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Sunday, November 18th, 2018Last Update: Tuesday, October 30th, 2018 07:58:08 PM

TIDBITS for Fall 2018

Constitution Staff

Moody’s Improves Oklahoma’s Bond Rating

Moody’s Investor Services announced it revised Oklahoma’s bond rating outlook from negative to stable. Governor Fallin on September 27 said lawmakers approving an historic revenue package along with the state’s improving economy helped upgrade Oklahoma’s bond rating outlook. “This reflects our growing state economy, improved budgeting practices, and below-average debt burden. Most importantly, lawmakers approved and I signed a revenue package this year that provides a long-term solution to multi-year budget deficits caused by an energy downturn, and helps reduce the reliance on one-time funds.” said Fallin. The growing state revenue allowed the deposit of $370 million into the Rainy Day Fund, which brings the balance to about $451 million. Moody’s said the stable outlook for Oklahoma reflects an expectation of modest economic growth, despite continued reliance on the oil and gas sector, and the stabilization of the state’s finances driven by recent growth. The replenishment of the Rainy Day Fund will help cushion the state from fiscal pressure during the next economic downturn, it said. Last November, Moody’s had lowered the state’s outlook to negative.

September General Revenue Fund Collections

General Revenue Fund collections in September were $545.1 million and came in at $8.2 million, or 1.5 percent, below the monthly estimate. But, this amount is $40.1 million, or 7.9 percent, above collections in September of 2017. The estimates reflected an improving economy and tax changes enacted in the last legislative session. The FY 2019 budget was built on these estimates that are currently being matched. The first quarter year-to-date numbers for Fiscal Year 2019, which began on July 1, are running essentially flat at 0.7 percent above estimate. Sales tax collections, while well below prior year, are in line with the estimate because of the anticipated transfer to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation per HB 3712, which temporarily redirected allocations totaling $29 million to the State Highway and Construction Maintenance Fund and the Oklahoma Railroad Maintenance Revolving Fund. The temporarily redirected allocations will conclude in October.

OPEA Seeks Health Department Compensation

On October 16, the Oklahoma Public Employees Association (OPEA) announced it would seek compensation on behalf of 161 state employees who were wrongfully terminated by the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) in December of 2017 and March of 2018. “These employees were terminated or forced to retire because health department officials claimed they had a $30 million budget shortfall but that claim was false. The premise used by the health department was wrong and their actions caused financial, mental and emotional hardship for those employees,” said Sterling Zearley, OPEA executive director. “We’ve tried to work with the health department administration to fix this but they don’t seem interested in correcting it.” Officials say the former employees were terminated, forced to resign, or forced to retire due to the department’s mismanagement and mishandling of funds. An audit discovered the money had been shuffled between different accounts, and therefore the reduction in force and the emergency funding from the Legislature were not warranted.

Criminal Justice Reform Report Errors

On July 31, the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) released a report that calculated the averted costs due to the criminal justice reforms approved by a vote of the people in 2016. State Question 780 reclassified some offenses, such as drug possession and property crimes, as misdemeanors rather than felonies. The companion initiative, State Question 781, required the savings resulting from State Question 780 be appropriated to counties for rehabilitation programs. The OMES report claims that over $63 million was saved as result of the change in Fiscal Year 2018 and the averted costs over five years will total $137.8 million.

Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh responded to the report in a letter to Gov. Mary Fallin: “The report that was issued is not supported by the facts and drastically overstates the averted costs.” Allbaugh wrote. “First, OMES incorrectly calculated the number of inmates who would no longer be going to prison as a result of State Question 780, Second, OMES made a wholly inaccurate assumption regarding the service of sentences by inmates in the Department of Corrections (ODOC) custody.” Allbough said the errors were the result of fundamental flaws in the OMES’ understanding of the criminal justice system and in the calculation of averted costs.

OMES used historical data from the Department of Corrections, the District Attorneys Council and the Oklahoma County and Tulsa County jails, said Shelley Zumwalt, an OMES spokeswoman. “OMES agrees that additional data and feedback from the Department of Corrections and other entities prior to the report would have been ideal, and we don’t disagree with many of the points Director Allbaugh mentions in his letter,” Zumwalt said.

Hofmeister Calls Fallin Order Unconstitutional

“I don’t take orders from Governor Fallin on public education,” State School Superintendent Joy Hofmeister told the Oklahoman newspaper. Hofmeister was responding to an Executive Order issued by Governor Mary Fallin last year, in which she demanded that the department compile a list of school districts spending less than 60 percent of their budget on instruction by September 1, a deadline that the department obviously did not meet.

