Columns by Rep. Murdock and Sen. Marlatt

 

http://www.oklegislature.gov/TextOfMeasures.aspx

 

http://www.oksenate.gov/news/press_releases.aspx

 

 

Beaver

Rep. Casey Murdock
Capitol Address:
2300 N. Lincoln Blvd.
Room  301
Oklahoma City, OK 73105
(405) 557-7384
Capitol Address
 
Senator Bryce Marlatt
2300 N. Lincoln Blvd., Rm. 428
Oklahoma City, OK 73105
405.521.5626
marlatt@oksenate.gov
Executive Assistant: Lindsay Messer

 

4-14-16

Marlatt Memo

Once again this spring, we’ve had to deal with the combined effect of high temperatures, high wind and a lack of rain. Although the wildfires in Woodward County did not burn as many acres as in Woods County in March, it was still a dangerous situation.

Again, I want to extend my thanks to our volunteer firefighters, county civil emergency personnel, members of local law enforcement, Highway Patrol, Forestry, and others who assisted in the efforts to fight and contain the fire. All fires are devastating, but the efforts of all these responders have time and time again helped prevent even great losses. I appreciate all they do.

Here at the Senate, we’ve passed the deadline for considering House bills in Committee, and are working toward the April 21 deadline for those bills to be heard on the floor.

Work is continuing on the Fiscal Year 2017 budget. The goal remains to mitigate the impact of the shortfall on core services, including education, public safety, health care and transportation.

Even though no final determination has been made about the size of budget cuts for the next fiscal year, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority began sending out letters notifying SoonerCare providers, including doctors, hospitals and nursing homes, of proposed 25 percent cuts in provider payment rates.

Already we’ve heard providers say it would force the closure of rural hospitals and nursing homes. I want to clarify that a 25 percent reduction represents a worst-case scenario. It is unlikely that OHCA will receive a budget cut so large that it would require a 25 percent reduction in provider rates.

Currently, we’re looking at a plan to move many individuals from SoonerCare, which is the Oklahoma’s Medicaid program, to Insure Oklahoma, a state program that provides private insurance to low-income, working Oklahomans. This plan would require an investment on the state’s part of $100 million, but would enable us to capture $900 million in federal matching dollars. Of course the challenge is how to fund the state’s share. We are continuing to explore various options to ensure Oklahomans in rural communities have access to healthcare.

Within the next two weeks the full Senate will be voting on important criminal justice reforms that have the support of District Attorneys, community leaders, and other organizations. Oklahoma incarcerates more women than any state in the nation, and we’re also one of the top states for the incarceration of men. Half of the people in our prisons are there for non-violent crimes.

Studies have shown other programs, such as drug courts, have much higher success rates in reducing recidivism and giving participants the substance abuse treatment and guidance needed to turn their lives around and become productive members of society. It’s also important to point out programs like drug court cost about $5,000 a year per participant, versus an average of $20,000 annually to send a person to prison. Furthermore, non-violent offenders who are incarcerated with violent career criminals are much more likely commit such crimes themselves once they are released back into society.

These proposals ensure we will continue to hold those who break the law accountable, but enabling greater use of programs and punishments that will save the state millions of dollars—funds that can be invested in our schools, healthcare and mental health programs.

Throughout the legislative session, please feel free to contact my Capitol office regarding legislative issues or other questions about government. You can call 405.521.5626 or email marlatt@oksenate.gov. Thank you.

 

4-7-16

By Casey Murdock

I and my colleagues at the legislature are eager to assist efforts to improve health care in rural areas.

Senate Bill 1336 gives options to counties seeking more ways to provide quality, affordable health services to residents. Under this bill, people in multiple counties can vote to pool resources in a trust to form a regional hospital. This gives county residents the ability to pursue this option if it would work well for their specific area.

For example, the residents of Cimarron, Texas and Beaver counties could pool resources and unite into one hospital district for the entire Panhandle. With the struggles that many rural hospitals face, we want to offer options to expand and improve health care for rural residents. The desire is to keep struggling hospitals from closing their doors. Because of fewer people who utilize their services, rural hospitals sometimes find it harder to attract doctors and nurses and to purchase specialized equipment.

The farmers, ranchers, educators, industry workers and others who form the backbone of our rural societies deserve access to the same excellent health care that people in urban areas enjoy. This gives rural providers the option to share resources should they so desire.

SB1336 cleared the first hurdle in the House on Wednesday by passing in the Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Health. It will now go to the full committee for a vote.

In other legislation, Senate Concurrent Resolution 33 addresses issues with the Federal Crop Insurance Program.

Right now, irrigated farmers suffering a loss covered under Federal Crop Insurance who wish to collect their insurance payments must continue irrigation to prove they made a good faith effort to raise the crops. While intending to reduce fraud, this requirement results in vast quantities of wasted water.

