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The first deadline for next year’s Legislature has already passed (Capitol Update)

by | December 10th, 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.

Although the legislative session does not begin until February 4th, the first deadline of the session, the deadline to request drafting of a bill, passed last Friday. There are usually several thousand bill requests made by the 101 House members and 48 Senators. A couple thousand of these will make their way into the hopper as an introduced bill. If past is prologue, many of these will be “shell” bills designed as placeholders, giving legislators time to develop their ideas. Shell bills defeat the purpose of deadlines, but they have become commonplace in the past few years.

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Early bill filings reveal legislators’ priorities (Capitol Update)

by | December 3rd, 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.

With the new Legislature now sworn into office, members can begin filing the bills for the next legislative session. Early bill filings are often “statement bills” revealing the priorities of their authors. By watching these early filings, you can learn something about the legislator and, without making too much of it, the people they represent. An early bill filing means the issue is a top priority for the legislator, especially for the leadership.

For example, Sen. President Pro Tempore Greg Treat filed Senate Bill 1 that creates the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency as a legislative oversight agency to ensure that “government funds are expended in a fiscally responsible manner.” The office, which will have an executive director and a staff, will be overseen by a bipartisan legislative committee. The bill requires the Office to conduct “performance evaluations” of the various agencies. This likely reflects dissatisfaction with the Health Department fiscal fiasco last year and a desire to independently verify the budget numbers being given legislators by the agencies. It also responds to the argument of many that tax money “is not being spent properly.”

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Transition team begins charting Stitt Administration’s direction (Capitol Update)

by | November 26th, 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.

A course being plotted on an old chart with a pencil and course plotterThere’s not a lot of legislative activity to report from last week. Most members were catching up on family time and fielding bill requests before the December 7 bill drafting deadline. In the next couple of weeks, members will be deciding on their own personal priorities for next session. In addition, members get proposals from constituents and various interest groups. Then they must request that bills be drafted to translate their ideas into legislation on or before the Dec. 7 deadline. There’s the feeling that, given the turmoil of the past several years, Oklahoma is turning a page with the new governor and large number of new legislators. New ideas are needed, some big and some small fixes that can make a difference.

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Office of Juvenile Affairs makes improvements, but more work needed (Capitol Update)

by | November 19th, 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.

Last week the Office of Juvenile Affairs Board of Directors (OJA) approved a new, higher rate for some group home beds. They will provide intensive services to potentially aggressive or violent youths in OJA custody who need specialized mental health treatment. Several months ago, OJA asked mental health organizations for their best ideas for treating these kids if given the opportunity. I’m guessing the new rates signal an effort to implement some of these proposals. Thanks to OJA for its forward-thinking approach. It’s a truism that the earlier a child can get help to avoid involvement in the criminal justice system the better the likelihood of success. Some of these kids, with the right help, can avoid incarceration as adults. When they do, it will save a lot of heartache for them and their families and potential victims-and a lot of money for taxpayers.

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To whom will Governor Stitt be listening? (Capitol Update)

by | November 12th, 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.

Kevin Stitt

It’s tempting to try to dissect the politics of the election last week, but I think it’s more helpful now to look beyond the election. With 46 new House members out of 101 and 11 new Senators of 48 and a new governor, accurate predictions are difficult. I noticed that Sen. Greg Treat (R-OKC) said Governor-Elect Stitt is a listener. I believe that is true. I went to one of his very early campaign events at the offices of his mortgage company in Tulsa. At that time, he had donated the first $500,000 to his campaign and had raised another $500,000. Anyone with $1 million in his campaign account months before filing will be a serious candidate. I came away from that meeting believing he would be the Republican nominee (although I admit to vacillating at times during the campaign.)

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Education and health care frustration pushes against political gravity in tomorrow’s elections (Capitol Update)

by | November 5th, 2018 | Posted in Blog, Capitol Updates, Elections | 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.

Finally. It’s election week. This is one of those few elections in recent years in Oklahoma when things seem too close to call. Usually the statewide campaigns with money to spare have a good idea of where they are because they are polling pretty much up to the election. This year even the candidates or those close to them (except in secondary, non-competitive races) don’t seem to have much certainty. The consensus seems to be that the races are close enough that the candidates who can get their voters to the polls will be the winners. It’s about turnout. Polls with margins fairly near the margin of error are not sure predictors when the enthusiasm on one side or the other runs high.

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Interim studies grapple with foster care changes, the cost of child care, and family reunification (Capitol Update)

by | October 29th, 2018 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Children and Families | 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.

The House committee on Children, Youth and Families last week considered three separate interim studies. The first concerned the new federal Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018, a new law to redirect federal foster care funding. Importantly, it does not provide new federal funding; it just redesigns the programs. Included in the effort are new evidence-based methods to prevent children from being removed from their homes and more appropriate placements for the children who are removed. There are several problems with Oklahoma implementing this new law, the most important of which is funding. First, there is a “maintenance of effort” requirement that will require us to bring our current expenditures for the programs covered back to 2014 levels before we can claim federal funding. Second, will be finding the state funds for the 50 percent match. The federal law gives states 2 years to implement it, and it looks like Oklahoma will postpone our effort at least 1 year.

