SQ 793 Allows Optometrists and Opticians to Operate in Retail Stores
SQ 793 is an amendment to the Oklahoma constitution. This amendment is being brought to the ballot by signature petition, meaning enough signatures were received and verified for it to be placed on the ballot. It gives optometrists and opticians the right to practice and sell prescription optical products within retail stores (stores like Wal-Mart, Target, Kmart, Sams Club, etc.) and allows those optometrists to limit the scope of their practice within those retail stores. The state question allows the legislature to enact laws to prevent surgeries in the in-store eye clinics and allows the legislature to regulate the number of locations where a single optometrist can practice simultaneously. However, it prevents the legislature from enacting laws discriminating against optometrists and opticians who practice in retail establishments and prevents laws limiting the ability to sell optometry products in retail establishments.
Our current state law bans eye clinics in retail establishments. To get around this law, clinics currently located in retail stores are owned by an independent optometrist in leased space at the perimeter of the retail store. This allows the clinic to be accessed from the outside of the retail establishment. Customers, by law, cannot access the clinic from within the retail store.
Forty-seven states allow the sale of glasses in stores and thirty-four states allow an optometrist clinic inside retail establishments. However, Oklahoma would be the first state where large, retail establishments would have the ability to determine how an optometrist would be able to practice.
Those who support SQ 793 argue it creates better and easier access to eye care, removes business regulation and promotes convenience. They also contend this will lead to increased competition and drive eye-care prices lower. Finally, supporters say Oklahoma’s regulatory environment for eye doctors stifles business opportunities.
Those who oppose SQ 793 argue it will hurt small business since it will drive some optometrists out of business. They say it will also allow large retail establishments to increase costs once the small, independent optometrists have gone out of business. Opponents argue allowing large, retail establishments to limit the scope of the optometry practice will lead to a lower standard of eye care.
Additionally, those in opposition contend, if enacted, this question would make Oklahoma the only state in the nation to allow a retail company to supersede the authority of the legislature. In other words, opponents argue this would be the first time a corporation has successfully amended the constitution in any state. They say putting this measure in the constitution will tie the legislature’s hands in making changes if there are unintended consequences. Finally, opponents argue SQ 793 is less about increasing the quality of eye-care and more about increasing the profits of large, retail establishments. Optometrists argue their prices are already less expensive than Wal-Mart’s prices (Oklahoma Optical Retailers Association).
A YES vote means you support allowing retail establishments to own and operate eye clinics within their stores.
A NO vote means you are against allowing retail establishments to own and operate eye clinics within their stores.
(Sources: Oklahoma Policy Institute, The Oklahoma State Chamber and Oklahoma Optical Retailers)
SQ794 Marsy’s Law
SQ 794 will amend the state constitution with the goal of giving victims of crimes equal rights with the accused and/or convicted in both adult and juvenile proceedings. It aims to expand victim’s rights to victims’ family members, as well. Victims’ rights added by SQ 794 are: the right to talk to a prosecutor, the right to reasonable protection, the right to be heard at proceedings and that those proceedings are free from unreasonable delay, the right to be notified of proceedings like hearings, sentencing, release or parole, and the right to refuse interview requests from the accused or convicted person’s attorney without a subpoena.
A version of Marsy’s Law was first passed in California in 2008. It is spearheaded by Henry T. Nicholas, the founder of Broadcom. Nicholas’ sister, Marsy Nicholas (pictured), was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. Days later, the ex-boyfriend was out on bail and confronted Henry and his mother at a grocery store. They were not notified of his release from custody. In response, Henry has used his wealth to ensure victims of crimes are notified when the accused or convicted are released from custody and a number of other victims’ rights.
