Friday, February 27, 2009

Senator Gumm's "Senate Minute" - Feb. 27-March 5, 2009

Hello again, everyone! This was the first of three weeks for the full Senate to consider bills approved by Senate committees.
That meant long days considering about 30 bills every day. To go through that many bills requires a great deal of homework, reading each of the measures to determine whether the proposals are in Oklahoma’s best interest.
A bill getting fast track approval in the Senate was my proposal to create a Children’s Cabinet. With this bill, we hope to streamline programs, leading to better services for Oklahoma’s children. With no additional cost to the state, we would get more for every dollar we invest in children.
It passed without opposition in the Senate and is now off to the House of Representatives where it faces an uncertain future. A similar bill was killed by House leaders, who continue to exhibit a disturbing trend of putting partisan politics ahead of doing right by our children. Perhaps with this bill their record might finally reflect their rhetoric; we will see.
Another issue that was considered by the full Senate this week, and will be again, was a measure adjusting eligibility for Oklahoma’s Higher Learning Access Program, also called “Oklahoma’s Promise.” This is an extraordinarily successful program that opens the doors to a college education for students who otherwise might not afford it.
The program provides a tuition scholarship to Oklahoma students from families with annual incomes less than $50,000. To qualify, students must sign up in the eighth, ninth or tenth grades, agree to take tough courses, make good grades, stay out of trouble and attend an Oklahoma college or university.
A big debate is brewing on whether to adjust the income level. One proposal, passed this week, would make the $50,000 income level based on a three-year average, which I support. Another we will consider in the next couple of weeks would move that number down to $40,000, but base it on adjusted gross income.
The sponsor of the proposal says that would keep about the same number of Oklahoma families eligible for Oklahoma’s promise. He believes our goal should be to make Oklahoma’s Promise available only to about half of Oklahoma families.
Lowering the income limit is far too timid an effort for a great state like ours. I do not support dropping the income limit, even if it is based on adjusted gross income.
A task force assigned to look at Oklahoma’s Promise proposed keeping the income limit at $50,000, but basing it on adjusted gross income – making college more available for more families. I will try to amend the bill to reflect the proposal of the task force.
To me, we must be bold in our efforts to get more Oklahomans a college degree. More college graduates means greater prosperity, and I will do what I can to open the doors of college to more Oklahomans.
Thanks again for reading this week’s “Senate Minute.” Have a great week, and may God bless you all.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Open Door Policy - Feb. 24, 2009

It has been a very busy week at the Capitol. We have had several controversial pieces of legislation come to the floor of the House of Representatives. One in particular I want to point out is House Bill 1602. The House debated this legislation which would place a cap on attorney fees collected by reducing the amount from 50% to 33% that can be collected.
While this sounds like a great opportunity for the plaintiffs to receive money that they deserve in a lawsuit, the problem arises when one side has a restriction on what they can claim in costs against the other side (the insurance companies) that are not limited in an amount for defense. This bill allows insurance companies to drag out cases; force up costs on hours billed and, if the judge does their job and limits the amount of the settlement, prevents the plaintiff from receiving the best representation due to the possibility of spending more than can be collected because of the cap.
In essence, people will not be able to find attorneys that will spend the money up front on costly cases with expert paid witnesses when they know the case will not bring back a profit, while the insurance companies will be able to drag out cases. This happened with my father in a truck wreck many years ago when the insurance company threatened to drag out his lawsuit for several years and forced him to settle his case since his attorney would cost more over that time. This did not allow for proper medical coverage later in his life as part of the settlement. I feel this restricts a fair judicial hearing and I could not support it.
I had the chance to visit with three young ladies from District 65 at the Oklahoma School of Science and Math on Tuesday. Juliet, Nadine and Kasandra discussed educational issues they face and provided me a better insight on their school.
I also had a nice surprise on Monday as I received an award at the annual Oklahoma Conservation Districts banquet. I have served for seven sessions now and this was my first recognition from organizations that work for causes at the Capitol. The inaugural "Big Hugh" award, was given by the Oklahoma Conservation Commission to four legislators this year. This is named after Hugh Hammond Bennett, recognized as the "Father of Soil Conservation" by his peers. I received this for being a champion of conservation issues in Oklahoma for bills I have authored and debate I have given on issues important to preserving water and soil for our future Oklahomans. I felt greatly honored to be recognized by them.
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.

