Sunday, March 28, 2010

Expanding Charter Schools to Logan County

The House of Representatives recently approved an importation education reform measure that I believe could have a significant impact on education in Logan County. House Bill 2753 is sponsored by Representative Lee Denney who represents part of eastern Logan County, including the town of Langston. Her legislation would enable Langston to play host to a charter school.

Currently, state law limits the establishment of charter schools to Oklahoma and Tulsa Counties where the constituents are ill-served by failing school districts. In the past, I have written about the importance of providing these individuals with relief and enabling their children to experience the opportunity of a quality education. However, it is important to realize that there are other areas of the state which are in significant need of education alternatives and school choice. One of these areas is the Logan County community of Langston where Representative Denney has heard from her Langston constituency about the need for a charter school in the town.

This proposal would have several exciting potential applications. A Langston charter school would not only return a common eduction opportunity to the town of Langston, but this school could also be integrated with the University of Langston. Students participating in the charter school could progress through a system which prepared them for and provided them with a seamless integration into the college experience.

In other words, students would be expected not just to complete 12 grades of common education schooling, but 16 grades of common and higher education schooling. This education strategy would match that which is implemented in the highly successful KIPP charter school system about which I have written in the past. This integration with the college environment could also provide Langston college students with the opportunity to practice teaching in an on-campus environment where they could receive real-world teaching experience.

One of the most exciting aspects surrounding the passage of House Bill 2753, was the margin by which it passed the Legislature. The bill received a bi-partisan composition of 63 votes. In 2007, legislation expanding charter schools received 51 votes and was approved by just one vote. I believe this expanding margin of support has been made possible by the many success stories the charter school environment has produced over the past few years. It is becoming harder and harder for defenders of the status quo to demonize change.

If House Bill 2753 is approved, I hope the Langston community will take advantage of this reform to enable better education opportunities for Logan County residents.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Oklahoma Responds to Federal Health Care Legislation

Over the past weeks and months, I continue to receive e-mails from constituents who are frustrated by the debate over the expansion of the federal government's role in the health care industry. These constituents feel their voices are not being heard and are extremely frustrated because they feel helpless to effect change. This frustration has only increased over last weekend as part of the legislation was approved by Congress.

In light of these events, I felt it would be important to provide an update about the progress we are making in the Oklahoma Legislature to combat the federal government's power grab.

I have been a strong advocate for the idea that Oklahoma must aggressively assert its role as a state under the Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Our founding fathers designed our system of governance so that the power of government was localized as much as possible. This means that an individual's voice makes a difference because an individual citizen is more likely to be heard at the local level of government.

For example, the helpless feeling that many constituents are currently feeling would not be so prevalent if this issue were under consideration by state government instead of federal government. Their calls for action would make a big difference because local legislators would be responsive to the level of citizen outrage expressed about this issue. This is why the Tenth Amendment delegates so much authority to state governments.

In order to assert Oklahoma's rights under the Tenth Amendment, several legislators filed states' rights legislation during this session. The Oklahoma House of Representatives recently voted by a 77-10 vote to approve House Joint Resolution 1054. If HJR 1054 is approved by the Legislature, it will allow you to have an outlet to express your opposition to the federal expansion. The proposal would allow Oklahoma citizens to vote in November to amend the State Constitution so that no law or rule will require an Oklahoman to purchase health care insurance and no penalties or fines could be imposed on someone who chooses not to purchase health care insurance.

The Senate has already approved a sister resolution to HJR 1054, known as Senate Joint Resolution 59. SJR 59 was approved by the Senate by a vote of 30-16 and is also designed to amend the Constitution in order to counter some of the possible new mandates from the federal government.

I believe this is one of the most important issues to be considered by the Legislature during this year and I am co-sponsoring both of these efforts. If these proposals are approved, Oklahoma will join a number of other states who are also exercising their rights under the Tenth Amendment.

