Monday, December 27, 2010

Better Late Than Never

Last month the House of Representative’s Government Modernization Committee conducted a study to examine cost savings and efficiencies which could occur as a result of consolidating state agencies. As part of that study, we heard testimony about the unusually high number of agencies, boards and commissions (ABCs) which are a component of Oklahoma state government.

One of the reports stated that as of 2007, Oklahoma had about 520 ABCs. The report referenced a 1995 study which was commissioned by Governor Frank Keating. The 1995 study stated that Oklahoma had over 360 ABCs at that time and indicated that this diversified approach to governance made it difficult to manage related functions, and impossible to hold someone accountable for minimal results.

The Keating report was produced by a Commission of Government Performance. The Commission was comprised of business and community leaders from across the state working with a team of 50 state employees.

The Commission pointed to Oklahoma’s weak gubernatorial powers as a reason for the inefficiency of state government processes. With power spread across so many different ABCs, Oklahoma’s Governor simply isn’t empowered to make state government more accountable. By proxy, this means that Oklahomans do not have a method to hold government accountable and make it more efficient.

The report stated that other studies going back as far as 1928 have found that Oklahoma government could be more effective if the chief executive officer were given more authority to change state government. The Keating report described the current situation as a situation where the chief executive officer could call a meeting and the managers of state did not have to attend. The report opined that this is no way to run such a large enterprise.

The Commission detailed that this fragmented organization process produces a clear lack of line of authority and an “unresponsive, duplicative and costly state government.”

Unfortunately, the Keating report was ignored by Oklahoma lawmakers. Today, instead of shrinking in size, Oklahoma government is much larger than before and the Governor does not appear to have been empowered to effect change.

Due to the budget downturn and the recent changes in many of the statewide elected office positions, I believe we will have an opportunity to incorporate some of the suggested reforms this year. We must finally start to reduce the number of Oklahoma agencies, boards and commissions and we should also empower the Governor with the ability to remove members of boards and commissions.

This will finally give Oklahomans the opportunity to start downsizing state government. If these changes are accepted, when we vote for the position of Governor in the future, we will be voting for a chief executive officer who will have the ability to require Oklahoma government to use our taxpayer dollars wiser and more efficiently.

The report’s suggestions should have been followed 15 years ago. I do believe in the “better late than never” adage, and feel we should incorporate these ideas for reform as soon as possible.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Open Record and Meeting Law for the Legislature

This past week presented the first of a series of legislative deadlines which legislators met in order to propose and advance legislation for the upcoming session. Lawmakers were required to meet a December 10 deadline when they were required to submit the first request for registering possible legislation for the 2011 session.

Throughout the year I am asked to propose any number of ideas. These requests range from those proposed by constituents who contact my office regarding a needed change in the law which directly affects them to suggested changes in the law to allow for more efficiency and transparency in Oklahoma government.

I document these suggestions when I receive them and before the first submission deadline, I begin the process of reviewing this documentation. It is my task to select from the list of possible legislation so that it comes as close as possible to meeting the rules which limit the number of bills which a Representative is allowed to sponsor.

It is my practice to see that my legislative proposals include a balance of constituent ideas and aggressive attempts to enact significant reforms and government modernization proposals which I need to sponsor as Chair of the House Government Modernization, Accountability and Transparency Committee.

I feel this balance is important because it ensures that I represent the voice of my constituents, advance new ideas for reform, while also passing legislation which makes government more accountable. This strategy has allowed me to win approval for a series of reform minded legislation in the past few years while also introducing aggressive new reform concepts which I believe will be eventually approved by the Legislature.

One of the bills I intend to sponsor and which I believe will have a significant impact on making Oklahoma government more responsible to the citizens is a proposal to require that the Oklahoma Legislature comply with Oklahoma's open record and open meeting laws.

These two very important laws require Oklahoma governing bodies to conduct business according to a set of rules which are designed to ensure your right as a citizen to know that what happens in government is upheld. However, the Legislature is exempted from these laws. In my view this is wrong, and I believe the Legislature should abide by the same laws they ask other Oklahoma governing bodies to abide by.

This is not a ground-breaking proposal. Other state governments already require that their legislative bodies follow their respective state’s open record and open meeting laws.

One of the most important aspects of this law would be the cessation of legislative caucuses discussing issues behind closed doors. An important principle of open meeting laws is the concept which dictates that a majority of a governing body should never meet behind closed doors to discuss business. This concept helps keep policy makers from taking a public stand which is different from the position taken in private.

An open records law would also establish a clear set of criteria which would govern which legislative records should be kept private and which should be made public.

I know that passing this particular proposal will be a difficult challenge, but I am convinced that it is the right thing to do.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Getting Specific

One of my favorite stories about Oklahoma history involves the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention which met in Guthrie and the development of the preamble to the Oklahoma Constitution.

You may recall that the preamble reads as follows: “Invoking the guidance of Almighty God, in order to secure and perpetuate the blessing of liberty; to secure just and rightful government; to promote our mutual welfare and happiness, we, the people of the State of Oklahoma, do ordain and establish this Constitution.”

The initial drafting of the preamble was assigned to a committee of the convention. That committee created a first draft which initially referred to God only as “the Supreme Ruler of the Universe."

The draft was met with opposition and the members of the committee were asked if their mothers had taught them to pray to “the Supreme Ruler of the Universe.”

The chair of the convention strongly insisted that the delegates could not leave “God” out of the constitution and the next day he introduced a substitute which included the words “Almighty God” -- which we use as our constitutional preamble to this day.

The founders of our state wanted very specifically to acknowledge the existence of God and our need for His guidance.

This specificity was also reflected in our nation’s Declaration of Independence when our founding fathers declared that our rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness come from our Creator and it is the responsibility of government to preserve these rights. By acknowledging God’s existence and attributing our unalienable rights to His providence, our founding fathers were memorializing an important definition of the true purpose of government which we acknowledge to this day.

I was reminded of this story after a recent meeting of Republican legislators where the attendees were asked to develop a document declaring the principles by which Republican House members will govern during the upcoming year.

Republican legislators had a choice to make. They could have expressed support for traditional values by making a generic statement to this effect. This approach would provide values voters with the comfort of a token gesture -- and is all too often the "safe" approach to take because it provides acknowledgment of important principles while not running the risk of offending those who are embarrassed by the faith-based principles with which Oklahoma has been so identified.

However, rather than providing this level of token support, Republican policy makers chose to amend their platform to include a much more specific statement which affirmed that we will support policies which defend Judeo-Christian values.

This action made the clear statement that we know this specific values framework is the basis for our legal system and we are not afraid of pointing to the importance of recognizing and preserving this values system.

This specificity was copied throughout the Republican Representatives’ policy document as the attendees took clear stands on a number of issues which are important to Oklahomans.

I certainly appreciated this, as all too often politicians are not courageous enough to take clear stands on the issues of today. Even if all voters do not agree on every one of these specific topics, I believe that citizens do appreciate when political leaders have the courage to take a clear stand and stop playing the tired political game of making token vague and general statements on issues of importance to Oklahomans.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Our Opportunity

This next legislative session will represent the first session during which Republicans will have control of both the legislative and executive branches of state government. As you might imagine this has raised the expectations of Oklahoma conservatives who desire the reform of state government.

In the past, even though Republicans controlled the Legislature, the Democrats remained in charge of the executive branch and that fact was used as a crutch that was baked into time-delaying processes utilized by Republican legislators who were less inclined to aggressively advocate for needed reforms.

For instance, reform legislation could be held up in committee with the argument that the governor would veto it and it would be wrong to make Republicans take a tough vote on it.