Supporters of SQ 794 argue the state question will give victims co-equal rights with the accused and convicted. They say people accused and/or convicted of crimes should not have more rights than their victims. Victims should have a say in plea bargaining and be able to participate in the case. Also, by placing the right to be notified in the constitution will force agencies to notify victims. The state question is supported by many Oklahoma prosecutors and many who serve in law
Those opposed to SQ 794 contend the state question will be expensive to implement. They say allowing victims to testify at many, if not all, stages of the legal process will jeopardize fair trials, parole hearings and, ultimately, due process. Additionally, those opposed argue there are already victims’ laws in the Oklahoma constitution. Additionally, this question has many separate rights in it, it could be struck down by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Montana’s Supreme Court struck it down on the grounds voters need to decide on each right individually, not as a package of rights. They argue extending victims’ rights to the victims’ family members is concerning, as well.
Finally, those opposed argue - because of privacy concerns raised by the Attorney General’s office - victims would no longer know the defendants’ locations following arrest, during sentencing, imprisonment or probation. This provision was originally built-into Marsy’s law, but it was deleted. Supporters, however, argue state statute already requires the location of the defendant to be shared with victims.
A YES vote amends the constitution to adopt Marcy's Law.
A NO vote is a rejection of the Marsy's Law amendment and keeps current victims rights.
(Sources: Senate Joint Resolution 46, Oklahoma Watch, Oklahoma Policy Institute, The Oklahoma State Chamber)
SQ 798 Governor and Lieutenant Governor on a Joint Ticket
**Remember, this synopsis of State Question 798 is for informational purposes. The goal is to inform, not persuade.**
SQ 798 is a state constitutional amendment. It will require the governor and lieutenant governor to run together on the same ticket. It will mimic how we vote for our president and vice president at the federal level. If passed, these offices will not be elected together until 2026.
Currently, we vote for the governor and lieutenant governor separately. 26 states require these positions to run together on a single ticket. Some allow the gubernatorial nominee to choose his or her running mate and some states use primary elections to determine who will be paired with the governor on the ticket.
Supporters of SQ 798 argue this change will ensure the governor and lieutenant governor are from the same party, which increases the likelihood of a unified vision, better coordination, and more efficient policy implementation. All of these point to a more effective executive branch. Supporters also point out this change will create a CEO-type situation in the executive branch allowing for more oversight of state agencies. Also, if the governor dies, the lieutenant governor can take over seamlessly. Finally, running the positions together may increase attention and awareness about the lieutenant governor and his or her role and actually strengthen the position.
Opponents assert SQ 798 does not set up a process for how the lieutenant governor will be chosen, which causes confusion. They say voters already do a good job researching the lieutenant governor and governor positions at election time. Those opposed argue a joint ticket will concentrate too much power in the governor’s office and if the governor dies, is removed from office, or is impeached, an independent lieutenant governor is a better option. Finally, some believe the lieutenant governor position is weak and the position should be abolished altogether.
A YES vote will put the governor and lieutenant governor on the same ticket.
A NO vote is for keeping the governor and lieutenant governor running on separate tickets.
(Sources: Senate Joint Resolution 66, Oklahoma Policy Institute and The State Chamber of Oklahoma)
SQ 800 is a state constitutional amendment which creates a trust fund called the “Oklahoma Vision Fund.” The fund will begin to be funded on July 1, 2020 with 5 percent of the total of gross production taxes (GPT) collected on oil and gas. Each year after, an extra two-tenths of a percent of GPT will be funneled into the fund. The funds will be invested by the State Treasurer and all interest will remain in the fund.
The amount of the trust fund will be averaged over a 5 year period. 4 percent of the trust fund’s 5 year average will be deposited into the General Revenue Fund (GRF) to fund government services like education, roads and bridges, public safety, and more. As the trust fund grows, the deposits into the GRF will grow proportionately. The larger the fund, the larger the deposit into the GRF.
Those supporting SQ800 argue the fund helps our state prepare for the future. Oil and gas are non-renewable resources and this fund will allow us to save now for future needs. They also contend this is a wise measure because it has the potential to stabilize and supplement our long-range budget needs without raising taxes because the fund is guaranteed to grow. It is important to note most energy-rich states already have trust funds like this.