Shortly after I joined the Legislature, we approved a measure to let Oklahoma join with a number of states in opposing the federal government's effort to enact a REAL ID (national ID card). I believe it was this opposition that forced the federal government to back down and remove the proposal in its original form. I am optimistic that the states can force a similar reaction on this issue as well. The refusal of Oklahoma and other states to cooperate with this latest expansion could be vital to defeating the effort to move towards a socialized health care system.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Open Door Policy - March 15, 2010

We finished the deadline week this past Thursday in the State Legislature and saw many bills make it to the exchange point for each body. I had six of my bills pass the House and go to the Senate this session. The House will now consider Senate legislation and the Senate will work on House legislation. We also have many carry-over bills from the previous year which could possibly see some action. Two I have from the Senate are:
SB 697 – Creating a Children’s Cabinet to force state entities who work on children’s issues to meet quarterly to discuss policies and hopefully avoid duplication of services; and
SB 859 – A bill to allow for modification of benefits status for teachers’ retirement upon the marriage of an individual if the marriage occurs after the initial enrollment.
There are several ideas which I will work with House authors to amend Senate bills to consider several subjects which have arisen since the bill filing deadline. I will keep you posted on the progress of these ideas. I will also be working on the various bills I sent over to the Senate with my authors to make sure the bills progress through the process. Each bill and resolution going through the process (except for simple resolutions) will require an author from both the House and the Senate. If the bills cannot be passed by both bodies with the exact same language, then a conference committee will meet to work out the differences. We will also try to finish up the budget process for FY-11 prior to the May deadline.
It was a busy time outside the Capitol last week also. I made a trip back home during the session to visit the Friend Fire Department annual pie auction. They raised around $10,000 to support the operations of their department over the next year. It is also not too late to donate to them or any of the volunteer departments in your area as they need the additional funds with the upcoming budget cuts at the Capitol. We also saw various guests stop by the session, including the Leadership Lawton 2010 program and the AP English II Class from Elgin . On Thursday following session, I was honored to be the keynote speaker to the Canadian Valley Career Tech Honor Society induction at their Chickasha campus, and I also attended the Rural Electric Cooperative Firefighter Appreciation Dinner in Lindsay. On Friday, I was a guest on Larry Stein’s radio show out of OKC, I taped Kelly Poolaw’s radio show in Anadarko for the Sunday airing, I was on OETA discussing meningitis immunizations from the outbreak in Oologah and I also visited with a Public Administration Class at UCO (one of my alma maters) about government jobs and legislation affecting public entities, along with attending the Speaker’s Ball, an event which raised money for the Regional Food Bank. We also celebrated the birthday of Don McKay of Rush Springs on Saturday with several of the family members and I attended the basketball tournament fundraiser for the Rush Springs little league baseball team and watched some of my high school classmates show they haven’t slowed down since high school (It’s hard to type sarcastically in a column as a couple of them were hobbling around that night after the game). I did rest on Sunday so I would be ready to go this week, even though it will be a slow time at the Capitol. It is also tough adjusting to the time change, and I know that is something we will look at as states are allowed the option of eliminating Daylight Savings Time.
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, March 15, 2010