In a more complex example, Republican legislators were placed under heavy pressure to agree to fee and tax increases because the agreement had been negotiated with the Democrats in the executive branch. We were told that we risked a special legislative session if we did not vote for these increases and honor the agreement which had been negotiated. We were also told that a special session would risk exposing Republicans to defeat at the polls.

I never thought my vote should be influenced by the fact that our legislative leaders had negotiated a deal with the Democrats, or theoretical political ramifications, so I voted my conscience and did not play the political game. I figured that if enough of us voted according to the principles we campaigned on and actually defeated the government-expanding compromise agreement, the Democrats would be forced to deal with the political reality that Oklahoma's conservative populace demanded true reforms.

In my view, those compromises thwarted that day of reckoning, and to this day many of the needed institutional transforming reforms of state government have never taken place.

However, I do understand why so many of my Republican colleagues accepted this pragmatism and don’t hold it against them for buying into the status-quo arguments. After all, they were basically being told that we had to agree to hold our noses and vote for the status-quo so that Republicans could be elected to office and then we could reverse the fee increases and institute true reform. Well, that time is now! With a solid Republican majority in the Oklahoma House and Senate and a Republican in the governor’s office, there are no more excuses for not doing the right thing.

This is the time when we will see if the story that we were being told at that time was true.

It is my hope that we will be able to aggressively seek to bring reform to those state government processes into which generations of Democrat office holders have allowed so many inefficiencies and waste to accumulate.

I certainly intend to keep you informed as to whether or not this is the case as this year’s session gets underway.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Are Traditional Values a Frivolous Distraction?

In last week’s article I commented on the fact that this is the time of year when policy is already starting to be established for the upcoming session of the Oklahoma Legislature.

I noted that the important issue of property tax reform is set to be discussed as Representative David Dank has once again filed the property tax reform proposal. I also pointed to the encouraging sign that perhaps important legislative process reforms will be initiated following the convening of a task force by House Speaker-elect Kris Steele for that purpose.

I view these as positive first signs and I enjoy writing about them because it is has been my intent to use these articles to provide a special emphasis on positive news as a counter to all of the discouraging news we hear about in politics these days.

However, I feel an obligation to communicate all of the facts both good and bad and a Thanksgiving day news article about this year’s upcoming legislation destroyed some of this optimism and started a firestorm within the House Republican caucus. The article indicated that Steele and other Republican leaders want to place an emphasis on economic issues while reducing focus from frivolous distractions such as the defense of traditional values, immigration reform, second amendment issues, and presumably the related states’ rights legislation. Since when have Republicans considered traditional values issues to be frivolous?

Until now, this type of rhetoric has been used by the Democrats to demonize traditional values legislation and the courageous legislators who advanced it. To have this attitude now being seemingly being endorsed by our own Speaker of the House is devastating.

A follow-up article indicated that one of the issues on which Steele does want us to focus is his proposal to allow government entities to regulate smoking within privately owned businesses. Very few voters voted for the Republicans in order to empower Republicans to allow government to get bigger. It was a shock to realize that our leadership would seem to suggest that we should not focus on the issues which have defined our party but instead should consider allowing government regulation to expand.

Republicans were elected to head up both the legislative and executive branches of state government for first time in state history because the people of Oklahoma desperately want state government to stand up to the federal government. Oklahomans want us to assert our rights under the tenth amendment, stop the insanity being propagated in Washington DC, roll back mountains of government waste and inefficiencies which generations of Democrat office holders allowed to become institutions of state government and which are costing Oklahoma taxpayers so much money in waste, shrink the state tax code so that Oklahoma can compete with states who do not have an income tax for economic growth, defend against the assault on the traditional values which have made our nation great, and remove the government regulations which have built up over the years against our important freedoms such as our second amendment rights.

Along with Oklahomans, I maintain that these issues are not frivolous distractions. Rather, they are the core principles which resulted in Republicans being elected to office. It appears these principles are now under an all-out assault and in the next few months it will be our responsibility as officer holders to stand up and defend them despite efforts by our leadership to do otherwise.

This will be a fight to preserve honestly and integrity. Nearly every Republican campaigned for office on these principles (especially those who represent rural areas where traditional values are extremely important). It is shocking to think that once elected, Republican office holders would break their word and abandon the principles espoused in their campaign materials simply because the powerful special interests in Oklahoma City view them as embarrassing frivolous distractions.

Next week I will provide some insights as to why conservative office holders are especially frustrated by this turn of events.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Changes in Oklahoma Government

Last week the new members of the Oklahoma Legislature took their oath of office. This action officially commenced the term of the 53rd Legislature which will last for the next two years.

Unlike Congress, the Oklahoma legislature does not have much opportunity to conduct business as a lame duck legislature. The new legislators are taking office just two weeks after being elected.

This sets in motion a series of legislative deadlines as in the upcoming few weeks legislation will be filed, new leadership teams will be appointed, the committee structure will be reviewed and new committee chairmen and vice-chairman will assume their new roles.

Compounding this level of rapidly occurring change is the fact that not only will new leadership teams take office in both the House and Senate due to the term limits of the House Speaker and Senate Speaker Pro-Temp but almost all statewide officials will leave office and, as of January 10th, a new team of statewide elected officials will start their terms.

These new officials are now seeking to establish their team of employees. This has created a talent vacuum as many of the individuals who will influence the shaping and implementation of policy are are now being retained by the new state officials and legislative leaders.

The newly elected officials are now making some of the most important decisions that they will ever make because the quality of their service will be extremely dependent on the work of the people whom they choose to operate their offices.

This presents opportunities for those who have worked hard over the past few years and have developed a reputation for having conservative values, interacting well with the public and being dependable and efficient. Their services are now in high demand. As an example, one of my former legislative assistants received three invitations to apply for work with a new office holder in just the last few days alone.

The first new policy proposals are also starting to take shape. Last week, House of Representatives Speaker-elect Kris Steele commissioned a committee to consider reforms in the legislative process with a goal of enhancing legislative transparency. Two of these possible reforms will include the requirement for House conference committees to meet in public before approving legislation and eliminating the loophole by which legislation presented to the House in the last two days of the legislative session does not have to be posted to public purview for a certain amount of time prior to consideration by the House.

You may recall my past updates in which I described how a substantial amount of legislation is presented in these last two days which greatly leads to the opportunity for changes to be placed into law without the ability of legislators or the public to know or understand the impact of the change.

These reforms, if enacted, will go a long way in making the legislative process more transparent and would continue a series of recent reforms which is transforming the legislative process to being much more open.

Property tax reform is one of the most demanded reforms by House District 31 constituents. Representative David Dank has already filed HJR 1001 and HJR 1002 which once again seek to implement property tax reform.

This is also the time when new legislative office assignments occur and as an item of note my office will be moving from office number 400B to office number 437 starting as of this week. Please direct all future written correspondence to Office 437, 2300 North Lincoln Blvd., Oklahoma City, 73105.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Defending an Important Principle

The events of the most recent election cycle have reminded me of the importance of what I believe to be one of the important governing principles established by our nation’s and state’s founding fathers.

When I sought election to office in 2006, one of the key components of my message to prospective voters was my opposition to efforts in the Legislature to increase State Representatives’ term of office to four years.

Currently, Oklahoma Representatives serve for two-year terms. I have observed that this makes the House of Representatives very responsive to the values of the people of Oklahoma. Each Representative must treat his constituents’ concerns with respect because the Representative knows he will be subject to a vote within a 24-month time period.