Trent Drennan, Ralph Morgan, Sen. Ron Justice, Rep. Joe Dorman and Dee Surber at the Oklahoma Conservation Districts banquet. Justice and Dorman were two of four recipients of the "Big Hugh" Award

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Opening Up The Phone Book

Opening Up The Phone Book

How long do you think a business would remain solvent if every time they needed to make a purchase they waited until a supplier came to them instead of opening up the phone book and shopping around for the best deal?

Since becoming the Chair of the Modernization Committee, I have enjoyed being contacted by different individuals who have shared with me both their ideas for change in government and their stories of government inefficiencies or abuses.

Here is an example of a story about an abuse that allegedly occurred a few years ago.

The spouse of a person running for political office received a contract from the state for thousands of dollars where no one else even bothered to bid for the job. Following the award of the contract there was very little way to determine if the individual ever performed or followed through with the contract requirements in any significant manner. Further, it was not even clear the person was qualified to perform the contract in the first place. The bid was awarded either while or shortly before the candidate started running for office creating the fear that taxpayer money was being funneled through a non-performing vendor and possibly financing a campaign for office.

This story illustrates what I believe to be all too possible when dealing with a large government that controls billions of dollars of other people's money. The opportunities for abuse are simply everywhere.

In the last few years several studies have demonstrated the need for Oklahoma to modernize procurement practices and last week I asked approval for an idea for reform on the House floor that will hopefully address some of these problems.

The idea was initially presented by a consulting firm know as Treya Partners. Treya said the state should allow state procurement officials to engage in strategic sourcing in order to source a high number of quality vendors, analyze the various industries they are sourcing from and be allowed to negotiate with the potential vendors in order to get the best possible deal for the taxpayers. After negotiating a contract state buyers will continue to monitor the contract in order to make sure the vendor actually performs. If the vendor did not do a good job, their failure could be documented so hopefully state officials could make sure that the vendor did not get any future opportunities to waste taxpayer dollars.

Now, this is obviously a common sense step that any business would no doubt be sure to incorporate. Can you imagine what would happen to a business who awarded contracts without ever opening up the phone book and finding the best provider? However, this is the government, so it appears as if for many years there may have been little incentive for government officials to actually do the hard work to find the best service providers and then use the time and energy to make sure that they are actually performing.

Hopefully this system will also provide the checks and balances necessary to avoid examples like the one listed above. I don't believe there should ever be an occasion where a contract is just awarded to one bidder because they were the only bidder capable of bidding on a project.

The focus of the House Modernization effort has been to try and save taxpayer dollars by adding more efficiently to the procurement process. However, I am optimistic that a side effect of these reforms will be to make it harder for abuses like the above example to occur.

The strategic sourcing idea was one component of House Bill 1410 which was approved by the House last week and is now headed to the Senate.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Hello again, everyone! The Legislature reached a major deadline this week as we passed the date by which bills had to be approved by committees in the house of origin.

That means Senate bills had to be approved by Senate committees and House bills had to be approved by House committees. Any measure not approved by a committee in the house of origin is dead for the session, in theory. That does not mean, however, we won’t see it again this year.

There is a line in the movie “The Princess Bride” that describes what can happen with bills. The movie’s hero is thought to be dead by the audience and many of the characters. A healer of sorts lifts the apparently dead hero’s arm, drops it and says, “I’ve seen worse.”

Later the healer explains, “It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive.” Certainly, those bills that simply were not heard in committee are “only mostly dead”; few bills are all dead at this point.

A bill that is very alive is one I mentioned in last week’s column, Senate Bill 697. The bill, requested by Lt. Gov. Jari Askins, creates a Children’s Cabinet in Oklahoma and was given unanimous approval by the Senate Rules Committee; it now awaits consideration by the full Senate.

With this bill, we hope to streamline programs leading to better services for Oklahoma’s children. With no additional cost to the state, we will get more for every dollar we invest in our children.