SCR33 requests that our federal congressional delegation examine this policy and find ways to allow farmers to discontinue irrigation earlier to protect our valuable water resources from this senseless requirement. With the last few years of drought in Oklahoma, we need to utilize every drop of water responsibly. I’ve heard it said that water is more expensive that oil. It’s a resource we must protect. This resolution will bring this vital problem to the attention of our elected federal representatives.

 

4-7-16

Marlatt Memo

Although there have not been any formal budget agreements or announcements beyond the recent approval of supplemental funds for education and for corrections, it is something our members are focused on. Behind the scenes, intense negotiations are continuing in each chamber on how best to deal with the $1.3 billion shortfall in the coming budget year, and what steps we can take that will enable us to identify potential revenue streams and enact reforms that can help us mitigate the impact of that shortfall as much as possible.

Tough decisions and reforms will need to be made in order to balance the budget, but I believe we must ensure education is prioritized in the final budget. Many school districts have been announcing plans to reduce school days or cut teaching positions in anticipation of double-digit cuts of as much as 15 percent. The goal must be to shield public schools from drastic reductions.

We are still looking at tax credit and tax incentive reforms that will free up additional revenues in fiscal year 2017. We’re also looking at ways to capture some of the funds that are currently taken off-the-top, a practice that has dramatically decreased the Legislature’s ability to prioritize appropriations to specific services, something we absolutely need to do during times of economic hardship in particular.

Another core area of government that must be a priority is health care. While the leadership of both chambers and the governor remain opposed to expanding Medicaid, work has been underway to develop a plan to move more of our uninsured citizens into the program known as Insure Oklahoma. There are many details still to be worked out, and many options to consider, but the goal remains to increase access to health care.

While these negotiations continue, most of our focus will remain on senate committee hearings on bills that began in the House and were approved in that chamber and are now awaiting votes in senate committees. The deadline for Senate committees to act on bills that originated in the House is April 7. After that, our attention turns back to floor work, completing votes on House bills that made it through committee. The deadline for the full Senate to consider House bills is April 21.

Throughout the legislative session, please feel free to contact my Capitol office regarding legislative issues or other questions about government. You can call 405.521.5626 or email marlatt@oksenate.gov. Thank you.

 

3-31-16

Marlatt Memo

I know the last several days have been harrowing for firefighters, ranchers, farmers and homeowners in Woods County as round-the-clock efforts continued as crews battled the Anderson Creek Fire. Monday afternoon we got some good news that the fire was about 90 percent contained in Woods County.

It’s been a tremendous, comprehensive effort with county fire fighters and other first responders, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, The Oklahoma National Guard, County Emergency Management, and the Forestry division of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture. We’ve even had the Lone Star State Incident Management Team from Texas here assisting. I want to express my personal thanks to all those who have been working so hard to get this fire under control.

On Monday, GPS units in the air enabled everyone to get a better handle on how many acres were involved. On Saturday, the estimate was 397,420. Monday afternoon, the revised figure was 367,620 acres.

While county emergency management personnel were working to get a more accurate description as to exactly the nature of the damage on the ground regarding structures, authorities still showed 600 cattle, 1000 hay bales, power poles and 100 miles of fence lost to the fires.

But here is the information we should all be extremely thankful about. So far, there have been no reports of injuries or fatalities as a result of the fire. I believe we can attribute that to the well-coordinated efforts at the local, county and state levels to battle this fire—the cause of which, is still under investigation. I think we should all give a prayer of thanks for the lives that have been protected, and for all those first responders and others who have been involved in this effort and are continuing to work to ensure the safety of our citizens and contain this fire so that more property and livestock are not lost.

It’s worth repeating that any ranchers who’ve been impacted by this fire should contact their county Farm Service Agency (FSA) Office. The FSA office has programs that can assist producers who’ve lost cattle, hay and grass because of these fires. Contact information and more can be found by going to http://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app?state=ok&agency=fsa.

Anyone who would like to donate money to help those impacted can send checks to The Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation. Be sure and put "Fire Relief" in the memo line and mail it to P.O. Box 82395, Oklahoma City, OK 73148. You can also donate online at http://okcattlemen.org/woodscountycattlemenfirerelieffund.aspx.

Finally, if you are interested in donating hay to help producers who were impacted by the fire or you’d like more information, call Greg Highfill with the Woods County OSU Extension at (580) 430-6125 or the Woods County Extension office 580-327-2786.

In the meantime, the temperatures and winds continue to put many parts of Western Oklahoma and the Panhandle at risk of fire danger, so all of us should exercise great caution in the coming days.

Throughout the legislative session, please feel free to contact my Capitol office regarding legislative issues or other questions about government. You can call 405.521.5626 or email marlatt@oksenate.gov. Thank you.

 

3-24-16

Every home must have maintenance work from time to time. If you don’t make repairs to your roof, make sure the plumbing and electrical wiring are maintained, and do other similar projects, that neglect will result in bigger problems, reducing the value of your property and even leaving the home unsafe to live in. It’s no different for historical buildings, like our Capitol building.