Open Door Policy - 2/15/2010 - 3/8/2010

The state legislature received some good news this week as oil and gas revenue collections improved slightly. This gives the legislature a little more money to appropriate for the session and will reduce the need for some of the cuts. Out of the projections, the legislature would need to reduce $1.3 billion for the budget to be balanced. The increased projections, according to State Treasurer Scott Meacham, will have about $60 million for the current fiscal year and about $120 million for FY-11, the budget we are currently trying to resolve. This will help ease some of the burden, but it will still be a difficult discussion on where cuts must be made with the shortfall.
I have been disappointed that more involvement has not happened with budget meetings. The process has not been open for the budget committee members at this point, much less the entire legislature. Haggling has occurred behind closed doors on which areas will be cut and which will receive assistance. I'm hoping that there will be more open discussion as we progress in session. To be fair, this process has always been done by a few members of the leadership even when the Democrats were in control, but I was hoping things would change with the Republicans in charge. That was always one of their gripes when they were in the minority, and now it is the same criticism by the Democratic members.
On Monday, I was honored to have several FFA chapters visit the Capitol. Students from Cement, Central High, Elgin , Fletcher and Rush Springs had lunch with me in one of the committee rooms and we were able to discuss issues, from the bill I filed to exempt their membership from school absences to the impact of the budget cuts. It is always a pleasure to have this group visit as they truly are concerned with public policy and civic responsibility.
I also had the chance to visit with the Oklahoma Youth & Government conference at the State Capitol. Students from this organization, sponsored by YMCA's from around the state, descended upon the Capitol on Thursday and Friday to discuss ideas for legislation they prepared and debated on the floor of the House and the Senate. I'm proud to serve on their statewide advisory council and was pleased with the discussion and questions they presented to me.
Another event I was privileged to attend was the Ardmore Chamber Legislative Luncheon. I was invited by Rep. Samson Buck and served on the panel with him, Rep. Pat Ownbey and Sen. Johnnie Crutchfield. This helped prepare me for the upcoming Chickasha and Lawton Legislative Luncheons which will be in the next few weeks.
Finally, I want to congratulate Pastor Kip Ackley and the congregation of Calvary Temple Church in Cyril for their grand opening on Sunday. It was a pleasure to be present for their first service in their new building and it was a wonderful day of celebration. I am thankful for their dedication and their service to the community.
It has been a busy two weeks at the Capitol as legislation has been progressing through the committee process. I have had the chance to present several of my bills and received favorable action on those, but I still have a few more which could possibly make it through the process. I have one bill currently out of committee which deals with TIF reporting and I'm currently working to get more of my bills set for hearings.
Of the bills currently on committee agendas, I will present my legislation to place doctors who volunteer for school athletic functions under the Good Samaritan Act, a bill restructuring the volunteer firefighters tax credit so as to enhance training opportunities and a bill dealing with funeral accounts in the Appropriations Committee this week. I also have legislation to create an income tax check-off for disaster reimbursement in Rules Committee and another bill to set requirements for assisted living facilities to have generators in case of power outages in the Public Health Committee. Thanks to Chairmen Ken Miller, John Trebilcock and Gus Blackwell for hearing these bills!
I had another issue get combined with a bill by Rep. Paul Roan to create a designated memorial highway for the US Army's 95th Division in Comanche County at the junction of I-44 and Highway 7 to mile marker 46. That should be on the floor of the House this week. If any bills are not passed out of committee this week, or by the entire House next week, they will not be considered this year.
We saw one bill die on the floor Monday. This legislation would have mandated a minimum of one hour of marriage counseling for those couples filing for a divorce. I, along with many, felt this was too much government intrusion in a very personal area. I fully support and encourage voluntary marriage counseling, but as one person put it, this is trying to save the milk with an expiration date coming up. We should encourage , even incentivize preventing divorce before there are problems, but not have government mandate a solution.
There have been several groups visit the Capitol over the past few weeks. On Monday, we saw delegates from the Oklahoma Conservation Districts and the adult leadership class for Canadian Valley Technology Center. TRIO also had several students tour the Capitol last week, along with students representing Cameron and USAO for Higher Education Day. We also had the chance to visit with delegates for the American Farmers & Ranchers and the Farm Bureau conventions.
On a final note, we saw two fantastic events with great turnout this past weekend. The Emergency Management conference hosted by myself and Rep. Gus Blackwell was well-attended and provided much useful information. There was attendance from all corners of the state and I was pleased to have Mayor Jack Johnson of Cyril in attendance. We also had the Mo Betta Celebrity Quail Hunt in Apache and it was a huge success. I was pleased to visit with Jon Michael McGrath II, one of our upcoming Summer Olympians in Shooting Sports who is a Tulsan and want to wish him the best in representing the USA!
It has been a busy time around the Capitol with the legislative deadline passing to get bills out of committee. I received a favorable hearing on seven of the fifteen bills I had active in the House of Representatives. The bills are now considered property of the floor leader of the House in legislative terms. I am working with him to see if I can have all of these bills heard this week or next week before the final deadline to pass out of the house of origin to the other body. These bills are:
HB 1658 – Exempt medical personnel under Good Samaritan Act to assist with secondary school functions;
HB 3123 – Restructure the volunteer firefighter tax credit to create two additional levels based upon training achievements;
HB 3126 – Adds a board member to the Oklahoma Partnership for School Readiness Board to qualify for federal matching dollars;
HB 3127 – Enhances reporting requirements for Tax Increment Financing Districts;
HB 3128 – Sets death benefits for state employees be paid directly to funeral homes for savings to the families;