Another bill I wrote, unanimously approved by a committee, also focuses on protecting Oklahoma’s children. We all have memories of ice cream trucks making their way through our neighborhoods when we were kids.

In a simpler, more innocent time, no one feared ice cream vendors. Even today, music coming from those trucks draw children like magnets attracts iron. In today’s world, we parents have to be more cautious than our parents ever imagined.

Recently, in two states – Florida and New York – ice cream truck vendors were convicted of crimes against children. Just last summer, an ice cream truck vendor in California was discovered to be a convicted sex offender.

Senate Bill 1147 would set up a licensing process for ice cream truck vendors in Oklahoma and require criminal background checks on them. The bill would prevent registered sex offenders from being ice cream truck vendors, providing serious penalties for sex offenders found operating ice cream trucks.

The measure would make more certain that individuals who come in close contact with our children are not predators we need to keep away from our children. This would mean one less thing about which parents have to worry. The bill next will be considered by the full Senate, and I’ll keep you updated.

Thanks again for reading this week’s “Senate Minute.” Have a great week, and may God bless you all.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Standing Up for States' Rights

The steps taken in the past few days by Congress to give the federal government nearly 800 billion dollars worth of increased power reminds me of a column I wrote last November. In that article I wrote about the expected expansion of the federal government and how I felt the issue of state's rights could once again be a significant issue in the Oklahoma Legislature this year.

It is important to note that in comparison to state governments, the federal government was created by our founders to be small and limited. This is because the people have a much stronger voice at the state level, whereas the ability of people to effect change is greatly limited at the federal level, and nearly non-existent on the global level of government.

Both political parties have used the expansion of the federal government as a tool to accomplish their various agendas. 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 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 big government to the average taxpayer who cannot afford to invest in lobbyists and politicians in order to manipulate the system for their benefit.

This means that we can expect the federal government to reflect the desires of powerful special interests, liberal politicians and their support groups like ACORN (the possible recipient of 2 billion dollars because of the stimulus bill).

This week the Oklahoma House of Representatives Rules Committee voted unanimously to support House Joint Resolution 1003 authored by State Representative Charles Key. Key's proposal should now be headed to the floor of the House where I look forward to supporting it.

HJR 1003 seeks to reassert Oklahoma’s sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and according to the resolution’s language, serves as "Notice and Demand to the federal government, to cease and desist, effective immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers."

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.”

Representative Key has made it clear that during the last few decades he believes that the Constitution has been hanging by a thread.

While a similar resolution passed with the support of the Oklahoma House during the last session of the Legislature, it appears to have failed to receive a hearing in the Oklahoma Senate. This year, with new leadership in place in the Oklahoma Senate, I am hopeful HJR 1003 will receive a fair hearing.

I consider it an honor to support Rep. Key's efforts in this regard. But, it is also going important for the state to refuse to participate in new inappropriate federal programs such as the apparent expansion of the welfare program included in the stimulus bill. No doubt advocates of Oklahoma's participation in this scheme will say that we must bring in new federal dollars by adding more welfare recipients. I say it is time to stand up to the federal government and it's latest expansions.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Senator Gumm's "Senate Minute" for Feb. 13-19, 2009