Those opposed argue trust fund plans like this are unproven, could be mismanaged, and because a portion of GPT is being invested into the fund, the legislature will have less money to work with in the short-term. To expound on this, they argue we have the Rainy Day Fund and the Revenue Stabilization Fund, already. Those funds receive portions of GPT. With all three funds receiving GPT, they argue too much GPT could be diverted in the short-term.
Vote YES if you are for the Vision Fund
Vote NO if you are against the Vision Fund
(Sources: Senate Joint Resolution 35, Oklahoma Policy Institute and The State Chamber of Oklahoma)
SQ 801 Allows Local Funds Designated for School Buildings to be Used for School Operations and Teacher Pay.
SQ801 is a state constitutional amendment. It will change the way schools can spend 5 mills of property (ad valorem) taxes. A mill is a measure of property taxes; the term “mill” is from Latin and translates to “thousandth.” A one millage tax rate translates to $1 for every $1,000 of assessed value. In this case, the rate is 5 mills or $5 of every $1000 in assessed property value. Currently, schools are limited in how they can spend property taxes by the state constitution. It directs districts to use the 5 mills of property taxes specifically for school property maintenance, landscaping, construction and remodeling.
SQ 801 will change the constitution to not only allow schools to use those property taxes on all the items mentioned above, but also to buy classroom supplies, books, fund teacher pay and other fund other operational expenses. *It is important to understand school bonds are not affected by this ballot measure.
Those who support SQ 801 argue it will make school districts more competitive with other districts. Using property taxes to increase teacher salaries could draw more and better teachers. Also, they believe SQ 801 will give school districts more flexibility with their budgets, especially during lean financial times to minimize the impact of non-budgeted mid-year budget cuts. Supporters say this measure empowers local control, as well, because local school boards know their funding needs and will have more control of their finances to get funding to the needed areas. SQ 801 simply gives school districts a choice in how to spend the 5 mills of property taxes.
Those who are against SQ 801 argue it allows state government to shirk its responsibility to fund education and shifts some the funding of teacher salaries to the local level. Also, opponents contend school districts already use most or all property taxes on facilities, janitorial services and maintenance; this measure puts more pressure on those funds. Opponents are concerned that poor financial decisions by school boards and administrators regarding these property taxes could put district budgets in a bind and lead to an increase in school bond measures. Also, they say wealthier districts will have an advantage over less wealthy districts, which may affect educational outcomes. Finally, opponents argue this measure does not increase school funding.
A YES vote means you support amending the constitution to allow schools to choose to use property taxes for teacher pay, textbooks, supplies and other expenses.
A NO Vote means you want schools to use property taxes on what they are being used for currently.
(Sources: Senate Joint Resolution 70, Oklahoma Policy Institute and The State Chamber of Oklahoma)
Last session, the Legislature raised taxes on cigarettes, motor fuels and production from new oil and gas wells. This provided enough money to fill a budget hole that loomed for much of the year. It also raised enough to fund an average teacher pay raise of $6,100 – the first raise in a decade – as well as give additional benefits to teachers and funding for textbooks and classroom materials. Money also went to DHS to support in-home care for elderly or disabled adults. Medicaid providers saw reimbursements increased. The Department of Health was able to reinstate funding for child abuse prevention services. Also, money was appropriated to the Department of Corrections to give their employees and guards a very modest pay raise. And, legislators were able to appropriate enough dollars to the Transportation Department to continue its 8-year plan for roads and bridges.
I’m hearing arguments that the state Legislature raised taxes too high last year. I’ve heard some say there will be a billion-dollar budget surplus next year.
I hate to argue, but it’s too early to tell. The taxes the Legislature raised last year have already been spent to fill the $800 million budget hole and provide funding to areas of the budget that needed it. We may, for the first time in several years, have enough to fund core government services instead of cutting services to the vulnerable among us. Enough to keep our teachers in classrooms, fund healthcare, mental health and elder care, put a dent in the disabled services waiting list, sufficiently staff our state public safety agencies, continue the push to fully repair state roads and structurally deficient bridges, and more.
The good news is our economy is trending positive. According to the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES), the past two months’ data shows 2 percent growth above the amount the office estimated for the current fiscal year. This is good news, but we simply do not have enough data to predict a massive surplus at this time.
