VIDEO: Veteran of the Week
House Committed to Funding Teacher Pay Raise Plan
House Speaker Charles McCall and House Common Education Committee Chairman Michael Rogers reiterated today that the House Republican Caucus is committed to funding the teacher pay raise plan passed by both the House and the Senate Appropriations and Budget Committee this session. The plan – one of the House Republican Caucus’ highest priorities this session – would phase in a $6,000 teacher pay raise over three years and boost Oklahoma teachers to some of the highest paid in the region.
Beginning last week and continuing this week, House Republicans are running a package of bills aimed at reforming numerous tax credits, exemptions and incentives. Speaker McCall said the first $52.6 million in savings from those reforms would be directed toward funding the teacher pay raise.
House Bill 1114, by state Rep. Michael Rogers, chair of the House Common Education Committee, would include a $1,000 pay raise for teachers during the 2017-18 school year, another $2,000 raise during the 2018-19 school year and a final $3,000 raise during the 2019-20 school year.
Rogers said the phased-in approach would allow the Legislature to manage the current revenue downturn while keeping its promise to boost pay for teachers. Every $1,000 increase in teacher pay would cost approximately $52.6 million, said Rogers.
Oklahoma already has the third-highest statutory starting minimum teacher pay in the region. Rogers’ plan would raise Oklahoma teacher pay from 48th in the nation to 27th based on recent data from the National Education Association (NEA). When paired with the state’s low cost of living, the plan would move Oklahoma to 13th in the nation for average annual teacher pay at $56,804 (adjusted for cost of living). Oklahoma’s cost of living ranks behind only Mississippi for the lowest in the nation.
House Bill 1114 is currently awaiting consideration on the Senate floor.
House Commemorates Honor Denim Day at the Capitol
Members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives proclaimed today Honor Denim Day recognizing the importance of promoting awareness about sexual violence.
State Rep. Tess Teague authored House Concurrent Resolution 1001, which officially recognizes the day in Oklahoma.
For the past 17 years, the Honor Denim Day campaign has been held in April in support of Sexual Violence Awareness Month. The campaign began in response to a 1998 ruling by the Italian Supreme Court where a rape conviction was overturned because the justices felt that since the victim was wearing tight jeans she must have helped her rapist remove her jeans, thereby implying consent. The following day, the women in the Italian Parliament came to work wearing jeans in solidarity with the victim.
Peace Over Violence, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building healthy relationships, families and communities free from sexual, domestic and interpersonal violence, developed the Honor Denim Day campaign in response to the Italian Supreme Court case.
Wearing jeans on Honor Denim Day has become a symbol of protest against erroneous and disparaging attitudes about sexual assault.
The Oklahoma Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault worked closely with Rep. Tess Teague for the implementation of Honor Denim Day in Oklahoma.
Bill increasing court safety heads to the governor
Legislation allowing permitted elected officials to carry firearms inside a courthouse passed Tuesday out of the Oklahoma Senate with a vote of 38 to 6.
House Bill 1104 would allow elected officials of a county, who are in possession of a valid handgun license issued pursuant to the provisions of the Oklahoma Self Defense Act, when acting in the performance of their duties as an elected official to carry a concealed firearm within the courthouses of the county in which he or she was elected.
The National Rifle Association has endorsed the measure.
House Bill 1104 now proceeds to Gov. Mary Fallin for her consideration.
Modernization Chairman Asks Legislators to Avoid Failed Massachusetts Tax Hike Mistake
House Government Modernization Chairman Jason Murphey today expressed his strongest opposition to the impending introduction of a legislative plan to put a new tax on the use of information technology services.
Murphey said the tax plan has failed in other states where it has been tried.
In 2013, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a tax only to have to backtrack and repeal the tax just a few weeks later after it became clear that the new tax would potentially apply to many industries and put that state at a great disadvantage.
In 2007, Maryland also approved the new tax only to repeal it just a year later.
Murphey explained that the Oklahoma proposal appears to be even more aggressive than the Massachusetts tax plan.
Murphey said because so many services now utilize computer-based processes the implications of the new Oklahoma tax could reach far beyond the expected audience.
Biggs Praises Senate for Passing Criminal Justice Legislation
Two pieces of legislation designed to protect victims of sexual assault crimes have passed the Senate today with unanimous bipartisan support.
