Sunday, December 27, 2009

Update Number 150

When I asked to serve as your State Representative, I stated that I wanted to incorporate a platform of representing Logan and Oklahoma county residents as opposed to capitol lobbyists and the groups that hire them. I have sought to implement this goal by setting in place a policy of refusing personal gifts and political contributions from lobbyists and the groups that hire them while aggressively building an open line of communication with the citizens I serve.

In order to accomplish this goal, I resolved to write an original update every week during my time in office. This article represents the 150th consecutive weekly update which I have written since I started serving as State Representative. I originally developed the idea of writing the column based on my observation of state Representative Frank Davis' policy of updating citizens about what was occurring in the Legislature with his weekly column entitled "Frankly Speaking".

I feel that by writing about issues on a regular basis, elected officials demonstrate that they are not afraid to take a stand and let citizens know how they will be voting on those issues. One of the tricks used by career politicians to stay in office for many years is to tell one group of people one thing while telling another group another thing entirely. Putting your position down on paper each and every week pretty much takes that deceptive method of telling the audience what they want to hear off the table.

The weekly process of writing a column and participating in the ensuing dialog allows me to feel that I am truly representing my constituency. The instant communication functionality provided by the Internet has made it possible for an immediate two-way communication process to take place following the publication of each update. Each week I spend a significant amount of time communicating with constituents who respond to the latest update. This communication has enabled me to understand how issues are having an effect on the lives of local constituents and I believed it has greatly enhanced my ability to represent them.

This process has also been very beneficial for me because I have enjoyed making so many new acquaintances which I would not otherwise have had to opportunity to make.

I am very grateful to the hundreds of people who have taken the time to communicate with me over the past 150 weeks and I especially appreciate Mark Radford and The Crescent Courier, Belinda Ramsey and The Guthrie News Leader, and Lisa Shearer and The Edmond Sun for printing the updates on a regular basis. I look forward to continuing this dialog during the upcoming legislative session.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Real Property Tax and Education Reform

I believe I have received more feedback to last week's update about the need for property tax reform than I have ever received for any other update.

I wrote that high property taxes discourage home owners to keep smaller houses and not buy or build new houses. However, I received feedback which was quick to point out that this tax also serves to disincentivize homeowners from improving their current homes.

Reducing the property tax assessment cap from 5% to 3% or 1% would be a common sense reform which should occur sooner than later. However, in order to realize true property tax reform and provide Oklahoma students with better education opportunities, Oklahoma policy makers must take aggressive action to reform a system that has not worked well for many years.

Each year, approximately 85% of property tax revenue goes to common and career tech educational entities. This is in addition to the billions of dollars that are either appropriated by the state or supplied by federal or dedicated revenue funds each year. In fact, the Oklahoma Council of Public affairs has indicated that Oklahomans spend over 10 thousand dollars each year per student. However, despite the billions of dollars spent each year, the test scores of Oklahoma public education students have failed to improve in any significant manner.

One of the respondents to last week's update told me that she lives in a house which she built with her dad. The house took them several years to build but they built it without going into debt. She is now paying hundreds of dollars each year in property taxes, so that she does not want to make improvements to the site for fear of increased property tax premiums. But she does not want to move out of the house for sentimental reasons.

This person is a homeschooler and because she wants to focus on her children's education, she chooses not to work outside the home. She states that the property tax is a killer on their one-income budget. For each child that is being homeschooled, taxpayers are probably being saved about $10K per year.

Her story demonstrates the need for true reform. Here is how it would work. The public education system could realize massive cost savings if state government would encourage people to participate in private and homeschool education through the provision of a property tax refund which is often proposed at $4,000 per year. As more and more people participated in these educational alternatives, the thousands of dollars of net cost savings to the government could be applied to property tax reform for everyone and may even be significant enough to allow for true reforms, such as restructuring the property tax so that it would apply only when a property is sold.

The impact on the public education system would be tremendous because a good deal of the work load and pressure would be taken off the public school system. And this new system would encourage market forces to provide educational solutions because any number of private entities would be forced to compete for education dollars. This would be possible because the citizens would now be empowered to control their own money instead of turning it over to the government each year.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Property Tax Reform - Again

Constituents continue to contact me about the issue of property tax reform.

The other day a constituent explained to me that he had built a new house. He could have built this house anywhere but he chose to build it in Logan County. Upon moving into his new house he was told that his property tax payment would be thousands of dollars each year to the point that the property tax payment will represent a significant percentage of his overall payments.

This story makes the point that property tax provides a huge disincentive for citizens to invest in real estate. Why should someone buy a nice new house when the property tax payment on their new house might be as large as the mortgage payment on their old house? Building new houses is a great economic activity generator. How many jobs have been lost because punitive property taxes have discouraged this type of investment?