As you probably are aware, decades of neglect, wear and tear have taken their toll on the nearly 100 year-old structure. The interior and exterior problems were not only eyesores—they were actually safety hazards for both employees and visitors to the building alike. But thanks to the passage of a $120 million bond issue, last summer, work finally got underway to begin the long-overdue repairs and restoration to the Capitol.

That work was completed in January and resulted in the repair and restoration of office spaces on the first and third floors. Hazardous materials, like asbestos and lead-based paint were removed, along with old, outdated electrical wiring. The work included safety modifications, including the instillation of sprinkler-systems and smoke detectors.

But that was just the start of the work. There are still major issues throughout the building to be addressed—collapsed plumbing lines, crumbling limestone exteriors, outdated and dangerous electrical wiring, water damaged walls and interiors and much more.

I was recently named as the new chair the Senate Capitol Construction Oversight Select Committee, which was formed in 2014 to monitor the estimates and expenditures of the Capitol repairs.. Our purpose continues to be to ensure all the funds allocated for this project are spent as prudently as possible.

Clearly, additional bonds will be needed do to the scope of the job, the size and the age of the Capitol building, in order to make sure it is safe, modern, and yet preserves the original architectural integrity of this historic structure. My committee will continue to scrutinize the recommended repairs and modernizations throughout this process.

 

3-24-16

Marlatt Memo

Every home must have maintenance work from time to time. If you don’t make repairs to your roof, make sure the plumbing and electrical wiring are maintained, and do other similar projects, that neglect will result in bigger problems, reducing the value of your property and even leaving the home unsafe to live in. It’s no different for historical buildings, like our Capitol building.

As you probably are aware, decades of neglect, wear and tear have taken their toll on the nearly 100 year-old structure. The interior and exterior problems were not only eyesores—they were actually safety hazards for both employees and visitors to the building alike. But thanks to the passage of a $120 million bond issue, last summer, work finally got underway to begin the long-overdue repairs and restoration to the Capitol.

That work was completed in January and resulted in the repair and restoration of office spaces on the first and third floors. Hazardous materials, like asbestos and lead-based paint were removed, along with old, outdated electrical wiring. The work included safety modifications, including the instillation of sprinkler-systems and smoke detectors.

But that was just the start of the work. There are still major issues throughout the building to be addressed—collapsed plumbing lines, crumbling limestone exteriors, outdated and dangerous electrical wiring, water damaged walls and interiors and much more.

I was recently named as the new chair the Senate Capitol Construction Oversight Select Committee, which was formed in 2014 to monitor the estimates and expenditures of the Capitol repairs.. Our purpose continues to be to ensure all the funds allocated for this project are spent as prudently as possible.

Clearly, additional bonds will be needed do to the scope of the job, the size and the age of the Capitol building, in order to make sure it is safe, modern, and yet preserves the original architectural integrity of this historic structure. My committee will continue to scrutinize the recommended repairs and modernizations throughout this process.

We’re committed to do our due diligence to ensure the restoration project will meet the needs of the next 100 years, while being good stewards of all public resources allocated for the project.

Throughout the legislative session, please feel free to contact my Capitol office regarding legislative issues or other questions about government. You can call 405.521.5626 or email marlatt@oksenate.gov. Thank you.

 

 

3-17-16

By Casey Murdock

This is an important time in our state’s history. With an enormous deficit, due mostly to slacking oil and gas revenues, state lawmakers have significant decisions to make about our state budget. When I ran for this seat, I could not have anticipated the large budget hole we now face. With the deficit before us, however, I will act responsibility and in keeping with my conservative principles to ensure we fund core services to the best of our ability, while also looking for every area to trim any fat that might still exist. Any unknown is scary, but I do believe we can affect positive change in Oklahoma and we will see better times.

This week, my colleagues in both the state House and Senate had the opportunity to consider bills on Education Savings Accounts. I oppose these accounts because I believe they are bad for our local public schools. I believe they put the school board members we elect and the administrators they hire in a bad position. I want our schools to succeed. I support our teachers. I want every student in our schools to get the education they deserve. I want to continue to work on measures that will achieve better results, but to divide resources in a tight fiscal year is not the solution.

Also this week, House Bill 2658, passed the House with bipartisan support. This bill will allow local school districts to receive funding to make up for lost ad valorem revenue on certain properties owned by the Commissioners of the Land Office as those properties come up for lease renewals. The estimated fiscal impact is about $15,000 each year over five years, with a maximum impact of between $70,000 and $72,000. Ad valorem taxes are a big deal for local schools as is the impact of local millage rates and bonding capacities. After working with the Commissioners of the Land Office, we came up with legislation that will change the law in a way to benefit our schools. This measure is now in the Senate, where I hope it will receive the favorable support it enjoyed in the House.

3-17-16

By Bryce Marlatt

I grew up attending Oklahoma public schools, and my wife and I send our children to public school. I have faith in the work our teachers and principals do to educate Oklahoma children, and have worked on their behalf.