HB 3224 – Requires assisted living facilities in Oklahoma to have a generator in case of power outages; and
HJR 1018 – Creates an income tax check-off for assisting the Office of Emergency Management in payment of phone lines and federal matching dollars in a disaster.
We have had several bills go through the legislative process at this point. There has not been much as far as controversial legislation to this point, but there have been a few which have had strong debate. One deals with a scope of practice on anesthesiologists versus nurse anesthetists. Another issue regulates accountability standards for certified public accountants versus public accountants. Each of these bills will likely be changed as they go through the process as these issues never seem to pass the final version with the language we first will see due to compromise by the authors and the industries involved. I have even seen this on some of my bills, such as the volunteer firefighter tax credit. The suggestions provided by the working group who assisted me, including Perry Brinegar, our Rural Fire Coordinator from ASCOG, provided valuable insight on how to make the bill much more effective.
We have had some great help at the Capitol to this point with the page program. This is high school program established to allow students to work with the legislators for a week and learn more about the process. When I was a staff member for the House, I helped create a mock legislature for the students so they could debate a mock bill and learn the process by going through it like a legislator. I was pleased to have Emily Hines from Marlow serve as my first page for the session. She did a great job and was an excellent help to us. I have several other students set up to be pages and office aides this session and look forward to their visit.
It was a busy time around the district this past week also. We saw six 4-H and FFA auctions to benefit the groups. I tried to make most of them, but was unable to make the ones in the middle of the week due to session. I have sent donations to each of the chapters to assist these programs. I did make the Cement auction on Friday and the Elgin auction on Saturday. Elgin had a great idea to dedicate the funds from one cake to create a scholarship for a graduating senior. I bought this one along with Mike Doyle, a local CPA in Elgin and my treasurer. I hope more of the chapters will do something like this to help students who are continuing their education after graduation. The cakes also went to good use as it was my assistant Pam’s birthday. The legislative assistants at the Capitol all enjoyed them very much as there was none left at the end of the day for me to take home.
There has been quite a bit of activity around the State Capitol over the past week. As the deadline finished for committee work, the legislature has dedicated this week and the last working on bills before the entire House of Representatives. I have seen several of my bills reach the floor of the House and be passed on to the Senate. I still have three bills left on the calendar for consideration before the House this week and hope that one more, my legislation restructuring the volunteer firefighter tax credit, will make it on before the deadline of this Thursday. We are awaiting letters of support from the Office of Homeland Security and Oklahoma State University Fire Service Training, to join the letters I have currently from the various career technology centers and fire service organizations who serve Oklahoma . One other bill, my legislation to require assisted living facilities to have generators in case of power outages, will not be heard this year due to a decision by the House Leadership. There is another bill to require a study of this issue, so I will do my best to get this legislation passed this session.
I have also co-authored many good pieces of legislation by colleagues. Rep. Danny Morgan has authored a bill to allow pregnant women with medical conditions to be allowed usage of a temporary disability sticker for parking. HB 2998, by Rep. Kris Steele, authorizes a pilot recidivism reduction program for incarcerated females. Two other bills create income tax check-off programs for the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation and the Oklahoma Honor Flight program, a fund which assists World War II Veterans a chance to travel to Washington, DC to view the monument dedicated to the military who served in that war. Both programs do not receive government funding from the state and these donation opportunities on income tax returns allow for private citizens to donate a portion of their returns for these and other worthy programs allowed by the legislature and the governor to be on the tax form.
The clean-up is still continuing around the area with limbs left over from the ice storm. Many of the communities and counties have developed plans to account for the costs related to the disaster as the White House and FEMA approved the reimbursement for cities, counties and non-profit groups, such as the electric cooperatives for covering damages. The federal government will pay the estimate of 75% of this amount, with the state required to pay 12.5% and the locally-affected entity paying the remaining 12.5%. We did receive the bad news that individual assistance will not be paid out for costs associated with the ice storms. One of the minimum requirements is that a city or county suffer the total destruction of at least 100 homes or businesses from the disaster, and this did not occur with these ice storms. I will be working on legislation for the future to provide assistance to individuals with medical conditions to cover a part of the cost for generators if a doctor signs off that this is to assist with a medical condition. If you have questions about local clean-up efforts, please contact your local city hall or county commissioner.
We had several visitors to the Capitol this past week. I was pleased to have the minister of the week from our area. Sharla Reynolds, the pastor for Sterling United Methodist and Rush Springs First United Methodist Church , delivered our daily prayer prior to session and also gave us an inspirational message on Thursday. We also saw the Washita Valley Leadership Program, which includes several of my constituents from Caddo County , visit the Capitol for a two day leadership seminar about state government. I was happy to visit with them at the Capitol and also have dinner with them one evening and address questions about policy and procedure. We need more opportunities like this for citizens to learn about the system and contribute back with their ideas. Thanks to this group and all such programs and individuals who seek to better our state by providing leadership. The Conservation Districts of Oklahoma also were at the Capitol and I was pleased to help honor the Grady County Conservation District as the District of the Year.
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