Brad Clark, general counsel for the Oklahoma Department of Education, said, “The Executive Order is without basis and an unconstitutional attempt to accomplish a legislative effect through an executive order,” adding that governor do not possess the power to issue executive orders that have the force of law. After Fallin issued her order, Oklahoma Constitution Editor Steve Byas wrote, “In no place in our state Constitution is the governor given such authority, and there has been no statute enacted by the Oklahoma Legislature turning power over to the governor to enact such a policy. While I am sympathetic to the idea that there are fiscal reasons to consolidate some functions of administration for our public schools (such as accounting), the Oklahoma State Constitution, in Article 18, clearly states that the Legislature shall establish and maintain a system of free public schools.” Conservatives should understand that the end does not justify the means. Governors do not have the power to make law via Executive Orders. Executive Orders are a means for a governor to make sure a law is enforced, not made.

Second Amendment Association Wins Victory

After several members of the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association (OK 2A) were turned away from Tulsa’s Gathering Place in September, OK2A told the city and Gathering Place officials that this was a direct violation of Oklahoma law. Tulsa police officers had assisted park security in ordering the armed men from the property. Later, Tulsa officials told Gathering Place officials that they would not enforce the park’s “rule” that no firearms were allowed on the grounds. “We explained to them that the city would be uncomfortable with it,” Gerry Bender, legal counsel for the city, said. “We cannot tell our police officers, who would be individually liable, to make an arrest for trespass in this instance.” State law specifically allows for the carrying of legally licensed concealed or unconcealed handguns on “any property designated by a city, town, county or state governmental authority as a park, recreational area or fairgrounds.”

FCC Asked to Crack Down on Robocalls

The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office received more than 4,000 phone calls from Oklahomans complaining about phone scams. Half of those were robocalls. In October, AG Mike Hunter joined with 34 other Attorneys General calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to adopt new rules allow telephone service providers to block robocalls and phone scams before they reach consumers.

Technology has been developed that service providers could use to block illegal robocalls, including those which appear to be from a local number. Caller ID Spoofing is one method which has evolved. A Caller ID Spoofed call will commonly appear on a consumer’s caller ID with the same area code and local exchange as the consumer to ncrease the likelihood he/she will answer the call.

“Illegal robocalls are irritating and disconcerting, and phone scammers are successfully able to steal personal information, leaving Oklahomans susceptible to identity theft,” Attorney General Hunter said. “It is time to take more action and give service providers more tools in order for them to protect consumers from these scams. I appreciate my colleagues for continuing this fight to protect our families, neighbors and loved ones across the Unites States. Working together with state partners, the federal government and law enforcement personnel, we will find a way to end these calls and give Oklahomans protection and peace of mind.”

Another REAL ID Extension

Gov. Mary Fallin and the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety (DPS) announced September 28 that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had granted the state a REAL ID extension through Oct. 10, 2019. This means the federal government will continue to recognize Oklahoma driver’s licenses and ID cards until that time. “This is great news for Oklahomans, and means there will be no restrictions on individuals using Oklahoma licenses to fly or access federal buildings through October 10 of next year,” said Fallin. Oklahoma Department of Public Safety Commissioner Rusty Rhoades said: “There have been many questions recently about Oklahoma’s status regarding REAL ID. DPS is actively working towards making Oklahoma REAL ID compliant and will use this time to gain compliance.”

Congress passed the REAL ID Act in 2005 to make driver’s licenses harder to forge. Oklahoma legislators in 2007 passed a bill forbidding the state from meeting provisions of the act, due to privacy concerns about the collection of data. Lawmakers in 2017 passed legislation that was signed by the governor, which allowed state officials to begin work on building a compliant system. That includes training tag agents and creating a centralized office to handle card manufacturing and storage. There are 43 total requirements that must be met by states to be in full compliance. Oklahoma currently is in full compliance with 30 of those requirements, partial compliance with 12, and only one non-compliant. The one non-compliant is the final certification letter that the state can’t complete until it has the system in place to issue the documents.

Online Voter Registration Advances

The Oklahoma State Election Board launched a new service on September 10, which allows voters to update their address or party affiliation online. The service is available on the agency website at www.elections.ok.gov. Voters who are already registered to vote may use the Online Voter Registration Update service to change their residential or mailing address within their current county. They may also update their party affiliation. Address changes to a new county, name changes and new voter registrations still require a completed paper form, which can be downloaded from the website. The deadline to register for the November General Election was October 12.

Legislators authorized online voter registration in the state. However, the law requires the system be tied to the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety’s driver’s license database and includes certain technical requirements that cannot be met until the department’s computer system is upgraded. That computer system is currently being modernized, and officials are hopeful full online voter registration will be available sometime in 2020.

