Senate Review by Senator Allison Ikley-Freeman

Sen. Allison Ikley-Freeman (1).jpg

The following article contains opinions from the author that do not necessarily reflect those of Sandite Pride News or its staff. To submit an Op-ed contact

As the end of the fifth legislative week comes to a close, our focus has now shifted to hearing bills on the Senate floor. Last week was the deadline for Senate bills to be heard in committee, and at the end of that deadline there were still 511 bills in committee, with 9 failing in committee. As of the end of this week, there were 333 pending bills on Senate General Order, with 201 already passed on the Senate floor and sent to the House. Our next deadline is March 14, which is the last date for bills and joint resolutions to be heard in their chamber of origin. Any measures not heard by this date are generally considered dead for this legislative year.

Many of you know one of my strongest areas of interest and focus is mental health. Before being elected to the Senate, I worked as a mental health counselor. It’s always been my belief that it’s less expensive to address mental health issues early, so early intervention in public schools is a logical place to start. 

Oklahoma has some of the highest rates for mental illness and substance use disorders. In 2012, Oklahoma ranked third in the nation (22.4%) in any mental illness and second in the nation (11.9%) for substance abuse disorders. This means that between 700,000 and 950,000 adult Oklahomans need services, but most are not receiving the care they need to recover from their illnesses. As the years have passed, the statistics haven’t changed much, and in some regards, have grown more even more concerning.

This week, the full Senate approved Senate Bill 257, which increases the full-time employee limit from one to two employees for the State Board of Licensed Social Workers. The Board currently utilizes one full time employee and two temporary employees to supervise almost 1,500 licensed social workers. Licensure boards assist the government in fulfilling one of its main covenants to the public- protection from harm. By having specific occupations regulated through licensing government can help its citizens know when someone offering goods or services in this area is meeting basic expectations for safety of their consumers. An understaffed board translates to less thorough supervision and can lead over time to a lack of meeting the public's expectations. This change will help the State Board of Licensed Social Workers continue to meet your standards for public safety in the profession. 

It’s an honor to serve Senate District 37 and I look forward to continuing to represent you in the days ahead. As always, I welcome your input on concerns and issues. If you are visiting the Capitol and would like to stop by, our new office is located in Room 524. My office number is remains (405) 521-5600 and my email is Please let me or my assistant, Audra, know if we can be of assistance to you.

Senate approves pre-registration for young Oklahoma voters

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Senate unanimously approved legislation Wednesday to ensure young Oklahomans do not miss their first elections. Sen. Jason Smalley is the author of Senate Bill 496 to allow those who are at least 17.5 to 18 years old to pre-register to vote.

“Currently, Oklahomans can’t register to vote until they’re 18 years old.  This can cause them to miss voting if their birthdays fall after the registration deadline for an upcoming election,” said Smalley, R-Stroud.  “Casting one’s first vote is such an exciting right of passage for a young person.  By allowing them to pre-register, they can actually vote on their 18thbirthday rather than waiting for their registration to be processed.”

Under SB 496, anyone who pre-registers to vote prior to their 18th birthday will be allowed to vote beginning on their birthday. 

The measure now moves to the House for further consideration.

Senate approves work requirements for Medicaid recipients

OKLAHOMA CITY – To strengthen Oklahoma families and the state’s economy, the Senate approved legislation Wednesday to establish work or training requirements to participate in the SoonerCare Medicaid program. House Bill 2932, authored by Sen. Adam Pugh and Rep. Glen Mulready, would instruct the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) to seek waiver authority to modify Medicaid eligibility criteria to require documentation of the same education, skills, training, work or job activities currently required by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

“This bill follows direction from the federal government to help those Medicaid recipients who are working-aged and able-bodied get back into the workforce and become a self-sufficient, contributing member of society. It will align SoonerCare qualification requirements with those already in place for Oklahoma’s SNAP,” said Pugh, R-Edmond. “I grew up extremely poor and my mom, who was a single parent, worked three jobs to support our family. I would work as many jobs as necessary to take care of my family. This will encourage Medicaid recipients to take some personal responsibility in getting the education or job training they need to support themselves and their families.”

The bill would mirror federal Medicaid law and SNAP by exempting from the new eligibility requirements those individuals who are 19 years of age or younger or over 60 years old, pregnant, medically-certified as physically or mentally unfit for employment, or who are a parent or caretaker of a dependent child under a year old.

According to the OHCA, there are approximately 106,600 Oklahomans who are a part of the parent/caretaker group receiving Medicaid coverage who are able-bodied/working-aged adults 19 to 64 who are not pregnant, disabled or blind. Thirty-two percent of those recipients were male and 25 percent were two adults living in the same home and both receiving Medicaid coverage. An analysis by the agency of SoonerCare members covered in FY’17 found that around 8,000 out of those 106,600 would not have met any of the exemptions outlined in the bill.

Currently, more than 600,000 Oklahomans receive SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps) each month. In FY’17, there were more than one million Oklahomans enrolled in SoonerCare Medicaid with nearly 796,000 SoonerCare recipients in March 2018. OHCA also noted there are nearly 81,000 SoonerCare recipients who also receive SNAP benefits.

The coauthor of the measure, Sen. Paul Rosino has been a strong advocate for the federal government’s push to get states to create work requirements for eligible Medicaid recipients.

“I applaud the Governor for championing these work requirements and my colleagues in the Senate and House for supporting them. This will provide these individuals with the tools, whether through education or job training, to help better their lives to be able to support themselves and their families,” said Rosino, R-Oklahoma. “We must break the cycle of government dependence that is getting worse with each generation. Since getting into office, personal responsibility and work requirements for able-bodied adults 19 to 64 has been one of my top priorities. I will continue to advocate for and support any legislation that helps strengthen Oklahoma families and our economy by helping more people become independent and self-sufficient.”

The bill now returns to the House for final consideration. Besides being approved by the Governor, the new eligibility requirements would have to also be approved by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Senator Ikley-Freeman appointed to Education, Health, and Human Services Committees

OKLAHOMA CITY - Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz, R-Altus, on Thursday announced the full membership of Senate committees. The committee assignments are effective through the end of the 56th Legislature.