A senior citizen constituent visited my office one day. He produced a detailed spreadsheet calculating the implications of a continued 5% increase on his home assessment price over the upcoming years. He could demonstrate how with compounded interest the amount of his property tax would double over a certain time period. In fact, his home property taxes were nearly equal to 25% of his social security income.

And even though property values are currently in a state of decline, because assessors have had to increase the price of properties in excess of the 5% cap in the past, many homeowners will likely continue to see their assessments rise by 5% even in a down economy when their personal budgets may be shrinking.

A very simple, common sense property tax reform proposal has been circulating through the Legislature for the past few years. The reform would allow people to vote on lowering the cap of the ability of the county assessor to increase yearly assessments from 5% down to 3%. The bill is usually approved in the House or the Senate or both, but somehow always manages to get jammed up in the legislative process.

This is not a dramatic reform. This is not even a tax cut. It is a simple reduction of the amount by which this punitive tax increases each year. It is absolutely unconscionable that the Legislature refuses to give people an opportunity to vote on this bill. If the Legislature refuses once again to take action on this proposal during the upcoming session, I believe it will be vital for the people to place this issue on the ballot by circulating a initiative petition.

It is always possible that an initiative petition effort will seek a more aggressive reform such as a 1% cap each year. I would suggest that the special interests who have opposed the very reasonable 3% percent cap should consider that their short-term unreasonableness may have long term consequences, because citizens cannot continue to just stand by and be punished in this unfair manner.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dorman, Fourth District Democrats Collecting Cards for Soldiers; Try to Stop Email Hoax


Contact: State Rep. Joe Dorman
Capitol: (405) 557-7305

Dorman, Fourth District Democrats Collecting Cards for Soldiers

OKLAHOMA C IT Y (November 25, 2009) – State Rep. Joe Dorman and Fourth District Democratic Party Chair Betty Simmons are heading up a project to collect and deliver holiday and get-well cards for soldiers recovering at Fort Sill, after learning of a hoax that has caused many cards to be returned to their senders.
“Many people I've talked with have seen an email asking people to send cards addressed not to a specific individual, but to ‘A Recovering American Soldier’ at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington , DC . The problem is that cards sent to the hospital are not delivered to soldiers without a specific recipient on the envelope,” Dorman, D-Rush Springs, said.
“Betty Simmons and I will be collecting cards from those wishing to express support to soldiers and ensure that they reach their intended recipients, bringing joy to soldiers hospitalized in Oklahoma this holiday season who are not able to make it home for the holidays.”
Dorman noted his own nephew had been in Reynolds Army Hospital at Fort Sill , and he knows what some words of support can mean to soldiers who must stay there through the holidays.”
“All of these men and women sacrifice so much for the rest of us, and now because of their bravery, many have to face spending a holiday hospitalized away from their families,” Dorman said. “I think this is a great chance for us to say 'Thank you!' for all that they have done to keep us safe.”
As reported by, a widespread email has made the false claim that Walter Reed Hospital in will accept Christmas cards addressed to “A Recovering Soldier.” However, these cards are not opened because of security concerns. The Web site notes that the sentiment behind the idea being passed along e-mail lists is a good one, but unfortunately the information is false.
“I became aware of this hoax last year when middle school students at Rush Springs sent cards to Walter Reed at the address on the email and those cards were returned. The class teacher, Valetta Bentley, and the local newspaper editor, Karen Goodwin, contacted my office and asked me to find a way to get these cards delivered. I arranged for them to be given to recovering soldiers at Fort Sill ,” Dorman said. “The soldiers thoroughly enjoyed receiving the cards. They are a nice gesture, a thank you for the service our military servicemen and women provide, and I do not want that sentiment to be soured by someone pulling a hoax.”
Dorman noted he has seen postings similar to the e-mail begin to appear on social networking sites such as Facebook.
“I have noticed that email starting to make it around again and do not want people to be disappointed when their cards are returned,” said Dorman. “Many folks are sharing this email with their lists in order to spread good will and I want to make sure we get cards delivered to soldiers who will appreciate them.”
The Snopes website does verify that Christmas cards are being successfully collected through the Red Cross-sponsored “Holiday Mail for Heroes” program.
Simmons said she hopes to get every Democratic county chair in her district to collect cards, as well as encourage citizens not involved with the Democratic Party to express their support.
“I have asked the party chair of each county to collect cards in their area or appoint someone to do so,” Simmons said. “Then we’ll get with Representative Dorman and have him deliver them to the Fort Sill hospital.”
Anyone wishing to take part in this endeavor can send cards addressed to Cards for Soldiers, c/o State Rep. Joe Dorman, Oklahoma House of Representatives, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Rm. 325, Oklahoma City , OK 73105 . Cards will be delivered the week before Christmas.
To send cards through the Red Cross “Holiday Mail for Heroes” program, mail must be addressed to Holiday Mail for Heroes, P.O. Box 5456 , Capitol Heights , MD 20791-5456 and must be postmarked by Monday, Dec. 7.