I also believe this is the reason that the House is likely to be the branch of the Legislature to generate new ideas for reform. Being forced to campaign for re-election every two years means the Representatives must talk to their constituents and listen to the latest ideas for change. This means that the House is more likely to sponsor these new ideas sooner rather than later.

The concept that the lower House of the Legislature (in this case, the House of Representatives) should be the closest to the people dates back many years and can be tied to the British governing principle where the lower House is known as the House of Commons and represents the values of regular citizens.

This important principle was copied by our nation’s founding fathers when they designed the lower House of the American Congress to be subject to re-election every two years. The writer of the 55th Federalist Paper (either Alexander Hamilton or James Madison) opined that it would be difficult for a member of the House of Representatives to dare to betray the trust committed to him by the voters within the short span of two years.

This policy was subsequently copied by our state’s founding fathers when they determined that members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives should stand for re-election every two years.

Also, much the same as our federal Congress, the Oklahoma Senate was designed to have longer serving terms because this policy insulates Senators from the sentiment of the moment and provides that they can afford to be a more deliberative legislative body.

The recent election cycle is a fantastic demonstration of the wisdom of our founding fathers. A historic number of Representatives were defeated this year because all the members of the federal House of Representatives were subject to re-election and because there was a significant consensus that Congress was not representing the values of the people. The Senate did not experience this same changeover because only a third of the Senators were eligible for re-election. Should Congress continue to not represent the values of the people, it is very likely that the leadership of the Senate will also change in upcoming years.

This is just one of many important and time tested principles that have been handed down to us through the years. Defending the application of this wise principle to Oklahoma governance became an important part of my desire to seek office in 2006. I am glad to report that after that election, efforts to change the terms of office of Oklahoma Representatives were abandoned. I believe this was in part because of the strong message sent by local voters.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Working with House Speaker Chris Benge

Last week the House of Representatives’ Republican caucus met for the first time since the recent election to elect new officers and prepare for the upcoming legislative session. The 70 person caucus contains members from every part of Oklahoma, including districts which have never before elected Republican representatives.

Since the next Legislature will take office next week, a number of the colleagues with whom I have worked in the past few years will be leaving the Legislature, including House Speaker Chris Benge who is term limited.

I have enjoyed the opportunity to work with Speaker Benge. I have found him to be one of the most honorable legislators. He was not one of the legislators who would play the political games which all too many politicians play. He treated legislators with respect. If he told us that he would support our idea then that is what he would do. If he opposed your idea then he was strong enough to accept responsibility for opposing it. I observed that he was not one of the politicians who would pass the buck by making it appear as if he were for your issue while secretly having it killed.

Benge placed a high priority on fiscal responsibility issues. His desire to guard the taxpayer dollar meant that he was extremely supportive of ideas for cutting government spending. He maintained that support even when our ideas came under heavy attack from those seeking to maintain the status-quo.

Benge’s support was extremely vital at the end of the 2009 legislative session when members of the opposition party launched a very aggressive attack against our effort to save millions of taxpayer dollars through streamlining the State’s IT infrastructure. Under Benge’s leadership the House passed the measure. The savings from this proposal are now set to come online at a time when state policy leaders will be required to cut millions of dollars of state spending.

I enjoy the opportunity to watch governance systems and learn from the mistakes and successes of policy leaders. I very much benefited from observing the system Benge used to develop and implement policy. Using the infrastructure put in place by previous House Speaker Lance Cargill, Benge utilized the talents of a team of energetic and intelligent policy professionals to maintain a communication pipeline with legislators, issue stakeholders, state officials and the office of the Speaker. This provided an efficient method for the dissemination of the enormous amounts of information that must be processed for the development and advancement of policy. It would have been easy for Benge to tear down his predecessor's infrastructure but instead he took advantage of it and used it in what I believe to be an effective manner.

One of Benge’s best long-term legacies will result from his courageous decision to allow the video broadcast of House proceedings. Because these feeds are archived, indexed and linkable they will greatly enable the citizens of Oklahoma to examine legislative actions for many years to come.

I developed the most respect for Speaker Benge in those times that I opposed his policies. It can be considered a risky event for a representative to vote against his own party’s Speaker’s legislation. However, I did this several times and was on more than one occasion one of just a very few representatives to do so. However, I never experienced retaliation for these votes and was never pressured to change my vote.

I am honored to have been able to work under the leadership of Speaker Benge and appreciate being able to learn from his example.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Setting the Record Straight about SQ 754

During the past few days I have received several questions from those who are worried about the possible implications of voting for State Question 754. They are worried because of this statement which has been appended to the question’s ballot title: “Thus, under the measure, once adopted, the measure could not be effectively amended. Nor could it be repealed.”

This is understandably a reason for concern because no one wants to vote for something which cannot be amended. However, the statement that it cannot be amended is completely false. The bill states that provisions of the Constitution cannot force the Legislature to appropriate money by a pre-determined formula such as the one proposed by State Question 744 (the effort to force the Legislature to appropriate common education funds based on the way other states appropriate education funds). However, nothing in the bill prevents the people of Oklahoma from amending this section of the Constitution in the future.

The Attorney General has the power to change the way the ballot title reads before it is submitted to a vote of the people and this ballot title was changed by the Attorney General’s office. This is an extremely important responsibility because very few people ever read the bill and will be completely dependant on the ballot title to give them a proper perspective of the Constitutional change.

Here is the ballot title for SQ 754 as approved by the Legislature. This is the version most people will never see:

“This measure amends the Oklahoma Constitution. It would add a new Section 55A to Article 5. It relates to the state budget. It relates to the ability of the Legislature to spend money each year. It would allow the Legislature to make decisions about the state budget. The Legislature would be able to decide how much money to spend each year. The Legislature would not be required to spend a certain amount of money for any one government service or function. If this amendment is adopted, the Oklahoma Constitution could not require the Legislature to do this. If this amendment is adopted, the Oklahoma Constitution could not require the Legislature to make spending decisions based on how much money any other state spent.”

Here is the title as re-written by the Attorney General:

“This measure adds a new section to the Oklahoma Constitution. It adds Section 55A to Article 5. The Legislature designates amounts of money to be used for certain functions. These designations are called appropriations. The measure deals with the appropriation process. The measure limits how the Constitution could control that process. Under the measure the Constitution could not require the Legislature to fund state functions based on:

1. Predetermined constitutional formulas, 2. How much other states spend on a function, 3. How much any entity spends on a function.

Under the measure, these limits on the Constitution's power to control appropriations would apply even if: 1. A later constitutional amendment changed the Constitution, or 2. A constitutional amendment to the contrary was passed at the same time as this measure.

Thus, under the measure, once adopted, the measure could not be effectively amended. Nor could it be repealed.”

It’s important to reiterate that nothing in the bill prevents the people of Oklahoma from voting to repeal or amending Section 55A of the Constitution. You can see for yourself by reading the actual bill (

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Tired of Negative Political Attacks

This is the time of the year where the political candidates who are trailing their opponents in the polls realize that unless they start producing negative campaign pieces then they will probably lose in the upcoming election.

I don’t enjoy watching these commercials, especially when the person being attacked is someone I know and respect and when I know, based on my experience as a Legislator, that the subject matter being used in the attack is very much targeted in a dishonest and deceptive manner.

I have seen my share of inappropriate and disgusting political attacks over the years but one of the most deceptive and disingenuous commercials that I have ever seen have been those targeting State Senator Todd Lamb. Lamb is campaigning for Lieutenant Governor and has been polling ahead of his opponent. I have served with Senator Lamb as a fellow member of Edmond’s legislative delegation and have always been impressed with his character which is a sentiment that I believe is shared by his colleagues of both parties with whom he has worked with in the Legislature.

