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As we near halfway point of legislative session, still waiting for solutions on big issues (Capitol Update)

by | March 24th, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates | Comments (0)

“Hourglass” by Jamie is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

This past week was spring break week for most of the state’s schools, so the Legislature worked a short week. The goal was to give legislators more time with family and a chance to get away for a few days with the kids if it worked out for them.

It’s hard to get away during session, and most members don’t want to miss roll call votes. Missed votes are always good fodder for opponents in the next election. Many of these early votes aren’t the final vote on a bill because they’ll likely be amended in the other chamber and come back for another vote for final passage, but even so an absence counts as a missed vote.

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Legislature’s timid approach to a teacher raise doesn’t bode well for schools (Capitol Update)

by | March 17th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates, Education | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

I watched the House floor debate on HB 1114 by Rep. Michael Rogers (R-Broken Arrow) raising the minimum salary schedule for Oklahoma teachers by $6,000 over the next 3 years. The raises would be $1000 next year followed by $2000 and $3000 respectively in the next two years. The bill contained no funding, but Rep. Rogers said funding would be considered by separate measures later in the session.

It was gratifying to listen to all the debaters-for and against-recognize both that teachers should be paid more money and that operational expenses for courses, textbooks, technology, and many other aspects of funding for schools also needs more money. Those who debated against the bill did not debate against the need for teacher raises but against passing a bill only for teacher raises and with no funding.

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Missed opportunities for criminal justice reform this session (Capitol Updates)

by | March 9th, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Criminal Justice | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Legislators missed an opportunity with three bills that are now dormant for this session to make significant reforms in the criminal justice system. The bills were SB 364 and SB 369 by Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, and HB 1730 by Rep. Meloyde Blancett, D-Tulsa. The bills were casualties of the legislative deadline requiring bills to be passed out of the committee to which they were assigned in their house of origin by last Thursday. None of the three bills received a hearing in committee.

SB 364 and HB 1730 mirrored each other and would have reformed the bail bond system for pretrial detention. Many Oklahoma courts operate on a schedule-based bail system. A monetary bond is set based on the accused’s alleged offense with little or no consideration given to the accused’s personal circumstances. Thus, bond has the opposite effect than that for which it was intended. People who have no money stay in jail even though they are at little risk of failing to appear for court or being a danger to someone or the community. People who should remain in jail are released because they have the money to get out, free to abscond or hurt someone.

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Lawmakers have time to fix this budget crisis, if they choose to (Capitol Updates)

by | March 3rd, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates | Comments (1)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

The reaction to Lt. Governor Todd Lamb’s resignation from the governor’s cabinet over opposition to her proposal to add the sales tax to services has been overdone. Lamb, who’s planning a governor’s race next year, wanted to separate himself from an unpopular tax proposal, and to some extent, from a governor who might become a liability in next year’s election. Without some dramatic action, Lamb likely felt that his 8-year association with Governor Fallin as her Lt. Governor would hurt his chances in a competitive race.

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The politics of revenue raising matters for health care and teachers (Capitol Update)

by | February 24th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates, Education, Healthcare | Comments (1)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

There are couple of big issues starting their trek through the legislative process, and the way they ultimately get handled will affect the state’s long-range structural challenges. The first challenge concerns raising the cigarette tax and dedicating the proceeds to health care agencies. In the last several years, legislative and executive leaders have blamed the general revenue shortfall on too many revenue sources being taken “off the top” for some specific purpose, thus never reaching the general revenue fund.

The current cigarette tax proposal increases the tax by $1.50 per pack and specifically directs where the money must be spent. This is the same as taking it off the top. The only difference is the revenue goes to the general revenue fund, but it is required by law to be spent for a specific purpose. This limits the flexibility of future legislatures to appropriate the money where it may be more urgently needed without changing the law.