House OKs Dorman Bill to Assist Firefighter Training


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

House OKs Dorman Bill to Assist Firefighter Training

OKLAHOMA CITY – Under legislation passed today by the Oklahoma House of Representatives, volunteer firefighters would be eligible for two new levels of tax credits for the training they receive.
Current Oklahoma law allows firefighters to earn one of two tax credits for the training they receive. House Bill 3123, by state Rep. Joe Dorman and state Sen. Mike Schulz, would create a system of four levels of tax credits.
“I worked with fire service officials over the fall to find out if the tax credits we currently offer do enough to incentivize training that will help small fire departments better protect their communities,” Dorman, D-Rush Springs, said. “Two additional levels of tax credits were suggested as well as changes to our current tax credits. The legislation will ensure firefighters are encouraged to earn the necessary skills to perform at their upmost level and better protect rural Oklahomans.”
To qualify for a $200 tax credit, a volunteer firefighter would have to complete 12 hours towards either Volunteer Firefighting Practices or State Support Firefighter.
To qualify for the $300 tax credit, a volunteer firefighter would be required to have completed their Volunteer Firefighting Practices or State Support Firefighter training and complete an additional six hours of a State Basic Firefighter, State Firefighter, or any internationally accredited Firefighter I program.
To qualify for the $400 tax credit, a volunteer firefighter would be required to have completed their Volunteer Firefighting Practices of State Support Firefighter training and complete an additional six hours of a State Intermediate Firefighter or any internationally accredited Firefighter I program.
To qualify for the $500 tax credit, a volunteer firefighter would need to complete their Firefighter I certification and complete an additional six hours of credit towards training identified and approved by a local fire chief.
The legislation also allows a Fire Service Stakeholder Group to identify equivalent, out-of-state programs that would qualify. A local fire chief could also identify training necessary for the protection of a specific community for which a volunteer firefighter could receive the tax credits.
Various fire service organizations were present for the passage of the legislation, including the State Fire Marshall’s office, the Oklahoma Firefighter’s Association, the Oklahoma Fire Chief’s Association, Oklahoma State University Fire Service Training, the Oklahoma Career Technology Centers, the Council on Fire Training, and volunteer fire chiefs from around the state.
“Each of these groups helped draft this legislation and provided invaluable input to better provide tax credits and appropriate training for volunteer firefighters around the state,” Dorman said. “We want to make sure the training is the best available and actually fits the needs of volunteer firefighters if they are going to go to this extra effort.”
House Bill 3123 passed unanimously by a 87-0 vote and now heads to the Senate for consideration.


House Approves Disaster Relief Legislation


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

House Approves Disaster Relief Legislation

OKLAHOMA CITY – Lawmakers voted today to create an income tax check-off to fund the 12.5 percent match required by FEMA to help pay the state portion of disaster response, relief and recovery.
House Joint Resolution 1018, by state Rep. Joe Dorman, will help local emergency management officials get relief for residents after a disaster such as this year’s ice storm, the Rush Springs lawmaker said.
“In a year when state revenue is more secure, I plan to push the Legislature to appropriate the match because of its critical importance,” Dorman said. “But because it is such a tight year, I’m pushing this funding mechanism that will allow Oklahomans to voluntarily contribute to the matching fund on their income tax returns.”
The income tax check-off would also provide funding for phone lines used to take emergency calls.
“The subject of providing monetary assistance for the phone lines came from a conference I co-hosted to look into the issue,” Dorman said. “I think it’s critical that residents be able to get in contact with emergency management officials and responders during a disaster.”
Dorman said he has worked for a long time to find funding for the match.
“I have repeatedly asked the Legislature to fund this important matching grant,” Dorman said. “This is an important first step, but I hope to secure a better funding source for the 12.5 percent match in the future.”
House Joint Resolution 1018 passed unanimously by a 69-0 vote and now heads to the Senate for consideration.