A few days ago, Lamb’s opponent started running a set of incredibly deceptive commercials that are a direct assault on Lamb’s character. The commercials fault Lamb for his conference committee vote for a bill which put into law a process enabling for the transition of the state Medical Examiner’s office to another location.

A majority of Legislators, including Lamb’s opponent, also voted for the bill because they had no reason to believe that there was anything unusual about the legislation. After the Legislature adjourned there were some questions raised about the individual who might have been placed in charge of the transition. These questions are being looked into by the appropriate authorities but no language designating the identity of the transition coordinator was in the bill and legislators had little way of knowing any of these details at the time of their vote.

Lamb’s opponent has tried to construe Lamb’s vote to make it appear as if Lamb was a participant in trying to do something inappropriate. Lamb’s opponent does not reveal that he also voted for this same bill and he does not tell the public that any impropriety tied to this matter was not in the bill and legislators would have not had any way of knowing of any proposed impropriety.

Also, coming under heavy attack from a desperate opponent is former House District 31 resident Janet Barresi who is campaigning for State Superintendent of Education. Barresi has been a leader in the effort to provide educational opportunities to Oklahoma students and in that role has served as an appointee of the House of Representatives as the Chair of the Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE) task force. Based on my familiarity with the issues, I believe the commercials targeting Mrs. Barresi’s efforts to better education have been very unfair.

Probably the most ironic and out-of-touch attack took place just two days after the House Government Modernization Committee heard testimony demonstrating the potential savings to the taxpayers through the implementation of the state’s IT consolidation effort. The opponent of State Representative Jason Nelson mailed a mailer attacking Nelson for supporting the consolidation proposal on the grounds that it “grew government”. The bill actually cuts millions of dollars from the state budget and was one of the rare proposals brought before the legislature which was designed to very much shrink the size of government.

I believe deceptive attacks like these are an admission by the attackers that they have little reason to give the people for voting for them and that they are willing to engage in dirty politics to achieve power.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Study Finds Modernization Reforms On Track

Study Finds Modernization Reforms On Track

Contact: State Rep. Jason Murphey State Rep. David Derby
Capitol: (405) 557-7350 Capitol: (405) 557-7377

OKLAHOMA CITY – State and local governments are set to save $21 million each year due to purchasing reforms enacted in recent years by the Legislature and is on track to achieve further savings through consolidated information technology services and financial shared services, House committee members were told today.
Randy Ross, the deputy director at the Department of Central Services testifying at a legislative study before the House Government Modernization committee today, said the agency is continuing to negotiate new contracts for commodities utilized by state and local agencies. He said state agencies are projected to save approximately $13 million and local entities projected to save nearly $8 million. The agency is expected to document total savings in January.
“Central purchasing reforms have helped provide millions of dollars in relief to state and local government budgets as their revenues decline,” said state Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie and chairman of the committee. “We expect to see further savings from current IT consolidation efforts and financial saved services and were encouraged today to hear that those efforts are being implemented at a breakneck pace.”
The committee also heard testimony that recent legislative reforms are allowing state officials to re-negotiate contracts with vendors who are no longer providing products at a price which is competitive with commonly available peer products.
Chief Information Officer Alex Pettit and a representative of Capgemini told the committee that the data-collection phase of the IT consolidation effort is underway, with surveys sent out to agencies last week and an automated scan of seven agencies already completed. The final report of the IT consolidation plan is scheduled to be completed Feb. 28, 2011. A rough draft will be available by mid-December of this year.
“The CIO has already identified a need for technology standardization among agencies, a problem with document compatibility and a lack of communication between the IT personnel of various agencies,” Murphey said. “I have been very impressed with the speed of this consolidation effort.”
State Rep. David Derby, vice-chairman of the committee, sponsored the IT consolidation initiative as part of House Bill 1170 during the 2009 legislative session and plans to file follow-up legislation during the 2011 to incorporate any additional reforms suggested in the plan.
“The state stands to save millions through the consolidation of services in a massive area of state spending,” Derby, R-Owasso, said. “It is critical that the Legislature implement the plan’s suggestions after they are made available in February.”
The committee also heard from Brenda Bolander with the Office of State Finance, who said 95 agencies, representing 99 percent of travel claims, were using the newly implemented electronic payment system for travel expenses. She also noted that 20 percent of interagency payments were now made electronically. She said that OSF plans to implement an online system for submitting travel claims and grant provisioning. A Hackett Group report showed that Oklahoma needed to make more of its financial processing electronic.
OSF Director of Operations Jim McGoodwin reported that 22 agencies were not yet in compliance with a 2010 law requiring licensing to be available online. The number represents approximately one-third of agencies which must comply with the law.
“While there are some excellent examples of state agency online licensing offerings, it is very disturbing that this many agencies appear to be ignoring the law,” Murphey said.
“The Oklahoma Office of State Finance, Department of Central Services and Chief Information Office are experts in their areas,” Murphey said. “As state agencies increasingly delegate purchasing, information technology and financial services to these support agencies, they will be better able to focus on their own respective missions.”
The study also examined the use of videoconferenceing to reduce travel costs and heard from representatives of Oklahomans for Responsible Government and the Oklahoma Council on Public Affairs and received testimony from the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority regarding the possible realization of savings through the implementation of a telework pilot program for state employees.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Consolidation of Oklahoma's State Government IT Systems

This week the House of Representative’s Government Modernization Committee will conduct two interim studies designed to analyze the progress of the ongoing modernization reform initiatives and explore the possibility of implementing a new series of transparency and cost saving reforms.

The savings from the Legislature’s modernization efforts of the past two years are starting to come online at a time when state government will be required to once again greatly reduce the size of the state budget.

Recent state budgets have been propped up by stimulus funds, rainy day fund expenditures, and a crazy accounting gimmick which placed state government in debt to the oil and gas industry.

The time for state government to cut its budget is now as the rainy day funds are starting to become depleted and the federal government will likely start to retreat from its unwise policy of issuing so much new debt.

One of the key modernization reforms taken by the Legislature and the Governor was the enactment of House Bill 1170 in 2009. The proposal was sponsored by Representative David Derby who serves as the Vice-Chair of the Modernization Committee and was designed to cut cost by implementing an enterprise-wide IT strategy for Oklahoma State Government. Each year these technology expenditures account for many millions of dollars of state spending. This spending is all too often fragmented among state agencies which leads to wasteful spending practices, missed saving initiatives, lack of an enterprise-wide long term IT vision and failure to provide for an across-the-board security strategy to protect the taxpayers’ personal information.

House Bill 1170 was approved because of the tremendous commitment of both House Speaker Chris Benge and Senate Speaker Pro-Temp Glen Coffee. The plan was also supported by Governor Henry who courageously signed the bill even though every single member of his party voted against it in the Legislature.

At that time, those of us in the Legislature who supported this cost-cutting effort, pointed to the time when the stimulus funds would be gone and state government would have to cut costs as a reason for why it was important for us to approve the bill as soon as possible.

Now, some of the provisions of this law are starting to go into effect just in time for the government financial shortfall. Early next year, Oklahoma’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) is scheduled to present the IT consolidation plan which is mandated by law to reduce state IT spending by at least 15%.

Our interim study will provide the opportunity to review the ongoing progress of this reform and prepare for additional legislation which may be needed to implement the components of the CIOs plan.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

2010 Judicial Retention Ballot

During each general election cycle, voters of Oklahoma are asked to vote on whether or not they wish to retain certain judicial officials.

