Friday, November 28, 2008

Hello again, everybody! One of my favorite quotes from President Kennedy perfectly sums up some of our challenges as we work to create a brighter future for Oklahoma.

“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest – but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic,” he said. “Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

One myth that has held back rural Oklahoma is the misguided belief by some that our area cannot compete in a global economy. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We see time and again that rural Oklahoma can compete in a global economy, bringing prosperity and opportunities to our communities.

It takes two things to dispel that myth: confidence and capital. Confidence is simply a belief that nothing is beyond our reach. It is the foundation on which all our efforts should be based.

Capital is another critical component. Investments in infrastructure are critical for rural Oklahoma to compete and win in the global economy. Over the past several years, we in the Legislature have made historic investments in our transportation infrastructure.

As far as we have come in putting more money into our highways, we must continue that momentum. Still, we dare not limit these investments solely to highways. We have other transportation opportunities that thus far we have missed.

Last year, I proposed the Regional Business Airport Modernization Act to provide an infusion of $10 million for airport improvements in mid-size communities. These are not big passenger airports located in metro areas; rather, these airports are in primarily rural areas where business opportunities create air traffic.

These airports are critical gateways to mid-size communities. They are where CEOs land to look for business relocation or expansion sites. The airports are business centers for entrepreneurs who provide services to the aviation industry.

The proposed $10 million expenditure would be a critical investment that will repay the state in increased economic activity and improved transportation infrastructure. For anyone who doubts the potential for airport modernization, simply look at a recent announcement from northern Oklahoma.

A small airplane manufacturer has relocated its production and office operations from San Diego, Calif., to the Blackwell-Tonkawa Regional Airport. This one relocation will generate 40 jobs and millions of dollars of economic impact.

There are other opportunities out there, but our airports must be ready to attract them. That is why I have again introduced the Regional Business Airport Modernization Act.

From new terminals to extended runways, my proposal – contained in Senate Bill 13 – will strengthen our economy and create new opportunity, making the most of Oklahoma’s already outstanding reputation as an aviation leader.

Rural Oklahoma has the confidence. Now, the challenge for the Legislature is to pass SB 13 and provide the capital – for our communities and our future.

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

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Open Door Policy - Nov. 25, 2008

I want to start off by wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving! I hope everyone gets to spend the holiday with friends and family. I know we are going to have a pretty quiet Thursday since we lost dad, but it will get a little louder on Saturday as my family is very divided in support between OU and OSU. Thanksgiving will also be another day of mixed emotions as Monday would have been my father's 82nd birthday and he would have been proud to see our newest family addition born on that same day. My nephew Chris and his wife, Melissa, welcomed their first child to the world at about 2:30 in the afternoon and she is a 7 lb, 5 oz healthy baby girl.
I'm getting back into the swing of business at the Capitol as I will be working on the eight bills that I will carry this next session. We have the staff preparing the language on the legislation right now and I hope to write more about them in the coming weeks and would appreciate your input on the subjects. Most of the subjects were requests from folks in the district.
On Monday, I had the privilege of touring Oklahoma's newest addition to homeland security and one of the few instances where we see a proactive approach to handling situations. There has been a nationwide push to create centers to collect and relay information regarding potential terrorist activity and ours is called the Oklahoma Information Fusion Center (OIFC). This is a collaborative effort between local, state, tribal and federal law enforcement agencies, public safety agencies and the private industry all working together as a central hub of intelligence information.
This center requests that if you see any of the seven signs regarding terrorism or suspicious activities, please contact the local law enforcement, Crime Stoppers or the OIFC. The signs are:
1. Surveillance - recording or monitoring of activities;
2. Elicitation - gathering of information about infrastructure, people or military operations;
3. Tests of Security - attempts to measure reaction time or penetrate barriers;
4. Acquisition of Supplies - purchase or theft of dangerous equipment or uniforms;
5. Suspicious Persons Out of Place - people who do not belong in a secured area;
6. Dry Runs/Trial Runs - putting people in place without committing the act; and
7. Deployment of Assets - getting into position to commit an act of terrorism.
While we do not want persons to overreact in situations, we certainly also want suspicious activities reported to avoid any potential threats to our safety. This proactive approach allows for "connecting the dots" with information gathered through law enforcement, media, private industry and citizens to search for clues or indicators of potential terrorist activity.
OIFC is an "all crimes, all hazards" center that will attempt to evaluate data and discern if there is a threat to Oklahomans, even on activities in other parts of the world. OIFC is partly funded through a grant from the federal government where Intelligence Analysts from various areas located throughout the state develop relationships with private sector businesses to build partnerships for issue sharing and distribution of alerts in cases of potential threats. I can see a great deal of good coming from this center to protect us from harmful acts. Should you have further questions or wish to report some suspicious activity, you can contact the OIFC at (405) 842-8547 or at on the Internet.
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 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.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Moving Ahead with Property Tax Reform