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Three priorities for criminal justice reform (Capitol Update)

by | October 22nd, 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.

There’s a growing consensus that “criminal justice reform” should be an important part of the change we need in Oklahoma. It would free up funds for other priorities like mental health and education. It would blunt the need for new spending for prisons. And it would stop the needless disruption of the lives of thousands of offenders whose families — and society — would be better served by their remaining in the community for treatment or rehabilitation.

Since criminal justice reform, by definition, deals with legal issues, it can get complicated. Some who are currently part of the justice system see it as working for them, so they resist change. Those who want change aren’t always sure what it will take to reach the goals they want. Conflict and confusion are the result. For the past four years, despite strong efforts by citizens, advocates, experts, legislative leaders and the governor, progress has been slow. Here are some suggestions that would yield both immediate and long- term results.

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Billions of dollars for Oklahoma and health care for hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans at stake in this election (Capitol Update)

by | October 15th, 2018 | Posted in Capitol Updates, 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.

The new CEO of the Oklahoma Hospital Association (OHA), Patti Davis, has decided to advocate openly for Medicaid expansion to access federal health care funding under the Affordable Care Act. Oklahoma has missed out on this funding since 2012 when Governor Fallin decided to abandon any effort to claim these tax dollars Oklahoma sends to Washington D.C. In the past the OHA has been shy about using the term “Medicaid expansion,” preferring euphemisms in hopes of avoiding association with the hated “Obamacare.” The strategy hasn’t worked because die hards against the Affordable Care Act, constantly on guard against the health care funding, were not fooled.

In an article published in the Oklahoman last week, Ms. Davis pointed out that “if Oklahoma were to accept federal funds to cover the uninsured, possibly through the public/private partnership Insure Oklahoma program as we have proposed, the economic benefit would be in the billions to our state each year.” She cites an analysis by an Oklahoma State University economist in 2016, that over a 5-year period if Oklahoma had accepted federal funds for health care coverage, more than $14.5 billion would have been injected into our state’s economy and more than 24,000 health care-related jobs would have been created.

Ms. Davis goes on to say, “We’re all in this together. Injecting these dollars into health care is a win for education, corrections and mental health. The notion that expanding health care coverage would take money away from other areas, such as education, simply isn’t true. Schools and communities suffer when citizens don’t have access to vital health care services. When our citizens don’t have access to mental health coverage, our jails and prisons, unfortunately, become the default. And an injection of federal dollars into health care frees up state money for other agencies.”

In case you’re wondering where the two major candidates for governor stand on Medicaid expansion, they were both quoted directly in another Oklahoman article by Chris Casteel on June 17, 2018, as follows:

“Kevin Stitt, a Tulsa businessman, said, ‘I do not support expanding Medicaid … Obamacare is a disastrous law that Congress should repeal and replace with a solution that encourages a competitive business climate to drive down cost for all Oklahomans and increase health care options.'”

And from Drew Edmondson: “Rejecting the Medicaid expansion funds is the worst decision the governor made since taking office,” Democratic candidate Drew Edmondson said. “On my first day as governor, I’ll begin the process of reversing that harmful decision.”

Oklahoma’s revenue growth is welcome but not a windfall (Capitol Update)

by | October 8th, 2018 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates | Comments (0)

[Image Source: Sarge Melki / Flickr]

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.

Those who rely on state funding to provide services to Oklahomans heard more good news this week from State Treasurer Ken Miller. Monthly numbers for September revenue show an increase of $141.4 million over September 2017 revenue. If monthly increases averaged, say $100 million for the year it would mean an additional $1.2 billion in state revenue. Only a portion of this goes to the General Revenue Fund from which the Legislature appropriates most of the budget, but if the trend continues it will mean a good year for next year’s legislative appropriations.

According to Treasurer Miller, revenue generated by increased tax rates approved in HB1010XX last session added $48.7 million of the $141.4 million to the monthly collections. This means approximately 35 percent of the increase in revenue came from the tax rate increases. Of the $48.7 million generated, $31.2 million came from the increase from 3 percent to 5 percent in the incentive tax rate on oil and natural gas gross production, $8.3 million came from raising the tax on gasoline and diesel fuel, and $9.3 million was generated from the $1 per pack increase in cigarette taxes.

The remaining 65 percent of the increase in the state’s monthly gross receipts presumably reflects new revenue caused by growth in the economy. As Treasurer Miller, an economist, puts it “Oklahoma’s economy continues to climb the expansion side of the business cycle.” In other words, state government revenue is riding the wave of an uptick in the economy, and this is a natural part of the business cycle. To those with a critical and experienced eye, this means as business continues to cycle there will at some time be a downtick.

The temptation for now will be to look at these numbers and conclude the state has a windfall. Nothing could be further from the truth. $1.2 billion in the budget will provide relief, but it will in no way catch up for a decade of budget cuts and deferred increases to meet new needs for schools, universities, and all the other state agencies that provide for the education, health, and public safety of our citizens. Simply relying on “growth money” from the same inadequate tax base will leave Oklahoma where it has been for many years: at the bottom of the barrel in meeting the needs of its citizens. We should be listening carefully to what the candidates for office are saying. As we’ve seen before, elections do have consequences.

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