Last year’s budget shortfall meant cuts in many areas of government, but I supported shielding education from any cuts, and helped make sure that’s exactly what happened. The current year’s two revenue failures have triggered across the board cuts throughout government, but I am supporting a supplemental appropriation of $51 million for our schools this session to reduce the impact of those cuts.

I think our local school boards, administrators and teachers know what their students need to learn better than a bureaucrat hundreds of miles away. I also know that in recent years, ever-increasing mandates at the state level that were enacted with good intentions have actually hampered the ability of our local schools to act in the best interest of their students. That’s why I supported legislation this year repealing the state-mandated End of Instruction (EOI) exams.

During my first term in the Senate, the Legislature approved the Empowered Schools and School Districts Act of 2010, which was approved on wide, bipartisan votes in both chambers and signed into law by Governor Brad Henry. The legislation exempted charter schools from numerous mandates required for public schools—a change that would give charter schools the flexibility to develop innovative education approaches to boost learning and improve student achievement.

Senate Bill 1187 would give local schools that choose to do so, the same flexibility to operate like a charter school, but there’s a definite process for becoming an "empowered" school. The local district would have to adopt a plan and the majority of local teachers would have to approve it. That plan would also have to be approved by the state Board of Education. Empowered schools would still have to do criminal background checks on all teachers, provide health insurance to teachers and demonstrate that at least 75 percent of students demonstrate mastery of subject matter standards.

Before this bill even came to the floor, there were critics claiming things about the bill that were completely inaccurate. I want to stress, that none of the provisions in this bill would apply to any other public schools at all. This legislation would only apply to schools that choose to pursue empowered school status, have the support of their local teachers and school board, and the support of the state board. It does not deregulate public schools or indiscriminately strip away teachers’ rights, despite the hype.

This bill simply gives local schools and teachers the ability to develop creative approaches that will best serve the needs of their students in their communities—needs that may be completely different from those in another town or city. It’s truly a matter of local control so schools have the freedom to create education plans that will best meet their students’ educational needs and give the greatest opportunity for success.

Throughout the legislative session, please feel free to contact my Capitol office regarding legislative issues or other questions about government. You can call 405.521.5626 or email marlatt@oksenate.gov. Thank you.

Clearly, additional bonds will be needed do to the scope of the job, the size and the age of the Capitol building, in order to make sure it is safe, modern, and yet preserves the original architectural integrity of this historic structure. My committee will continue to scrutinize the recommended repairs and modernizations throughout this process.

We’re committed to do our due diligence to ensure the restoration project will meet the needs of the next 100 years, while being good stewards of all public resources allocated for the project.

Throughout the legislative session, please feel free to contact my Capitol office regarding legislative issues or other questions about government. You can call 405.521.5626 or email marlatt@oksenate.gov. Thank you.

3-24-16

I know the last several days have been harrowing for firefighters, ranchers, farmers and homeowners in Woods County as round-the-clock efforts continued as crews battled the Anderson Creek Fire. Monday afternoon we got some good news that the fire was about 90 percent contained in Woods County.

It’s been a tremendous, comprehensive effort with county fire fighters and other first responders, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, The Oklahoma National Guard, County Emergency Management, and the Forestry division of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture. We’ve even had the Lone Star State Incident Management Team from Texas here assisting. I want to express my personal thanks to all those who have been working so hard to get this fire under control.

On Monday, GPS units in the air enabled everyone to get a better handle on how many acres were involved. On Saturday, the estimate was 397,420. Monday afternoon, the revised figure was 367,620 acres.

While county emergency management personnel were working to get a more accurate description as to exactly the nature of the damage on the ground regarding structures, authorities still showed 600 cattle, 1000 hay bales, power poles and 100 miles of fence lost to the fires.

But here is the information we should all be extremely thankful about. So far, there have been no reports of injuries or fatalities as a result of the fire. I believe we can attribute that to the well-coordinated efforts at the local, county and state levels to battle this fire—the cause of which, is still under investigation. I think we should all give a prayer of thanks for the lives that have been protected, and for all those first responders and others who have been involved in this effort and are continuing to work to ensure the safety of our citizens and contain this fire so that more property and livestock are not lost.

It’s worth repeating that any ranchers who’ve been impacted by this fire should contact their county Farm Service Agency (FSA) Office. The FSA office has programs that can assist producers who’ve lost cattle, hay and grass because of these fires. Contact information and more can be found by going to http://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app?state=ok&agency=fsa.

Anyone who would like to donate money to help those impacted can send checks to The Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation. Be sure and put "Fire Relief" in the memo line and mail it to P.O. Box 82395, Oklahoma City, OK 73148. You can also donate online at http://okcattlemen.org/woodscountycattlemenfirerelieffund.aspx.

Finally, if you are interested in donating hay to help producers who were impacted by the fire or you’d like more information, call Greg Highfill with the Woods County OSU Extension at (580) 430-6125 or the Woods County Extension office 580-327-2786.

In the meantime, the temperatures and winds continue to put many parts of Western Oklahoma and the Panhandle at risk of fire danger, so all of us should exercise great caution in the coming days.

