News of interest for November 1, 2013

Today, 240 new laws went into effect in Oklahoma. More here from the AP’s Sean Murphy.

A seminar was held in the House Chamber today that caused a little controversy.

Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon held an interim study yesterday on “potential judicial reforms,” after a number of court rulings this year overturned Republicans’ key legislative successes the past few years. The study elicited this response in the Journal Record:

Fifty years ago, when justice was for sale, politicians appointed and confirmed Oklahoma’s appellate Supreme Court justices. There was no check on that authority. The result was a bribery scandal inside our highest state court.

Oklahomans found a new process and it is still working…

The A-F grading system has been giving state schools heartburn this fall, which Oklahoma House Democrats have responded to here and here (and earlier this year). In Indiana, which has seen many of the same “accountability” measures put in place as Oklahoma in recent years, they’re doing something to tweak their A-F system. Here, school leaders are making their suggestions for changes known.

On the national level, vulnerable families are seeing a $5 billion cut in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs, or SNAP, benefits starting today. This will result in roughly a $36/month reduction in benefits for families, who already have trouble making their monthly allotment stretch for four weeks. Pediatricians, and other experts, have warned that reductions in SNAP benefits will harm children.

Note: One of the laws going into effect in Oklahoma today includes using Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, funds for PSAs on marriage as an anti-poverty tool.

Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel rebuked states, like Oklahoma, who refused to honor the DOD’s order to give benefits to all members of the military. Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, responded to the governor’s initial decision to deny benefits certain members of Oklahoma’s National Guard in September. The Tulsa World reports that Gov. Mary Fallin’s office is considering their response.

As Oklahoma once again passed the latest version of worker’s comp reform (House Democrats’ responses here, here, and here), the Washington Post reports that attacks continue nation-wide on workers’ rights and labor standards.

The Washington Post also reports that the American people are not willing to give up on the ACA, despite the glitchy roll-out of healthcare.gov.

Oklahomans around the state rejoiced when the Oklahoma Water Resources Board voted to cap the amount of water that can be taken from the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer last week. The struggle isn’t over, however; opponents of the OWRB’s cap are asking for a court review of the decision.

Finally, economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman writes on the war on the poor:

…a majority of Republican-controlled state governments are, it turns out, willing to pay a large economic and fiscal price in order to ensure that aid doesn’t reach the poor.

The thing is, it wasn’t always this way. Go back for a moment to 1936, when Alf Landon received the Republican nomination for president. In many ways, Landon’s acceptance speech previewed themes taken up by modern conservatives. He lamented the incompleteness of economic recovery and the persistence of high unemployment, and he attributed the economy’s lingering weakness to excessive government intervention and the uncertainty he claimed it created.

But he also said this: “Out of this Depression has come, not only the problem of recovery but also the equally grave problem of caring for the unemployed until recovery is attained. Their relief at all times is a matter of plain duty. We of our Party pledge that this obligation will never be neglected.”

Can you imagine a modern Republican nominee saying such a thing? Not in a party committed to the view that unemployed workers have it too easy, that they’re so coddled by unemployment insurance and food stamps that they have no incentive to go out there and get a job.

Even though our state has been relatively cushioned from the effects of the Great Recession, 17% of Oklahomans live in poverty. As the holidays approach, let’s not forget that many of our neighbors, our community members, the people next to us at church, may be one of the neediest among us. With cuts to SNAP benefits, food banks and other charities will have step in to fill the needs of many of our fellow Oklahomans.

McPeak: State Department of Education’s incompetent handling of A-F grades “validates misgivings about the whole system”

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October 22, 2013

 

For immediate release

Contact: Rep. Jerry McPeak

(405) 557-7302

OKLAHOMA CITY- State Superintendent Janet Barresi’s politicized statement last week soft-shoeing the flubbed A-F grade release to state school districts validates the public’s reservations about the whole grading system, said Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner, on Monday.

“If we’re looking for accountability in our schools, why not start with the State Department of Education?” said McPeak. “The SDE will take all the accolades you want to give them but haven’t taken the blame for anything wrong in three years. I wonder what it’s like to sincerely believe you and your department are perfect?”

