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Encouraging signs from this year’s legislative candidates (Capitol Update)

by | August 13th, 2018 | Posted in Blog, 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.

To put it bluntly there is nearly nothing visible going on inside the Capitol unless you want to count the efforts of the construction workers that are repairing and remodeling the building. The place is pretty much torn up. In most areas it’s very much a construction zone. As fall approaches and activity picks up toward next session working around the mess won’t be easy.

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SQ 801 would give more flexibility, but no new funds for education (Capitol Update)

by | August 6th, 2018 | Posted in Blog, Capitol Updates, Education | Comments (0)

Image Source: Flickr / U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District

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.

It was announced by Governor Fallin last week that SQ 801 will be placed on the general election ballot this November. SQ 801 is a referendum from the legislature intended to change the Oklahoma Constitution regarding how certain property tax money can be spent. Under the current constitution there is a 5-mill levy on all real property in a school district, dedicated to building and maintaining school property. In addition, there is a 35-mill general school tax and a 4-mill county levy that goes to school operations. So, legislators want to change the 5-mill levy to allow school districts to use property tax revenue that has previously been restricted to building and maintaining schools for operation funding. One mill is $1 per $1000 in assessed value. Assessed value is between 11 percent and 13.5 percent of the fair market value of the property, depending on the assessment ratio set in the county.

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Several issues divide medical marijuana advocates and regulators (Capitol Update)

by | July 30th, 2018 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Healthcare | 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 attended the first meeting of the marijuana working group last Wednesday and found it interesting. First, there was standing room only consisting mainly of proponents of medical marijuana. These folks worked hard for their victory and have no intention of allowing the political process to rob them of their success. They made it clear that their litmus test for regulating the industry is whether any proposed regulation limits access to the plant for medicinal purposes.

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Senate loses a talented and experienced workhorse with resignation of AJ Griffin (Capitol Update)

Sen. AJ Griffin

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.

It will be a different legislature in 2019 for those interested in children and Oklahoma’s solutions to behavioral health issues without the presence of Sen. A.J. Griffin. From day one when she came to the Senate, A.J. brought with her a wealth of experience in and passion for working with kids. A.J. had been Executive Director of the Youth Services agency in Logan County.

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Medical marijuana rule changes clearly the result of lobbying effort (Capitol Update)

by | July 16th, 2018 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Healthcare | Comments (5)

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.

In my opinion, the State Board of Health stubbed its toe last week with last minute changes to its published, proposed rules implementing the medical marijuana proposal just passed by vote of the people. The Oklahoma State Pharmaceutical Association along with the Oklahoma State Medical Association and the Oklahoma Hospital Association seemed to be at the forefront of the effort to get the Board of Health to amend its proposed rules.

The proponents of medical marijuana brought some of this on themselves by providing that the law would take effect only 30 days from the time of passage by the people. Laws passed by the legislature can only take effect 90 days after adjournment of the legislature unless an emergency clause is attached, which requires a 2/3 vote of both the House and Senate. This provision in the constitution gives the executive branch time to prepare for implementing the new law. But the State Health Department, knowing it had only 30 days, did a good job, up to the time its board met, of anticipating the need for the rules and preparing and publishing proposed rules.

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With revenue growing again, can Oklahoma make up for a lost decade? (Capitol Update)

by | July 9th, 2018 | 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.

According to State Treasurer Ken Miller, gross receipts to the state treasury during FY-18 were at an all-time high. Receipts for the 12 months ending June 30, 2018, were $12.18 billion, an increase of $1.2 billion, or 11% over FY-17 gross receipts. According to Treasurer Miller, last month marked the 15th consecutive month of positive growth in monthly gross receipts compared to the prior year. Interestingly, only $33.8 million of the increase in receipts are attributable to revenue measures passed by the legislature in the 2017 session. This year’s tax increases only began to be collected on July 1, so none of the FY-2018 increased revenue is attributable to the 2018 tax measures.

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More people voted, and it mattered (Capitol Update)

by | July 2nd, 2018 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Elections | 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.

This election year in Oklahoma, and probably nationally, is shaping up to be one of the strangest in a while. So far, the best explanation seems to be “participation.” For quite a while now, a lot of people have just been absent from the political process. Probably many felt their participation didn’t matter. As a result, some candidates who logically would seem unelectable have gotten elected or re-elected because of the apathy. At least for this election cycle, that seems to have changed. Whether it’s the medical marijuana question or outrage over education and other issues, people voted, and it mattered.

But the question remains, what will be the effect of the increased participation. Well, it was immediately discernible on medical marijuana. It’s amazing what a 14-point victory will do. Before the election it was hard to find a politician speaking kindly of the state question. The governor was going to call a special session, and the legislature seemed ready to come in and re-write the measure. Now, it’s just fine to let the Health Department take care of it.

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A connection between the nation’s highest incarceration and refusal to expand Medicaid? (Capitol Update)

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 latest state-by-state comparison for incarceration rates drew headlines in Oklahoma because we are now number one in incarceration. Rounding out the top ten after Oklahoma are Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, Arizona, Kentucky and Missouri. A quick view at the list suggested the question of whether there is a correlation between incarceration rates and Medicaid expansion, so I decided to look.

I found that six of the ten highest incarcerating states have refused to expand Medicaid coverage: Oklahoma, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Texas and Missouri. Louisiana adopted a “demonstration” version of expansion like the Arkansas plan, effective July 1, 2016. Since then it has dropped from Number one to Number two. Arkansas, on March 4, 2014 adopted its private option version of Medicaid expansion. Arizona adopted a private option version of Medicaid expansion but 42 percent of the state’s 773,000 uninsured are eligible but not enrolled in Medicaid due to certain barriers; Kentucky had one of the more successful transitions to Medicaid expansion although it recently changed to a private option plan.

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As election day approaches, support for SQ 788 may be narrowing (Capitol Update)

by | June 18th, 2018 | Posted in Capitol Updates | Comments (20)

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 June 26 primary elections are coming on quickly now. A lot of candidates, both new political entries and incumbents are starting to feel the pressure. In most campaigns the early months are consumed by planning, making contacts with potential supporters and the all-important fundraising. This is especially true for non-incumbents. They are generally not public figures yet and don’t have as much access to campaign funds as those already in office.

Early on there’s not much time to think about whether you’ll win or lose. You just keep your head down and plow ahead. But now, with only a few days left it begins to sink in that this will soon be over. There is an unavoidable answer coming on a day certain, June 26th. Either the candidate will fulfill his dream of serving in public office or he’ll return to whatever he was doing before — or perhaps begin to find a different dream. For incumbents, it’s a day of reckoning. Most did in office what they thought was right and what they thought their constituents wanted them to do. They’ll find out suddenly and publicly if voters approve. Elections can be cruel. The best people don’t always win, and sometimes good people get turned out. It’s why most people would never consider putting their name on a ballot.

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Oklahoma’s battle to reduce incarceration and increase justice will continue (Capitol Update)

by | June 11th, 2018 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Criminal Justice | Comments (3)

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.

At the end of last session, one had to wonder if, having passed several criminal justice reform measures, Oklahomans and their leaders would figuratively congratulate themselves, call it done, and move on to other things. It looks like that’s not going to happen. I recently attended a planning session of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform in which national and local voices, including political leaders, from both the conservative and liberal perspective are coalescing around working to take Oklahoma off the list as the number one state for incarcerating its citizens.

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