House Passes Dorman Legislation to Keep Student Athletes Safe


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

House Passes Dorman Legislation to Keep Student Athletes Safe

OKLAHOMA CITY – Legislation that would improve emergency medical assistance for student athletes was passed by the Oklahoma House of Representatives today.
House Bill 1658, by state Rep. Joe Dorman, would place health care service providers volunteering their services at secondary school activities under the Good Samaritan Act. The legislation was in response to the death of Justin Barney, a freshman football player from Rush Springs who died from an injury at a game two years ago. The bill would allow chiropractors, podiatrists, dentists, allopathic and osteopathic physicians, physician assistants, optometrists, and nurses (advance practice, registered and practical) to volunteer their services within their specific scope of practice.
“Justin Barney’s death was a tragedy that might have been prevented had some form of immediate medical assistance been available to prevent complications from his injury,” Dorman said. “It took 20 minutes for an ambulance to reach the scene. My legislation would expand legal protections for those who could provide immediate care in such an emergency.”
The bill will have no impact on the state budget, but will reduce the potential for money spent on individual health concerns, Dorman said.
“This originally included a tax credit to provide incentives for medical personnel to volunteer services, but we just could not add that in this year,” Dorman said. “In a tight budget year, it is the type of change to state law we can make with no cost, but still improve public safety. I hope to look at credits in the future to increase participation and eventually have some medical professional cover every single secondary sports event in Oklahoma in the future at no additional cost to schools.”
Heather Nottingham, aunt to Justin Barney and his legal guardian at the time of his death, said she was pleased by the passage of the legislation.
“I can’t thank you enough for the work you have done and continue to do in Justin’s memory,” Nottingham said. “I truly feel that this bill will help incentivize doctors to volunteer services that will one day save the life of someone’s child. My goal is that we never have to see another family suffer the loss of a child in high school sports, which might have been prevented.”
According to a recent article on, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are some 300,000 sports-related concussions each year in America – a number similar to the total number of concussions suffered by service members in Iraq and Afghanistan since the start of the war.
“In Oklahoma , we do not have enough ambulances to cover every Tuesday or Friday night football game in the state,” Dorman said. “If this will encourage doctors to work with a school and provide assistance in the case of an emergency, this will go a long ways to assisting immediate care and treatment of an injury and reduce potential health problems.”
The bill passed 92-5 and now moves to the Senate for consideration.


Dorman offers compromise to restore electric car tax credits - Defeated in House Vote

Representative Joe Dorman
House District 65

State Capitol Building
2300 North Lincoln Blvd., Rm. 325
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73105
Contact: Eric Berger