Let’s assume receipts keep coming in at the same rate as the past two months for the entire year. That would be an overall surplus of 2 percent. The total appropriated state budget was around $6.5 billion last year. A 1 percent change equals around $65 million; 2 percent growth would be a surplus of $130 million – certainly not chump change, but not the excessive billion-dollar amount some are arguing. To reach that amount, receipts would need to come in at more than 15 percent over estimates.
We are moving ahead with the audits of state agencies to find duplication of services and efficiencies. This is good, but the Legislature must make a concerted effort to scrutinize spending across-the-board to stretch our budget and fund what really needs to be funded.
Thankfully, we made a significant dent in our structural budget deficit problem. The policies the Legislature enacted over the past two years have allowed a shift from using one-time, erratic funding sources to more stable recurring sources of revenue. This will help stabilize our budget, but there is still much work to do. We need the economy to hold like it is or get better so we can focus on long-term planning to help us save dollars instead of focusing on filling budget holes.
Fortunately, we shouldn’t have a budget hole next year, but that doesn’t mean we’ll be flush with cash. For now, growth is positive based on the two-months of data we have, but much can change and in a short time, in Oklahoma – as we all know.
The primary and resulting runoff elections are now in the rear-view mirror. They were telling on two fronts: Public engagement with Oklahoma politics is increasing and Oklahomans sent a loud message to the Legislature.
An unprecedented number of citizens ran for state House and Senate seats this year. This is a good sign. It is a sign Oklahomans are interested in the politics and policies of our state. The spectacle of multiple special sessions highlighted the state of deadlock in the state legislature. The scene was fortified further with the teacher walkout. The apathy toward state politics is in decline - for now. This is good.
I have spoken to many candidates this election cycle. The most pertinent information on what the people of Oklahoma want can be gained from candidates’ interactions on the doorsteps with voters. The message I hear from constituents locally and candidates throughout the state is Oklahomans are sick and tired of gridlock. Oklahomans want results; they want their representatives to govern and govern in a way that produces excellence. Oklahomans abhor being a low ranking state. I agree, and the results of the primary elections seem to, as well.
When I was on your doorsteps in 2016, you told me to do two main things: fix the budget hole and give teachers a pay raise. We tried many times. 50 or-so representatives were with me and consistently voted in favor of bills that would provide teacher pay raises and fill the budget hole, but holdouts on both sides of the aisle caused those attempts to fail. That is until House Bill 1010XX was brought to the floor.
HB1010XX provided the funding to fill the budget hole and provide pay raises for teachers, education support staff, and state employees. The bill achieved this with gas/diesel, cigarette, and gross production taxes. The bill was designed to have as minimal of an impact as possible on working Oklahomans.
The bill arrived on the floor of the House a week before the teacher walkout. It was as divisive as the other attempts, but the pressure of the impending walkout was enough to move all the Democrats who were holding out for more or different taxes and some Republicans holding out on principle to vote yes.
How a representative voted on this bill was magnified by the teacher walkout. Representatives and Senators who voted no on HB1010XX were the target of teachers and, looking at election data, many others.
There were a total of 19 no votes on HB1010XX. Of those 19 representatives who cast no votes, seven representatives either termed-out or resigned, two lost in the primary, and six lost in their runoff. As a point of emphasis, there were a total of 10 Republican representatives pushed into runoff elections. 3 of them voted yes on HB1010XX, and all three won their runoff. In contrast, 6 of the seven who voted no were defeated.
What does this mean? Do the yes votes on a tax-raising bill mean the Oklahoma legislature is becoming pro-taxation? I don’t believe so; legislators were willing to cast politically risky votes because the revenue was sorely needed and a majority of their constituents believed the tax proposals were justified. The majority of the legislature chose to govern rather than vote to secure re-election. We need more of this mindset and courage. The primary election results have proven a yes vote on HB1010XX was the right vote.