Make a Plan to Vote

Oklahoma election officials have also released a new online tool to help voters Make a Plan to Vote. The tool is available at the Oklahoma State Election Board’s website. Voters who click on the “Make a Plan to Vote” link on the election board’s homepage can access a fillable PDF which will help them choose whether to vote by mail, during early voting or at their polling place on Election Day. Voters can access maps to their polling place, sample ballots, and other resources. Voters have until 5 p.m. October 31 to request a mail absentee ballot. Early voting will be available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. November 1 and 2 and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. November 3. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day November 6. To access the online tool, visit: http://elections.ok.gov.

Oklahoma Voter Registration Surges

Oklahoma’s voter rolls have surged since January, with nearly 2.1 million voters now registered as of the end of September. Prospective voters still had until October 12 to register, so the final numbers will be higher. Oklahoma State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax reported that official statistics from the end of September show total voter registration in the state saw a net increase of 76,256 from January 15 to September 30 this year, with 2,092,413 total registered voters in the state. Republicans accounted for nearly 60% of the net increase in voters, with the number of registered Republicans increasing by 44,543 since January 15. Independents saw the second largest net increase, up 23,438 since January. The number of registered Democrats increased by 5,142 since January, while the number of registered Libertarians increased by 3,133.

As a percentage, Republicans now make up 47.2 percent of all registered voters – up from 46.8 percent in January. Independents saw the largest percentage increase, moving from 14.8 percent of registered voters in January to 15.4 percent now. Democrats are the second largest political party with 37 percent of registered voters, down from 38.2 percent in January. Libertarians became a recognized political party in 2016 and now make up 0.4 percent of Oklahoma voters, nearly double their percentage in January. As recently as 2014 Democrats had the largest number of registered voters in Oklahoma, but decades-old trends have seen growth in the percentage of registered voters who are Republicans and Independents. In 1990, nearly 65 percent of Oklahoma’s registered voters were Democrats while 32.7 percent were Republicans and 2.4 percent were Independents. Here’s a breakdown of the total voter registration by party:

Republicans: 47 percent (987,164 voters)

Democrats: 37 percent (774,914 voters)

Independents: 15 percent (322,305 voters)

Libertarians: Less than 1 percent (8,030 voters)

Former Democrat Legislator Runs as Republican

Former state representative Ken Luttrell (D-Ponca City) who was defeated in the 2010 election when he was a Democrat, will return to the Legislature as a Republican. He has since switched parties and defeated the Republican that he lost to eight years ago. He blames the loss in 2010 on the anti-Obama sentiment in the mid-term elections following the 2008 election of President Obama. This year, Luttrell defeated Rep. Steve Vaughan (R-Ponca City) in the June 26 Republican Primary Election with nearly 58 percent of the vote. Since no Democrats filed for the seat this year, Luttrell will now return to the office. Luttrell said he joined the Republican Party because the GOP ideals were more in line with business growth, and that the Democrats were becoming a social issue party. Rep. Vaughan charged that Luttrell switched to Republican to have a better shot at taking back the seat. The district is solidly Republican with nearly two-thirds of voters now registered Republican. When Luttrell previously held the seat, he cumulative average on the Oklahoma Conservative Index was 45 percent. Rep. Vaughan’s score was 60 percent.

Democrat Candidate Gets GOP Nomination

Due to a quirk in Oklahoma’s voter registration laws, a state Senate candidate was able to file as a Republican, even though she reregistered as a Democrat before filing for office. Becki Maldonado is now the “Republican” nominee for Senate District 16, which includes parts of Norman and rural Cleveland County. The candidate filing period was April 11-13. Although she had been a lifelong Republican, she switch to the Democratic Party during the first week of the teacher strike which began on April 2. Maldonado, who teaches English at a high school in Oklahoma City, said she became frustrated with the Republican legislators and decided she did not want to be associated with them any more. But, her change in party registration was put on hold because of Oklahoma’s party change blackout period, which is designed to keep someone from switching their party in order to vote in another party’s primary elections. So, her new party registration was delayed until September 1. Because of that delay, she was able to appear on the Republican primary ballot. After her Democratic Party registration went into effect in September, she re-registered as Republican, so she is again officially a Republican for the November general election.

Maldonado says she considers herself a political moderate and doesn’t place much importance on political labels. She finished in second place in the June 26 Republican primary election, which gave her a place in the August 28 runoff. However, her opponent, Ed Crocker, withdrew from the race, saying he did not see a path to victory against the Democrat nominee in November. Crocker previously served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, 1991-1996, when he was a Democrat, but later switched to the GOP. His cumulative average on the Oklahoma Conservative Index was a dismal 12 percent. However, he is reported to be much more conservative now, and is a subscriber the Oklahoma Constitution newspaper.