District 37 State Senator Allison Ikley-Freeman, who represents Sand Springs, was appointed to the following committees:

  • Education Committee
  • Health and Human Services Committee
  • Appropriations Subcommittee on Health

Ikley-Freeman, a Democrat, was elected in a November 2017 special election to fill the seat vacated by Republican Dan Newberry. Newberry's resignation becomes effective January 31st and Ikley-Freeman will be sworn into office on February 1st. 

Sharp files special election funding legislation

OKLAHOMA CITY – Gov. Mary Fallin called nine special elections last year following legislators leaving office mid-term. In an effort to protect taxpayer dollars, Sen. Ron Sharp has filed legislation to use the remaining campaign funds of departing members to pay for their districts’ special elections. 

“When we run for office, we take an oath to uphold Oklahoma’s Constitution and serve our constituents faithfully,” said Sharp, R-Shawnee. “Taxpayers shouldn’t be burdened with a large special election bill when someone quits midterm to seek other opportunities or they’re removed from office because of legal or ethical issues. This bill will remove some of that taxpayer burden by using members’ remaining campaign funds to cover some of the costs of special elections.” 

Senate Bill 1006 would place the members’ campaign funds in the State Election Board Revolving Fund up to the amount incurred by the state for conducting the Special Election.  

According to the Oklahoma Election Board, special elections for the House of Representatives cost, on average, $8,000 to $12,000 for a primary or general and double that amount for both. A Senate primary or general special election costs an estimated $18,000 to $22,000 and twice that if both are necessary.

Special elections are called when members resign mid-term, are expelled by the legislature through a two-thirds vote or are removed from office because of ethical or legal issues.  

After leaving office, any campaign funds not obligated for campaign or officeholder expenses can be retained for future campaigns (for the next succeeding term for the same office or for a different state elective office, excluding a judicial office), donated to a charitable organization, returned to any contributor in the amount they donated, contributed to a political party committee up to $25,000 or used to purchase item(s) to donate to a charitable organization. Members may also donate leftover funds directly to the state as well as any county, city, town or school district.

Sen. Sharp files legislation to return local control of charter school decisions to districts

OKLAHOMA CITY – In 2015, the legislature approved Senate Bill 782 amending the 1999 Oklahoma Charter School Act to allow charter schools into rural school districts instead of just those in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Legislators were told that, under the legislation, local boards of education would be in control of whether charter schools could expand in their school districts but Sen. Ron Sharp says the bill actually took away local control and he has filed legislation to return control back to local school districts. 

“We were told in 2015 that all expanding charter schools had to go through the local board of education for its final approval but that’s not what has happened. Locally-elected school boards can and have rejected charter schools within their school districts only to have the charter organizers appeal the rejection to the non-elected State School Board to overturn,” said Sharp, R-Shawnee. “To date, all of the local school board rejections have been overturned by the State School Board violating the wishes of local taxpayers who don’t want charter schools in their districts. We must give back local control on decisions concerning charter schools.”

Senate Bill 879 would not allow appeals to the State Board of Education of local school boards’ decisions rejecting charter schools. Under the bill, any charter school that is currently sponsored by the Oklahoma State School Board would have one year to find a new sponsor.

Sharp said that local boards and taxpayers do not want charter schools because they recognize that each new charter school reduces the amount of dollars that the local public school district receives. Each new charter school also reduces the per pupil spending in traditional public schools because the state’s education budget has remained flat in recent years while several charter schools have been added.  

“One example occurred when Norman Public Schools lacked the funds to continue a foreign language immersion program and couldn’t find certified foreign language teachers, a group was able to start a charter school in that district after the local school board rejected its creation at the insistence of a majority of local citizens but the State School Board approved it,” explained Sharp. “This isn’t right but it has happened numerous times statewide. Local taxpayers should decide what schools and kind of education they want in their communities not the State Board of Education.”

Senate candidates discuss education and budget concerns at community forum

Left to right: R.Jay McAtee, Phil Nollan, Brian O'Hara.

Five of the seven Republican candidates for Senate District 37 spoke at a community forum event hosted by the Sand Springs Chamber of Commerce Monday afternoon. Held at the Tulsa Technology Center campus in Sand Springs, the event offered each candidates a five minute platform, followed by a question and answer session.

The recurring trend of the conversation was heavily education and State budget focused. 

"What I'm hearing is, we need to get our schools better funding," said Rick Hardesty, 56. "We need to get more money into our education system. To me that makes sense as a small business owner in needing to have a viable workforce and things like that...The reason I started running, the main reason, was I sat and watched...and they have practically closed every school over there and it kind of got me angry."

Nicole Nixon, 31, added "three of my community schools were consolidated." She blamed Tulsa Public Schools for the closures, alleging failure to properly utilize their funding.

For Sand Springs Municipal Judge R. Jay McAtee, 60, the primary issue was the State budget. "The legislature needs to take the budget and make it their number one item on day one, February 8-9, 2018 and they need to not attend to any other business until that budget is addressed...We can't pay our teachers until we figure out how to do the budget."

Nicole Nixon (left), Rick Hardesty (right).

Two Sand Springs City Councilmen are in the race, though one declined the invitation to speak. Ward 6 Councilman Brian Jackson, 34, who previously ran in the regular election last November, issued a statement.

"My campaign for Senate District 37 is a silent protest against the blatant disregard of the people’s voice through the elected official, who quit one year into his term. Too much time and too much money-to the amount of a half million dollars-have been wasted when we went through this political process a year ago. We are tired of the political nonsense we are bombarded with during elections. When will enough be enough? I will not raise one more dime, post one more sign, or campaign on any platform. Those that want to donate to my campaign, I ask you to find a local public school teacher and give that money to his/her classroom for supplies, as public education is still my number one priority. The choice of Senator for District 37 should be left to the people on voting day, not political games and influence.”

Ward One Councilman Phil Nollan, 59, spoke of his personal qualifications, his ties to Sand Springs, and his experience of working behind the scenes with his wife, House Representative Jadine Nollan. Jadine Nollan is in her seventh year at the Legislature, and previously served on the Sand Springs Board of Education for eleven years. 