Time will tell if Oklahoma voters’ revived interest in state politics will hold. I hope it does. Exercising your right to vote is extremely important and impactful; look at the primaries. Now that the primaries are in the rear-view, it’s time to look at the road ahead and move Oklahoma forward.
Lawmakers adjourned the Second Regular Session of the 56th Legislature on May 3, wrapping up work three weeks earlier than is statutorily required. Despite the early Sine Die, legislators were able to accomplish some significant policy gains this session. "Sine Die" is the end of session; it is a latin term that means "without day" or adjournment.
The reforms I have the most hope for concern our state’s criminal justice system. My colleagues and I passed nine measures aimed at streamlining our sentencing structure, authorizing bonds to fund repairs at state penitentiaries and creating risk assessment tools. By investing money into the front end of people’s lives, instead of stacking felonies and increasing sentence lengths, Oklahoma should be able to reap millions of dollars in savings.
The Legislature’s hope is to transfer those savings to intervention and diversion programs as well as mental health services. By doing so, Oklahomans will have a better chance of staying out of prison and getting their lives back on track. I’ve heard concerns about these reforms not going far enough, but I know we can all agree these are important steps toward bettering the future of so many Oklahomans.
Of course, the biggest achievement this session was balancing the state budget. As our economy continues to rebound, more money flows into our state’s general revenue fund. When you combine those additional dollars with the revenue measures lawmakers passed this session, our state agencies should feel the difference. These departments have undergone years of funding cuts, and providing them with budgetary increases was a welcome relief. My goal is to properly fund core services without bloating government and do so without waste.
I am keenly aware the money the Legislature doles out belongs to you, the taxpayer. Thankfully, we have developed important checks and balances that should constantly evaluate government spending. The Incentive Evaluation Commission is integral in ensuring the money we spend on tax credits and incentives reap a good return on investment. The Agency Performance and Accountability Commission will be invaluable as lawmakers move toward forming each year’s budget. As those experts relay their findings to the Legislature, we will consider our practices and adjust as necessary. Also, we saw the legislature return to line-item budgeting this year. This is huge because line-item budgeting keeps bureaucrats accountable to the legislature and, ultimately, the people. We are on the right track, but there is still much work to do.
Some people have asked why lawmakers opted to adjourn three weeks early instead of sticking it out through the end of May to continue policy work. The short answer is this – the Legislature absorbed hundreds of thousands of dollars in unexpected cost through both special legislative sessions and other major events that occurred this year. By ending formal session early, lawmakers are saving taxpayer dollars while spending much-needed time back in their districts. Work continues at the local level, and I know we’re all glad to be home for a bit.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need anything. I’m at Marcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7327. Thanks, and may God bless you and this great state.
When lawmakers adjourn the legislative session, it’s called “sine die,” which is Latin for “without assigning a day for a further meeting.” House Republican leadership announced last week they intended to wrap up the 2018 session around May 4, a few weeks before we are legally required to end legislative work.
As we near the end of my second regular session (and fourth if you count the special sessions), I’ve found myself really proud of what we’ve finally accomplished. It wasn’t perfect, and it certainly wasn’t pretty, but it was progress.
Most notably, lawmakers passed legislation raising salaries for all teachers, support staff and most state employees. These raises will have an impact on thousands of Oklahoma families across this state who deserve this increased compensation for their service to the state. Legislators also increased funding for education through a textbook stipend and boosted state aid formula dollars. These are all wins – all steps in the right direction.
What I’m perhaps most proud of, however, is that Democrats and Republicans were able to accomplish this in a year without a huge surplus in our budget. As many of you know, recent state budgets have enforced cut after cut to state agencies because of revenue failures. These slashed budgets have resulted in numerous headaches for the civil servants who have been forced to do more with less. This year, though, lawmakers joined together to change the state’s course.
Nobody likes increased taxes, especially when it impacts your bottom line. But sometimes good governing involves making uncomfortable choices because we know it will set the state on a better path forward. With the revenue-raising measures my colleagues and I passed earlier this session, we’ve done that and we've done it in a way that will impact most Oklahomans on average of $21 per year in gasoline taxes.