I am happy to report some fantastic news about one of the most needed reforms. Last week the window of time opened when Representatives can file new legislation to be heard during the upcoming session. Those who wish to make a point and provide their legislation with one of the initial House bill numbers are using this as an opportunity to make a strong statement by quickly placing their bills on file.

One of the first bills to be filed was House Joint Resolution 1001. HJR 1001 will be a proposal by Oklahoma City State Representative David Dank. Dank has been one of the leading proponents of one of the most important issues to my constituents. The issue is that of property tax reform. Each year I receive a number of constituent calls protesting the punitive and unfair nature of the ever-increasing property tax assessments that seem to always go up by about 5% with each new issuance.

In 2007, I had to report that while the property tax reform bill had passed the House, it had been killed in the Senate. In 2008, the property tax reform bill was approved in the Senate, but died in the House.

Now, Dank is upping the ante. The proposals of previous years purported to cut the ability of the county assessors to increase property taxes from 5% to 3%. This year, HJR 1001 will attempt to lower the assessment cap to 2%.

With new leadership in place in the State Senate and more reform-minded Representatives in the State House, I believe this is the year that Dank's proposal will be successful. Because the reform will require a change in the State Constitution, it will not be sent to the Governor but will instead require the approval of a vote of the people. Dank has indicated that he will contribute a significant amount to fund the campaign to make sure the word gets out to the people prior to the election.

I suspect the measure will have very little trouble passing a test at the polls. During the last legislative session, I included this issue on my constituent survey and the idea had the support of an overwhelming margin of voters.

This year, I will once again look for the opportunity to propose a plan requested by Logan County Commissioner Mark Sharpton. The proposal was approved by the House of Representatives as an amendment to SB 1956 during last year's session, but was later removed in the conference committee process. Had it been successful, it would have indexed each homeowner's homestead exemption to the rate of inflation. Inflation and the rate of property tax assessments have gone up for years, but the homestead exemption has stayed the same. Sharpton's plan would provide additional property tax relief because it would allow the exemption to grow as well.

As your Representative, I have heard your calls for immediate property tax reform. I take that desire very seriously and am happy to support these proposals.

A Thanksgiving Story - Senator Gumm's "Senate Minute"

DURANT, Okla. – Hello again, everybody! Thursday is Thanksgiving, a day we set aside to express our gratitude to Almighty God for the blessings He has bestowed on our nation.

Thanksgiving is a time my thoughts turn to my late mother, Harlene Taylor Gumm. It was the most special of the holidays for her because she had a prayer answered over Thanksgiving Weekend 1963.

Just like Deena and me, my parents were told they could never have children. That changed Thanksgiving Weekend 1963, and this true story gave Deena and me hope during our struggle to become parents.

Bear in mind that this happened when medical science was not nearly as advanced as it is today. My parents had been married for three years, and mom taught home economics at Calera High School.

Doctors told my mother she could not bear children. Despite every effort known to medical science at the time, Mom was given the same prognosis Deena and I once heard: “You cannot have children.”

