Wednesday, May 28, 2008
A “puff-piece” profile of the lawmaker leading the fight against “Nick’s Law,” the autism insurance bill, reveals his true intentions, according to Senator Jay Paul Gumm.
The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) distributed a profile of Rep. Ron Peterson, R-Broken Arrow. The profile lauds the lawmaker’s “courage” for blocking even consideration of Nick’s Law when it arrived in the House of Representatives, noting Peterson’s defense of “free enterprise.”
“There is nothing courageous about turning your back on children who have no voice,” said Gumm, who wrote Nick’s Law. “Praising Rep. Peterson’s stand against Nick’s Law for its ‘free enterprise’ implications is the moral equivalent of praising an abortionist who destroys life just to make a buck. This is a lame defense of an unconscionable stand.”
Despite differences between the lawmakers, Gumm said he “believed in his heart Rep. Peterson was sincere” in saying he might consider the measure upon completion of an “independent” actuarial study.
“The puff-piece – inadvertently, I would suspect – pulls the curtain back and lets us see the ‘wizard’ for what his intentions truly are,” Gumm said. “Clearly, Rep. Peterson and those in the insurance industry to whom he is beholden will never allow Nick’s Law to be heard. The profile is a puff-piece that hits families with autistic children like a sledgehammer.”
A paragraph in the profile quotes Peterson as he belittles treatment of autistic children and implies these children are hopeless, Gumm related. “He apparently thinks autistic children are throwaway, a lost cause,” he said.
Peterson said in the profile that the treatment that would be covered by Nick’s Law is clinically unproven.
“The medical profession has stated there’s no reason to believe behavioral therapy is any more effective than anything else,” Peterson said. “The results are described as marginal in any case, and these individuals will be wards of the state in any case. So you’d have the cost without any benefit, as best we can see.”
Gumm said he was shocked at the impudence of the statement. “With one paragraph, Rep. Peterson tells every parent of every autistic child that their child is not worth saving, not worth even trying to save,” he said. “I cannot imagine anyone taking so cavalier attitude toward life; it truly is fear-provoking.”
Trying to save children from an adult life as wards of the state and giving their families some hope are the key purposes behind Nick’s Law, Gumm related. “Aside from the distastefulness of an elected official apparently considering the most vulnerable among us as throwaway, let’s look at the financial end of it,” he said.
“These ‘wards of the state’ will cost untold millions in taxpayer dollars. Instead of expecting health insurance to do what families pay premiums for and help these children, Rep. Peterson is content to pass the eventual bill to taxpayers. In the meantime, his so-called ‘courage’ is keeping children locked behind the walls of autism. He is wrong on both counts.”
Oklahomans will have to assert the political power they have, guaranteed in the state Constitution, to end insurance discrimination against autistic children. To that end, parents pressing for autism insurance coverage have vowed to continue the fight – over the next eight months and back at the Capitol during the 2009 legislative session.
Gumm said the parents are the ones showing real courage. “If OCPA, or anyone else for that matter, wants to see real courage, simply look into the eyes of these parents,” he said.
“Real courage is speaking truth to powerful interests; real courage is never giving up on your children. These families have shown unwavering strength in the face of antipathy and outright hostility. There cause is righteous, and it is my honor to stand alongside them, come what may.”
Monday, May 26, 2008
Because of these circumstances, there was opportunity for significant changes in the law to pass through without proper consideration. I enjoy the huge challenge of carefully but quickly plowing through hundreds of pages of legalise in an effort to discover these last minute changes, some of which may need to be opposed (more on that next week).
This time, however, I was happy to discover and support a very appropriate and positive change to this year's ethics reform bill. House Bill 2196, which I wrote about earlier this year, purported to place a ban on any political contributions during the legislative session. The logic followed 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 an incumbent. It would have created an incumbent protection scheme so strong that it would have made it almost impossible for an incumbent to be defeated in the primary election process.
Many of Oklahoma's legislative districts 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 placed a blackout on the ability of a challenger to raise money from January through June (the legislative session), a challenger who decided to run for office after the blackout began would not be able to raise money until just days prior to the primary election.
This concern was expressed by several legislators. The author of the bill listened to these concerns and proposed a fantastic change to the bill. The latest version of his bill would simply prohibit lobbyists and groups that employ them from being able to give during the legislative session. The law would help restore the balance of power in favor of the people.
I have no doubt that legislative incumbents will adapt to the new law by raising even more money than before from lobbyists who will want to hedge their bets that a law that impacts their interests will be heard in each upcoming session. However, it will be much more difficult for a lobbyist to influence the process by giving well-timed political contributions. The bill was also approved in the Senate and is off to the Governor for his signature.