“Dr. Barresi released a statement on Friday that said ‘some opponents of school accountability will no doubt seize on the recent delay as yet another reason to postpone, reconfigure, or simply trash the A-F report cards,’” said McPeak. “In common vernacular from my community, ‘you’ve got that right!’ Barresi’s words validate what I’ve already said. There are those in this state who are determined to continue A-F, regardless of how horribly it is executed and how much it hurts our children in public schools.”

“For most Oklahomans not involved in politics, welcome to politicized spin,” said McPeak. “Schools are not the only ones that need to be held accountable here. The State Department of Education sets a poor example for our schools and for the people to whom it is ultimately responsible when it repeatedly reports inaccurate information and then fails to step up and admit when it has done wrong.”

“Being ‘deeply sorry’ or acknowledging ‘an embarrassing downside’ does nothing to help our school administrators and teachers unravel the unexplainable in this broken grading system,” said McPeak.

In the words of education researchers at OU and OSU, “It seems unreasonable and imprudent to subject children, families, and educators to an accountability system that yields inaccurate results and fuels invalid interpretations of school performance.”

Superintendent Barresi says the latest reporting debacle will fuel opponents to “trash the A-F report cards.”  McPeak responds, “The findings from OU-OSU on A-F are not politically motivated but are empirically driven.  Research findings have no political agenda.  It is a disservice to Oklahoma’s public school students to continue to ignore the facts on A-F.”

Florida has been trying to make its A-F grading system work for 15 years.  Kathleen Shanahan, who helped to initiate a similar program in Florida said, “We’ve overcomplicated the model and I don’t think it’s statistically valid.”  She has acknowledged it is time “to pull the plug.”

McPeak concluded, “I went to public schools and I’m proud of that.  I can figure this deal out and it didn’t take 15 years.”

 

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McPeak: A-F grading system ‘flawed beyond making whole”

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October 18, 2013

 

For immediate release

Contact: Rep. Jerry McPeak

(405) 557-7302

 

OKLAHOMA CITY- The Oklahoma State Department of Education once again plunged state schools into chaos with the release of this year’s A-F grades, said Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner.

The State Department of Education released the A-F grades to the state’s schools just as department officials and state legislators who oversee the apparently flawed system left for a national education reform conference in Boston held by former Florida governor Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. With their departure, public school administrators who called to voice concerns over errors and inequities on their districts’ grades were able to speak only to receptionists at the SDE who answered questions from a prepared script.

Bush’s foundation is the origin of the A-F grading system in Oklahoma, as well as in Florida, which has had its own profound problems with the system this year.

“Is it ironic or deliberate that the State Department of Education chooses the day before fall break to release district grades?” said McPeak. “With nearly a third of the school year over, schools are now scrambling to interpret what their grades even are because they were changed multiple times before nightfall the same day the grades were released. Because they were released before fall break, many districts lost time in the ten-day window to review their grades. The SDE took more time compiling the grades than schools will now have to adjust for them before this year’s testing. These grades were passed into law with the stated intent of creating a clear, transparent system to hold schools accountable. This system is clear as muddy water. The people that need to be held accountable are the so-called experts at the SDE, who are off right now in Boston, learning other ways to ‘reform’ Oklahoma’s schools.”

“The only thing the SDE under current leadership seems to be able to do competently is to manufacture one debacle after another for our state schools,” said McPeak. “They are willfully disregarding the advice of education researchers at OU and OSU on the A-F process, who have said twice now that the grading system does not do what it says it does. Clearly, education experts conclude this system is not valid or reliable, as the schools have been saying for months now. Instead, the SDE is listening to the same group that created a mess of Florida’s grading system. Well, our friends in Florida are trying to make sense of their flawed system as well right now, having to place a false floor in the reporting of last year’s grades to school districts.  Flawed, artificial, false; it should be no surprise that those Florida chickens have come home to roost here in Oklahoma.”

During the past legislative session, McPeak debated against the continuance of the A-F grading system for public schools by pointing to both the scientific and common sense failure of the system. He reiterated that the public did not ask for this; bureaucrats did.