"I'm a nationally-certified project manager. I think during my process of my early years I learned how to manage projects and programs, I learned how to lead teams...learned how to deliver things as promised - on time and under budget...My recent employment with EMC, I had to work with Fortune 100 customers...What I found in working with those companies is, they had big demands like I know this job has. Like I know the job that my wife has to do. Meeting those demands is not going to be easy, but you've got to keep your word. You've got to keep your promises, and you have to do the best you can do to make it happen."

Following their speeches, the candidates each responded to three questions from the audience. The first question regarded school vouchers, which allow parents to receive a tax refund to send their students to private schools. 

Hardesty declined to answer the question, citing a lack of knowledge on the subject.

Nixon expressed support for school vouchers in an ideal world, but said that our society and government isn't to the point yet that they would work. "We need to make sure that no children slip through cracks, ever. We need to find a good system."

Brian O'Hara, 56, touched heavily on vouchers during his opening remarks, and referred back to his earlier comments. "We're struggling, the schools are struggling...You make a choice if you want home school or private school and I respect that choice. I encourage that choice if that's what's best for your student...But that doesn't mean that tax payer money has to follow that student."

Nollan pointed out that proponents of vouchers often cite "school choice" as a major concern. "We already have school choice now...When we raised our kids in Sand Springs Public Schools, we could transfer our kids to a different school if we wanted to. We could ask for certain teachers for our kids to go through. If we didn't feel like public school was doing its job, we could home school our kids...You can send your kids to private school. If you don't live in the district, you can move into the district. In a sense, we really do have school choice now...Sending funding with the kid through a voucher system is not the solution."

"Lawyer answer, no," joked McAtee. "We need to fund our teachers, we need to fund our classrooms, we need to make it where we don't have to go out as a church, buy the supplies for all the teachers. We need to concentrate the money where it needs to be."

SEE RELATED: Word of Life church paints, cleans up Limestone Elementary

The second question asked "Will you increase the tax on oil and gas?"

"Yes, absolutely," said McAtee. "I don't want to put the tax burden on the citizens of Oklahoma until we have looked at every other alternative."

"It's an incentive tax, what's in place now," said Nollan. "The national average is 9.5%, in Oklahoma we average 3.2%. In Texas it's 8.3%. The research says that we probably need to take another look."

"Millions of dollars goes into drilling a well, which they may not get a dime out of if that well is dry," said O'Hara. "I've talked to a couple of companies, not the big guys, the guys that are just starting up. Their concern is that they can go elsewhere and drill...My position is, I don't support a gross production tax at this point. Only because the information I've received indicates that there would be a loss of wells if that were the case."

Nixon stated she would have liked to have seen the percentage increased to 4.5% during the last session, and that her biggest focus would be on getting Oklahoma away from a dependence on oil revenue. 

"It's really not raising a tax, it's taking away a tax incentive," said Hardesty. "The oil companies are well diversified. When they say 'if you take away our tax incentive we're going to cut back on drilling' that's a load of bull. That's how they make their money, they're not going to cut back. I have people in my family that own oil companies, and I have a lot of people in my family that work for oil companies. But that doesn't mean I want to sit and give the oil companies special treatment."

The final question asked for solutions to the ongoing budgetary problems.

"Take away the tax incentives that aren't working," said Hardesty. He also discussed consolidating State agencies and commissions. 

"Definitely want to look at incentives. I think that's a great start," agreed Nixon. "I think audits, very necessary. Anybody who's getting our tax dollars should be held accountable."

"I've told you where I think we need to start, and that means at the very beginning," said O'Hara. "The first month and a half, two months, if it takes the whole session we should be working on the budget. We don't need to throw bum legislation out."

"We need to do more on capping our incentives. Maybe some of the incentives stay, but we need to cap them," said Nollan. 

"We need to make Oklahoma a 21st-century state," concluded McAtee. "We have agencies that were created 150 years ago still in existence."

Grady Grant, 62, is also running for the Republican nomination, but did not participate in the event. Democrat Allison Ikley-Freeman, 26, filed unopposed and will take on the winner of the Republican nomination in November.

The Republican primary will be held September 12th. The voter-registration deadline is August 18, and the deadline to request an absentee ballot is September 6th.

Click on the candidates' images below to read their full statements.

Rick Hardesty.

Rick Hardesty.

R.Jay McAtee.

R.Jay McAtee.

Nicole Nixon.

Nicole Nixon.

Phil Nollan.

Phil Nollan.

Brian O'Hara.

Brian O'Hara.

Deputy District Director Brian O'Hara launches campaign for Senate District 37

Senator Dan Newberry has resigned his seat, effective January 31, 2018.

Senator Dan Newberry has resigned his seat, effective January 31, 2018.

Brian O'Hara, Deputy District Director for Congressman Jim Bridenstine, has declared his intent to pursue the Senate District 37 seat that will soon be vacated by Senator Dan Newberry.

Newberry won reelection to a third term in November, but tendered his resignation earlier this month to pursue his private sector career. His resignation will not take effect until January 31, 2018. 

SEE RELATED: State Senator Dan Newberry resigns seat to pursue professional promotion

The filing period for the District 37 election will be June 26-28 with a primary election being held September 12, and the general election on November 14. In the event that a primary election is not necessary, the general election will be September 12. 

O'Hara was previously a City Councilman for the City of Jenks from 2011-2013 and the Senior Vice President of Omni Financial from 2010-2013. 

O'Hara graduated from Kempsville High School in Virginia, then achieved an Associates Degree from Montreat College and a Bachelor's in History from Belhaven College. Both of his degrees are from private Christian colleges. Montreat is located in North Carolina, and Belhaven is in Mississippi.

He has been married to his wife, Karen, for 34 years and has five children. Three of his kids graduated from Jenks Public School. He has been a host parent for exchange students from Denmark, Brazil, Germany, Norway, and the Netherlands. 