Coupled with the fact that the legislature failed to take action to reverse a recent decision by the ethics commission to cut lobbyist gift-giving by one-third, I am pleased to state that the people of Oklahoma will have a stronger voice during next year's legislative session, compared to that of powerful special interests.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Monday (May 19), two newspapers – both in predominantly Republican communities – published editorials in support of “Nick’s Law,” a measure by Senator Jay Paul Gumm that would require health insurance policies cover diagnosis and treatment for autistic children.
The Edmond Sun and The Enid News & Eagle both published editorials supportive of the proposal. The plan passed the Oklahoma Senate on four separate occasions only to be buried in the House of Representatives each time.
“Republicans, Democrats and independent voters across the state overwhelmingly support “Nick’s Law’,” said Gumm, D-Durant. “Supportive editorials in newspapers serving ‘rock-ribbed Republican’ communities further illustrate how amazingly out of step those are who will not even allow a vote on the bill.”
The Enid newspaper acknowledged the effort by families with autistic children, relating the families “have not been deterred in trying to make lawmakers see the light.” Further, the newspaper wrote it believes “this situation deserves more consideration and that families of autistic children need consideration by insurance companies.”
In the Edmond paper, which serves the hometown of 10-year-old Nicholas Rohde, the Nick of “Nick’s Law,” editorial writers noted, “Bearing the cost of autism alone is hurting these Oklahoma families.”
In addition, the newspaper wrote about the Rubicon School in Edmond, which serves autistic children. The editorial described some of the financial threats to the school and services on which parents and children depend.
Finally, the Edmond paper wrote, “Clearly as the number of families battling autism rises, more aid will be needed. Ensuring insurance coverage for medical treatment of this epidemic is a clear first step in providing the help necessary for a brighter future for these children and their families.”
These newspapers join The Tulsa World, which weeks ago expressed its editorial support.
“We are seeing more support for ‘Nick’s Law’ across the political spectrum,” he said. “Speaker Benge has a chance to become a hero, and I pray he takes that opportunity rather than continuing down a shadowy path that is completely out of step with Oklahoma’s values.”
Acknowledging it would take a miracle to make “Nick’s Law” a reality before the Legislature adjourns Friday, Gumm said none of the families and their advocates would ever give up until the measure becomes law.
“It might take a miracle,” he said. “But anyone who has seen these parents and the love they have for their children know that miracles can happen. I have seen how much they care for their children; they are the most inspiring of parents.
“The work they do for their children, the passion with which they have fought for their children at the Capitol, remind me of words spoken by President Kennedy in his inaugural address when he said, ‘Here on earth, God’s work must surely be our own.’ The families have put those words into action better than just about anyone I ever have had the privilege to see.”
Monday, May 19, 2008
Does it seem like you are getting less miles per gallon than you used to? You may have seen recent media reports concerning fuel efficiency. Car owners who had been tracking their vehicles' fuel economy raised questions when they noticed a significant drop in their gas mileage. The cause of this drop was tracked back to the number of gas stations that are blending ethanol with traditional gasoline products. One media outlet reported that as many as 75% of gas stations were using ethanol blended gas. Research has shown that ethanol does not burn as efficiently as gasoline and can actually damage older model cars.
I have been contacted on this issue by local constituents. People feel that it is unfair to have to guess at which gas stations are using these products. Even though this year's legislative session had already started and no new legislation could be introduced to solve the problem, Representative Phil Richardson authored and modified a bill that required fuel retailers to clearly label any fuel blend containing 1 to 10 percent ethanol. Senate Bill 1451 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives with a 99-2 vote and received final approval in the state Senate with a 44-2 vote, after which Governor Brad Henry signed it into law.
Recently there have been a number of news reports regarding concerns with the federal government's policies of subsidizing the production of corn to be used for ethanol. Attention has been given to the federal government's role in ethanol production due to rising food costs and possible shortages. A recent report from the World Bank states that almost all of the increase in global maize production from 2004 to 2007 (the period when grain prices rose sharply) went for bio fuels production in the United States.
You might also be surprised to know that as an Oklahoma taxpayer, your state tax dollars are being used to fund the ethanol industry.
One reason that retailers may want to sell ethanol blended products is due to the fact that state government incentivizes the distribution of the fuel by allowing a 1.6¢ tax credit for each gallon of ethyl alcohol which is contained in ethanol sold by retail dealers. In other words, the taxpayers are put at risk of paying for this product to be distributed.
Not only do Oklahoma taxpayers foot the bill when ethanol blend gas is sold at the pump; they also pay tax credits to the producers of ethanol.
