Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Challenges Will Make for an Interesting Session


By Senator Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant


Hello again, everybody! In only a few days, the 2008 session of the Oklahoma Legislature will begin its work.

The Oklahoma Constitution requires us to return to the Capitol at noon on the first Monday in February to begin the people’s business. After gathering in the Senate Chamber, we will travel across the Rotunda to the House of Representatives to hear Governor Henry’s “State of the State” address.

In the five years I have been your senator, we have had both incredibly difficult budget years and those in which state coffers were full to overflowing. This is a year that will be somewhere in between the devastating budget cuts of 2003 and the large tax cuts of 2005 and 2006.

These “middle years” are sometimes the most difficult budget years. During tight years, everyone understands budgets have to be cut; in flush years, everyone wants – and almost everyone gets – a bigger piece of the budget pie.

With only a small amount of additional money available, just about every state agency is putting in its bid for those resources. The money is nowhere near sufficient to meet all the requests from state agencies, many of which are positive proposals that – in a perfect world – would be funded.

The first step in writing a budget and setting Oklahoma’s course will come from the governor in his “State of the State” address. These speeches are the most important a chief executive gives, as the governor will review our progress and lay out one vision of where Oklahoma should go.

This very well could be the most important “State of the State” address Governor Henry has given. This set of challenges is so different when compared to any we have faced since I became your senator. The governor has an incredible opportunity to blaze a new trail for our state. We all will be listening carefully to his address.

Another shift in the political landscape occurred this week when House Speaker Lance Cargill resigned as Speaker amid a variety of ethical and legal charges; there will be a new leader in the House of Representatives. We also have the potential for impeachment proceedings against State Auditor and Inspector Jeff McMahan following his federal indictment.

These challenges – along with the looming 2008 General Election – will make for an interesting session that will test our ability to find common ground. The road ahead is uncertain, but I am sure of one thing: You have placed in me your trust and given me the responsibility to fight for those things that matter most to you.

Regardless of the politics under the Capitol dome, that responsibility always guides me. With the wisdom you share with me, and the prayers you lift up for my family and me, we will create the brighter future that is the birthright of every Oklahoman.

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

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Open Door Policy - January 29, 2008

On Monday, House Speaker Lance Cargill of Harrah stepped down from his office and announced that he was unable to continue the job due to various issues. He will continue as a State Representative, but I'm not certain if he will seek another term of office when his re-election occurs this year. I wish him and his family the best as they try to sort through the various problems that have arisen during his tenure.
There will be an election held this upcoming Monday to select a new Speaker. There have been several candidates that have announced their intention to seek the office. All of these candidates have different aspects that make them strong candidates, so it will be interesting to see which one is successful. This race, due to the Republicans holding 57 of the 101 seats, will likely be settled by their caucus and they will unify behind one person rather than seek votes from the Democratic Caucus. I would love to see a coalition Speaker be elected by all 101 members, but that rarely happens in modern politics. For most, it's harder to work with both parties to find a common goal over just appeasing those elected within their own party.
The office of Speaker used to be the most powerful political position in the state of Oklahoma. After the ouster of Jim Barker in 1989 and the passage of term limits, many younger members with no institutional memory and a great deal of ambition have been elected which has diminished the authority of the office of the Speaker. I have some of the longest-tenured knowledge of the House due to my years as a staff member before being elected, so I've seen many of the changes occur. Most of them have not been good since they have been politically driven due to no successful campaign finance or ethics reform.
One thing I will say is that I'm optimistic. Lance Cargill was known to be divisive and much like Tom Delay in Washington when it came to campaign finance scrutiny. Whoever succeeds him in this position has the chance to undo much of the harm that has been caused over the last year to the institution and work to bring about serious reforms in our first year of the second century. I promise you that I will do my part to help the new Speaker move Oklahoma towards a better future.
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 joedorman@okhouse.gov at work. My mailing address is PO Box 559, Rush Springs, OK 73082 and my website is www.joedorman.com on the Internet. Thank you for taking time to read this column and I look forward to seeing you soon.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Reining in Free "Unadulterated Entertainment" for Legislators!

There is some very good news to report about the effort to level the
playing field between the paid special interests groups and the
people.

During the first six months of 2007, paid lobbyists reported giving
legislators $137,000 in personal gifts, such as expensive dinners or
sporting events tickets. This spending power basically bought access
to the legislators on behalf of the spenders. This is the type of
access that the average person (whom the legislators are supposed to
be representing) simply cannot compete with.