Some of his civic service includes serving on the Home Owner's Association boards for Elwood Park and Stonehorse, both located in Jenks. He has been an Elder at River Oaks Presbyterian Church and Pear Orchard Presbyterian Church, and was a Deacon at Madison Presbyterian Church. He graduated Leadership Broken Arrow, Leadership Bixby, Leadership Sand Springs, and Leadership Glenpool. Each is a four-month educational class on organizations, charities, and government entities within those communities.

He has served in various volunteer positions with the Salvation Army and Red Cross and is a member of the Bixby and Jenks Rotary Clubs. He has previously served as a Board Member for the Jenks Public Works Authority, the Oklahoma Aquarium Authority, the Madison County Cultural Center, and Turn Tulsa Pink.

O'Hara will be holding a Campaign Kickoff Event Monday, June 19 at 6:30 p.m. at Los Cabos Mexican Grill in Jenks. Congressman Bridenstine is expected to attend the event.

Bridenstine sent out an endorsement email calling O'Hara "a friend, a conservative, and a man of integrity. I am confident he will serve his constituents with honor in the Oklahoma State Senate, and I am proud to endorse him." 

Senate bill expanding Oklahoma's Promise passes, heads to Governor

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Senate gave unanimous final approval Tuesday to legislation modifying Oklahoma’s Promise, the state-sponsored tuition program. Sen. Jason Smalley is the author of Senate Bill 529, which he said makes necessary changes to the program to protect the integrity and stability of the program. 

“This bill tackles a number of areas concerning Oklahoma’s Promise to ensure that those students who truly need financial assistance can get it while also being inclusive of those degrees that take longer than the average program,” said Smalley, R-Stroud.

Oklahoma’s Promise allows eighth-, ninth- or 10th-grade students from families with an income of $50,000 or less to earn a college tuition scholarship. SB 529 changes the definition of income at the time of application in the 8th-10th grade from “taxable and nontaxable” income to “federal adjusted gross income” and increases the family income limit from $50,000 to $55,000.

The bill will stop payment for remedial courses beginning in 2018-2019 at an estimated annual savings of approximately $1.5 million. 

SB 529 changes how often family incomes are checked. Currently, the statutes require that the second income check at $100,000 for Oklahoma’s Promise students be conducted only one time when the student starts college. Under this bill, the $100,000 check will be conducted every year the student is in college, beginning with the 2018-19 academic year for an annual estimated savings of about $1.5 million. 

The measure also requires the State Regents to establish a maximum limit on the number of college credit hours covered by the scholarship. Currently, students are eligible to receive the scholarship for up to five years or the completion of a baccalaureate degree, whichever comes first. This will limit the number of credit hours paid for during the five year period.

Most undergraduate degrees require 120-124 semester credit hours but about 20 percent of degrees require more than 124 hours, including a number of engineering degrees and some teacher education degrees in specialty areas such as science and music. Undergraduate architecture degrees require up to 150 credit hours. Through the Administrative Procedures Act, the State Regents will establish a general maximum limit on credit hours while allowing exceptions to that limit for degrees requiring credit hours in excess of the limit. The limit is expected to be applicable to first-time entering freshmen college students in fall 2018. Once fully implemented, the change is expected to save about one to two percent of total program costs annually.

This press release was submitted by the Oklahoma State Senate media department. 

Any opinions expressed or implied are those of the author and do not reflect an editorial endorsement by Sandite Pride News. 

Sandite Pride News encourages community submissions regardless of platform or position, to effect a constructive dialogue about any issues affecting our community. 

SB 529 passed the House of Representatives by a bipartisan vote of 87-3. In the Senate it passed unanimously 43-0.

Oklahoma Senate approves earlier sunset of wind tax credit

OKLAHOMA CITY - Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz released the following statement after the Senate approved HB 2298, which moves up the sunset date of the zero-emissions tax credit to July 1, 2017.

“The zero-emissions tax credit did what it was supposed to do—help the wind industry get off the ground in Oklahoma. Our state ranks third in the nation in terms of wind power and will likely remain among the leaders in wind power for the foreseeable future. The state is facing extraordinary budget challenges, and we can no longer afford the zero-emissions tax credit. This measure provides certainty to the wind industry and stability in the long-term for the state budget. I appreciate my Senate colleagues for overwhelmingly approving this measure.”

HB 2298, authored by Schulz, R-Altus, and House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, passed the Senate by a vote of 40-3. The bill now goes to the governor’s desk for consideration.

Senate Appropriations Committee on Education approves teacher pay increase legislation

Members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education heard six measures to raise teacher pay on Wednesday. (SUBMITTED).

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education met Wednesday and approved half a dozen measures to increase teacher pay in Oklahoma. Senator Jason Smalley, R-Stroud, chairs the subcommittee. He said with 48 members, there were several different ideas of how much the raises should be and how to pay for it.

“Six different pay raise bills were filed, and we gave the authors a chance to present their thoughts and ideas and advocate their positions,” Smalley said. “My next step will be to meet with our Appropriations Chair, Senator Kim David. Ultimately one bill will move forward so we’ll look at these six plans and try to mold them into the best possible legislation.”

The pay plans approved by the subcommittee included:

  • SB 8 by Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee
  • SB 97 by Sen. Micheal Bergstrom, R-Adair
  • SB 137 by Sen. J.J. Dossett, D-Owasso
  • SB 309 by Sen. Marty Quinn, R-Claremore
  • SB 316 by Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City
  • SB 618 by Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa

“We heard teacher pay increase proposals ranging from $500 to $10,000. There are different ideas about whether it should simply be across the board or if the minimum salary should be raised. Some members have suggested that the funding could be found by targeting tax preferences or by increasing certain taxes,” Smalley said.  

“When you consider that just a $1,000 pay raise would be about $60 million, it can add up very quickly. We need to determine the size, how it will be paid for and if a phase-in plan is necessary,” Smalley said. “There’s a great deal to decide, so the time to talk about it is now and not wait until April or May.”

To the people of Sand Springs, from City Council candidate Nancy Riley

Dear Voters of Ward 4:

I ask for your vote on Tuesday for City Council in Ward 4.