In his floor debate this past spring, McPeak likened the grading system to the creation of a piece of pottery.  When the pot is so warped that it cannot be corrected through molding it further, the potter knows he must begin anew.

“This grading system is like the potter’s work,” said McPeak, “flawed beyond making whole.”

“The A-F grading system is a travesty and an insult to the people of Oklahoma.  Politicians need to quit trying to save face over a failed system and put the success of Oklahoma students first,” McPeak concluded.

 

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Federal furloughs spread beyond state workers, impacting disabled veterans and vulnerable Oklahomans

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October 11, 2013

 

For immediate release

Contact: MaryAnn Martin, Ph.D.

(405) 962-7819

 

OKLAHOMA CITY- Democrats in the Oklahoma House of Representatives called for a quick resolution to the federal government shutdown and looming debt ceiling crisis Friday, after receiving news that 400 state employees who work with Oklahoma National Guard members, veterans, and the disabled will be furloughed starting next week.

The affected employees work in the Social Security Disability Determination Division (DDD) within the Department of Rehabilitation Services and also within the Oklahoma Military Department (OMD).

The employees working for DDD process disability and blindness claims, whereas the OMD workers staff the Oklahoma National Guard.

The furlough’s impact extends far beyond the missed salaries of state employees, however, into missed disability benefits and services for vulnerable Oklahomans.

The DRS projects a collateral impact of $2 million per month from the DDD’s lost productivity alone. The Oklahoma Army and Air National Guard will no longer participate in their weekend readiness drills as a result of the furloughs, according to a report by the Associated Press.

“These are 400 Oklahomans who are breadwinners for their families,” said Rep. Ben Sherrer, D-Chouteau. “We know that over half of these employees are, in fact, the sole income earners for their households. It is unconscionable to me that anyone downplays the negative effects of these furloughs on the Oklahoma economy. We’re not playing games here. Congress is playing with people’s livelihoods.”

“Our federal representatives’ intransigence is having a real effect on Oklahomans’ everyday lives, but they seem unwilling to acknowledge that,” said David Perryman, D-Chickasha. “These Oklahoma agencies appealed to members of the legislature to help fund their operations and the governor knew that DDD may face a funding crisis, should the government shut down. Yet, state leaders have turned a blind eye. Our veterans, our disabled, and some of our most vulnerable citizens are suffering the consequences.”

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Oklahomans take a direct hit from federal government shutdown

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October 3, 2013

 

For immediate release

Contact: Rep. David Perryman

(405) 557-7401

 

OKLAHOMA CITY- The federal shutdown impacts Oklahomans directly, said Rep. David Perryman, D-Chickasha, pointing to a number of issues facing individuals, businesses and municipalities in his legislative district.

“This is not a game,” said Perryman. “The elected officials behind this impasse have a responsibility to act like adults and not play with the lives and finances of the people I represent.  Shutting down the federal government is foolish, it is dangerous and it is irresponsible.”

Representative Perryman said that the ideological battle threatens national security.

“Municipalities in Oklahoma are required, with no exception, to use the federal eVerify system when hiring employees,” said Perryman. “The shutdown has rendered that system inoperable.  Municipalities are being forced to either defer employing police, fire and other employees or break the law and hire without verification of qualifications or citizenship.  If a municipality leaves positions unfilled, that endangers critical public works and law enforcement service.  If the municipality hires without verification, they could be hiring the very people that the eVerify system is designed to bar.  Either way, the state, our counties and our cities are at risk.”

Perryman expressed hope that cooler heads would prevail, but warned of the long term impact of the shutdown.

“If an agreement is not reached within the next two to three weeks, the U.S. will default on the national debt and consequently we will find the government being required to pay higher interest rates,” said Perryman. “Enough of the federal budget is already consumed by interest payments and a default in this growing but unsteady economy could push us back into recession.  Let’s hope that Congress is not so far out of touch with reality that they flirt with that risk while attempting to gain political points.”

“Congressional arrogance has led to the shutdown of the federal government,” said Perryman. “No political party should be permitted to hold Americans hostage while fighting a partisan and ideological battle.

“My constituents are calling and they are mad,” Perryman continued. “They are mad because Congress is being paid and federal employees are not. They are mad because they are being furloughed but are still required to pay day care expenses.”