In early 1963, my mother started feeling ill. Countless trips to doctors followed and several series of tests were inflicted upon her. Specialists in Dallas and Oklahoma City were stumped.

Mom thought she might be expecting, but every test available at the time came back “negative.” Mom was put on a strict diet and she lost weight. Those of you who knew my mother know she was as tough as they came; it didn’t matter whether she felt bad, she would be at work. So, she kept working and kept feeling worse.

After Thanksgiving Day dinner at my grandparents’ house, Mom and Dad went home and Mom began to feel extremely bad. As she always did, she toughed it out overnight but went to the old Durant Hospital the next morning fearing the worst.

To the nurses and doctors, she was in serious distress; some feared she might be dying. Mom’s local doctor thought she might be trying to pass a kidney stone and ordered an x-ray of her abdomen.

That x-ray was the first picture ever taken of me. To his dying day, that doctor called me “Rocky” after the stone he thought I was.

Once everyone knew what was going on, I was born shortly thereafter. No one, except the Lord above, had any idea I was coming. Expected or not, a child was the answer to a prayer. Four decades later, that same prayer was answered for Deena and me. The story of my birth gave us hope, and we share that hope with every couple trying to become parents.

When I was old enough to understand the story of how I arrived, it made me think of this: We all have much to be thankful for, and there may be more blessings right around the corner. May you and your families find new blessings in this special season and throughout the year.

Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute,” happy Thanksgiving, and may God bless you all.

Thoughtful Approach to Oklahoma's Challenges

DURANT, Okla. – Hello again, everybody! Throughout the remainder of November and all of December, the pace will continue to quicken as we get ready for the 2009 session of the Oklahoma Legislature.

This week, newly elected members of the Senate and House will be sworn into office and the first bills will be filed for consideration when the Legislature convenes in February.

Clearly, this is a time in which there are great challenges ahead for our nation and our state. For Oklahoma, the top challenge will be to keep our economy as strong as possible in light of a likely national economic slowdown.

The worst thing we can do is employ what I call the “spaghetti against the wall” strategy, where we throw everything we have against the wall in hopes something will stick. I believe a thoughtful approach is more effective.

We in the Legislature owe it to the people of this state to carefully consider the policy initiatives and enact those that will truly strengthen Oklahoma’s economy. While we should carefully consider proposals, we must be bold in our efforts to strengthen our state.

That is the process that has served our state well. It is how we pulled ourselves out of the economic downturn that gripped Oklahoma in 2002 and 2003. It worked then, and it will work in this current difficult time.

In fact, many of the policies we have enacted over the past several years helped Oklahoma’s economy to remain stronger than the national economy. From revamping our tax structure to encouraging natural gas exploration and production, the result has been a stronger economy and greater opportunity for all Oklahomans.

Nothing at the Capitol can be accomplished without bipartisan support. The question everyone has about the 2009 session is this: Will the session be about advancing the interests of political parties or will it be about advancing the interests of Oklahomans?

There are fierce partisans on both sides of the political aisle, and they have their place. However, neither political party is always right on every issue. Because of that, there are those of us – Republicans and Democrats alike – who always have been willing to reach across the aisle to move our state forward.

At the end of the day, there is more that unites us than there is to divide us. We will have fierce discussions and we will struggle with contentious issues. Still, Oklahoma families struggling to make ends meet are more interested in results than they are in which political party scores the most points in some debate.

We must strengthen Oklahoma, ensuring every family has a chance to enjoy the blessings of liberty. That principle always will guide me as I stand for the values we share and the future of which we dream.

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

Thursday, November 20, 2008

"Nick's Law" to be "Senate Bill 1" for 2009 Session

OKLAHOMA CITY – The first Senate bill filed for the upcoming legislative session is “Nick’s Law.” Senator Jay Paul Gumm is the principal author of Senate Bill 1, which would require insurance companies to cover diagnosis and treatment of autism in children.