As a 30 year resident of Sand Springs, I have a true respect for our history and culture of service.  Our city was founded by Charles Page on the ideal of serving others. I have served the residents of Sand Springs in many ways: public service, social service clubs and government boards. I appreciate the spirit of service.

However, with 30 years of residency, I have also watched other cities grow and prosper in ways Sand Springs had not. It is my desire to work with our city in its development to benefit its citizens. We have several unique opportunities ahead due to diligent service of numerous Sandites that I want to be part of. It is my aim to look for ways to expand this growth through cooperation of Federal, State and County governments, without increasing the financial burdens to Sand Springs.

I ask for your vote on Tuesday as we "Honor our past and press toward the future."

Nancy Riley
Nancy Riley for City Council

Senate committee approves bill for construction of Health Lab

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Senate Appropriations Committee approved legislation Wednesday to construct a new state health lab. Sen. Kim David, R-Porter, is the author of Senate Bill 236 to authorize the Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority to issue nearly $59 million in bonds for the construction of the new facility. 

David said the lab has faced losing its accreditation since 2008, which would be detrimental and extremely costly for the state, and this year the legislature must act.  

“The Oklahoma Health Lab is at serious risk of losing its accreditation, which will shut the lab down and the state will have to outsource all services at an additional cost of $9 million annually,” said David, Senate Appropriations Chair. “The lab provides crucial health services for not only the state but for counties and the public as well. Their work includes diagnosing and preventing the spread of communicable diseases, identifying terrorist events and providing newborn screenings for inherited metabolic disorders. We must ensure those services are not interrupted.”

Built in 1972, the Health Lab is one of the oldest in the nation. Numerous assessments by the Association of Public Health Laboratories, the College of American Pathologists and other organizations since 2008 have concluded that the facility is outdated and not capable of supporting technically advanced work. The building is also prone to flooding and has an unreliable heat and air system that can negatively impact tests performed on site.

In 2015, the Long Range Capital Planning Commission identified $349 million in total critical capital needs and the health lab was at the top of the list.

The Department of Health estimated the cost of a new 49,000 square-foot lab would be $40 million in 2009. Today, they estimate the cost will require a 20-year bond for $58.5 million.  

David pointed out that the use of bond financing for the project will not increase the state’s debt as nearly half the state’s tax-backed bond debt will be paid off by 2020. 

Senate Judiciary Committee Moves on Slate of Judicial Reforms

Oklahoma City – The Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday approved a series of bills aimed at reforming the judiciary, including a series of legislative referendums that would reshape the way judicial appointments are made.

“These are important reforms that would shift the balance of power in the judicial appointment process in Oklahoma away from trial lawyers and back to the people. The governor and the members of the Oklahoma Senate are directly elected by the people and on behalf of the people should have more say in which judges are appointed to the bench. These measures, which now move on to the full Senate for consideration, present a variety of common-sense options to implement much-needed judicial reform,” said Pro Tem Mike Schulz, R-Altus.

Sen. Anthony Sykes, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was author of several of the judicial reform bills.

“Oklahomans have been reminded countless times of the need for judicial reform in Oklahoma. If we don’t have these discussions about judicial reform, then we’re putting ourselves at the mercy of a system that puts too much power in the hands of trial lawyers instead of the hands of the duly elected representatives of the people of Oklahoma,” said Sykes, R-Moore.

Among the measures authored by Sen. Sykes:

  • Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 42, which, if approved, would allow voters to decide whether to change the Oklahoma Constitution to require a partisan election of Supreme Court justices and Court of Criminal Appeals justices.
  • SJR 43, if approved, would allow voters to decide whether to amend the judicial appointment process to model the federal system. Under this proposal, the governor would nominate candidates to fill judicial vacancies and the Oklahoma Senate would confirm or deny the governor’s appointment. The Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) would rate the governor’s judicial nominees as either “qualified” or “not qualified.”
  • SJR 44, if approved, would allow voters to decide whether to amend the Constitution to modify the judicial nominating process. Under this proposal, the JNC would provide the governor with five qualified nominees to fill a judicial vacancy, instead of the current recommendation of three nominees. The governor would be allowed to reject those nominees and request five new nominees. The governor would then select one nominee, whose name would be forwarded to the Oklahoma Senate for confirmation.

Additionally, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the following measures:

  • SB 699, by Sykes, would require all appellate justices and judges to retire when their combined age and years of service equaled 80.
  • SB 700, by Sykes, which allows the President Pro Tempore of the Oklahoma Senate and Speaker of the Oklahoma House to appoint three attorney members each to the JNC board.
  • SB 702, by Sykes, which adjusts the counties included in the Supreme Court judicial districts.
  • SB 708, by Sykes, which requires a district judge to have served as lead counsel in at least three jury trials before being elected or appointed to serve on the bench.
  • SJR 14, by Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, would allow Oklahoma voters to decide whether to amend the Constitution to require 60 percent of voters approve the retention of a judge.
  • SB 213, by Dahm, which would change the boundaries of Supreme Court judicial districts to correspond with the number of congressional districts in Oklahoma plus adding at-large positions.

Sen. Dossett takes on school testing issues with legislation filed for 2017 session


Until the 2016 legislative session, Sen. J.J. Dossett was a classroom teacher at Owasso High School. The issues he hoped to address in the Legislature included eliminating unnecessary testing and the issue of high-stakes testing. Dossett, D-Owasso, said he was pleased with the passage of legislation last year eliminating state-mandated End of Instruction (EOI) exams, but said one unnecessary assessment test that isn’t required by the federal government remains on the books—he’s seeking to eliminate that state-mandated test with Senate Bill 2.

“Oklahoma continues to require schools to administer an assessment in U.S. history once sometime from the 9th through 12th grades,” Dossett said. “This test simply isn’t needed. Schools are still going to teach U.S. History, and just like every other class, students will take tests in the subject that will measure how well they’re learning the subject material. This just eliminates an unnecessary test and gives more time to teachers to teach and more times for students to learn.  It’s a positive thing we can do for teachers and students that won’t cost anyone a dime.”