This year you will be asked to vote on retaining or removing two Justices of the Oklahoma Supreme Court and four Justices of the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals.

Each Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice is placed on the ballot for retention every six years. This year Justice Steven Taylor and Justice James Winchester are up for a retention vote. Taylor was appointed by Governor Henry in 2004 and Winchester was appointed by Governor Keating in 2000.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about the court’s decision to declare a recent legislative tax increase on health insurance policies to be unconstitutional. Both of these justices voted to stop the unconstitutional tax increase.

Another important decision was rendered by the court earlier this year when it ruled that it is wrong for fees to be levied and used for government funds not related to the fees’ purpose. This was an important decision because it reinforced the principal that taxes should not be levied under the misleading designation of a fee. Taylor supported this decision, and Winchester opposed it on the grounds that he did not feel the Court had original jurisdiction in the case.

Additionally, both Taylor and Winchester have supported recent court rulings against the Legislature’s unconstitutional practice of logrolling appropriations measures, which I have written about on more than one occassion.

The four Justices of the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals who are up for the retention vote are Deborah Barnes appointed by Governor Henry in 2008, Doug Gabbard appointed by Governor Henry in 2005, John Fischer appointed by Governor Henry in 2007 and Larry Joplin appointed by Governor Walters in 1994. I am not aware of any high profile cases which these justices have been a party to in the last few months.

Since the retention ballot was developed in 1967, every justice has been retained. Should the voters decide to remove a justice from office, there is a procedure to be followed. Oklahoma’s Judicial Nominating Commission would nominate several applicants for the position and the Governor would choose a new justice from that list of applicants.

You may recall that State Question 752, which will also be on the ballot on November 2, will ask you to vote on enhancing the composition of the Judicial Nominating Commission to include two non-attorney members. Currently, nearly half the Commission is appointed by the Oklahoma Bar Association and the reforms contained in State Question 752 will allow for a more varied representation on the board.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you want additional information about these votes.

Monday, October 4, 2010

My Practices for Using Twitter as an Elected Official

I very much enjoy the ability to utilize new forms of communication with constituents. This is a unique time in history because these forms of communication are quickly evolving.

I was introduced to the idea of using Twitter by Edmond Senator Clark Jolley who was probably the first Oklahoma legislator to make use of the service. In the summer of 2008, I started using the service and over the course of the past two years, I have observed and attempted to apply what I believe to be a set of best practices.

I have determined that the main focus of my use of Twitter as an elected official will be to provide resources to my constituents.

For example, I have found that one of the greatest strengths provided by Twitter is that of an excellent real-time distribution network for documents which would otherwise remain largely inaccessible to the taxpayers. For instance, prior to a recent local school bond election, I received an e-mail from a constituent. He wanted to know how his local property taxes compared to other school districts in the state. We requested the information from the Oklahoma Tax Commission and subsequently posted a link to the document using Twitter and Google documents (the document is available at

As a result, voters were allowed instance access to data which is probably not available anywhere else on the web (although it should be). Because of Twitter, the link to the document was instantly available to a wide purview and could be forwarded through e-mail and other social media. The potential impact of the proposal on local property taxes compared to the tax of surrounding districts had been an issue of dispute up until that point, but with the publication of this document the voters could see the exact impact of the proposal.

During the last session of the legislature, Twitter provided an avenue for informing constituents of upcoming votes of interest in the House. Voters can now observe the House debating bills online at While it is true that an agenda is posted on the House website, the actual debate and vote on a bill can occur at any time, or not occur at all. Twitter allowed me to alert voters to issues of interest where I was able to attach a link to the live broadcast of the debate.

I have also observed Twitter practices which I have determined to avoid. The foremost practice which I have determined not to emulate is that of using the network as a forum for launching partisan attacks. I view the service as an excellent opportunity to share information that will allow voters to make decisions on their own without editorializing against or demonizing those who have a different point of view. I have found that elected officials can appear especially partisan when they are forced to make a statement in the 140 characters or less allowed by Twitter. It is my intent to use the service as a positive venue and not as a political attack tool.

If you are interested in following my Twitter account, you may do so at

Monday, September 27, 2010

The 2010 State Questions

On November 2, there will be 11 state questions put before the voters for their consideration.

As a Legislator, I supported all of the questions, with the exception of the first and last ones on the ballot (SQ 744 and SQ 757).

State Question 744 dictates that the Oklahoma Legislature appropriate funding for state education entities by a formula which is tied to the amounts appropriated by other states. I believe it is very bad policy to place legislatures in other states in charge of setting policy which will be used by Oklahoma. Legislative hearings have determined that the passage of this legislation would have a dramatic impact on the funding of a number of other non-education state government agencies and the passage of this proposal would make it extremely difficult to realize tax relief in the future.

State Question 757 enables the legislature to expand the size of the state’s Rainy Day Fund. I believe this is also bad policy as it would allow legislatures to avoid returning money to citizens in the form of tax relief in the good revenue years, and also avoid necessary reductions in wasteful government spending in the down revenue years. The up and down government revenue cycle is a huge tool for restraining the size of government and a large rainy day fund allows legislators to avoid making some tough choices.

I support the remainder of the state questions. This includes SQ 746 which would establish a voter ID law. The legislature was forced to send this issue to a vote of the people in order to bypass a gubernatorial veto.

I was the House author for SQ 747. If approved, this proposal would establish term limits on all statewide elected officials. I have witnessed the dramatic effects term limits have had in cleaning out the corruption of the previous legislatures, and I believe this important policy will have a positive impact if applied to the rest of state government.

SQ 748 will modernize the legislative apportionment process by allowing for a more broad based representation on the apportionment commission which would draw state redistricting lines should the legislature fail to do so.

SQ 750 would institute a reform to the process by which Oklahoma citizens can petition to change the Constitution. It proposes to index the initiative petition signature requirement to a percentage of the total vote of each gubernatorial election only. Currently the requirement is tied to the general election which means it is much hard to complete an initiative petition following a presidential election when many more people voted.

SQ 751 declares English to be Oklahoma’s official language and does not allow law suits to be filed against the state for not offering services in other languages.

SQ 752 updates the membership of the State Judicial Nominating Commission to include two new non-lawyer members.

SQ 754 is a counter to SQ 744. It states that legislative appropriations cannot be made based on the amount spent by other states. If both SQ 744 and SQ 754 are approved, the law will likely be determined based on which state question garners the most votes.

SQ 755 is designed to prevent state courts from using international law as a guideline for determining the outcomes of Oklahoma cases. It is also designed to prevent the application of Sharia law.

SQ 756 is Oklahoma’s federal health care opt-out proposal. It is designed to prohibit forced participation in a health care system. It also prohibits making an employer join a health care system.

Please let me know if you have questions about any of the specifics of any of these proposals. You may reach me by email at

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Long Term Implications of Gov 2.0 Legislation

One the projects I worked on this last legislative year was the Oklahoma State Government 2.0 legislation (SB 1759) which I authored with Oklahoma State Senator Anthony Sykes and which went into law a few weeks ago.

The legalization took several dramatic first steps in establishing the framework by which silos of state government data will be opened up to the purview of the public. I believe this may be the first ever comprehensive codification of state-level government 2.0 law.

Senate Bill 1759 not only put in place the procedures by which this data will be released, but also set the standards by which the public can interact with the data. Using these standards, software developers will be able to create applications which can be used to analyze the data and present it to the public in any number of ways. The far-reaching impact of these applications is hard to imagine at this time but will result in state government being accountable like never before possible.

It was our intent to use this legislation as a way of holding government accountable by pushing out the data to taxpayers and incentivizing the free market to develop tools which will allow the taxpayers and government officials to know where taxpayer money is being spent.