Gumm, a Democrat from Durant, first filed the bill in 2008. The measure won bipartisan support in the Senate, but it was stopped by a small group of Republican leaders in the House of Representatives. Gumm said then he would renew his fight for the bill, which he says is critical for children all over Oklahoma.

“Children with autism who do not receive therapy can be virtually cut off from the world for the rest of their lives,” he said. “The real tragedy is we know for a fact therapy can save them from that fate – unfortunately, thousands of Oklahoma children are denied treatment by insurance companies. This is a health issue and it is a moral issue.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, one out of every 150 American children will be diagnosed with autism, a bio-neurological condition that appears in early childhood and impacts the ability to communicate and interact with others. While medical science has yet to determine the exact cause or cure, treatment has been proven to significantly improve outcomes.

Republicans and Democrats across the country have joined hands to enact autism insurance legislation like “Nick’s Law.” In July, Louisiana’s Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal – one of the GOP’s “rising stars” – signed autism legislation that was sponsored by a Republican state representative from Baton Rouge.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, another high-profile Republican governor, signed that state’s autism bill in June – a bill passed by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature.

Also, in Pennsylvania, Republican House Speaker Dennis O’Brien championed a measure – which passed the House unanimously and a Republican-controlled state Senate 49-1 – that will allow parents of autistic children to pay for behavioral therapy and related services with private health insurance.

“In state-after-state, bills requiring insurance to cover autism diagnosis and treatment are crossing the partisan divide,” Gumm said. “Several Republicans state representatives are already on record saying they will support the bill. Now, it is time for their leadership to join GOP lawmakers and governors across the nation and do the right thing for these families.”

Gumm’s legislation is named for 11-year-old Nick Rohde of Edmond, who suffers from autism. His father, Wayne Rohde, and other parents of autistic children spent, countless hours at the Capitol last year winning support for the bill. Earlier this fall, “Nick’s Law” was named the top 2009 legislative priority for the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy.

“House Republican leaders have an amazing opportunity to become heroes by passing this bill, and no one will sing their praises louder than I will,” Gumm said. “All they have to do is live up to their ‘family values’ rhetoric and put the lives of these children ahead of insurance company profits.

“For just about every other Oklahoman, this is an easy choice.”

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Giving Special Interests The Power To Take Your Property

In the past, I have written about the possibility of the expansion of the Trans-Texas Corridor into Oklahoma and described why it is important that we not allow foreign-owned companies to control Oklahoma roads.

I have always felt that as the size of government gets bigger and more expansive, opportunities open up for those who have the ability to manipulate the government to use that power to empower their own special interest(s). Nowhere is this marriage of big business and big government more frightening than when a business is able to acquire power normally reserved to the government, such as the right of eminent domain. I believe an important part of our job as lawmakers is to prevent these types of abuses from occurring.

The example of the foreign-owned Texas toll road is one example of this type of abuse. However, this is not the only example of Texas allowing privately owned interests to operate much like the government in order to make a profit.

Over the past few years, a wealthy Texas businessman decided to incur the risk of investing in a product that he believes will be in great demand in the future. That product is water. The businessman formed a corporation known as Mesa Water and acquired water rights in a large aquifer in the Texas panhandle and tried to market this water to the nearby city of Amarillo.

However, Amarillo chose not to buy the water and Mesa apparently had a hard time finding a market for the water in the area close to where they owned the water rights. Not wanting to lose the investment, Mesa had to find a way to transport the millions of gallons of water from the Texas panhandle to the water-hungry Dallas metroplex. How would a privately-owned company acquire the power to deliver this much water over hundreds of miles?

Mesa hired one of Texas' most powerful lobbyists and went to work on Texas lawmakers. An amendment was sneaked through the Texas Legislature that allowed a water-supply district to transport water in a single corridor, or right-of-way. And then a second bill was passed which loosened the requirements for creating a water district, a governmental entity much like Oklahoma's rural water districts, with the power of eminent domain.