Dossett has also filed Senate Bill 123 which would modify the Reading Sufficiency Act. The measure would eliminate the required retention component for third graders who are found not to be reading at grade level. It would keep in place the remediation and supports put in place in the last few years. The bill also retains the Student Reading Proficiency Team. These teams were created to develop individualized remediation plans for first, second and third graders who are not reading at grade level as well as third graders who take the statewide assessment and were found to be reading below grade level.

“I agree with the concept of making sure Oklahoma students have the fundamental reading skills they need to learn and succeed,” Dossett said. “But I’ve always had an issue with the idea of a high stakes test that may not even reflect a child’s actual knowledge or ability and could inadvertently cause far more harm for the student than anticipated. Furthermore, if you are waiting until the third grade, it’s really too late.  The emphasis needs to be on identifying and assisting children who aren’t reading at grade level sooner and getting them the support they need to get them up to speed. That’s what I hope to accomplish with my legislation.”

Oklahoma Senate Republicans announce 2017 legislative agenda

Senate President Pro Tem Mike Schulz and members of the Senate Republican Caucus announced their 2017 legislative agenda Thursday at the state Capitol. 

OKLAHOMA CITY – President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz and the Senate Republican Caucus on Thursday unveiled a 2017 legislative agenda with a focus on long-term solutions to build a more prosperous Oklahoma.

“This agenda is our vision of how we’ll make an already great state even better. Because the decisions we make at the Capitol have a long-term impact, it’s important we have a plan of where we want to guide Oklahoma in 5, 10 and 20 years. Senate Republicans are united in our desire to implement ideas and policies that will help our state’s economy grow and put us on a long-term path to prosperity. Helping our economy grow means more good-paying jobs for Oklahoma families and more resources to fund core government services without raising taxes,” said Schulz, R-Altus.

Senate Republicans unveiled the agenda at press events in Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

“With a bold vision and leadership, our state can be a model that shows free-market, conservative ideas can empower the individual and foster a thriving economy. There are challenges ahead in the short term, but we want Oklahomans to know we are planning for the long-term and are working on policies that will benefit Oklahoma families and businesses,” said Majority Floor Leader Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City.

The 2017 Senate Republican Agenda:


  • Streamline and eliminate excessive regulations to stimulate job creation and economic growth.
  • Provide more stability, reliability and transparency in the state budgeting process.
  • Promote economic development and the diversification of the state’s economy.
  • Support transportation infrastructure including the eight-year plan.
  • Identify job-creating tax incentives, and eliminate ineffective tax incentives by supporting the work of the Incentive Evaluation Commission.


  • Respect and support teachers by removing obstacles that interfere with a teacher’s ability to help students learn and achieve.
  • Reduce administrative costs and overhead in an effort to increase teacher salaries.
  • Allow parents, taxpayers, and local school boards to more closely direct and increase the quality of education in the classroom.
  • Ensure accountability measures provide parents and taxpayers a useful and accurate reflection of school performance and student achievement.


  • Support law enforcement officers and the rights of the citizens they are sworn to protect.
  • Monitor the implementation of criminal justice reforms.
  • Provide oversight of law enforcement agencies and promote cooperation to eliminate duplication.


  • Promote access to quality health care services especially for rural and underserved areas of Oklahoma.
  • Encourage “block grant” programs from the federal government that empower Oklahoma to infuse free-market principles into health care plans.
  • Reduce waste and duplication at health care agencies, and utilize innovative health care delivery methods.
  • Work with private and public sector partners to address mental health and substance abuse issues.


  • Improve foster care and adoption services in Oklahoma, and strengthen support for foster families.
  • Reform social service programs so they offer economic mobility and help end dependency on government assistance.
  • Eliminate restrictions on non-profits and faith-based organizations that help fill the gaps in social services.
  • Continue Oklahoma’s commitment to defending the sanctity of life.


  • Work to minimize licensing challenges for military spouses due to relocation.
  • Support public-private partnerships to develop a comprehensive health care system.
  • Ensure Oklahoma veterans are connected with existing mental health and social service programs.
  • Increase protection of service members’ financial and contractual rights when mobilized or deployed.

Undocumented immigrants to be charged wire transfer fee under proposed legislation

OKLAHOMA CITY – Sen. Paul Scott filed legislation Thursday to charge individuals a fee on international wire transactions who do not present valid personal identification. The Duncan Republican said he hopes the bill will cut down on the number of undocumented immigrants sending untaxed dollars out of the state as well as address drug money being funneled to other countries. 

“We have a large population of undocumented immigrants in Oklahoma. This bill will help the state collect a portion of their untaxed dollars and hopefully encourage them to seek citizenship,” said Scott. “Drug cartels and gangs are also transferring thousands, and possibly millions, of dollars in illegal funds across the border and to other countries. This is an effort to slow that practice and deter illegal activities in Oklahoma while also ensuring the state gets some financial benefit.” 

Senate Bill 547 defines a valid personal identification as an unexpired state-issued driver license, permit or temporary permit or identification card issued by the Department of Public Safety, or any unexpired federally-issued document from the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service authorizing a lawful presence. 

The legislation would authorize money transmission licensees to collect a $10 fee for transactions of up to $500 and a one percent fee for transactions over $500. The fees would be remitted quarterly to the Oklahoma Tax Commission (OTC) and deposited into the General Revenue Fund.  

Under SB 547, the OTC could suspend the license of any licensee of a money transmission or wire transmitter business that failed to file reports or remit the fee. The licensee could not reapply for a license until they had filed all of the required reports and remitted the fees. 

The legislative session begins on Monday, February 6.  

OK Senate files bill to prohibit abortions once heartbeat is audible

OKLAHOMA CITY – Legislation was filed Thursday to strengthen Oklahoma’s Heartbeat Informed Consent Act by providing a scientific definition of when life begins, with the first heartbeat. Senator Paul Scott, R-Duncan, filed Senate Bill 710 to prohibit abortions if the embryonic or fetal heartbeat of the unborn child is audible.

“I am pro-life and believe in the sanctity of life. I don’t believe in abortions but since we can’t go against the federal government, we must do all we can within our constitutional rights. As a state, we can provide a clear, scientific definition that life begins with the first heartbeat,” said Scott.  