Open Door Policy - Dec. 8, 2009

The surgery on my deviated septum went very well and I appreciate all the get-well cards and notes, and especially the Filippo's for making me take it easy during my recovery. I'm still trying to take it easy, but it is tough this time of year. I overdid it on Friday and Saturday finishing some small projects and had to stay in bed all day on Sunday to recover. I'm taking it pretty easy this week by only going to a couple of events and will be in the office for short periods of time this week.
The deadline for bill submissions is this upcoming Friday. Some of the bills I am filing this session deal with looking at the creation of incentives for insurance information cards where people can maintain their records on a card in their wallet to cut down on red tape and time spent on the phone looking for records; giving the local schools more flexibility to allow student absences when the students participate in approved activities and keep their grades up; provisions to restrict a person losing their insurance due to an illness; a restructuring of funeral accounts to allow for easier use during the time when a family is grieving; and looking at restrictions on state agencies and their advertising budgets.
I will also be heavily involved with the budget as I serve on the Appropriations & Budget Committee. We will have to do thorough reviews on the spending practices and make cuts in many areas due to less tax revenue coming in to the state. There is about $600 million in stimulus dollars available for Oklahoma and about the same amount in the Rainy Day fund. We will meet to determine how much will be spent, especially in light of the collections being down well over $1 billion from previous budgets.
Some events I attended recently were the OHCE awards for Grady County, the OKC Retired Firefighters Banquet, the Friends of the Library Spaghetti dinner in Rush Springs, and I spoke to two school groups last week. I also attended the wedding reception for Tom and Holly Foster this weekend and delivered a toast to the new couple. Tom is one of my best friends from high school and I'm very happy for the new couple. A special thanks also goes out the Chickasha High School Young Democrats for volunteering a Saturday night to help out with the Festival of Lights in Chickasha. If you have not been to this in a while, please drive through and check out the great display!
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.
Joe with the Chickasha High School Young Democrats

Open Door Policy - Dec. 1, 2009

As we approach 2010, we see several deadlines for the legislature beginning to unfold. The date for requesting ideas for potential legislation falls this month and I am working on several different ideas, but will only file eight as that is our limit. I will also be pursuing consideration of the eight bills I filed last session as they are still "alive" in the legislative process. Some of these bills creating a Children's Cabinet to look at children's issues in the state, fire hydrant servicing and creating incentives for doctors to volunteer at school sporting events and for veterans organizations.
On Monday, I had the pleasure of attending a ceremony at Cox's Corner Fire Department to honor Al Dreves, the fire chief for the department. This honor was bestowed upon him by the Association of South Central Oklahoma Governments to recognize Al as the Firefighter of the Year for ASCOG. Al has made sure his firefighters continue their training and has every person in the department at Firefighter 1 level. Al also was the chief for both my nephews when they graduated high school and joined that department. Both of them are in the Army and one wants to become a paramedic, while the other wants to continue being a firefighter. I appreciate Al for being a good influence on them and all the others who have come through that department. This award was very well deserved!
This Tuesday, we hosted an interim study at the State Capitol reviewing Tax Increment Financing districts throughout Oklahoma. The study focused on how many TIF districts are currently in existence and the ramifications on each area, both positive and negative, to see if there is a better way to implement these districts. I will look at legislation to outline better reporting on these districts this upcoming session. TIF districts provide a great economic boost to many areas of the state, but they must be implemented responsibly.
We were notified this week the House Appropriations & Budget Committee will begin reviewing state agency budgets. The Senate began this process a few weeks ago, so I am comparing notes with several Senators to look for ways to deal with our inevitable budget cuts. This committee will have much work to do and I am happy Speaker Benge felt confident in my abilities and allowed me to serve on this committee.
In January, I will be co-hosting a meeting in Norman at the National Weather Center with Rep. Gus Blackwell to look into another one of my bills. We are pulling together some of the best minds in Oklahoma to discuss emergency management funding and this will be free to all participants. We hope to come up with a better system to fund the 12.5 percent match required of the state to pay for disasters declared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). We are still putting together the definite schedule, but we hope to include national emergency response officials; local state, county and municipal officials; non-profit entities affected by disaster funding and also other elected officials. If you would like more information, please contact my office for details.
I will be out of touch for a few days this weekend, so please contact Pam in my office should you need assistance with an issue. I'm having surgery on a deviated septum and the doctor thinks I will be down for about three days. I broke my nose in college and have gone almost twenty years with 70 percent blockage without realizing the problems. The doctor thinks my health will improve greatly after this surgery, so keep your fingers crossed. This is also another good reason why it is best to have regular check-ups with the doctor and to tell them about any problems.
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.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The First 2010 Legislative Deadline