The bill loosened the requirements so much that it allowed just two people (both of whom were employees of the Texas businessman who started Mesa) to hold an election to form a new water district with governmental powers. With that two-person vote, Mesa was able to use the newly formed water district to afford them not just the ability to issue tax-free bonds for the construction of a massive pipeline, but the right and power of eminent domain to take control of the land along the 250 miles needed to build the pipeline.

This is one example of how a powerful special interest manipulated the legislative process to allow them to co-opt and use the power of the government to their advantage.

As your State Representative, I am dedicated to preventing similar abuses from occurring in Oklahoma.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Open Door Policy - Nov. 12, 2008

I hope everyone had an enjoyable Veterans Day. I had the chance to attend two ceremonies that were very moving. The first was on Monday at Elgin with their high school program put on by Mrs. Kellie Thomas. This event honored those who are veterans and also those in active duty. Two young men were honored for their enlistment from the school and they were present in uniform. Jonathan Ricks and Nick Scouten are both to be commended and I appreciate them very much for their upcoming service to our country. General Dave Ralston, the former commander from Fort Sill addressed the crowd and gave a very moving speech. We are fortunate to have him still living in our area following his retirement from the Army.
I also had the opportunity to attend the Veterans Day ceremony at Fort Sill, which is in my legislative district. The ceremony was held in the cemetery on post and you could not help but look around at the stones that marked those men and women who dedicated their lives in service to our country. Thank you to all those veterans out there who have helped secure our freedom!
My interim study last week provided a great deal of information regarding our elections process in Oklahoma. There were very few problems at the polls and the provisional ballots are currently being reviewed for authenticity and will be included in the totals, even though none can possibly change outcomes on the elections. Thank you to those of you that voted and helped make this election turnout just short of a state record.
On Wednesday, the Oklahoma Hall of Fame selections were presented and Bill Burgess, a Lawton resident who also serves as chairman of the Oklahoma Board of Regents, was honored for his work for Oklahoma. Donna Nigh, our former First Lady for Oklahoma, also was recognized, along with Ron Norick, former Oklahoma City Mayor and Chief Judge Robert Henry of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals and a former state attorney general and state representative. Congratulations and thanks are to be extended to each for their service to our state.
Next Tuesday will be the swearing in ceremony for the legislators at the State Capitol. I will begin my fourth term as your state representative, so thank you again for allowing me this opportunity to serve you.
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 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.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Preparing For The Expansion Of Government

Last Friday, I attended a meeting of House Republicans in order to elect new officers for the next session of the legislature.

There were more representatives in the room than ever before as the people voted to elect sixty-one Republicans up from fifty-seven and chose not to remove a single GOP incumbent.

The group unanimously re-elected Tulsa Representative Chris Benge as speaker. I believe Benge had earned the confidence of the Representatives with his friendly down to earth demeanor that makes it easy for them to express their opinions and engage in honest dialog about the issues they feel strongly about.

I also believe that Benge and many in the legislature are committed to using the stronger than ever conservative leadership in Oklahoma's legislature to do what we can in order to keep the obvious upcoming expansion of the federal government in as much check as possible.

You are probably aware of the recent massive expansion of the federal government which will now be firmly in control of liberal politicians who will no doubt use that power to aggressively advance an agenda that is in direct opposition to the values of many Oklahomans.

It is important to note that in creating the Constitution our nation's founding fathers designed the federal government to be small and limited in comparison to state governments. They knew that the people have a much stronger voice at the local level whereas the ability of the people to affect change is greatly limited at the federal level of government.

However, over time under both Republican and Democrat administrations both parties have used the federal government as a tool to accomplish their various agendas.

As a result the federal government has become very powerful. Now, a group of aggressive liberals can use that power not only to move America to the left but to build upon itself and increase in size, making the federal government more expansive and powerful than ever before.

As a result a bigger federal government will likely be the most responsive to those only with enough money and influence to use that power to benefit themselves. This will leave the responsibility for paying for the big government to the average taxpayer who cannot afford to invest in the high-powered lobbyists' and politician's campaigns in order to manipulate the system for their benefit.