Dorman offers compromise to restore electric car tax credits

OKLAHOMA CITY (March 8, 2010) Honoring his commitment to constituents and other Oklahomans who contacted him in recent months, Rep. Joe Dorman , D-Rush Springs, this week fulfilled his promise to find a way to honor tax credits owed by the state to citizens who bought Low-Speed Vehicles that use alternative energy sources.
Dorman is offering his solution in the form of two amendments to related bills. They would effectively reverse last year’s Oklahoma Tax Commission ruling that left many electric vehicle purchases excluded from the tax credit program. The 2009 OTC ruling held that several vehicles purchased under the belief that they were eligible for state and federal tax credits would not qualify under Oklahoma law, due to similarities with golf carts, as defined by Oklahoma Statutes. Many of these vehicles have been certified as roadworthy by the state, but have since been determined to not qualify for the tax credit offered under Oklahoma Statute for Low-Speed Vehicles powered by electricity.
"Many CPA's in Oklahoma encouraged citizens to purchase these vehicles to take advantage of a recent federal tax credit and combine it with the credit which has been in Oklahoma law since the mid-1990's," said Dorman. "After the Tax Commission ruled many of these vehicles would not qualify for the state tax, I received many calls and emails requesting this revision."
Dorman promised he would find a way to address this subject, but would not file a bill to find the solution.
"In our current legislative system, if you file a bill, the fate of that legislation is often left up to a committee chairman or a few members," said Dorman. "This subject deserves the attention of the entire legislature and the best way to get something through the system is to file an amendment to a bill on the floor where the entire body gets to make an "up or down" vote on the subject when on the floor of the House or Senate.
Dorman reviewed several bills, and found the best fit for the solution with House Bill 2641, filed by Rep. Steve Martin, R-Bartlesville, which would lower any future state credit to equal the credit offered by the federal government on any tangible goods and House Bill 3024, authored by Speaker Chris Benge, which establishes a $500 credit for Low-Speed Vehicles and extends the original credit to Medium-Speed Vehicles. These two bills are intended to keep Oklahoma tax credits from exceeding more than would be honored by the federal government in a credit to taxpayers in different ways.
"I do not like the idea of automatically reducing a commitment on the books without a vote of the legislature," said Dorman. "Many do long-range planning for purchases based upon some credits, but if we can get my amendment in place on one of these bills and address the current problem, I will have to support the legislation as it fixes the current problem with LSV's."
Dorman's amendment will address the issue in two respects. The first would change the definition for an eligible vehicle to any vehicle considered road-worthy by the Department of Public Safety, as they issue licenses and plates for vehicles. This would negate the effect of the OTC ruling. The second provision allows the state to honor any credit on such vehicle purchases back to 2008, but the credit will not be paid by the state until Oklahoma ’s General Revenue Fund grows by at least 3 percent. House Fiscal Staff estimates the total cost of honoring the LSV credit could exceed $39 million.
"This should address all the concerns brought forth with taking the authority of determining qualifying vehicles away from the Oklahoma Tax Commission and delaying payment on the credits until revenues increase, therefore not depriving funding to education, seniors, public safety and any other state entity," said Dorman. "I know people would like to receive their money now for this purchase, but any tax credit we pay out now, which is not otherwise planned for in the budget, takes money away from our kids and seniors. I hope this show of good faith will be enough for purchasers of the vehicles that we will honor the credit which otherwise would not be paid due to OTC rulings and fears of declining budgets by state lawmakers."
Dorman attached the amendment to HB 2641 and HB 3024 on the final day to make amendments to the bill. Both bills are on the calendar for consideration by the House of Representatives this week, the final week for consideration of House Bills by the House of Representatives.
“I believe the State of Oklahoma has an obligation to keep its word to our citizens, and my amendment would accomplish that without harming services in a period of a budget crisis,” said Rep. Dorman. “I also believe the Department of Public Safety is far better qualified than the Tax Commission to determine what vehicles are roadworthy, and thus qualify for this tax credit, which has been Oklahoma law since the mid-1990’s.”

(Final note) Both amendments were killed on floor votes in the House. The Senate will attempt to attach the same amendments as they progress through the process.


House Video Feed Yields Positive Results

I have enjoyed observing first signs of tangible impact from the recent decision by Speaker Chris Benge to provide a live video feed of House proceedings on the Internet.

When I served as a City Councilman in Guthrie, I made the observation that the city policy makers' decision to televise city council meeting had an impact on city policy. No longer could councilmen count on supporting bad policy with the knowledge that the public would be unable to see their actions in context. This important transparency limited policy leaders' ability to cloak their opposition to good policy in the usual cliches and sound bytes because they could not risk the fact that the public had seen the whole debate and were aware of the true context of the issue.

Providing a video feed of House proceedings will have the exact same impact. Legislators are professionals at opposing change based on the flimsiest excuses. Earlier this year, the House debated a bill to put in place new openness policies and expand the ability of the public to access government performance data online. I believe these types of initiatives will revolutionize the way citizens are able to hold government accountable and and has the potential to help put an end to abuses of the taxpayer dollars in Oklahoma government. As an example, with strong performance data made available to the citizens regarding state agency performance I believe it will become very difficult for past scandals such as the ghost employee scandal to re-occur.

Those debating against the effort pointed to tired old arguments against transparency such as the minimal cost of allowing access or utilized scare tactics to inaccurately claim that such openness would provide too much information to citizens. Had this debate occurred last year, I suspect that would have been the end of this story. However, a writer with the Oklahoman posted a link to the video of the debate on the web site and the public became aware of the debate and the effort to prevent transparency. By the end of the week I was being contacted by citizens outraged by the disingenuous debate, people wanting a breakdown of the votes, and a candidate who wanted to talk about the issue in his campaign.