I feel that when government gets involved in trying to sway the market, too often there are unintended consequences. In this case, government involvement has resulted in increasing food costs and decreasing fuel efficiency. I think state and federal governments have made a mistake in using our tax dollars to tinker with the free market and I believe that eventually the free market will provide true solutions to our energy crises if the government would step back and allow the market to work unhindered.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Peterson’s latest release comes as more criticism is heaped on the House for denying a vote on “Nick’s Law,” even from conservative quarters. Ron Black is a conservative media personality who, on his blog, lamented the fact that House leaders were unwilling to “cover the least among us.
Gumm said it is obvious support for “Nick’s Law” crosses party lines and political philosophies – the only roadblock is an intransigent House leadership.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
A measure I helped defeat last week is a perfect example of bumper sticker politics at its worst. The issue was euphemistically called “Voter ID.” The perception of a “Voter ID” bill is positive; it simply requires anyone to show identification before voting. That sounds reasonable.
Few issues are simple enough to fit on a bumper sticker, and we have to dig deeply into these bills to see what they really would do. As your senator, I owe each of you nothing less.
Monday, May 12, 2008
I have been pleased to support and advocate for these bills which all passed the House earlier this year. Unfortunately, the Senate took action to effectively kill or render these bills ineffective.
Senate Bill 1150 provided for a list of identification options that could be issued prior to voting, including the state-issued voter ID card, a copy of a utility bill or a driver’s license. It also included language that would have allowed Oklahomans to vote without identification if they signed an affidavit attesting to their identity. The constitutionality of the bill was reinforced by a very recent Supreme Court decision which ruled in favor of an Indiana voter ID law that requires photo identification at the polls, citing the need to reduce voter fraud.
While the Senate's decision to kill the bill is discouraging, I believe that a stronger voter ID law can be passed in the future. Hopefully the next law will require photo ID, as voter identification cards are easily forged and there is little to stop people from voting under different names, especially during low turnout elections.
Senate Bill 1987 would have allowed the people to vote on expanding Oklahoma’s term limits to include statewide elected officials. I have been a strong supporter of this bill. I believe that as a result of the legislative term limits law, the Legislature is very different from just a few years ago. Gone are many of the old guard power bosses who tightly maintained the status quo. These politicians could have stayed in office almost indefinitely but they have been replaced by a group of energetic professionals, many of whom wish to enact pro-growth policies to change Oklahoma for the better. I think this important reform should be applied to all state-elected offices.
Without a doubt, the most egregious action taken by the Senate was the demolition of the effectiveness of the official English bill. This bill proposed to let voters decide on putting language in the Oklahoma Constitution to prevent the taxpayers from having to pay for services such as driver’s license tests in other languages.
The death of these bills will drastically reduce the chance for this legislative session to be seen as productive. However, I cannot help but think that most Oklahoma voters will share the same overwhelming sentiment of support for these bills that my constituents do. Since this is an election year, the voters will have a chance to let their voices be heard and hopefully next year's Legislature will be more reform minded.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
In order to fund some of those programs, such as conservation projects and the rural fire truck account, there has been talk about a bond issue. This is a bill that could easily develop into a larger-than-anticipated idea if too many pet projects are inserted. I expect there will be some programs, such as higher education and transportation, which will request several million dollars in this bill. It will be interesting to see what negotiations go on between the House, Senate and the Governor before a final agreement is reached. I will do my best to keep this fiscally responsible for the future payments that will be required.
There was some discussion last week about unintended consequences regarding a Senate bill which I authored in the House. An amendment was inserted to allow the Norman/Purcell area to qualify for a foreign trade zone to improve opportunities for trade, but there was worry this would open opportunities for a "super corridor" for transporting goods. We recalled the bill to fix any potential problems after some attorneys discovered this possibility. The Senate author and I both agreed we would allow no chance to harm any landowners with language with this bill.
I will be a guest on OETA's show, "The People's Business" on Wednesday night if you have the chance to watch. This will begin at 7 p.m. and is a live call-in show. If you get the chance, please watch myself and Rep. Ron Peter's discuss the budget and other bills.
I have to finish up this week with a reminder to visit Crawds 'n Rods in Elgin on Saturday afternoon. Proceeds from this event go to assist their local fire department. I also want to thank Lance Hill for doing a great job as an office aide for me at the Capitol this week. Finally, congratulations go out to the Fort Cobb-Broxton baseball team for winning state and to Sterling's baseball and softball teams for making the state tournament!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
OKLAHOMA CITY – Senator Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant, has sent House Speaker Chris Benge a letter asking for a proposal from the Speaker to help families struggling to provide services to children with autism.