Those votes and the bipartisan cooperation mean we can start to properly fund our government. And thankfully, the increased revenue means a “robust increased budget,” according to Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols.
Of course, my colleagues and I can’t take all the credit. The economy continues to improve, too. The Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) reported that March General Revenue Fund collections were $405.5 million – $53.5 million, or 15.2 percent, above March 2017 collections and $21.4 million, or 5.6 percent above the monthly estimate.
Moody’s, one of the nation’s top credit-rating agencies, also issued a credit-positive report for Oklahoma earlier this month. If you remember, Moody’s gave Oklahoma a credit negative warning about five months ago when the Legislature had not yet closed a $215 million hole in the state budget. Talk about a turnaround.
As we wrap this session up, I will continue to work during the interim to find efficiencies in government that allow us more freedom to fully fund core services. It’s a project I’ve been working on since my first election, and it’s one I’ll continue from here on out. We cannot allow government waste to hinder our state’s ability to efficiently function. I know you want a funded government that works for its people and does so without waste.
As always, I’m here if you need me. Don’t hesitate to reach out at Marcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7327. Thanks, and God bless.
I’ve always been a firm believer in learning from others. This week, I had the opportunity to talk to hundreds of educators and civil servants who visited the Capitol to lobby for more funding. I learned something new with each conversation.
You shared stories about classroom supply shortfalls – cracked desks and crumbling textbooks. You spoke about second jobs you took just to help support your families. You talked about the amount of money you’ve poured into new crayons, paper, pencils and pens because your students didn’t have the supplies.
But for every sad story I heard of Oklahoma falling short, I listened to 10 more from educators bragging on their students. They spoke of the promising research papers their high schoolers were writing. They boasted about their third graders who were working day-in and day-out to learn to read at grade-level. Some teachers said they’d gladly donate a portion of their salary increase if it meant more individualized attention with their students.
I’d say lawmakers made progress this past week, but let’s be clear – it was the educators. The House and Senate passed bills to fund education. Those bills are not a magic fix, but both are great steps toward funding our future.
We still have lots of work to do in improving our state’s educational system. And based on the conversations I’ve heard over the past week, I’ve become convinced it will take more than just money. Funds are crucial, of course, but teachers have shared other frustrations with the system we should look at closely as we move forward. And I’m relying on you to help me make those changes.
When I was in seminary, I was a substitute teacher to make ends meet, but that experience makes me no expert in the classroom. Our teachers are on the front lines, and they’re the ones who know best. Lawmakers would be wise to talk less and listen more to their concerns. Will we accomplish erasing all of the cuts to education over the years in this session? Probably not. But genuine listening will lead to big changes for the next generation of Oklahomans.
Education is the focus of funding at the moment, and rightly so. However, we have many other areas feeling the pain. Our rural nursing homes and hospitals, our prison system, our mental health system, our intellectually and developmentally disabled population, our roads and bridges program and many other areas also need attention and funding. I believe it is my job to make sure all areas receive what they need. It is also my job to make sure all of these areas, including education, are running efficiently. I have learned working as your representative that you want two things: you want your state government funded, and you want it to run efficiently (without waste). I intend to work toward these goals.
You know how to reach me if you need anything. Just email Marcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov or call 405-557-7327. Thanks, and God bless.
The Capitol has been fairly quiet this past week, which is typical for Spring Break. Lawmakers met briefly on the floor each day, and Senate bills were assigned to committees. Several of my colleagues and I brought our families to Oklahoma City for the break, and I really enjoyed getting to meet everyone. It was especially fun to watch our children play together and observe life on the House floor – a future generation of leaders, that’s for sure!
Even though floor sessions and committee meetings were pretty light this week, negotiations continue on a teacher pay raise plan. Leaders in the House, Senate and governor’s office are hard at work trying to provide teachers with proper compensation while balancing the needs of all other core services of government. It’s not an easy feat, which is why you may have seen several possible plans floating around social media lately.