During the fifth week of pregnancy, or the third week after conception, a baby's heart, brain, spinal cord, and other organs begin to form. 

“Our abortion laws are outdated and based on old technology and science. Roe v. Wade was settled 43 years ago. Now doctors have the tools and knowledge to not only sustain life several weeks earlier than was possible back then but now they can even create life in the lab,” said Scott. “Instead of offering to let the mother hear her baby’s heartbeat before she terminates its life as is current law, we need to fight for that baby and acknowledge that it is in fact a human being with the right to live.”

The legislative session will begin on Monday, February 6. 

Sen. David Holt introduces measures to fund $10,000 teacher pay raise

Senator David Holt has introduced Senate Bill 316, which would provide a $10,000 raise to all Oklahoma classroom teachers over a four-year period beginning this fall. Holt has further introduced 12 separate measures to provide funding options for the raise.  

It is estimated a $10,000 raise for all 42,000 classroom teachers could cost approximately $550 million. Holt’s 12 funding measures cumulatively provide at least $744 million in funding options, with the option of adding another $261 million, bringing to over $1 billion the total defined funding options from which to choose. Holt’s proposals also include other revenue raising measures with undetermined values. Holt also authored an income tax exemption for teachers equivalent to an $1,850 average raise.

None of these proposed funding options increase any existing tax rate and it is believed all of the measures could be passed with simple majorities of the Legislature this legislative session.

Oklahoma teachers have not received a statewide raise of any kind since 2008 and now lag behind the regional average by $5,000 and the national average by $10,000.

“We cannot have the future we want for our state without a solid education system, which we cannot have without great teachers, which we cannot have without competitive pay,” said Holt, R-Oklahoma City. “There are so many things Oklahoma needs to do, but none are as important as this. We need to address this teacher pay issue in the 2017 session, and this legislative package proves that it can be done.”

Last year, Holt also introduced a $10,000 teacher pay raise with funding methods. On the night that State Question 779 failed in November, he publicly pledged that his first legislative proposal for the 2017 session would again be a $10,000 teacher pay raise package.  

“As a product of Oklahoma public schools, the son of a retired teacher, and the father of current public school students, I fully understand the urgency of this need,” Holt said.

Senate Bill 316 provides for a $10,000 raise over a four-year period for all of Oklahoma’s approximately 42,000 classroom teachers. For the 2017-2018 school year, teachers would receive a $1,000 raise, followed by three $3,000 raises spread over the ensuing three school years.   

“I believe we need to be talking about a $10,000 raise, because we let this fester so long, because we are so far behind, and because it will take years to implement,” Holt said. “Not many private businesses would go a decade without providing even a cost-of-living increase.   When you run an operation that way, you leave yourself no choice but to make a bold move or risk failure. Let’s start thinking ahead of the curve instead of playing catch-up.”

“I think any realistic and practical solution to the teacher pay issue must be multi-faceted, must be multi-year, and must require only simple majorities of the Legislature,” Holt said. “I think there’s a lot of room for negotiation within those parameters. The reason I have proposed funding options that far exceed the need is so that this Legislature can pick and choose what elements work best.”

“My package provides a menu of options, within which we could accommodate a smaller pay raise, or distinctions based on seniority, credentials, or subject matter, if that was the will of the body,” Holt said. “I expect there to be many great ideas, and I will support the final product that emerges, as long as we’re making real progress on this issue.”

Here are Holt’s 12 funding options, a brief summary of each, and estimates of the pay raise each measure could provide and when. His comments follow each measure.

SB 330 – This measure captures the first $200 million in new revenue growth and dedicates those dollars to teacher pay raises.

Annual value: $200 million

Equivalent to a raise of: $3,600

Year of first impact: Unknown

“If you had asked our state government five years ago to cut $200 million and redirect it to teacher pay, many would have said it was impossible. But due to the drop in energy prices, that amount and more has already been cut. The hardest part of the task has already been accomplished. This legislation makes a statutory promise that when energy prices rebound, and they always have, the first $200 million in new revenues that come to the state will go to a teacher pay raise. It’s as simple as that, and if history is any guide, those revenues may not be far away.”


SB 331 – This measure repeals Oklahoma’s sales tax exemption on repair, maintenance, delivery and installation of taxable goods, something that is taxed in 24 other states. 

Estimated annual value to the state: $59 million

Equivalent to a raise of: $1,075

Year of first impact: 2017

SB 331 could also be expanded to include items that are taxed in at least a dozen states nationally or a majority of surrounding states. These items include oil field services ($31.6 million), construction services ($142 million), utilities ($15 million), information services ($915,000), data processing ($9.2 million), software ($7.5 million), digital goods ($4 million), automotive services ($9.1 million), cable TV ($65.5 million), trailer park stays ($11.9 million), automotive leases ($6.7 million), pet grooming ($3.2 million), carpet cleaning ($3 million), extermination ($2.3 million), aircraft rental ($1.8 million), swimming pool cleaning ($1.6 million), diaper service ($1.3 million), fur storage ($1.1 million), landscaping ($843,000), marina service ($245,000), and telephone answering services ($200,000). These items alone would provide an additional $261 million.

Estimated annual value to the state: $261 million

Equivalent to a raise of: $4,750

Year of first impact: 2017

“The American economy has evolved, and government has to modernize with it. There are a number of items that are taxed in many other states that have gone untaxed in Oklahoma for no reason other than having a good lobbyist or because the nature of the economy has changed. I drafted SB 331 to include the one item already mentioned, but view the bill as a potential vehicle for a much broader modernization of our sales tax code. I am very hopeful that the business community will come to the table and propose an equitable combination of items that spreads the burden fairly, so that our state’s education system can improve. It is also worth noting that this broadening of the sales tax base would tremendously assist police and fire protection in our state as well.”


SB 332 – This measure removes the exemption that allows the state and local governments to abstain from paying sales tax on purchases.

Estimated annual value to the state: $238 million

Equivalent to a raise of: $4,300

Year of first impact: 2017

“This bill will serve to redirect a significant amount of government spending where it needs to go – our education system. And any burden it places on local government could be more than offset by the other measures I have proposed that broaden the sales tax base, as well as the fact that local governments would benefit from the removal of the exemption for purchases by the state.”