However, the data and the tools which will be developed for analyzing the data will have an application which will far exceed that of basic public transparency. I believe these tools will eventually allow state officials to have a set of performance metrics by which they can begin holding various bureaucracies responsible for meeting certain expectations.

Currently, Legislators are limited when attempting to gauge the performance of state agencies. Over time, Oklahoma state government has gotten so large that it now encompasses thousands of employees working through hundreds of agencies, boards and commissions. This government behemoth eats up billions of taxpayer dollars each year. It has become nearly impossible for state leaders to know which of these government groups are acting efficiently and which ones are wasting taxpayer dollars.

Currently, legislators mostly appear to govern through a policy of reviewing a few basic line items of budget data and some high level performance expectations, but are limited in being able to observe how effective or non-effective the actual activities of each state agency are being conducted.

Raw data feeds and the tools that are used to analyze those feeds can be used to report on all agency activities and can be aggregated to give state officials and taxpayers a true measure of the effectiveness of state government activities.

This aggregated information can be used to establish performance metrics for each individual activity engaged in by the state agencies.

Once these metrics have been established, state officials will be able to make a wide range of policy decisions to cut the cost of delivering these services while improving their quality. Some of these decisions would include state employee performance compensation, implementation of state employee telework policies and the related divestment of state capital assets (and related debt), privatization of services, and many more strategic allocations of resources.

The ground work we are establishing in the in the effort to increase transparency will not only give taxpayers insight into how their taxpayer dollars are being spent; it can also give policy makers the information they need to hold government accountable, implement new best practices to reduce the level of government spending and increase the quality of services provided.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dorman Urges Schools to Recruit Medical Volunteers

Oklahoma House of Representatives
Media Division

September 13, 2010

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

Dorman Urges Schools to Recruit Medical Volunteers

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Joe Dorman urged schools today to start recruiting medical volunteers for school sporting events.
House Bill 1658, authored by Dorman, will take effect on Jan. 1 and will allow health care professionals to volunteer at secondary school sporting events without fear of being sued.
“The new law will give medical volunteers protection under the Good Samaritan Act,” Dorman, D-Rush Springs, said. “For this reason, I urge parents to ensure that a volunteer is on hand at their school sporting events to address any serious injury that might occur.”
Dorman cited the case of a Portland , Ore. , football player who suffered a heart attack and was brought back to life by a cardiac nurse who happened to be in the stands.
“When someone suffers a serious head or heart injury, the response time plays a critical role in whether or not that individual survives it,” Dorman said. “A young football player in Rush Springs , Justin Barney, died from a head injury. No medical professional was on hand, and it could have made the difference. One thing that people aren’t aware of is that there are not enough ambulances in the state to cover all of the high school sporting events that regularly occur. Even though the law has not yet taken effect, it is very important to have a volunteer with medical training on hand.”
The Oklahoma Athletic Trainers’ Association estimates that 25 percent of student athletes statewide will miss either practice or competition due to a head injury. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 3.9 million sports and recreation-related concussions occur nationally each year.
Dorman also encouraged parents to contact their school and athletic program administrators to encourage coaches to take advantage of a free online program called ACTive, provided by the Oregon Center for Applied Science. The program trains them in protecting student athletes from concussions. To enroll, coaches can go to
“With so many concussions occurring annually, I think it is imperative that our local coaches participate in a program to better protect their athletes,” Dorman said. “Please help me get out the word on this issue.”


Monday, September 13, 2010

New Costs to Taxpayers

Last week, the Joint Liaison Committee on State and Education Employees Group Insurance Benefits held a hearing to review next year’s rate schedule for the health insurance the state provides to various Oklahoma government employees.

This is always an interesting topic because these rate increases affect the government agencies (state, county and schools) which must pay much of the insurance premiums, the state employees who have the insurance, and ultimately the taxpayers who foot the bill.

It became clear during the hearing that unless reversed, the recent federal health care proposals will have a dramatic affect on state insurance offerings. This cost will eventually either be paid for by state employees in the form of a reduced benefit allowance surpluses, or by taxpayers in the form of higher insurance costs.

Earlier this summer I wrote a series of articles concerning the Legislature’s actions during the past session where we attempted to learn from the free market and apply some of its best practices to drive down health insurance rates and save taxpayer money.

While approved by the Legislature, this legislation was subsequently vetoed by the Governor.

Now, with the advent of new federal legislation, it appears that our ability to incorporate some of these ideas will be greatly hampered. The federal legislation includes various mandates and limitations on insurance plans which make it much more difficult for the plans to act independently in incorporating best practices without incurring substantial costs.

At our hearing, we heard testimony that the preferred provider organization (PPO) plan offered to government employees was able to meet some of the initial federal mandates with a small cost increase by utilizing reserves which had built up as a result of investments gains by the state insurance fund reserve fund. These funds may keep the state insurance plan PPO costs under control for one more year, but I believe this to be a very temporary solution. If there is a downturn in the market and these reserve funds are not available in the future, the plan could then be hit with multiple years of health care cost inflation. This inflation could be substantial in size because of the federal mandates.

We were also told that some of the state’s health maintenance (HMO) insurance plans could be experiencing significant increases in the area of 10 to 13 percent. This will come at a time when the state employees’ benefit allowance will actually be decreasing. In other words, state employees may have less money available to spend on significantly more expensive HMO plans.

Some of the federal requirements which are driving up the cost of insurance are because of wellness and prevention mandates. While the policies are well meaning, they are taking away the freedom of health insurers from being able to independently design their own plans which will work for the participants of the plan while keeping costs under control.

In other words, those free market best practices which we were trying to apply and drive down the cost to the taxpayer, will now be much more difficult to implement as we struggle to fit within the federal government’s one-size-fits-all approach.

Oklahoma taxpayers, state agencies, school boards, rural water districts and county governments will eventually be forced to pay the increased cost in meeting the new federal mandates on health insurance polices for the thousands of covered Oklahoma government employees.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Open Door Policy - Sept. 7, 2010

I hope everyone had a great Labor Day weekend! I was happy because I got to spend it at baseball with both my sisters' families and celebrate the grand nephews and nieces belated birthdays. It was also great to see the Oklahoma Redhawks clinch a spot in the playoffs also. Good luck to them and also to all the secondary school athletes as they start their sports programs this semester. I was going to make schedules again this year, but funds are limited right now so I will not be able to get them printed.

With the November elections right around the corner, I hope each of you will take the time to research not only the candidates on the ballot, but also the ballot questions. We have a mix of eleven initiates and referendums which the people of Oklahoma will decide on if those should become a part of our State Constitution. The questions, with a brief description, are as follows:

*SQ 744 - Repeals the minimum cap on average spending for common schools and establishes a new cap of a regional average based upon the average spent on states surrounding Oklahoma . The measure does not raise taxes, but it also does not provide new funding for the spending requirements.

*SQ 746 - Requires a person who votes to show government-issued identification and increases penalties to a felony for swearing to a false voter statement.

*SQ 747 - Establishes term limits for statewide elected officials for a maximum of two terms for each office.

*SQ 748 - Establishes the creation of a new Legislative Apportionment Commission consisting of one democrat and one Republican each appointed by the Speaker of the House, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, the Governor and the seventh member shall be the Lieutenant Governor. Currently, the Commission consists of the Attorney General, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and the State Treasurer.

*SQ 750 - This measure would affect the required amount of signatures necessary for initiative and referendum petitions. This would set the required signatures on the percentage based upon the most votes cast for a statewide ballot with the Governor on the ballot, rather than using the immediate past General Election, which could have the Presidential election. Presidential elections generally increase the percentage of voter turnout substantially, so this would likely lower the required amount of signatures.