I feel that the special interests' influence problem has in large part
been created by the massive size of government. Because state
government has become so engorged with billions of our tax dollars,
and because there are so many different government regulations and
laws, a cottage industry has sprung up that is populated by those who
seek to benefit their specific field of interest. Because there are
millions of dollars at stake, these special interests will see an
investment in personal gifts or political contributions to lawmakers
as being a small price to pay, compared to the possible benefits.

When I sought election to be State Representative, I felt so strongly
about the impropriety of legislators taking gifts from lobbyists, that
I made a pledge that I would not accepts these gifts. I believe that
it is just as inappropriate for a lawmaker to take a gift from a
lobbyist as it would be for a judge to take a gift from an attorney.
It should not be seen as any different for a lobbyist to give a gift
to a lawmaker who is casting a vote on an issue that might benefit the
lobbyist's' client, than for an attorney to give a gift to a judge
whose rendered judgment will benefit the attorney's client.

Here is the good news: on Friday, the Oklahoma Ethics Commission took
action to limit the amount of lobbyists' gifts to legislators to $100
and under. The rule came about after the courageous advocacy of Ethics
Commissioner John Raley. Raley correctly tagged the gift-giving
practices of lobbyists to lawmakers as "unadulterated entertainment".

Raley's proposal reduced from $300 to $100 the amount spent on
legislators and elected officials by a "lobbyist principal" during a
calendar year. Lobbyist principals are companies or associations that
hire the lobbyists and provide the money to buy gifts for lawmakers.
The proposal also requires lobbyists to disclose gifts after spending
more than $10 on any official during a six-month period.

In addition, it looks as though the Commission will take additional
action in the future. The Chairman of the Commission, Don Bingham,
said he thinks commission members will be ready to move next year to
make Oklahoma the strictest state in the nation when it comes to what
legislators can receive in gifts from lobbyists.

The Commission reforms still face a big hurdle. The Legislature could
take action to stop the proposal from taking effect, and has until May
to try to stop the rule. If the Legislature fails to do so, the law
will take effect in July.

If the Legislature does try to stop this reform, I will vote to defend
the Commission's proposal. I think this is an exciting reform that
starts to restore balance to the legislative process in favor of the
people.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Could Be the Best of Times, the Worst of Times


By Senator Jay Paul Gumm


Hello again, everybody! As the 2008 session of the Oklahoma Legislature nears, I am asked what it will be like. A simple question for which there is no simple answer.

This could be one of the best and most productive sessions in our state’s history. We have on the table visionary and hopeful proposals to make Oklahoma better for ourselves and generations yet unborn.

Bills have been filed that would make Oklahoma a healthier state, a better educated and more prosperous state, and a safer state. Proposals are out there that truly would change lives for the better.

Our greatest responsibility is to ensure our children have greater and better opportunities than we enjoyed. That responsibility has been met by every generation of Americans, and certainly Oklahoma is no different.

Every generation of Oklahomans has built a better future for those who followed. We have overcome natural disasters, financial collapses and challenges few other states have endured. We overcame and built the foundation for a better future. That test now falls to the 2008 session of the Legislature.

There is always the other side of the coin. This year’s session could just as easily be of the least fruitful sessions ever. With the rhetoric and venom being tossed between the two political parties, almost everyone is lowering expectations for this session.

An increasingly bitter partisan divide is on the table alongside visionary dreams and hopeful plans. This is an election year in which control of the Legislature is on the line, intensifying the natural and honest differences between the two political parties.

The rhetoric is at a fever pitch, and it is still two weeks before we return to the Capitol. It appears some are focusing on securing victory for a political party instead of capitalizing on opportunities to build a brighter future.

Elections are important; that is where we the people express our will about the direction of the state. Sadly, this year’s elections appear to be motivation for finger pointing and “gotcha” games. I have been working in public service for more than two decades and I have never seen as bitter partisanship as that which exists today.

Oklahomans expect us in the Legislature to keep the focus on proposals to improve the lives of the people we represent. For me, I have always worked with members of both political parties to enact policies that are good for all of Oklahoma.

It is far more important to enact good policies than to worry about who gets the credit or whose name comes first on the bill. Those things work out, because Oklahomans see through political smoke.

If the Legislature fails to focus on the future, then this session will be a failure. Oklahomans surely deserve better than that.