This means that in the upcoming years we can expect the federal government to reflect both the desires of the powerful special interests and the liberal politicians who seek to forever change our nation.

During the last session of the Oklahoma Legislature the House of Representatives voted to support House Joint Resolution 1089 by a 92-3 margin. HJR 1089 sought to reassert Oklahoma's sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and, according to the resolution's language, is "serving notice to the federal government to cease and desist certain mandates."

The Tenth Amendment states, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."

The author of the legislation stated, "The more we stand by and watch the federal government get involved in areas where it has no legal authority, we kill the Constitution a little at a time. The last few decades, the Constitution has been hanging by a thread."

While this resolution passed with the strong bi-partisan support of the Oklahoma House it appears to have failed to receive a hearing in the Oklahoma Senate. This year, with a new more conservative leadership in the Oklahoma Senate I am hopeful that legislation such as HJR 1089 will receive a fair hearing.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Allowing Our Public Safety Departments To Talk To Each Other

Attending a recent forum at the Woodcrest fire department reminded me that one of the experiences I have most enjoyed as State Representative during the past two years has been the role of Vice-Chairman and ranking Republican on the House of Representative’s Homeland Security Committee.

When designing the new house committee system, house leadership structured the system so that members of the committees could really focus on specialized areas of committee work. They did this by giving the committees both appropriation and policy oversight in their respective areas. It has been exciting to serve as Vice-Chairman of a committee where I could specialize in an area in which there is a core purpose for government involvement.

In this role, a little over a year ago I joined Oklahoma State Fire Marshal Robert Doke and a delegation of state government and firefighting officials in visiting the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). There we met with FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison. Administrator Paulson was complimentary of the manner in which Oklahoma officials have handled past emergencies and is supportive of the efforts made in developing additional emergency readiness.

One of the reasons for meeting with Paulison related to developing a truly interoperable statewide emergency communications system to allow officials in different agencies to communicate with one another. This issue has without doubt been the most comprehensive and the most controversial issue that our committee has considered in my term as Vice-Chair.

The development of this system took on added importance after the 2006 Oklahoma wildfires. During this emergency, responders had enormous difficulty communicating and organizing an effective response because there is no statewide system through which responders from one county or region can communicate with another. Law enforcement would also greatly benefit from a system that would allow the highway patrol to communicate with local officers when responding to incidents.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has provided nearly $30 million to Oklahoma in federal funds to set up the framework for a statewide 800mhz system along the Interstate 44 corridor which would cover the state’s most populous areas. However, the state would need $130 million more in order to cover the entire state. While millions have been spent on the current system, it appears as if the control of that system is limited to the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety. This risks the defeat the obvious purpose of a statewide system, which should be to allow all police and fire entities to talk to each other. It is difficult to justify why so many millions of dollars have been spent on a project that does not directly accomplish the main purpose for which it should be intended.

I believe that new options should be considered for a more cost-effective, internet-based communications system similar to OneNet, the system the State Regents for Higher Education use to provide high-speed communications to Oklahoma entities such as public schools, colleges, universities and local, tribal, state and federal governments. OneNet utilizes fiber optics and wireless technologies to transmit video, voice and data throughout Oklahoma.

This type of system would allow rural Logan County volunteer fire departments such as Woodcrest who can not afford the expensive 800mhz systems to communicate with each other and others with much less expensive off the shelf products thus saving local departments a lot of much needed funding.

I was pleased to co-sponsored a bill authored by Representative Charles Key that would have begun the process of developing this a more modern streamlined system that takes advantage of new technologies. While the Key bill is was unsuccessful, it is clear that more state officials are beginning to get on board with the plan to develop a less expensive, but truly interoperable system. This important reform can’t happen soon enough, as I believe millions of taxpayer dollars would be saved.

As your State Representative I remain committed to working for the enactment of these types of common sense reforms.