Hello again, everyone! Throughout my legislative career – and really, my entire life – I always have believed we must do everything possible to help children.
As many of you know, Deena and I struggled for years to become parents before the Lord blessed us with Jacob. That struggle, and then holding my precious newborn son three years ago, strengthened my unshakeable belief that our best efforts should be for our most precious resource.
Oklahoma’s children face many challenges. Nothing done at the State Capitol is more important than removing those challenges, giving every child the best chance to become what God intends.
Too many children in Oklahoma face the specter of poverty. Last year, the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy inducted me into its Hall of Fame for my efforts against childhood poverty.
Health issues follow our children. One of the most serious is autism, which is why I am so passionate about providing health insurance coverage for disorder.
Children must have the best education possible. Much of my time at the Capitol is dedicated to improving and funding Oklahoma’s educational system.
There is evil in this world, predators that would exploit or harm our children. That is why I fought so hard to impose the death penalty or life without parole on repeat child molesters.
If you added it up, most bills introduced by my colleagues and me every year are about improving the lives of Oklahoma children. There are many of us rowing the boat, but even if there are plenty of rowers, we will go nowhere if we are not rowing in the same direction.
That is why I agreed when Lt. Gov. Jari Askins asked if I would introduce legislation to enact her proposal to create a Children’s Cabinet. Oklahoma would become the 16th state to bring together many of the agencies and organizations whose mission it is to improve children’s lives.
The goal is simple: to make certain the agencies working on behalf of children work closely and develop well-coordinated plans. In essence, to make sure they are all rowing the boat in the same direction.
The cabinet would streamline programs, leading to better services for Oklahoma’s children. With no additional cost to the state, we will get more for every dollar we invest in our most precious resource.
Senate Bill 697 will be heard this week in the Senate Rules Committee – a panel that rarely gives any bill a hearing. I am grateful to the committee’s chairman – Senator Jonathan Nichols, a Republican from of Norman – for granting the hearing.
We worked together on the death penalty for child molesters, and I know of his commitment to Oklahoma’s children. Just like that effort, this bill to enact a Children’s Cabinet is more proof that when we reach across party lines, it is Oklahomans who will win.
Thanks again for reading this week’s “Senate Minute.” Have a great week, and may God bless you all.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Sponsoring Additional Term Limits

I am a big supporter of Oklahoma's term limit laws.

There is little doubt that term limits on Oklahoma legislators was a
key factor in the breaking up of the "old guard" political machine
that used to dominate Oklahoma politics.

Those of us who are fighting to put an end to the abuses of the past
face an increased likelihood of success, due in part to the fact that
there are many new elected officials who have taken office in the past
few years. Many of these individuals have not been corrupted by the
political process. Unlike some of their predecessors, they are not
career politicians. Oklahoma's term limit law allows all
representatives and senators to serve a maximum of only twelve years
in the Legislature. After that, they are under a lifetime ban from
ever again holding office in the Legislature.

This new generation of representatives and senators is fulfilling one
of the important visions of our nation's founding fathers: the concept
of a government in which an average citizen dedicates a few years of
his or her life to representing the people as a citizen/statesman. At
the end of his/her term of office, the legislator returns to the real
world to live under the laws he or she helped create. This ensures
that legislators will be more representative of the people, rather
than becoming a class of the political elite.

As a result of the term limits law, the Legislature is very different
than it was 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 and they held powerful
committee chairmanships where they would bottle up reform-minded
legislation. They have been replaced by a group of energetic
professionals, many of whom wish to enact pro-growth policies in order
to change Oklahoma for the better. And, should some succumb to the
temptation to become part of the status quo, they will inevitably be
replaced because of term limits.

I think all Oklahomans should take pride in the fact that Oklahoma was
the first state to pass a legislative term limits law, and this year I
am honored to serve as the House Author for Senate Joint Resolution
12. SJR 12 is sponsored by in the Senate by Senator Randy Brogdon and
would allow the people to vote on expanding Oklahoma's term limit laws
to include statewide elected officials. A House version of the bill
will be carried by Representative Mike Jackson, meaning there will be
two opportunities for the effort to be successful this year.

I have written about a term limits bill in two previous years, but
unfortunately it was narrowly defeated both times. Now, because of
term limits, yet another wave of freshman representatives and senators
have been elected, and they have ensured the appointment of a new
leadership team in the State Senate that will undoubtedly support the

I think this is a good sign for the future because it demonstrates the
commitment of Oklahoma's new leaders to continued reform. It is also
important to remember that none of this would have been possible
without the people of Oklahoma taking the initiative to pass the first
term limit proposal through the initiative petition process.

As your Representative, I will continue to advocate for this important reform.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Senator Gumm's "Senate Minute" for Feb. 6-12, 2009

DURANT, Okla. – Hello again, everyone! The first week of session always has its ups and downs, and certainly that was the case for the first week of the 2009 Oklahoma Legislature.

The high point for me was the governor’s “State of the State” address. Governor Henry said health insurance policies in the state of Oklahoma should cover diagnosis and treatment of autism. The fight to enact “Nick’s Law” has been among my top priorities.

