the opportunity to make it outside, which saves taxpayer dollars if they do not commit another crime. All the work done in the prison ministry system is non-denominational volunteer effort and no state resources are provided other than space to lead these meetings.
If these men and women can find faith and opportunity, then they can feel that they have a purpose. They will also know they have a church home outside to help them make it, then even if they have no relatives, the prisoner has a better chance of staying straight and the taxpayers spend less on corrections. Over 90% of prisoners will be released at some point and we have to do what we can do to make sure they do not return to a life of crime.
It is an honor to represent your views at the State Capitol. If you wish to contact me and discuss one of these or another issue, I can be reached at my office in Oklahoma City toll-free at 1-800-522-8502, or directly at 1-405-557-7305. My home number for work is 1-580-476-2626. My e-mail address is at work. My mailing address is PO Box 559, Rush Springs, OK 73082 and my website is on the Internet. Thank you for taking time to read this column and I look forward to seeing you soon.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Hoping Good Ideas Do Not Become Bd Policy

By Senator Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant
Hello again, everybody! We are in one of the busiest times of the legislative session.

Few bills are in their final form at this point, and might change considerably between now and the final vote on them later in the session. In fact, the words “work in progress” are used to describe dozens of the bills we consider every day.

At this time of session ideas drive the discussion. If a lawmaker has a good idea in the form of a bill, then the vote often is to keep the idea alive, move it through the process in hopes it can be fully fleshed out before the session ends in late May.

Here is an example of an idea that still has not found its form. One of the talent shortages we have as a state is in the area of aerospace engineers; the idea is to attract more of these specialized individuals to Oklahoma to support our aviation industry.

In the Finance Committee, a bill was proposed to give newly graduated aerospace engineers a tax credit that would equal engineers’ annual income tax liability. In effect, we would be allowing engineers to work without having to pay any state income tax.

That is quite an incentive to attract engineers to the state, and attracting engineers to Oklahoma is a good idea. The problem is this bill would create a tax scheme in which some new residents of our state pay less in income tax than those of us who have invested our entire lives in Oklahoma.

While the idea to attract aerospace engineers to Oklahoma is a good one, this specific idea is a very bad way to do it. It reminds me of a proposal I helped kill a few years ago that would have allowed anyone moving to Oklahoma to pay fewer taxes for five years than lifelong Oklahomans.

Tax policy shows who and what we value. By creating a skewed tax scheme that establishes lower taxes for newcomers, the state would be putting a greater value on them than it does those of us who have long believed in and lived in Oklahoma.

That bill was passed out of the Finance Committee – not because of what it did, but what it would seek to accomplish: attracting more aerospace engineers. Now, we await that bill’s arrival on the Senate floor and I am curious as to whether the author of the bill has found a way to achieve his goal without skewing the tax code.

These “works in progress” should be a cause of both hope and worry. Hope because they are a means to implement good ideas that need more time; worry because they can be vehicles for bad policy. Among my goals as your senator is to ensure that good ideas do not become bad policy.

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

Using Technology to Benefit the Taxpayers

Can you imagine a classroom where students no longer need to use their
textbooks? What about a school environment where advanced students are
not unnecessarily held back and those who need more time to study an
important concept are allowed to spend the time they need? How
exciting would it be if students had access to all of the same
resources from their homes that they would normally access in the

I must admit that one of the less encouraging parts of being in the
legislature is the constant exposure to the "government status quo."
Because government is a monopoly and does not have the same natural
competition as privately owned businesses in the free market, there is
little incentive for innovation. In the free market, a privately owned
business is forced to innovate and modernize in order to compete and
survive. As a result, government agencies frequently simply survive;
not by updating and modernizing, but by constantly pressuring
legislators to dole out to them more of the people's hard-earned

That is why it is so exciting and inspirational when there are clear
examples of hardworking individuals who are applying innovative
concepts to the public education system right here in Logan County.
Recently, I was privileged to observe a department of education
official as she interviewed students from Crescent High School. The
official expressed amazement as she realized how technologically
advanced Crescent High School has become. She made the observation
that the technology capabilities of the Crescent High School program
were superior even to those employed at the state department of

One of the foremost components of the Crescent system is known as
Acellus. Acellus is a server-based curriculum that allows Crescent
High School students to complete their math curriculum on their
computers through the internet. Acellus provides high-quality video
lectures to students, identifies specific areas of student difficulty,
provides an alternative learning path customized to each student's
learning experience and captures student data so that the overall
effectiveness of the course can be assessed. The program frees up
teachers to spend one-on-one time with students requiring special

In essence, the program adds much needed flexibility to the public
education experience. No longer are students forced to work at a
generalized pace that either leaves them frustrated at being held back
or too far behind to ever catch up. Crescent students take pride in
explaining how that because of this program, they no longer have a
need for math textbooks. In this way, students can receive a much more
effective and individualized learning experience.

In deploying this innovation, Crescent High School demonstrates that
it is possible to quickly and effectively take advantage of technology
and provide a higher quality product without imposing a higher tax
burden on the people.