“This is happening all over the country, to veterans, to National Guard members who aren’t receiving services,” said Perryman. “Clearly, Congress didn’t think of the implications of their intransigence for everyday Americans before digging in their heels. This shutdown of the federal government has direct consequences beyond federal agencies and harms the day-to-day operations of businesses around the country. We deserve better from our elected representatives.”

 

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Options for safe shelter from natural disasters offered at House Democrats’ interim study

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September 27, 2013

 

For immediate release

Contact: Jacklyn Brink-Rosen

(405) 557-7404

MaryAnn Martin, Ph.D.

(405) 962-7819

 

Note: Links to audio and video are contained at the end of this release.

 

OKLAHOMA CITY- School safety and storm shelters remain on the front burner for House Democrats, but two representatives added another element to the efforts to increase Oklahoma’s disaster preparedness at an interim study Thursday afternoon: updating Oklahoma’s building codes and structural engineering plans.

Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, was joined by Rep. David Perryman, D-Chickasha, to host a number of presenters for the interim study titled, “Basements and High Wind Structures: Economical Options for Safe Shelter from the Storm.”

“I’ve hosted many interim studies but this has to be the most important,” said Morrissette. “Contributors were open and honest about just what needs to happen in Oklahoma to fix a very serious problem. We are not being proactive about adopting and swiftly integrating the science and innovative building technology available to us to save lives in tornados and high winds. Presenters to the study were highly educated professionals who have focused their efforts on solutions and I hope their appearance here today will assist with getting this information into the mainstream. I proposed in the meeting the formation of a bipartisan committee to work toward implementation of a plan to promote effective high wind- proof construction practices in place and I promise to see this through to results.”

“As this interim study showed, we have many options available to us to ensure that Oklahomans are safe from natural disasters,” said Perryman. “Disaster preparedness should be a multi-faceted approach that safeguards Oklahomans from the elements. We see drought here, we see catastrophic ice storms, and of course, we have our tumultuous spring season with hail, tornadoes, and severe storms. I look forward to working across the aisle in a bipartisan manner to create and enact legislation based on the options we presented today for updated, storm-safe building codes.”

 

Presenters and topics at Thursday’s interim study:

Dr. Rick Farmer,

OK Ins. Dept.

HIB Systems – Alternative High Wind Construction and Insurance –

Thomas Meyer, President – Eumerica, Inc.

Kenneth V. Luza,

Oklahoma Geological Survey-The University of Oklahoma

OK Soil Composition and its Impact Upon Structural Issues Below Ground- Engineering Geologist

Michael Hancock P.E.,

President, Basement Contractors Inc. Edmond, Oklahoma

Why Not Basements in OK? Foundations and Keeping Basements Dry -

Ken Windle, founder OK Cedar Closets,

Susan Walker, Broker, S. Walker & Co.

Marketability of Homes with Basements – How the Basement Myth Came to Be

Mike Means, Exec Director – OK Home Builders Association

Dr. Chris Ramseyer, Ph.D., P.E., Director Fears Structural Engineering Laboratory

OU-Dept. of Civil Engineering & Environmental Science

Tornadoes and Structural Engineering Solutions- Building High Wind Resistant Homes – Codes and the Benefits of Retrofit

Video and audio is available here:

FTP ftp://www.okhouse.tv/

Enter user name: okhouse

Password: tvbroadcast

Folder:  Morrissette

 

Youtube link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jkRN79By4LM&feature=c4-overview&list=UUcCoB6IesaSZbFDKX4XBFaA

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State superintendents speak out

The Blanchard schools superintendent pushed back against allegations from the Oklahoman that school administrators are somehow loathe to discuss their usage of carryover funds:

I don’t know of a single school superintendent who would not be eager to discuss carry-over funds. In fact on Sept. 27, 2012, I presented to the state Board of Education (Barresi was present) a detailed account of how Blanchard Public Schools spends fund balance monies and, specifically, what expenditures fund balance monies can be used for…

Our school administrators and teachers have been vocal about this subject. We look forward to hearing more and supporting them in their fight for adequate funding. Our children deserve nothing less.