Last week, House Speaker Charles McCall unveiled a proposal that is being dubbed the Transformational Teacher Pay Raise Plan. This plan is a backup plan should a grand revenue package we can pass not materialize. It is a long-range plan intended to come to fruition over the course of the next six years. What it lacks in immediacy, it makes up for in salary increases. By the time the plan is complete, Oklahoma’s teacher salaries would be highest in the region. Educators who have been in the classroom for 25 years would be making $60,000 on the minimum teacher salary schedule.
As the teacher walkout looms, there are a number of other plans on the table to fund education, fund teacher and state employee pay increases, and fund core services. It is becoming evident I will be forced to make some tough calls on your behalf soon. Lawmakers will be faced with choices I would honestly rather not face over these next few weeks and months, but my job is to listen to you and carry out the will of the people in House District 50.
Of course, none of this is easy – and all of it is taking much longer than anyone would like. But I am in this for the long haul, and I intend to stand with teachers every step of the way.
If you have any thoughts on the pay raise proposals, please reach out and let me know. I’m atMarcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7327. Thanks, and may God continue to bless our great state.
As the House worked through its floor deadline this past week, lawmakers continued to work hard on a teacher pay raise plan. This can sometimes feel like an insurmountable feat, but I remain committed to getting this done. The time is now.
Despite the high tensions surrounding the possible teacher walkout, I’m encouraged by the number of people actively following what happens in state government. Local politics tend to be overshadowed by what happens at the national level, but decisions made on the state-level are generally more impactful to you.
Of course, I wish this increased advocacy and activism had come about because of something positive, but I truly believe an informed public is a better public. Your frustrations are understood, and I share them with you. By harnessing the energy of teachers, superintendents and parents, I believe we can all find common ground and develop a solution that will work. Working across the aisle, bringing stakeholders to the table and doing some honest-to-goodness brainstorming will help us get there.
This change will not happen overnight. April 2 is fast approaching, and bills don’t become law instantaneously. Once a deal is reached, language must be drafted. The process itself of passing nearly any bill takes at least five days. That’s not to mention the fact that the Oklahoma Education Association’s request of $800 million for this upcoming fiscal year is a near-impossible task.
We’ve tried to raise taxes – even just to the tune of $160 million in the form of a cigarette tax increase – several times over the past year. Each time, a small minority of representatives has used its power as a way to prohibit progress. The House has passed a series of reforms that will help us better grasp our state budget, but we’re still far short of the $800 million OEA wants.
I do not say this to discourage a walkout. In fact, I encourage teachers to follow their hearts these next few weeks. Make your voices heard. Come visit me at the Capitol. Visit other lawmakers. Do whatever you need to do. I hesitate to give you false hope, though, because I honestly cannot envision a scenario where lawmakers are able to deliver on every OEA demand – especially before April 2.
Are teachers and support staff deserving of a significant raise? Without a doubt. Am I fighting to make that happen? Every single day. I am staunchly supportive of our educators, and I cannot fully express how appreciative I am for their dedication to our state’s future generations. My desire is to reach a compromise where the solution will both provide immediate relief and long-term growth opportunities for teacher salaries. Perhaps then we will start effectively recruiting teachers, rather than throwing up our hands in exasperation. I believe we can do this if we stop insisting on a Republican plan or a Democrat plan and demand an Oklahoma plan – a plan that is good for all Oklahomans.
Lastly, I have one quick bill update: my measure forming a commission to investigate elderly abuse, neglect and exploitation passed the House and is headed to the Senate. I am truly grateful for the support, and I’m excited that we seem to be on track to better protecting our senior citizens.
If you are planning a visit to the Capitol in the coming weeks, please let me know. I’d love to talk to you. I’m at Marcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov and 405-557-7327. Thanks and God bless.
I’ve received more emails and phone calls in the past week or two from teachers in House District 50 than I have in a long time. Each conversation contains stories of educators who are just flat exhausted – they feel underappreciated and stretched thin. And they feel let down by lawmakers.
As much as I hate to see and hear the frustrated tone in the emails and phone calls, I have to admit I understand where the teachers are coming from. Please know, I stand with our educators.