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

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mortgaging the Future of our Children and Grandchildren

Mortgaging the Future of our Children and Grandchildren

Each year the Governor opens the session of the legislature with his State of the State address. This allows him to address the legislature with his proposals for the year's state budget. I am very anxious to examine his proposals and will be especially alert for any attempts to issue new bonded indebtedness.

One year ago the Governor asked the legislature to expand the size of government. In his presentation, he outlined several major costly proposals. The Governor proposed to indebt the taxpayers to more than $666,000,000 of new bonded indebtedness. Fortunately, most of this plan was not implemented.

Of special concern to me was the Governor's proposal to issue new debt to fund non-capital items. Traditionally, government bonds are issued for capital projects such as the construction of buildings. However, in his budget proposal last year, the Governor appeared to be seeking the authority to spend a sizable percentage of this debt on non state-owned capital items. This is money that I believed would have disappeared into the government bureaucracy, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for years to come.

It is also important to remember that the Oklahoma Constitution prohibits the government from going into debt. However, years of creative interpretation by the judiciary have made it possible for those who advocate for public debt to open up a Pandora's box of spending.

As your Representative, I have committed to reversing the disturbing trend of state government going deeper into debt. In fact, the state currently owes billions of dollars in long term debt and unfunded liabilities.

I feel strongly that state government should avoid long-term debt. It is irresponsible for politicians to saddle citizens with millions of dollars of indebtedness and then allow the bill to come due when they are no longer in office. This places debt on the backs of our children and grandchildren and makes reducing the size of government difficult because government will be forced to keep taxes high in order to pay debt and especially all of the interest that goes with the issuance of the debt.

As your representative, I have a policy of voting against the issuance of new debt. I have called for the passage of legislation which makes it more difficult for politicians to engage in this dangerous behavior with the taxpayers money.

If we are serious about rolling back big government and enacting important pro-growth reforms such as eliminating state income tax, the issue of big government debt is not one we can ignore. As it stands now, reducing the size of government is difficult enough because of past inappropriate spending by state politicians. It is our responsibility as legislators to draw a clear line in the sand and defeat new attempts to mortgage the future of our children and grandchildren.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Truly Leave Behind No Child, Period


By Senator Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant
Hello again, everybody! With three weeks until the 2008 session, we are beginning to see the issues that will take center stage when lawmakers return to the Capitol.
As I continue to work to improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans, I am guided by one of my favorite political quotes. It is from former Vice President Hubert Humphrey who said that the moral test of government is how it treats those in the dawn of life, the children; those in the twilight of life, the elderly; and, those in the shadows of life, the sick.
Some children in the dawn of life suffer in the shadows of life. A bill I have introduced for 2008 would shine new light into those lives. Senate Bill 1537 would mandate health insurance policies to cover treatment for a disorder affecting nearly one in every 150 children.
If passed, the bill would make Oklahoma the 18th state to require insurance policies to cover health issues related to autistic disorders. The idea behind the law is to give more families in Oklahoma a chance to seek both diagnosis and treatment for an affliction that is growing at an alarming rate.
Autism is as great as any health challenge a child and family would face. Health insurance policies should include protection from debilitating disorders like autism. Families facing autism should not have to worry whether an insurance company bureaucrat has determined it isn’t cost effective to cover diagnosis and treatment.
Autism is still a relatively newly diagnosed disease. Those afflicted with it are characterized by impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and unusual, repetitive, or severely limited activities and interests.
Researching the issue, I found that aggressive treatments can potentially give diagnosed autistic children aged 3 and younger a 50 percent chance of navigating through a mainstream public school system with limited assistance. In short, the early intervention this bill would mandate is the key giving these children the best chance of fulfilling their God-given potential.
Health insurance exists for challenges like this. No insured family should ever have to doubt whether they will get the help they expected when they bought insurance. This bill is a reasonable, proactive plan to address a crippling problem that is affecting more families than ever.
This coverage is desperately needed to give autistic children in Oklahoma an opportunity to have a healthy and traditional childhood experience. As a matter of policy, I believe this bill is an important first step in a long-term effort to ensure no Oklahoma child with autism will be left behind.
Some will oppose this on philosophical grounds because they oppose insurance mandates. The real question is this: Do we give these kids a chance to become productive, taxpaying citizens or do we leave them in the shadows? For me, regardless of “philosophy,” this is an easy answer.
Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute,” have a great week and may God bless you all.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

The Big Issue Of The Year

The Big Issue Of The Year

It is starting to appear that one of the biggest debated issues this year will be whether or not the Legislature will approve a proposal to lessen the burden on Oklahoma's hardworking families by reducing the state income tax.