Indigenous Peoples Day

The new mayor of Oklahoma City, former state Senator David Holt (R-Oklahoma City), designated October 8 as the first official observance of Indigenous Peoples Day in the city. A member of the Osage Nation, Holt is the first mayor of the city to have Native American heritage. Holt read a proclamation at noon at the Chickasaw Sculpture Garden at Oklahoma City University. The university hosted a panel discussion that evening on the subject. In his proclamation, Holt acknowledged Oklahoma’s 39 federally recognized tribes and said that Oklahoma City, the state’s “political, economic and cultural capital,” is significantly shaped by its indigenous heritage. Advocates of an official Indigenous Peoples Day favor the second Monday in October because that remains the federal Christopher Columbus Day holiday. Columbus Day is not observed as a holiday by the city of Oklahoma City. Native American activists object to observing a day dedicated to Columbus because of the 15th-century Italian explorer’s role, sailing under the flag of Span, in the colonization of the Americas.

Red and Blue State Book Sales

In October, Barnes & Noble, the world’s largest book retailer, reported on national buying trends for political books in its latest BN Book Buzz. The data shows that three states who voted blue in 2016 have trended toward books that are positive to Trump, while two states who voted red lean toward buying books critical of the President. Three states that voted Democratic in 2016, but were more likely to buy books positive toward President Trump, were: Nevada, New Hampshire, and Colorado. The two states that voted Republican, but tended to buy books critical of Trump, were: Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, the states that were most likely to buy books supporting President Trump were: Texas, Florida, and North Carolina. The states that were the most likely to buy books critical of the President were: New York, California, and Massachusetts. Oklahoma book sales were in line with a Red State voting for Trump. The book sales data covered the period from January 2018 through August 2018.

Sen. Treat elected to NCSL Executive Committee

State Senator Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City), president pro tempore-designate of the Oklahoma Senate, has been elected to serve on the 2018-2019 National Conference of State Legislatures’ (NCSL) Executive Committee. “I’m honored to serve in a leadership role for NCSL,” said Treat. “NCSL is a great resource that provides research and analysis, training and seminars, and other resources to lawmakers in state capitols across the country. I’m excited to give Oklahoma a voice on this important national committee.” The NCSL Executive Committee is the governing body of NCSL, which is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staff of the states, commonwealths and territories. Comprised of 63 elected members, the executive committee drives the organization by supervising and controlling the affairs of its annual legislative conference, its committees, and publications. Treat has been an active participant in NCSL since being elected to office, and has served on the NCSL Redistricting and Elections Committee.

Inhofe Named Armed Services Chairman

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe was named chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) on September 5. He replaces Sen. John McCain who died in August. Inhofe previously served as Ranking Member of the committee during the 113th Congress. “I am deeply honored that my colleagues have selected me to lead the Armed Services Committee,” Inhofe said. “America is facing new and unprecedented threats that are different from anything we’ve seen before. As chairman, it will be my priority to address these threats while maintaining a staunch commitment to service members and their families, as well as continue the bipartisan tradition of rigorous accountability and oversight of the Defense Department. I look forward to working with Ranking Member Reed and the entire committee as we continue to ensure our military is ready and able to defend America against growing threats from around the world.” Sen. Inhofe has served on the Armed Services Committee since 1995, and is the committee’s first chairman from Oklahoma. He previously served as Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee from 2003-2006 and from 2015-2016.

Russell Chairs National Security Subcommittee

For the first time since his arrival in D.C., Congressman Steve Russell will wield a gavel as a subcommittee chairman. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Congressman Trey Gowdy named Russell as chair of the Subcommittee on National Security. He has served on the committee since 2015. “Protecting the security of our nation has been a mission of mine for my entire life,” Russell said. “The American people need to be able to trust their government will live up to and exceed their expectations in keeping them safe at home – and I will continue to fight on their behalf as chairman.” The subcommittee mainly provides oversight of the Departments of State, Defense and Homeland Security, as well as, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). “Rep. Russell is a tireless worker, served our country with great distinction in the United States Army, and is respected on both sides of the aisle for his preparation, intelligence and willingness to address challenging issues,” Gowdy said. “His willingness to travel abroad to confront problems firsthand coupled with his service on the House Armed Services Committee make him the ideal choice to lead.”

Death of Former Rep. Frank Davis

Former state representative Frank Davis (R-Guthrie) died on Sunday, September 9. He was 82 years old. Davis was elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 1978 and served though 2004 when he was term-limited as House District 31 representative. He was also the House Minority Leader (when the Legislature was still controlled by Democrats) from 1982 to 1986. Davis was an attorney and continued to work up to the time of his death. He previously served as a judge in Guthrie, as Postmaster in Ada, and as a reservist in the Air Force. He was one of the more conservative members of the Legislature, earning a cumulative average of 74% on the Oklahoma Conservative Index for the 26 years that he was a representative.

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