House Republicans have voted on more than 20 revenue measures that could have helped fund – or funded entirely – a teacher pay raise. And that’s just since I’ve been in office. I’ve voted ‘yes’ each and every time. These revenue bills weren’t always the easiest measures to vote for or approve; as a conservative, I truly believe in protecting taxpayers from unnecessary taxation. But at a certain point, we must realize the path Oklahoma is on is not working out well. We need to adjust our policies and set our state on a better path.
I truly believe we can make changes that positively impact Oklahoma and provide for teacher pay raises. As lawmakers, we have a duty to put people above politics. We have a responsibility to think and make decisions bettering Oklahoma for the future, not just for today. Those decisions include ensuring we properly compensate teachers so our dedicated educators don’t flee the state. The time to act is now.
As for another pressing issue, most everyone has heard about the closure of Youth Services for Stephens County. I did not see this one coming, and I heard about it only after being contacted by a local news reporter. The closure is upsetting, and it will impact the many families who rely on services day in and day out.
Also, it is upsetting to me to blame the closure on budget cuts. I have learned the center received no cut from the Office of Juvenile Affairs this year. And again, nobody from the center contacted me alerting me of budget woes so severe they could prompt shutting the doors.
I’ve been in contact with folks at the Office of Juvenile Affairs, and we’re looking into exactly what happened at Youth Services. Their programs and services were valuable to our district, and I would love to see if there’s something we can do to reopen the center or replace services in another manner. I’ll keep you posted.
There’s a lot of news happening these days. Please trust that I think of the people in House District 50 every single day. Your worries and concerns are my worries and concerns. Your celebrations are mine, too. If you need anything, you know how to reach me. I’m at Marcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7327. Thanks, and God bless.
Have you ever read a news article so horrifying that it sticks with you for months? Have you ever learned about a common practice that seems so backwards and inhumane that you couldn’t understand why people haven’t put a stop to it?
I hate to sound overly dramatic, but that’s exactly what happened to me when I read a New Yorker Magazine piece about the system of court-appointed guardians in the United States. According to the reporter, there are roughly 1.5 million adults who are part of this system across the country. Many are lucid, functioning senior citizens who simply live slower lives than they used to. And often times, they’re being forcefully removed from their home and moved to a living center without any say in the matter. These men and women can quickly become wards, losing their assets and being charged exorbitant fees by the “guardians” who oversee their cases.
After I read this article, I couldn’t stomach the thought of Oklahoma seniors losing their rights. Thankfully, I’m not alone. A bill I authored creating the Commission on the Prevention of Abuse of Elderly and Vulnerable Adults is now eligible to be heard on the House floor. The commission would study and make recommendations for changes to state policies to better provide services to individuals at risk of abuse, neglect or exploitation under existing adult guardianship laws. A report would be due by Dec. 1, 2019.
If our state really wants to brag on our “Oklahoma Standard,” we have to carry that standard throughout the care of all our residents – including and especially our most vulnerable. My desire is to see this commission and its recommendations through to the end, so our citizens can be treated fairly and respectfully.
As part of House District 50’s goal to make sure Oklahomans are properly equipped to effectively engage in government, I’ve also authored legislation requiring the Oklahoma Tax Commission submit a biennial report to the Legislature on the overall incidence of the income tax, sales tax and other excise taxes. The bill cleared committee last week and will allow Oklahomans insight into who all is paying taxes in the state. This is great policy that promotes transparency and assists lawmakers as we craft budget bills each year.
Lastly, my bill expanding the Oklahoma Medical Loan Repayment Program received unanimous approval in committee. The measure permits the Physician Manpower Training Commission to waive the maximum rural population criteria currently in statute, which should entice more doctors and physician assistants to practice in rural areas.
These proposed policy changes are common sense measures, and Oklahomans will be able to see direct results from their implementation. Above all, that’s what I want to achieve as your state representative – policy changes you can benefit from. If you have anything you think I should know about, please reach out. I’m at Marcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7327. God bless.