This year's state government will have millions of dollars of extra growth money to spend. While previous legislative commitments may obligate some of that money, it is important to realize that Oklahoma taxpayers have, in effect, been overcharged for government services.

Republican leadership in both the House and the Senate have made it clear that tax cuts are on the table for the upcoming session.

The majority of the debate surrounding tax relief will probably focus on returning some of the growth revenue to the people through incremental income tax reductions.

While I support this effort, it is important for the Legislature to consider massive reductions in the amount of money that the government spends, and to accompany this spending reform with significant tax relief.

I have always known there is waste in government. I have certainly seen my fair share of it as an elected official and I know about it because the people have informed me about various examples they have experienced firsthand. Common sense tells us that when any entity has a monopoly on a service, that entity will inherently tend to become wasteful and corrupt because the forces of free market competition and consumer choice are not allowed to weed out such practices.

This is why I have always felt comfortable in calling for reductions in massive spending and taxes. However, during recent days, experience has confirmed this belief more than ever.

I was asked by Speaker of the House Lance Cargill to participate in an ongoing study focusing on how wasteful spending could be reduced in state government. The resulting study documents that up to 70 million of your taxpayer dollars could be saved if just one agency were to become more efficient. Imagine how much money state government is wasting -- when just one of Oklahoma's 515 agencies, boards and commissions is costing us this much by failing to modernize their processes!

Involvement in this study has allowed me to see firsthand how an antiquated, overly bureaucratic process has been absolutely prohibitive in allowing government to function efficiently.

The massive size of government pits bureaucracy against bureaucracy in a power grab for your tax dollars. Without free market competition, there is little to entice bureaucrats to participate in becoming efficient, as they would likely see cost-reducing modernization measures as a threat to their ability to leverage money.

I am committed more than ever to seeking the best solution for shrinking the size of government and making it more efficient. That solution is to cut taxes.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Supporting the Second Amendment; Attracting Jobs

By Senator Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant

Hello again, everybody! As we work to keep Oklahoma’s economy growing, one of the best things we can do is use every resource we have to create new quality jobs in our state.

That was the idea behind my initiative to attract firearms manufacturers to Oklahoma. Initially, the opportunity was created because many states currently home to gun manufacturers are, to put it mildly, hostile to the notion of gun ownership much less manufacturing.

Oklahoma is a state with a rich sporting heritage in which responsible gun ownership is a part of our state identity. Rather than shun gun manufacturers, Oklahoma would welcome them with open arms.

The Oklahoma resource that is tailor-made for gun manufacturers is Murray State College’s outstanding gunsmith program, which graduates talented gunsmiths every year. Combine that with Oklahoma’s innovative and effective economic development incentives and you have the perfect home for firearms manufacturers.

The key to making all this happen was a policy change to put a focus on firearms manufacturers. That policy change happened four years ago when I wrote and passed Senate Joint Resolution 54.

The measure, which received national attention in the National Rifle Association’s magazine, required the Oklahoma Department of Commerce to partner with Murray State College to develop strategies to attract gun manufacturers to our state. Since then, many of us have been working to make connections in the firearms community.

Several promising contacts have been made, and these are extremely important. Relationships like those we have made are an important part of any company’s process for deciding where to expand or relocate.

We will continue our efforts to strengthen those contacts. A few years ago, I was part of Oklahoma’s delegation to The Shot Show, the annual trade show for firearms manufacturers.

During that whirlwind trip, Commerce Department officials had me booked solid. I met with as many firearms company executives as possible, making contacts I believe will some day bring hundreds of good-paying jobs to our state. This year, I will make another trip to the show with the same goal.

We want firearms manufacturers to know that for their products and the jobs they create, Oklahoma has out the “welcome mat.” To accentuate that point, I am again introducing legislation to protect gun manufacturers in Oklahoma from lawsuits filed by those who wish to destroy right of the people to keep and bear arms.

I believe it is no longer a matter of “if” a firearms manufacturer will come to Oklahoma; it is now a matter of “when” we will get one. A simple idea to use every resource we have could lead to a brighter economic future and new opportunities for Oklahomans. That is a good deal for everyone.