This week provides the first deadline by which legislators must pre-file their request for bill language for the 2010 legislative session. During the past few weeks I have written about a number of the legislative ideas I will be sponsoring. I have not yet had an opportunity to write about all of these proposals and look forward to continuing to write about them as the 2010 legislative schedule continues to develop.
I very much appreciate your feedback to some of the ideas I have already written about. I have received a large amount of constituent input based on the articles of the past few weeks and this pro and con input has been very helpful.
Representatives are limited to advocating for 8 legislative initiatives, so we much carefully pick and choose the ideas which we want to advance. I have historically maintained a policy of introducing a balanced portfolio of legislation that advances the effort to institute sweeping reforms and legislation that has an increased chance of passage.
Passing legislation is a challenging process. Only a small percentage of introduced bills (with the exception of appropriations bills) is successfully signed into law. What follows is a description of the process a bill must follow in order to be approved.

The House author must convince a Senator to sponsor his bill in the Senate. It is important to choose a Senator based on his/her abilities and commitment to the principle of the bill.

The bill will be assigned to a House committee where the Chairman has to give the bill a hearing and the full committee is required to vote on passage.

A bill passed by a committee must receive permission from the Majority Floor Leader in order to be considered by the full House. If he/she consents to providing a hearing on the floor of the House, the full House has to vote on passage.

Once the bill is approved by the House, it is sent to the Senate where the process is repeated, including a committee assignment, a vote in committee and a vote on the floor of the Senate. At any time the bill is subject to being killed because of no hearing.

The bill returns to the House where any Senate amendments must be considered.

The bill may be assigned to a conference committee. If either the Senate or the House fails to assign conference committee members (Conferees) to the bill prior to the deadline for assignments, the bill dies. If the Conferees are assigned, then the bill has to receive the support of a majority.

If the conference committee approves the bill, it needs approval once again through a vote of the entire House and Senate. If the bill was not scheduled by the deadline in either House, it did not pass. If both Houses (House of Representatives and Senate) approve the bill, it is sent to the Governor for approval. If the Governor vetoes the bill, it has to go back to the House and the Senate for a possible override vote. In order to override the Governor’s veto, at least two thirds of both House and Senate must vote for the override. In the past 15 years, only one bill has become law despite a veto.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Senator Gumm's "Senate Minute" for Dec. 4, 2009 - Umbilical Cord Blood Bank an Investment in Life

DURANT, Okla. – Hello again, everybody! Almost two years ago, I wrote, and the Legislature passed, a bill that authorized creation of the Oklahoma Umbilical Cord Blood Bank.

Such a bank would eventually giving every Oklahoma family the ability to donate umbilical cord blood resulting from the live birth of a healthy child – in short, a miracle on top of a miracle. Umbilical cord blood – now most often discarded as medical waste – is rich in adult stem cells, which can be used to treat a variety of illnesses.

Last week, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services conducted a study I requested on the costs and benefits of funding the cord blood bank. While the budget crisis we are currently enduring makes funding the cord blood bank a long shot in 2010, we must continue to push for funding.

The economy will improve, and when it does I believe we must have a plan in place for the cord blood bank so that we can make the relatively modest investment necessary to fund it. Testimony we heard at the study meeting last week indicates approximately $5 million per year would be needed to start and operate the Oklahoma Cord Blood Bank.

What would we get for our money? Among the maladies currently being treated with cord blood therapy are many cancers, leukemia, and several immune disorders – and researchers say that list will grow.

In fact, as we considered the bill, many network morning shows reported the story of a two-year-old boy with cerebral palsy. After an infusion of his own stem cells, he began showing fewer signs of the disorder; his parents had banked his umbilical cord blood. Last month, in Colorado – which has a public cord blood bank – a similar story was reported about a little girl.

By funding the cord blood bank, Oklahoma families would have the same opportunity. Currently, the only option Oklahoma families have to store cord blood is to contract with private umbilical cord blood banks. That cost is several thousands of dollars upfront, and hundreds in annual storage costs, far more than most young families starting out with a new baby can afford.

Funding the cord blood bank would represent an unparalleled investment in life. Few investments we could make have the long-term benefits this one could.

It will be tough to accomplish – starting a new program – even in a good budget year. Still, I believe funding the cord blood bank would show a commitment to life, and leave a legacy of better health in Oklahoma for the current generation and those countless generations yet unborn. Clearly, this is a cause I will continue to support.

If you have any comments, questions or concerns, send me a message through my website at You can also follow me on Twitter at or on Facebook at

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