Throughout the legislative session, please feel free to contact my Capitol office regarding legislative issues or other questions about government. You can call 405.521.5626 or email marlatt@oksenate.gov. Thank you.

3-31-16

I know the last several days have been harrowing for firefighters, ranchers, farmers and homeowners in Woods County as round-the-clock efforts continued as crews battled the Anderson Creek Fire. Monday afternoon we got some good news that the fire was about 90 percent contained in Woods County.

It’s been a tremendous, comprehensive effort with county fire fighters and other first responders, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, The Oklahoma National Guard, County Emergency Management, and the Forestry division of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture. We’ve even had the Lone Star State Incident Management Team from Texas here assisting. I want to express my personal thanks to all those who have been working so hard to get this fire under control.

On Monday, GPS units in the air enabled everyone to get a better handle on how many acres were involved. On Saturday, the estimate was 397,420. Monday afternoon, the revised figure was 367,620 acres.

While county emergency management personnel were working to get a more accurate description as to exactly the nature of the damage on the ground regarding structures, authorities still showed 600 cattle, 1000 hay bales, power poles and 100 miles of fence lost to the fires.

But here is the information we should all be extremely thankful about. So far, there have been no reports of injuries or fatalities as a result of the fire. I believe we can attribute that to the well-coordinated efforts at the local, county and state levels to battle this fire—the cause of which, is still under investigation. I think we should all give a prayer of thanks for the lives that have been protected, and for all those first responders and others who have been involved in this effort and are continuing to work to ensure the safety of our citizens and contain this fire so that more property and livestock are not lost.

It’s worth repeating that any ranchers who’ve been impacted by this fire should contact their county Farm Service Agency (FSA) Office. The FSA office has programs that can assist producers who’ve lost cattle, hay and grass because of these fires. Contact information and more can be found by going to http://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app?state=ok&agency=fsa.

Anyone who would like to donate money to help those impacted can send checks to The Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation. Be sure and put "Fire Relief" in the memo line and mail it to P.O. Box 82395, Oklahoma City, OK 73148. You can also donate online at http://okcattlemen.org/woodscountycattlemenfirerelieffund.aspx.

Finally, if you are interested in donating hay to help producers who were impacted by the fire or you’d like more information, call Greg Highfill with the Woods County OSU Extension at (580) 430-6125 or the Woods County Extension office 580-327-2786.

In the meantime, the temperatures and winds continue to put many parts of Western Oklahoma and the Panhandle at risk of fire danger, so all of us should exercise great caution in the coming days.

Throughout the legislative session, please feel free to contact my Capitol office regarding legislative issues or other questions about government. You can call 405.521.5626 or email marlatt@oksenate.gov. Thank you.

4-7-16

Although there have not been any formal budget agreements or announcements beyond the recent approval of supplemental funds for education and for corrections, it is something our members are focused on. Behind the scenes, intense negotiations are continuing in each chamber on how best to deal with the $1.3 billion shortfall in the coming budget year, and what steps we can take that will enable us to identify potential revenue streams and enact reforms that can help us mitigate the impact of that shortfall as much as possible.

Tough decisions and reforms will need to be made in order to balance the budget, but I believe we must ensure education is prioritized in the final budget. Many school districts have been announcing plans to reduce school days or cut teaching positions in anticipation of double-digit cuts of as much as 15 percent. The goal must be to shield public schools from drastic reductions.

We are still looking at tax credit and tax incentive reforms that will free up additional revenues in fiscal year 2017. We’re also looking at ways to capture some of the funds that are currently taken off-the-top, a practice that has dramatically decreased the Legislature’s ability to prioritize appropriations to specific services, something we absolutely need to do during times of economic hardship in particular.

Another core area of government that must be a priority is health care. While the leadership of both chambers and the governor remain opposed to expanding Medicaid, work has been underway to develop a plan to move more of our uninsured citizens into the program known as Insure Oklahoma. There are many details still to be worked out, and many options to consider, but the goal remains to increase access to health care.

While these negotiations continue, most of our focus will remain on senate committee hearings on bills that began in the House and were approved in that chamber and are now awaiting votes in senate committees. The deadline for Senate committees to act on bills that originated in the House is April 7. After that, our attention turns back to floor work, completing votes on House bills that made it through committee. The deadline for the full Senate to consider House bills is April 21.

Throughout the legislative session, please feel free to contact my Capitol office regarding legislative issues or other questions about government. You can call 405.521.5626 or email marlatt@oksenate.gov. Thank you.

4-7-16

By Casey Murdock

I and my colleagues at the legislature are eager to assist efforts to improve health care in rural areas.

Senate Bill 1336 gives options to counties seeking more ways to provide quality, affordable health services to residents. Under this bill, people in multiple counties can vote to pool resources in a trust to form a regional hospital. This gives county residents the ability to pursue this option if it would work well for their specific area.