*SQ 751 - Would establish English as the language used in official state actions. It also provides Native American languages may be used and other languages as required by federal law.

*SQ 752 - Adds two new at-large members to the Judicial Nominating Commission, appointed by the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. This Commission selects a pool of nominees to fill vacant judicial positions, and the Governor chooses one from this pool to serve.

*SQ 754 - Would not require the Legislature to base appropriations on a predetermined Constitutional formula, how much other states spend or how much an entity spends on a function.

*SQ 755 - Forbids courts in the State of Oklahoma from considering or using international law or Sharia Law when deciding cases.

*SQ 756- Prohibits the requirement a person or employer participate in a government-mandated health care system passed after January 1, 2010. This measure also includes restrictions on government control over health insurance.

*SQ 757 - Would increase the amount of surplus revenue going to the Constitutional Reserve Fund, or "Rainy Day" Fund from 10% to 15% for the preceding fiscal year.

These are very brief descriptions due to limited space for my column. Please do more research on each. You can read the full ballot title at and by clicking the State Questions link. As with elections, there are many special interests spending quite a bit of money to either support or defeat each of these questions. Please take the time to learn about each of these questions and vote the way you feel will best help our state.

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, September 6, 2010

New Transportation Plan Released

Last month the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) took action to approve the latest version of its eight year plan for improving state highways and bridges.

This is program has been very conscientiously funded by the Legislature over the past few years. Although I don’t always agree with the funding mechanisms used (I always oppose funding which involves the issuance of debt), I certainly agree that replacing dangerous bridges should be a foremost goal of state government.

This year’s plan includes the addition of several new area bridge replacement projects.

Major area projects on the current plan include the following.

In 2013 the effort to replace the Guthrie viaduct should be complete. The project is estimated to cost 6.3 million dollars.

Also, in 2013, ODOT plans to complete the replacement of the Seward road bridge over Interstate 35 at a cost of $3.7 million dollars.

The replacement of the Skeleton Creek bridge on State Highway 74 is scheduled for replacement in 2014 and will cost just shy of 2 million dollars.

The 2014 replacement of the Crow Creek bridge on State Highway 74 is estimated to cost nearly 2.4 million dollars.

Also, in 2014, ODOT is planning to replace a bridge on Highway 77 just south of Highway 74C at a cost of nearly 2.4 million dollars.

In 2016, ODOT plans to resurface Highway 33 from the Kingfisher/Logan County line 3.5 miles to the east. The project will include shoulder improvements. It is estimated to cost 7 million dollars.

This year’s plan includes the addition of the 2017 replacement of the Highway 77 bridge over the Cimarron River. Current estimates indicate this project will cost in the area of 7.3 million dollars.

The plan also calls for the replacement of the three Highway 51 bridges over Beaver Creek. This includes the 2017 replacement of the West and Middle Beaver Creek bridges for 6.6 million dollars and the 2018 replacement of the East Beaver Creek bridge for 13.8 million dollars.

The expansion of Highway 74 from 2 lanes to 4 lanes is another project which has captured the interest of many area residents. In 2012, ODOT is planning to complete the project from north of Memorial Road to the north by one mile and one-half miles at a cost of 27 million dollars. In 2015, the plan calls for the completion of the remainder of the section from Waterloo to Memorial for an additional 18 million dollars.

If you would like more information about these projects, their cost and the scope of the work please do not hesitate to contact me.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Unconstitutional Tax Increase

You may recall two updates which I wrote shortly after the conclusion of this year’s legislative session. I explained my opposition to fee and tax increases and talked about how the increases would hurt Oklahoma’s economy by punishing and disincentivizing Oklahoma small business owners.

One of the more egregious increases was the 300% increase on vending machine operators. This new law will have a devastating impact on Oklahoma’s vending machine operators, at least one of whom lives in House District 31. He has since informed me that he has already pulled his first machine out of service and may very well go out of business.

Small business owners are not the only ones affected. Legislators have been informed by Coca-Cola that the change will also impact their business. They may be forced to pull marginally producing machines and lay off employees as a result.

This reduction in the number of machines will reduce the revenue which the fee generates to the state. Ironically, legislators will be in part thwarted in the effort to generate revenue because there will probably be fewer machines to tax. And, as a result of this short-sighted policy, any number of Oklahomans may become unemployed.

Probably the most egregious increase of the year was a 1% tax increase on private health insurance premiums. This was an item which appeared to have been negotiated for by legislative Democrats and agreed to by Republican leaders. It is inconceivable to me that Republicans would agree to this plan in an era when private health insurance is subject to coming under attack as never before.

It was also clearly an unconstitutional action, because legislators do not have the ability to enact a tax increase without either a vote of the people or a 75% vote of the Legislature.

This was why it was an extremely important occurrence when a number of Republican legislators refused to support the increase and voted against it. In doing so, we denied the proponents of the tax increase the 75% majority they needed to meet constitutional requirements.

The failure of the legislation to receive 75% of the vote did not stop the Legislature from attempting to bypass the State Constitution and implement this tax.

Fortunately, State Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland who was charged with being the custodian of some of the funds generated by the tax refused to participate and sought a statement from the State Supreme Court to declare the tax unconstitutional.

The Court honored Holland’s request and as a result the tax increase has been stopped.

This is not the first time that the court has very properly declared legislative action unconstitutional. I feel it is extremely difficult for the Oklahoma Legislature to expect the people of Oklahoma and other government entities to respect the Constitution and state laws when the Legislature itself ignores the Constitution.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Open Books 2.0

During the most recent legislative session I was privileged to work on two major initiatives designed to open up Oklahoma government to the purview of taxpayers as has never before been possible.

One of these initiatives was Senate Bill SB 1759 which is commonly known as the Government 2.0 proposal. I authored this legislation with State Senator Anthony Sykes. This bill contained a series of transparency initiatives, including the codification of what I believe is the first comprehensive state-level Government 2.0 plan in the nation. In the future I intend to write articles about this bill that will describe the implications of the changes and ways this will allow you to hold state government responsible.

The other initiative was House Bill 3422 which was authored by Representative Ken Miller and Senator Clark Jolley. The plan is known as the Open Books 2.0 proposal and was requested by Miller and the Oklahomans for Responsible Government (OFRG) group. OFRG routinely utilizes web based reporting to conduct studies which help document how accountable various government entities are. The individuals at OFGR are becoming experienced in using web based transparency platforms and noticed that Oklahoma's open books policies (the policy by which state government must place expenses online) was falling behind that of other states.

Current Oklahoma law does not require all state expenditures to be placed online and the expenditures are not easily searchable. This makes it difficult for those who want to find out where state government is spending money.

I was honored to work with OFRG, Miller and Senate author Clark Jolley and help develop the transparency criteria which were eventually placed into the new law. HB 3422 will require not only that all state government purchases be placed online, but will also ensure that those expenditures are searachable by name.

No longer will taxpayers be forced to scroll through page after page of expenditures in order to find the name of an individual or company who is receiving a government check. Now, taxpayers will be able to search by name and can quickly find out how much that entity is receiving.

The spend data will also be available for export in standardized formats so that the data can be downloaded and analyzed. This will enable third party organizations representing taxpayers to perform complex analysis of government spending. In addition, the data will be archived and kept on file so that not only will documentation of the expenditures remain open to the public, but long term spending trends can be analyzed as well.