SB 333 – This measure ends the applicability of the controversial wind energy tax credit at the end of 2017.

Estimated annual value: $60 million

Equivalent to a raise of: $1,100

Year of first impact: Unknown, but existing credit recipients have ten years to claim their credit


SB 334 – This measure repeals the exemption on sales tax made available to wind energy manufacturers.

Estimated annual value to the state: $5 million

Equivalent to a raise of: $100

Year of first impact: 2017

“These tax benefits have outlived their usefulness and are not as high a priority as teacher pay.”


SB 339 – This measure ends the exemptions for non-appropriated state agencies that have been treated differently from the majority of non-appropriated agencies that pay the state 10 percent of their budget.

Estimated annual value: $87 million

Equivalent to a raise of: $1,550

Year of first impact: 2017

“Paying ten percent of their budget to the state in exchange for the many services provided to them is no great burden to these agencies, but cumulatively, it provides significant funding towards a teacher pay raise. And it finally treats all the non-appropriated agencies equitably.”


SJR 16 and SJR 17 – These two measures work together to create a citizen commission that would spend three years developing a modern school district map that decreases the number of superintendents from 520 to 200 without closing any school building, while spreading the burden equally between rural and urban communities.

Estimated annual value: $50 million

Equivalent to a raise of: $900

Year of first impact: 2023

“Next to teacher pay, the staggering number of superintendents in our state is probably the issue I hear about from constituents the most. And it’s not just a rural issue. There are 24 school districts in the city limits of Oklahoma City. We can be a low tax state or we can be an inefficient state, but we can’t be both. We have to spend money more wisely and get those funds into the classroom. This is a thoughtful and fair way to accomplish a tough but necessary task.”


SB 335 – The state annually provides several hundred million dollars to fund the repair of county roads, even though the state has to maintain state roads as well and there is no state assistance for city roads. This measure lowers that amount by a modest $45 million annually.

Annual value: $45 million

Equivalent to a raise of: $800

Year of first impact: 2017

“Maintaining county roads is something the state should assist with only if we have already addressed the state’s core functions, such as state roads and teacher pay. Even still, my bill does not reduce the amount going to counties by very much, but it does help fund a teacher pay raise.”


SB 336 – This measure would allow the Lottery Commission the flexibility it has requested in setting prize amounts, which it believes will increase total revenues. The increased revenues are captured for teacher pay. 

Estimated annual value: Unknown

Equivalent to a raise of: Unknown

Year of first impact: 2019

“The lottery is never going to be the source of revenue for education that it was once presented to be, but I believe with this reform it could do more.”


SB 337 – This measure enacts similar reporting requirements for online retailers that were adopted in Colorado and recently upheld in Federal court.

Estimated annual value: Unknown

Equivalent to a raise of: Unknown

Year of first impact: 2017

“Due to Constitutional restrictions, this is still largely a Federal issue, but the recent court decision in Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl gives Oklahoma an opportunity to potentially recover more revenues that are already due.”


SB 338 – This measure exempts teachers from all Oklahoma income tax obligations.  

Equivalent to a raise of: $1,850

Year of first impact: 2018

“This is a real economic value to teachers, but it’s also an incredible marketing tool. Imagine the unique appeal of marketing Oklahoma as a state where we value teachers so much that we completely exempt them from our income tax. I think it could help morale and the growth of the profession.”

Holt’s teacher pay raise proposals can be considered in the 2017 legislative session that begins February 6. 

Senator Micheal Bergstrom files bill to fund teacher pay raises


OKLAHOMA CITY – State Sen. Micheal Bergstrom has filed a bill that would cap tax credits at $25 million statewide for electricity generated by zero emission facilities, including wind energy, and another that could use the savings to provide a graduated teacher pay raise over the next three years.

“Teachers need a pay raise in Oklahoma,” said Bergstrom. “At the same time we have another massive revenue shortfall, which will make funding a pay increase difficult, so I authored legislation to cap the payouts on our wind tax credits and my hope is to use some of the money we save to begin funding that pay raise. The two bills I have submitted would be a good step in the right direction.”

Under the provisions of Senate Bill 95, the proposed $25 million tax credit cap for zero emission facilities would be effective for tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2017. The Tax Commission would allocate the credit under the cap, where it could be reduced, depending if more credits are claimed than the $25 million cap. Currently, there is no cap for tax credits for zero emission facilities. In 2014, $113 million was claimed in wind tax credit, which included carryover, but only $59.7 million was actually paid out to taxpayers. Under SB 95, that credit would be limited to $25 million.

“We have good reasons to not only cap the wind credits program payouts, but to close this program. In fact, the Incentive Evaluation Commission has recommended doing just that,” said Bergstrom, R- Adair. “Our program for encouraging the generation of electricity through wind has been successful; however, especially considering the difficult situation we find the state in, with an $868 million revenue shortfall, we can no longer afford these overly generous tax credits.”

Bergstrom has also filed Senate Bill 97, which would give Oklahoma teachers an incremental pay raise over the next three years. The legislation would align Oklahoma public school teacher pay more closely with average national pay schedules, which are outlined in the bill.  For example, an Oklahoma public school teacher with a bachelor’s degree with five years’ experience would earn $34,500 for the 2017-18 school year, $36,500 the next year, and $38,500 in the third year. Bergstrom says he would like to use the anticipated savings from the wind credit cap to fund the bump in teacher pay. The provisions of the teacher pay bill are contingent on the adoption of the wind credit legislation.

Bergstrom says the legislation he’s authored won’t completely shore up the gap in teacher salaries, but it’s a start. 

“Unfortunately, the limit on wind credit payouts is not enough to fund a $5,000 teacher salary increase in a single year,” said Bergstrom. “Keeping that in mind, I have structured Senate Bill 97 so that teachers will receive a $1,000 raise the first year, and $2,000 in each of the next two years. By passing these bills, even in a difficult budget year, we are demonstrating to the public and to our teachers that Oklahoma is serious about education and taking care of those who teach our children.”