For example, the residents of Cimarron, Texas and Beaver counties could pool resources and unite into one hospital district for the entire Panhandle. With the struggles that many rural hospitals face, we want to offer options to expand and improve health care for rural residents. The desire is to keep struggling hospitals from closing their doors. Because of fewer people who utilize their services, rural hospitals sometimes find it harder to attract doctors and nurses and to purchase specialized equipment.

The farmers, ranchers, educators, industry workers and others who form the backbone of our rural societies deserve access to the same excellent health care that people in urban areas enjoy. This gives rural providers the option to share resources should they so desire.

SB1336 cleared the first hurdle in the House on Wednesday by passing in the Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Health. It will now go to the full committee for a vote.

In other legislation, Senate Concurrent Resolution 33 addresses issues with the Federal Crop Insurance Program.

Right now, irrigated farmers suffering a loss covered under Federal Crop Insurance who wish to collect their insurance payments must continue irrigation to prove they made a good faith effort to raise the crops. While intending to reduce fraud, this requirement results in vast quantities of wasted water.

SCR33 requests that our federal congressional delegation examine this policy and find ways to allow farmers to discontinue irrigation earlier to protect our valuable water resources from this senseless requirement. With the last few years of drought in Oklahoma, we need to utilize every drop of water responsibly. I’ve heard it said that water is more expensive that oil. It’s a resource we must protect. This resolution will bring this vital problem to the attention of our elected federal representatives.

4-14-16

 

 

 

 

2-11-16

Casey Murdock

By Casey Murdock

As everyone is aware, the state is facing a $900 million-$1.5 billion budget shortfall. Accordingly, every avenue is being considered to close the looming gap.

Bills have been proposed in the legislature to consolidate local school administrations to a maximum of one superintendent per county. I do not believe that the potential cost savings will justify the heartache and devastation this move would cause to schools in District 61.

In Western Oklahoma, we are already slim and trim. Logistically, there is little more we can do.

When the final numbers have been reported, the salary expense of one superintendent per county and the additional site administrators necessary for each school building will equal or exceed the administrative costs in our current system. As a result, I do not believe this consolidation proposal will achieve any cost savings.

Other revenue generating measures being considered include the elimination of two critical tax credits – the agriculture producers sales tax exemption and income tax credit for volunteer firefighters.

With our commodity prices and oil rapidly falling, our farm products have taken a serious blow. We need to ensure that agriculture producers are not further disadvantaged. By extinguishing these tax credits, the legislature would simply push the financial pain down the line. The local county governments and small towns will suffer the repercussions.

Our city sales tax already rivals that of neighboring states and I foresee that such misguided measures will drive consumers to neighboring states and further deplete our local tax revenues. The budget decisions this year will be challenging, but we need to ensure that the decisions made in Oklahoma City will not devastate our small towns, schools, and businesses.

Such a large budget shortfall year is looking like it may quickly turn contentious. Fortunately, I will say that our Speaker, who is from Northwest Oklahoma, will likely be an ally to my district. It may be the House fighting against such ideas as school consolidation and the elimination of certain critical tax credits. We cannot throw the baby out with the bath water.

Casey Murdock serves District 61 of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. He can be reached by phone at (405) 557-7384 or via email at casey.murdock@okhouse.gov.

 

Marlatt Memo
 

In 2013 Oklahoma had 109 magnitude 3 or higher earthquakes. In 2014 that number jumped to 585. In 2015, 907 earthquakes magnitude 3 or higher were recorded in our state. The largest ever recorded was a magnitude 5.6 in 2011 located near Prague in central Oklahoma.

Oklahoma has always had some naturally occurring seismic activity, but it is undeniable that what we’ve been experiencing in recent years is different. That’s why in 2014, Governor Mary Fallin directed the office of the Secretary of Energy and the Environment to lead the Coordinating Council on Seismic Activity. This group brings together universities, regulators, legislators, seismologists and industry associations with the mission of coordinating and sharing information across state agencies and the state’s oil and gas industry, identify gaps in resources, and work cooperatively to develop solutions.

It’s not just the sharing of scientific data from government geologists and seismologists—it’s private businesses sharing proprietary information in the hopes that this will help us better understand how to deal with these quakes. Researchers agree that high volume, deep oil and gas wastewater disposal wells pose the highest risk for induced seismicity. But more specific information is needed to precisely ascertain the causes and mitigate them before the quakes occur.

I serve as a member of the Coordinating Council and can attest to the incredible cooperative effort taking place between private companies, seismologists, policy makers and others so that precise data can assist the Corporation Commission in its work to mitigate risk.

Recently, the governor asked our Council and the Corporation Commission to determine what would be needed to better accomplish this mission. About $1.387 million in one-time needs were identified that would give regulators and researchers a better understanding of the increase in earthquakes in Oklahoma.

As a result, the governor approved the use of close to $1.4 million from the state emergency fund. Of that, $387,000 will go to the Corporation Commission for information technology upgrades; two contract geologists; a geophysicist consultant; and other positions to assist in their work. The Oklahoma Geological Survey will receive $1 million to pay for the installation of additional permanent seismic monitoring stations; update seismic monitoring network and software; analyze the response of seismicity as a result of regulatory and market forces and how they drive changes in produced water injection; fund additional studies and workshops to share research results.