I very much enjoyed being able to help with this legislation and believe the implications of these reforms will be extremely far reaching in deterring inappropriate government spending. In a future update I will write about some of the exciting tax-credit transparency language which will also go into law as a result of House Bill 3422.

Monday, August 16, 2010

More Great News About Legislative Process Reforms

When I first started to campaign for State Representative in 2004, I did so on a platform of creating a revolution in state government. My idea was that a new generation of legislators would dismantle the legislative process framework which had proven to be so conducive to corruption.

By the time I took office in 2007, it became obvious to me that this revolution had not occurred. The new generation of Republican legislative leaders in the House had taken significant steps towards making the legislative process more open and transparent, but had in no way dismantled the closed system which had been in place for many years.

On a positive note, House committee votes are now being recorded and placed online so you can see how your legislator voted in committee. The text of bills and proposed amendments are posted online for public review. Certain waiting periods have been established before bills can be put to a vote of the House. Gone are the days when legislators submitted amendments on scraps of paper.

One of the biggest reforms occurred in January 2010 when House Speaker Chris Benge made the very courageous decision to broadcast House proceedings online. You may now see and hear all the debate over the issues considered by the House during session by visiting the web site.

The general theme is that the new majority in the House has consistently advanced a series of reforms. Over time these reforms have made considerable progress in opening up the purview of the legislative process to the taxpayer. This naturally takes some of the influence away from special interests who have used the closed process to their advantage for many years.

While I am excited to be a part of these process reforms, I must also say that this is not the revolution I envisioned: one which completely dismantled the closed legislative process and rebuilt it in a manner that made it hard for the corrupt practices of the past to re-emerge. Each year that goes by without a complete overhaul of the system makes it more likely that the new Republican majority will become co-opted by the process and become defenders of the status quo.

This is why it was especially noteworthy when incoming House Speaker Kris Steele announced that he will seek to incorporate some far-ranging reforms which could put an end to the most irresponsible practices which occur in the last days of each legislative session.

Steele has stated his intent to end the House practice of allowing votes on bills without a 24 hour waiting period in the last two days of session. He also wants to consider forcing House conference committees to actually meet in public prior to signing off on legislation. Steele states that he hopes these reforms will continue to be built on in future legislative sessions.

During the last four years I have observed the current system closely. I believe these observations allow me to speak credibly to the fact that Steele’s proposals are significant and will have a far reaching impact.

In fact, it is my belief that this is a major crack in the Berlin Wall of legislative secrecy which will significantly accelerate the pace towards true transparency and openness.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Liberalization of School Bond Requirements

The recent debate over a proposed bond issuance by the Guthrie School District has reminded me of my observations of ever-ongoing legislative efforts to liberalize the protocols and quality controls which govern the bond issuance process.

I believe these all-too-often successful efforts have been driven by special interests representing not just Oklahoma’s education establishment but the financial interests who derive significant short-term benefit from the issuance of massive amounts of debt without regard to long-term consequences.

Certain items in the Guthrie proposal bring to mind the concerns I have had about either the liberalization or the outright avoidance of these safeguards.

For example, one of these efforts has been to water down the capital-intensive requirements of the laws governing the issuance of bonds. These laws were designed to ensure that bond issuance (debt) only occurred for capital items such as brick and mortar structures which would last for many years and would still have value beyond the time when the debt was paid off. I do not believe it is wise to incur millions of dollars of debt for items which will be long liquidated while the taxpayer is still paying the debt and interest for those items. I believe that most people would never allow their personal budget to deteriorate to the point that they take out a bank loan to purchase groceries. It is certainly not right for government officials to do the same thing using other people’s money. I believe Oklahoma’s statutory guidelines provide an important policy of prudent financial governance and I have always voted against proposals which would reduce these requirements.

I am also very disturbed about the growing trend of Oklahoma school districts circumventing the requirements of the Oklahoma Constitution through a sort of legal shell game. The Oklahoma Constitution mandates that schools cannot take on an amount of debt in excess of 10 percent of the value of assessed property value of the residents of their districts. This important safeguard keeps schools from taking on more debt than is fiscally prudent.

However, Oklahoma schools are simply bypassing this important safeguard by setting up third party entities which can take on much more debt than fiscally prudent. The debt is essentially being laundered through these third party shell groups. Because the debt is likely to be secured by a riskier standard, the taxpayers are forced to pay significantly higher rates of interest.

Legislators attempted to give this practice the veneer of legal credibility with the passage of House Bil 1592 in 2009 (I was one of 19 Representatives to vote against it) but in all reality, only the people of Oklahoma can change the constitutional requirement.

If Oklahoma school districts want to take on additional debt, they should have the courage to ask voters to change the Constitution instead of using a third party for a bond issuance. In my view this is a dangerous shell game which will encumber the taxpayers with far too much debt. I believe that unless this trend is stopped, there will be a painful day of reckoning.

I am also opposed to the practice of logrolling expenditures for multiple public and private entities into one proposal. This practice has become infamous for incurring millions of dollars of spending in order to build a large enough political coalition to support a proposal. I very much dislike the unconstitutional legislative logrolling which occurs in the Legislature and fail to see how this issue is much different.

As a legislator, I am committed to voting against the ongoing attempts to change Oklahoma laws to enable these types of fiscally imprudent spending practices.

I also believe it is very important for school officials to limit bond proposals to capital items costing no more than the amount allowed by the Constitution where the sole beneficiary is the school district.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Open Door Policy - July 19, 2010

I hope everyone is staying safe in this heat. It has been miserable for many of the people and animals out in the daytime. Please remember to drink plenty of water, and if you have outside pets, keep water available for them in something that will not tip over. We received a notice at the Capitol recently about pets going without shade and water and asking us to communicate this message to our districts.

It has been just has hot around the Capitol with several of the campaigns starting to to get nasty. I hope everyone remembers that election day is next Tuesday, July 27th for the primary elections to select people within the political parties for the November ballot. We have several great candidates for office so I hope we see a high turnout to select the best on election day. Good luck to all of the people who have put their names on the ballot.

I recently proposed a change in the way we pass bills at the State Capitol. In years past, we have allowed authors to have complete control to change bills in the final days of session if the legislation is in conference committee, and even remove amendments passed by the body from these bills. I suggested we allow the bills go through the same committee in each body which originally heard the legislation. This will provide a great deal of accountability and transparency on these bills. I've had bipartisan support shown on this suggestion, so we will see how that goes when session starts back in November following the elections.

We will have plenty to talk about with this and other issues at the town hall meetings I have slated for the next few weeks. This upcoming Thursday, July 22, will be at Apache at the Clark-Bohart Community Building and the following week, Thursday, July 29, will be at the Elgin Senior Nutrition Site. At Apache, the band, Cooter Brown, will also be playing after we eat. I hope you will be able to make it to one of the upcoming town hall meetings in your home area. I have a full list posted on my website at if you want to see when the closest to you will occur.

Finally, I want to thank my good friend, Mike Doyle, for his service as my treasurer over the past eight years. Mike has been a huge help on assisting me with tax policy and was key to helping get the tax credit passed for students showing livestock. Mike is going to take a break from politics and focus more on his business and family. The Doyle's had a tragic loss with the passing of his nephew from a train accident a few weeks ago. Joey Doyle worked with me one year on campaigns and was currently studying law in Washington, D.C. He was a good man and will be missed by all his friends and family. Mike celebrated his birthday on Monday with family and friends and will still be an active part of the community, but wants to focus on things closer to him and I appreciate all the work he has done for our area. Jered Davidson of Broxton will be taking over as my campaign treasurer and I appreciate his work as my former intern and the effort he puts in for the State 4-H Foundation.

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.