Gumm is the primary author of “Nick’s Law,” a measure that would require health insurance policies to cover autism diagnosis and treatment. Last week, Speaker Benge announced he would not allow the bill to be considered by the House of Representatives.
May 6, 2008
The Honorable Chris Benge
Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives
State Capitol, Room 401
Oklahoma City, OK 73105
I was deeply disappointed to learn of the decision by you and your leadership team to deny even a hearing to “Nick’s Law,” the proposal to require health insurance coverage of autism diagnosis and treatment. Despite passing the Senate on bipartisan votes on four different occasions, the consistent answer from the House of Representatives has been “No.”
From the beginning of this struggle, those of us who support “Nick’s Law” have never believed our solution was the only answer. We have been – and continue to be – open to other potential solutions. You have given your answer to “Nick’s Law”; and it is “No.” My question, Mr. Speaker, is: What is your solution? We have placed ours on the table time and again only to be denied even a chance to present it in what is supposed to be “The People’s House.”
As the session has worn on, the number of autistic children continues to grow in Oklahoma. Families continue to be torn asunder by the pressures of providing needed treatment for their children. More autistic children grow into adulthood and lives as wards of the state, increasing pressure on future state budgets. Still, the consistent answer from you and your leadership has been “No.” We talk a lot about “family values” at the Capitol; should not we reason together to find solutions that value families?
You and I share a commitment to protecting lives of the unborn. The rate of autism diagnosis is roughly equivalent to the rate of abortions in Oklahoma. One out of 150 Oklahoma children will be diagnosed with autism. Should not we continue to value those lives once they emerge from the womb? I do not believe a commitment to life should end once a child is born.
Other states, deeply “red” Republican states like Texas and Florida, have enacted autism insurance legislation. This should not be a partisan issue; autism strikes Republican, Independent and Democratic families.
We owe to these families, voters in every district in this state, to find some solution. Again, Mr. Speaker, we have made our proposal; what is yours?
There is still time for us to act if you move with dispatch. Lest you think it too difficult for us to accomplish in two-and-a-half weeks, consider the challenges faced by the parents of autistic children on a daily basis. If they can meet those challenges, surely you and I can find some piece of common ground to help them.
I stand ready to consider any alternative proposal you might suggest, and I believe we have a responsibility to act this session. Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to your response.
Jay Paul Gumm
Senator, District 6
cc: Oklahoma Autism Coalition
Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy
State Capitol Press Corps
Monday, May 5, 2008
I have always been an outspoken opponent of new debt spending. One of my favorite quotes is from President Calvin Coolidge, who said, "Nothing is easier than spending the public money. It does not appear to belong to anybody."
This is aptly illustrated when it comes time for lawmakers to spend the money of our children and grandchildren. It is irresponsible for politicians to saddle citizens with millions of dollars of debt and 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. Government will be forced to keep taxes high to pay off the debt, plus the interest that goes along with it.
It is also important to remember that the Oklahoma Constitution prohibits state government from going into debt without a vote of the people. However, years of creative interpretation by the judiciary has made it possible for those who advocate public debt to open up a Pandora’s Box of spending. This allows politicians to load up debt proposals with legislative pork that they will get immediate credit for, while the bill for their spending will continue to come due years into the future.
If a proposal to create more debt is indeed placed before the Legislature, this will be the second year in a row that state leaders have attempted to incur new debt. One year ago, the governor asked the Legislature to expand the size of government by proposing to commit the taxpayers to more than $666 million of new bond debt. Fortunately, most of this plan was not implemented.
One of the leaders in the fight against debt has been state Senator Patrick Anderson. Anderson wrote to the members of the Legislature this week, encouraging them to avoid new debt.
It was an honor to be asked by Senator Anderson to be the House author of Senate Bill 1398, a bill he sponsored in the Senate. Anderson became concerned after learning that the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education had issued more than $250 million of long-term debt over the past few years. The debt was issued without legislative oversight or a vote of the people. No doubt the repayment of this debt will be reflected in the high cost of tuition. Anderson worked with officials from Higher Education, the Attorney General's office and the State Bond Council to draft a proposal that would set a cap on the ability of Higher Ed to issue personal property debt. The proposal would also require Higher Ed to allow legislative oversight of other real property bonded indebtedness. That proposal was placed into Senate Bill 1398.
Anderson won approval of the Oklahoma State Senate for Senate Bill 1398, and I was able to achieve approval of the House of Representatives for the bill, which is currently in conference committee.
As your Representative, I remain committed to the avoidance of new debt and to the placement of limits on the ongoing practice of inappropriate debt issuance.