It is absolutely understandable why people are concerned about the increase in tremblers. But the thing I would point out about the people participating in this coordinated effort is that Oklahoma is their home, too—and it’s always been my home as well. I’m honored to play a role as the private and public sectors work together to address this issue.

Throughout the legislative session, please feel free to contact my Capitol office regarding legislative issues or other questions about government. You can call 405.521.5626 or email marlatt@oksenate.gov. Thank you.


 

Casey Murdock 2-2-16

Rose Day, a holiday we should all celebrate

By state Rep. Casey Murdock

Rose Day may not have the same following as Christmas or Easter, but I think this annual faith-based event at the Capitol is cut from the same cloth.

The Rose Day Rally draws out the faith community to remind us all of the importance of preserving the respect we have for life. Although I believe an anti-abortion protest is sometimes appropriate, one thing I like about this rally is that it focuses on the good instead of the bad. Instead of displaying the anger that many of us at times feel at the callous way in which the world sometimes treats life, Rose Day is a celebration of how often Oklahomans do stand up for life.

Along that same vein, I want to mention some of the good things that have happened in our state. First, Americans United for Life has just named Oklahoma as one of the leading states in passing pro-life legislation. Second, not only are we passing it, but it is being upheld by the courts. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt won a case upholding a state law that puts regulations on the practice of abortion. Almost every abortion regulation law is challenged, no matter how uncontroversial. It is good to see that even the courts sometimes stand up for life.

This year, there are four bills filed in the House of particular interest to Rose Day attendees.

House Bill 2797 is the Humanity of the Unborn Child Act. It cites Maher v. Roe, which states there is no constitutional "limitation on the authority of a state to make a value judgment favoring childbirth over abortion, and to implement that judgement by the allocation of public funds." The measure creates a Public Education on the Humanity of the Unborn Child Fund.

House Bill 3128 is the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2016. It makes it unlawful for an abortion to be performed solely because an unborn child tests positive for Down Syndrome. We live in a day and age in which most people understand now that such children and future adults have great value. The fine to the physician performing such an abortion is set at $10,000 in the measure.

Two of the bills deal with the recent stories that have circulated nationally about Planned Parenthood. House Bill 2700 directs the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to end contracts with the organization. House Bill 2604 prohibits the sale of remains of unborn children. There are legitimate, non-abortion functions provided by Planned Parenthood. Unfortunately, they choose to be involved in very sordid activities as well. I think it is appropriate that we find other organizations to work with instead.

I know that there will be many other pressing matters this year with budget concerns and serious education and public safety policy discussions. It is nice to be reminded at the start of session of the need to protect the sanctity of life.

Casey Murdock serves District 61 of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. He can be reached by phone at (405) 557-7384 or via email at casey.murdock@okhouse.gov.

Sen. Bryce Matlatt 2-4-16

Oklahoma has a proud agricultural heritage and it continues to be an important part of our identity and our economy. This state is the birthplace of commercial aviation, and our aerospace industry sector has grown dramatically in recent years. We’re attracting jobs from tech companies like Google. Our military bases continue to be a vibrant part of our economy as well.

During recent years we have worked hard to create jobs and to diversify Oklahoma’s economy. We’ve had many successes. The fact remains that Oklahoma is an energy state. It’s the industry that kept Oklahoma afloat during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, and again in the Great Recession back in 2008. Our state fared far better than so many others, thanks to a robust energy industry. Yet, it is important to remember, it’s a sword that cuts both ways.

First, it is important to remember that experience has taught us time and time again, there have always been, and will always be, periods of growth and periods of decline in oil and gas. Neither the good times, nor the bad times, go on indefinitely. And both are heavily impacted by international forces that certainly cannot be countered at a state level. That is simply reality.

In 2014, oil prices were $100 per barrel. But within this last year in particular, we’ve seen huge drops in the price of oil. It was stunning to see the price dip to less than $25 in recent days. Many economists and industry analysts have pointed to over-production by OPEC which has resulted in falling prices. A move at the federal level to finally end the ban on oil exports will help the situation, but the benefit of that policy shift won’t be seen immediately.

Here’s the reality. Thousands of oilfield related jobs have been cut in Oklahoma this last year. This means not only the decrease in tax revenue on oil and gas, but the loss of income taxes, as well as sales taxes on purchases these families would be making if they were still gainfully employed.

The result has been across the board cuts in the current fiscal year due to collections that were lower than projected. But more than that, it means the next fiscal year’s budget must be written with more than $1 billion less to appropriate compared to the current Fiscal Year 2016 budget. Certainly there are other factors which have resulted in less available dollars, but the downturn in oil and gas is a major issue.