It says something about our values when our highest elected official reaches out to help some of our most vulnerable citizens. You would think an effort like that would cross all political differences, uniting those of us elected to represent every Oklahoman. It did not.

While the governor’s call brought about half the lawmakers to their feet in applause, those content to allow children to suffer in silence sat on their hands.

Then came Tuesday, when – for the first time – members of the House of Representatives would be allowed to vote on a version of Nick’s Law. Unfortunately, Nick’s Law was in a committee constructed with the sole purpose to defeat this bill.

The committee was made up of nine Republicans who either opposed Nick’s Law or did not have the fortitude to stand up to their leadership. Five Democrats also served on the committee. A member of the leadership who gets to vote in all committees even participated, stacking the deck even higher against kids with autism.

The debate and outcome were predictable. Those opposing Nick’s Law used an actuarial study they commissioned suggesting premium costs would be much higher than the minimal costs seen in states which enacted such legislation. In fact, the actuary they hired admitted under questioning he was biased against autism coverage.

The bill failed right down party lines, continuing to make Oklahoma the only state where ending insurance discrimination against children with autism is a partisan issue.

To their credit, House Republicans did pass their autism bill. There is nothing wrong with it – just like there is nothing wrong with a pack of shingles at a construction site.

Their plan to increase the number of autism therapists in the state is like putting shingles on a house before you pour its foundation. It is backwards and doomed to failure. Without helping families afford the therapies, all the therapists in the world will be useless.

After the meeting, the committee chairman proudly said the issue was dead for two years because of the House’s “final action” rule. They may think they can hide behind cowardly rules, but these children are still here; these families are still with us.

Helping families struggling to do right is a value that is woven into most Oklahomans’ hearts. Knowing that, I cannot understand why those members voting “no” – people who wrap themselves in the phrase “family values” – seem incapable of supporting bills that truly value families.

Thanks again for reading this week’s “Senate Minute.” Have a great week, and may God bless you all.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Opposing Debt in a Debt-Happy Society

If you are like me, you are very upset by the recent actions of the federal government. Under the false pretense of an economic stimulus, they are using the economic downturn to approve yet another nearly trillion dollars of debt! The latest "stimulus" bill consists of a tremendous amount of political pork, some of which is no doubt designed to help the organizations that put the current office holders in power. This is just the latest (and worst) in a series of actions taken by the federal government over the past few years that are unimaginably irresponsible.

We have come to a time in our nation's history when our leaders are actually purporting to be able to partially eliminate a downturn in the market. Markets naturally have ebbs and flows and it is to be expected that every few years there will be another downturn. There are many who are now in power who seem to have put aside the perspective provided by hundreds of years of history to such an extent that they really believe the government is powerful enough to prevent an economic downturn. Do we really want a government that views itself like that?

I believe this attitude has been reflected in recent years by British Prime Minister Gordan Brown who, while not one of our government officials, has received much attention for his reported pronouncement that the cycle of boom and bust had been brought to a halt in his country. Today, instead of admitting he was wrong in talking about the economic downturn, Brown points to the fact that this is a global recession. Brown's claims bring forward the frightening spectacle that in order to truly end boom and bust, governmental action on a global scale may be necessary.

In the meantime, gone are the days when it seemed that our leaders were willing to talk about balancing the budget, cutting spending, and addressing the looming crisis of the depleted social security fund. As national politicians have recently demonstrated all too well, it is very easy for politicians to spend now what will be someone else's debt in the future.

In Oklahoma, state officials have unfortunately given in to the same temptation. Issuing long-term debt is often considered by state officials as a way to handle short-term concerns. For years, Oklahoma officials have issued new debt and have done so by using the excuse, "Everyone else is doing it and we don't have as much debt as they do."

This issue hit especially close to home when agencies' officials testified recently to legislative committees about where they would make cuts if the economic downturn forces them to cut their budgets by 5%. Those agencies burdened with long-term debt simply point to the fact that they cannot cut their bond payments, and in fact, a 5% cut might be more like a 10% to 15% cut in discretionary revenue. In other words, as we have gone through time and more debt has been added to the state government, the ability to shrink government becomes inhibited.

This is why I have maintained and will continue to maintain a strict policy of voting against all new issuance of debt.