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

Monday, January 7, 2008

Upcoming Town Hall Meetings

Upcoming Town Hall Meetings

One of the more enjoyable tasks I have performed during the past few months has been to organize and host a series of town hall meetings across House District 31.

As a candidate for State Representative, I developed a position that if elected, I would institute a constituent contact program that excelled at representing citizens of House District 31.

An important part of this program has been to host town hall meetings. This has allowed me to make a great number of new contacts, and most importantly, has kept me in touch with citizens. I feel that one of the ways special interest lobbyists have been able to have such a strong voice at the state capitol has been because they can so much more access to the legislators. I do not feel it is healthy for legislators to have more contact with the lobbyists than the people in their districts. I believe the proper focus for a state representative should be in his or her district, with the people, as opposed to lobbyist-hosted events in Oklahoma City. These town hall meetings have allowed me to maintain that contact.

One of the other exciting aspects of town hall meetings is the opportunity to provide county and state updates to local residents and to receive feedback. It has been rewarding to see the interest people expressed in becoming involved. The past meetings were well attended, with over 100 present at each meeting.

Two of the key concerns expressed by the people have been the need for proper funding of county roads and comprehensive property tax reform. This has confirmed my belief about the passion of the people on these two issues. These concerns will remain at the forefront of my goals to address in the legislature.

If you have missed the town hall meetings or would like to attend one, I invite you to two upcoming forums. On January 15th, at 7:00 p.m., a meeting will be held at the Crescent Community Center. The meeting will focus on the upcoming legislative session and issues of relevance to Northern Logan County residents. State Senator Patrick Anderson will be in attendance.

On January 22nd, at 7:00 p.m., a town hall meeting will be held at Waterloo Road Baptist Church. The meeting will focus on tax reform issues. Attending will be Representative Randy Terrill, who as Chairman of the House Revenue and Tax Committee, is a leader in the fight for tax reform. I intend to explain my desire for eliminating state income tax and the need for comprehensive property tax reform. I also look forward to talking about efforts to modernize state government during the past legislative interim and how this important process could make the substantive tax reduction I am advocating for possible.

I look forward to these meetings and the opportunity to communicate with Logan and Oklahoma County residents on issues of concern to them.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

We Owe It To Ourselves and Our Posterity

By Senator Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant

Hello again, everybody! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season full of joy and wonder.

As 2008 begins, most of us in the Legislature are putting the final touches on bills and resolutions we intend to introduce for this year. Every year, thousands of bills are introduced and hundreds of bills will die when they are denied even a hearing by committee leaders.

It is an indiscriminate process, with dozens of good bills killed alongside some really bad ones. One of the bills I will introduce for 2008 is another try on one of those good bills caught up in last year’s frenzy to kill bills.

I introduced a measure that would have created Oklahoma’s first public umbilical cord blood bank. The bill would have allowed Oklahoma parents to collect and bank blood found in the umbilical cord following the birth of a baby. That blood, usually discarded, is rich in stem cells with the potential to cure many life-threatening illnesses.

While the bill won bipartisan support in the evenly divided Senate, House leaders shelved it, most likely because of partisan politics. That bill is gone, but this is an issue that will not go away.

Right now, the only option for Oklahomans wanting to preserve cord blood is to use private cord blood banks. These private entities are so expensive their services are out of reach for all but the wealthiest of families. That means potentially life-saving procedures are denied to most of us.

My proposal would have created a publicly funded cord blood bank in Oklahoma, allowing every family to donate their infant’s cord blood without regard to their personal wealth. Also, any Oklahoman needing compatible life-saving cord blood would have access to the bank.

Texas is already ahead of us in this effort. The Texas Legislature in 2005 approved a $3.5 million expenditure that began their cord blood bank. That public investment is being combined with private donations, and my bill is modeled after that.

We owe it to ourselves and our children to catch up. There are cases of children whose lives flickered before they received stem cell transplants made possible by cord blood donations. Many of those once-flickering souls now shine brightly in the form of healthy children.

We are not talking about a lot of money: $3.5 million, less than one dollar for every Oklahoma man, woman and child. It is a small price to pay, and we dare not let this chance to save and improve Oklahomans lives pass us by.

This is another of those issues to which I am committed for as long as I serve as your senator. If it does not pass this year, I will introduce a public cord blood bank bill every year until it is a reality or my time in the Senate is complete. We owe this to ourselves and our posterity.

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