In the upcoming legislative session, it will be necessary for the legislature and the governor to make some very difficult decisions. Out of 70 state agencies that receive appropriations, the vast majority of all state appropriated dollars, about 91 percent, goes to just 12 agencies. These include the State Department of Education which funds our public schools; the State Regents for Higher Education, our state colleges and universities; the Department of Career and Technology Education, which fund the state’s CareerTechs; Public Safety; Corrections; the Department of Juvenile Affairs; District Courts; Oklahoma Health Care Authority; Department of Health; Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse; and the Department of Human Services

I’ve already been a part of key discussions examining the revenue situation and various ideas as to how we can best meet our constitutional mandate to write and pass a balanced budget by the end of the 2016 session. This will not be an easy task, by any stretch of the imagination. But just like families in this district and throughout the state, we will find a way to live within our means.

One thing is certain; energy prices will ultimately rebound, and so will Oklahoma’s economy. For the present, we most focus on the work at hand, and let conservative principals guide us throughout the session. This will give us a firm foundation to build on when the energy industry and Oklahoma’s economy turns around—and it will.

Throughout the legislative session, please feel free to contact my Capitol office regarding legislative issues or other questions about government. You can call 405.521.5626 or email marlatt@oksenate.gov. Thank you.

1-14-16

Casey Murdock

Large economic factors are coming to bear on the state of Oklahoma. Although the state is less reliant on the oil and gas industry than in the 1980s, any decline is still a tough blow.

Schools, the top or near-top funding priority for almost every Oklahoman, is going to receive a hit just like everyone else. We could see that hit coming in the upcoming budget, but we were hoping to at least escape harm in the current fiscal year.

Unfortunately, a revenue failure was declared in December and the State Board of Education has enacted the mandatory 3-percent mandate all state agencies must now undergo. The cut will include a $25 million cut to the school funding formula, a $12.4 million cut to health insurance spending and a $8.5 million cut to the Public School Activities account.

The schools in my district already make heroic efforts to stretch the money they have and I am very disappointed in this outcome. I am further disappointed in the State Board of Education decision to take the cuts out of those areas most important to schools, rather than cutting the agency’s administrative spending.

Legislators are set to begin the 2016 legislative session in February. At that time, we will have a lot on the table to discuss. I do not know yet what the ideal action is, but I do know that despite our best efforts, this will be a rough end of the school year and next year will not be when that difficulty ends.

In time, as the state climbs out of this downturn, we will have the opportunity to restore the education budget and build upon it. In the meantime, I will be in constant communication with the schools in my district to see what can be done to ease the current burden.

If you have any issues, concerns of questions about what occurred during the last session or any ideas for the next one, please contact my office.

Casey Murdock serves District 61 of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. He can be reached by phone at (405) 557-7384 or via email at casey.murdock@okhouse.gov.

1-21-16

Lawmakers have now filed their legislation for the 2016 session. A lot of my proposals this year deal with education funding and public safety.

Our superintendents already demonstrate tremendous ability to stretch constrained budgets as far as humanly possible. I have two proposals this year to help try and ease some of that burden.

Cimarron County has the largest amount of land owned by the Commissioners of the Land Office, creating a problem with ad valorem funding. My first education funding bill will work to create some mechanism for them to receive ad valorem or reimbursement money for those state lands. The legislation will not be specific to Cimarron County, but it will have the largest positive impact there. I have been working throughout the interim with state officials to figure out the best mechanism. Even as we undergo session, the specific language of this bill may change, but the intent will remain the same.

My second education funding bill deals with the state funding formula and reimbursements to schools for tax incentives given to companies in the state. With the dramatic fluctuation in the economy, the state’s revenue has become less consistent. When the economy is booming, all areas of our lives are benefited by the influx of money. However, the same impact is felt in reverse when the economy deteriorates. I have been asked whether there are any alternative ways to better secure education funding for local schools. My intent is to try and diversify our assets through the wind industry. Wherever wind farms have been built, school districts have become independent of the state funding formula and prospered from the new education funding stream.

I have also filed a bill to allow communities to locally enforce trespassing on private property with the use of drones. The federal government already enforces these issues, but in small, rural communities, it is the local law enforcement that has the greatest ability to enforce such a law.

I have a cattle rustling bill that is intended to strengthen and clarify the penalties for different forms of livestock theft. Livestock crimes are actually quite complicated in statute because of the various types of livestock and values involved. My intent is to set an appropriate penalty for each type of theft and remove loopholes in the current language.

I also have a firearms bill. Current law allows legal gun owners to keep guns appropriately stored in their vehicles, except in the parking lots of higher education institutions. Ironically, guns can be stored in a vehicle on K-12 school properties, but not on the campuses of higher education institutions. This just goes to show the inconsistency in the way that fears about guns drive gun laws.

This is going to be a tough budget year, which means that legislators are going to have a lot of pressure to think short term. We must ensure though that we are set up not only for this year, but also future years. We can take a lesson from Joseph in scripture who preserved the excess resources during years of plenty to provide during the years of famine. His wisdom resulted in the nation of Egypt being saved from starvation and becoming the envy of the surrounding nations.

Casey Murdock serves District 61 of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. He can be reached by phone at (405) 557-7384 or via email a

 


 

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