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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 (4)

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 (2)

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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The most difficult job in state government (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.

Jami Ledoux is not a household name for most Oklahomans. But rest assured, it is for anyone involved in the child welfare system (except probably the children, who likely do well to tell you the name of their last caseworker). Jami recently resigned as director of child welfare services for DHS. When she resigned she described the job as “one of the most difficult jobs in state government.” There are a lot of difficult jobs in government, but among the most difficult, like child welfare director, are the ones that bring the full power of the state to bear on individual lives.

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How well the Legislature can function for the people depends on new and returning leaders (Capitol Update)

by | May 30th, 2018 | Posted in 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.

Senator Greg Treat, R-OKC, the upcoming Senate President Pro Tempore, announced last week the appointment of Sen. Kim David, R-Porter, as the new Majority Floor Leader and Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, as the new Senate Appropriations Chair. Senator David, now running for her final term in the Senate, just finished an exhausting 2-year stint as Appropriations Chair. Prior to that she was Chair of the Health and Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee. Senator Thompson has served one full term and is running for a second Senate term. He was Chair of the Appropriations Finance Subcommittee – the revenue and tax subcommittee.

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Would problems at Health Department have come to light sooner if Oklahoma whistleblower law was stronger? (Capitol Update)

by | May 21st, 2018 | 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.

whistle blowerThe multi-county grand jury issued a scathing report this week on the Oklahoma State Health Department (OSHD) showing mismanagement over a period of several years. Upon reading the news accounts of the grand jury report, I had to believe the grand jury had gotten it wrong. I’ve known former Commissioner Cline for many years and just couldn’t see this happening on his watch. But I’ve read the full report, and it is thorough and well documented. It exposes how any organization, in this case a state agency, can run aground by trying to avoid exposure for poor procedures and mistakes, compounding the initial errors, and finally attempting to avoid unpleasant consequences. Real people that depend on OSDH, including vulnerable children, health agencies and state employees got hurt.

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A wild ride for first-term legislators (Capitol Update)

by | May 14th, 2018 | 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.

As a postscript to this year’s legislative session, I’ve been thinking about what it would be like to have been serving your first term in the Legislature this past two years. If my count is correct, 54 of the 148 members of the Legislature are serving in their first two years, having been elected at the general election in 2016 or at a special election to fill one of the several vacancies that have occurred. For most of them with little direct involvement in state government, it’s hard to imagine they had even a clue as to what they were letting themselves in for.

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It shouldn’t be this hard to get something done to fund basic services (Capitol Update)

by | May 7th, 2018 | Posted in 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.

As a non-voting participant in the process, from a distance and only on the issues in which I am involved, it’s not my place to pass judgment on the recent legislative session. But most of the commentaries on the productivity of this year’s session have been more positive than negative. It can be fairly described as historic. For the first time in 28 years legislators were able to pass a tax increase. It has taken that long to overcome the 75 percent threshold of SQ 640 that was the backlash from the ruinous economic downturn in the 1980s.

But think for a minute about what it took to get that done. It should not take the threat of thirty to forty thousand teachers leaving their classrooms and literally occupying the Capitol for weeks to get something done. Now, the backlash, led by Tom Coburn, has already begun. It will take maximum effort plus a lot of money to save the gains achieved. And just filing the petition may cause irreparable harm by stopping the funding until the election.

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New budget marks a return of line-item appropriations (Capitol Update)

by | April 30th, 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.

When Republicans took full control of the legislature, both House and Senate, they began a process of dismantling the use of line items in state appropriations measures. The policy took full root in 2010 when Republican governor Mary Fallin was elected. The new legislative majority felt it was not their place to dictate to the executive department, particularity through line-item budgeting, how to spend the appropriated dollars. They also accused Democrats of using line items to promote favored programs over others. In sum the mantra was to give the executive agencies flexibility in the use of funds in the name of efficiency.

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Will the history of SQ 640 repeat itself? (Capitol Update)

by | April 23rd, 2018 | Posted in Capitol Updates | Comments (2)

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.

For those who remember, history in some respects is poised to repeat itself. The events unfolding now bear a close resemblance to how Oklahoma became saddled with SQ 640. SQ 640 imposed the requirement of a 75 percent majority on the legislature for revenue measures and prevented the attachment of an emergency clause — available for all other measures — even when an emergency clearly exists. The backdrop for passage of SQ 640 was an on-again, off-again 20-month special session lasting from August 1989 to April 1990 that resulted in passage of HB 1017. HB 1017 was the final revenue increase in a series that had been passed in the 1980s to keep the ship of state afloat.

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Next year’s Legislature will look different (Capitol Update)

by | April 16th, 2018 | 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.

No matter what happens in the elections — which promises to be plenty — the legislature next year is going to look, sound, and be very different. Thirty-two, nearly one-third, of the House seats are open. Many who are voluntarily leaving early have had an important impact. It will be strange indeed to see the legislature convene next year without the presence of these members.

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