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Governor’s budget shows how bad Oklahoma’s fiscal health has gotten (Capitol Update)

by | February 17th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates, Taxes | Comments (1)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Looking at Governor Fallin’s FY-18 budget proposal makes one realize how poor the fiscal condition of the state is. If the Legislature and the governor were to dedicate themselves to doing everything necessary to work our way out of the current budget dilemma, it still would take years. Our recent practice of patching things together with tax cuts and budget cuts, robbing various funds, borrowing, and betting on the come that there will be a quick turnaround in the Oklahoma economy has only dug the hole deeper. At least the governor and many in the Legislature have concluded that will no longer work.

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‘Shame on us’ if we don’t address over-incarceration this year (Capitol Update)

by | February 10th, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Criminal Justice | Comments (3)

OK Department of Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh appeared before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety and Judiciary last week and presented his request for an additional $1.165 billion appropriation for next fiscal year. The request is, of course, totally unrealistic, and Allbaugh knows it. But he’s trying to make the point that we are incarcerating too many people in Oklahoma, and we’re not treating those who are incarcerated right. In addition, we are wasting taxpayer money.

Also, last week Governor Fallin’s Criminal Justice Task Force released its final report. It was a real eye-opener! The report says that the Task Force “analyzed the state’s sentencing, corrections, and community supervision data and reviewed the latest research on reducing recidivism and improving public safety. The Task Force found that:

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Senate Republicans release agenda, but no easy answers for how to accomplish it (Capitol Update)

by | February 3rd, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates | Comments (0)

Senate President Pro Tem Mike Schulz and members of the Senate Republican Caucus announcing their 2017 legislative agenda

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

State Senate Republicans, who hold 42 of the 48 seats in the Senate, held a press conference this week and outlined their agenda for the 2017 legislative session in a press release. President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz, R-Altus said “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.”

To support education the Senate Republican plan includes respecting and supporting teachers by removing obstacles to a teachers’ ability to help students learn and achieve; reducing administrative costs to increase teacher salaries; allowing parents, taxpayers and local school boards to more closely direct and increase the quality of classroom education; and ensuring accountability measures to provide parents and taxpayers a useful and accurate reflection of school performance and student achievement.

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Thousands of new bills were filed this week in Oklahoma (Capitol Update)

by | January 20th, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Yesterday, January 19th, was the second formal deadline of the upcoming session. All bills creating new substantive law had to be filed by the close of business. House and Senate members have developed a custom of waiting until right before the deadline before filing their bills. As of Monday, only 119 bills and 1 Joint Resolution had been filed in the House, and 171 bills and 8 Joint Resolutions had been filed in the Senate. By Thursday night, a total of 2,148 bills and resolutions had been filed for consideration this session.

Going through all of these proposals makes for a frenetic several weeks. It takes a while for all the proposed legislation to be discovered and understood. When most all the bills are filed at the same time, some tend to get buried. You can always count on a collection of gun bills, abortion bills, and other “values” legislation to grab a lot of attention. This is the time people get very worried and spend a lot of energy on measures that may be going nowhere. It’s a good idea to keep in mind that these proposals are important to someone or they wouldn’t get filed. And you can’t stop a legislator from filing legislation. While it pays to pay attention, just because a bill gets filed doesn’t mean it’s going to become law.

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Budget hearings illuminate needs of Oklahoma’s major agencies (Capitol Update)

by | January 13th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

To better inform more House members about the state budget, Speaker Charles McCall has made budget briefings by some of the major state agencies available to all House members. They’ve been held in the House Chamber with all members invited. This is a good idea, especially with the budget crisis the Legislature is facing and with 32 new House members. Usually these briefings, although they are open to everyone, are for the benefit of and mostly attended by the members of the Appropriations and Budget Committee.

There are going to be some difficult votes for legislators, regardless of what direction they take. The more the members know about the budget problems, the more open they’ll be to finding and supporting solutions. Also, the better they’ll be able to explain their votes to constituents. After all, the votes are, or should be, cast in the best interest of constituents. Representing is more than waving a finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing. It’s also about digging beneath the surface and doing the right thing for the public. To do the right thing members must be able to feel they can explain what they did and why they did it.

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