As more and more instances like this take place, lawmakers will learn the power of this new medium. I suspect they will greatly fear being exposed on sites such as YouTube when they debate against a transparency proposal using the same tired excuse-based logic. Because many lawmakers aspire to higher office, the last thing they want is to have a future opponent expose their opposition to good policy by simply sending a link to a video clip.

Providing a live video feed of House proceedings took great courage by House leadership. I believe that this single act will provide the leverage necessary to enable a series of good policy legislation to meet with success.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Murphey Legislative Update

This week marks the House deadline for voting on legislation before it goes to the Senate, so this is the time of year when Representatives begin to spend a significant deal of time on the House floor. It is also the first major test for many of the more interesting and controversial issues.

One of the bills recently considered by the House was House Bill 3393 which was sponsored by state Representative Jason Nelson. Nelson has invested significant effort in developing HB 3393 which provides a method for special needs students to go to schools which provide them with needed support.

In the past I have written about the immorality of state government's policy regarding inner city students in failing school districts. State government could enable these students to be placed into an environment which is more conducive to their success by refunding their tax contribution to the education system in the form of a refund such as a voucher or tax credits.

A similar issue exists in those areas where parents have disabled or challenged children who cannot receive the help they need in many school districts. The districts simply do not have the resources necessary to properly assist these children with their education. House Bill 3393 takes a step towards the implementation of a common sense school choice policy by providing an opportunity for school choice to disabled students. The bill was approved by a bipartisan vote of 78-19. In my view, this strong vote reflects real progress on the school choice issue.

Speaker of the House Chris Benge won approval for the first of what I believe will be several consolidation and money savings proposals. House Joint Resolution 1080 would allow Oklahomans to vote on consolidating the Pardon and Parole Board with the Department of Corrections. The consolidation should save the taxpayers several thousand dollars each year as these two groups will be able to use the same infrastructure to provide service to their respective boards. Since the subject matter is often duplicative, this is an extremely common sense approach to savings. It is important to note that the members of the Pardon and Parole Board will still be independently appointed and as such, should not lose their independence in making the important decisions they are charged with considering.

The Speaker used the opportunity of this legislation to explain to the Representatives that because of the state budget shortfall, our state government will look much different after this legislative session comes to a close.

Speaker Benge's proposal was approved by a vote of 64-30 and will be sent to the Senate for consideration.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Common Sense Answer to Lobbyist Gift Giving

As candidate for State Representative, it was my pledge to the citizens of House District 31 to not accept personal gifts from lobbyists. At that time I had no idea how challenging it would be to enforce this pledge. In the past, these gifts have been mailed to my home, left at the office, or placed on the desk of my legislative assistant even when she was not in the office. These actions force me or my staff to spend resources and time tracking down the lobbyists and returning the gifts. In addition, sometimes lobbyists would enter reports of across-the-board gift giving, such as dinner for an entire committee or lunch for the whole Republican caucus which included my name, even though I wasn't even present to accept the gift.

As a way of helping legislators avoid going to these lengths to return gifts, I believe an online no gift list would draw a clear line in the sand by which legislators and lobbyists could establish a firm relationship based on professionalism. I also believe it would start putting an end to the perception that all legislators and lobbyists engage in an inappropriate game of quid-pro-quo.

In the past I have sought to establish this list through a legislative initiative. Even though the idea was approved by two House committees, it was not given a hearing on the floor of the House. I suspect it will be very difficult to receive legislative approval. However, the list could be established by a simple vote of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission to provide an official no gift list on its web site where Oklahoma legislators could request to be placed.

In speaking to other lawmakers, I am convinced that a number of them would avail themselves of this service. Several legislators do not enjoy their names being listed in the paper for receiving gifts they did not desire in the first place. I also believe there are a number of lobbyists who would be supportive of this feature. In my view there are a number of lobbyists who do not appreciate the public perception that all lobbyists advance their position based on the size of their expense account, rather than the merits of the position.

It is my opinion that any minuscule investment required to maintain this feature on the existing Ethics Commission web site would be offset by a corresponding decrease in expenses related to processing lobbyists' reports. In a down budget year, this idea would present the Ethics Commission with the opportunity to save taxpayer funds.

It is my intent in the upcoming days to formally request that the Ethics Commission consider this option as a valuable tool for saving taxpayer dollars and restoring some trust in the legislative process.