House Bill 1005 elevates the crime of rape by instrumentation to rape in the first degree. State law currently views rape by instrumentation as rape in the second degree.
House Bill 1127 requires that a court must instruct the jury on the definition of “consent” in any criminal jury trial that involves “sexual assault.” Although juries are currently requires to follow the legal definition of “consent,” the understanding of the definition can change from jury member to jury member.
Both measures were authored by Rep. Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha.
The legislation will now move to Gov. Mary Fallin’s desk to be signed into law.
Sen. Floyd applauds task force on rape kits
According to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, more than 1,900 rapes were reported in the state in 2015 alone. Sexual assault forensic evidence kits help collect and preserve evidence following an assault, but there is no law in Oklahoma requiring these kits to be tracked or tested, and national data suggests some kits may never be tested. It’s an issue Sen. Kay Floyd has been working to address this session.
Floyd had originally sought the creation of a task force through legislation filed for the 2017 session, and has met with the governor’s office, the attorney general’s office, police, prosecutors and advocates about the issue of untested rape kits. On Monday, Gov. Mary Fallin announced she had issued an Executive Order to create the task force.
Executive Order 2017-11 forms the Oklahoma Task Force on Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence. It designates the make-up of the task force, its goals, and the timeline for law enforcement agencies throughout the state to submit their audits of untested kits and the deadline for submitting the final task force report to the governor and legislative leaders. The task force will:
• Examine the process for gathering and analyzing rape kits; identify the number of untested kits through audits done by all law enforcement agencies in the state;
• Identify how to improve law enforcement training on responding and investigating sexual assaults;
• Identify improvements for victims access to evidence other than sexual assault forensic evidence kits, including but not limited to police reports and other physical evidence;
• Identify possible procedures for the testing of anonymous sexual assault evidence kits;
• Identify additional rights of victims about the evidence kit testing process; and
• Identify and pursue grants and other funding sources to eliminate the backlog of untested kits, reduce testing wait times, provide victim notification and improve efficiencies in the kit testing process.
Local police and sheriffs’ departments will have until December 30, 2017, to file a written report with the Attorney General and the Task Force stating the audit results, including the number of untested kits they have. Those agencies must preserve the kits until the Task Force notifies them in writing that they may be disposed of. The final report by the Task Force must be completed and submitted to the governor and legislative leaders by July 1, 2018.
Governor signs bill improving online insurance verification system
Gov. Fallin signed legislation Monday to help further reduce the number of uninsured drivers in Oklahoma. Sen. Ron Sharp is the principal Senate author of Senate Bill 115 to transfer oversight of the Compulsory Insurance Online Verification System (OCIVS) for motor vehicle liability policies from the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to the Oklahoma Insurance Department (OID).
According to DPS, around 600,000 or 26 percent of Oklahomans are driving uninsured. The Oklahoma Compulsory Insurance Verification System was created by DPS to help law enforcement officers, tag agents, and court clerks quickly verify if a driver has auto insurance.
SB 115 requires that the system and the Uninsured Vehicle Enforcement Program be transferred by January 1, 2018. It requires the Tax Commission and DPS to cooperate with OID in ongoing improvement and maintenance of the system. Under the new law, the Insurance Commissioner will be authorized to initiate an administrative proceeding against an insurance company that is not providing vehicle insurance policy information to the online verification system. The bill also allows a motor license agent or other registering agency to accept security verification from a licensed insurance producer or customer service representative if the online verification system is not online or the information is otherwise unavailable.
SB 115, which is coauthored by Rep. Lewis Moore (R-Arcadia), will become effective November 1, 2017.
Bill signed to better protect underage victims of human trafficking
A bill to strengthen Oklahoma’s human trafficking laws and better protect underage victims was signed into law Monday. Senate Bill 34, by Sen. Kim David and Rep. Scott Biggs, provides that lack of knowledge of the age of the victim does not constitute a defense for the human trafficking of a minor.
There are different types of human trafficking including sex trafficking, forced labor and domestic servitude and it occurs through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.
Human trafficking is a common crime in Oklahoma because of its location along the I-40 and I-35 corridor as well as the prominence of various social problems.
In the last fiscal year, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) initiated nationwide 1,034 investigations of human trafficking and recorded 1,437 arrests, 751 indictments, and 587 convictions; 384 victims were identified and assisted.
SB 34 will go into effect November 1, 2017.
Senate approves creation of independent commission to conduct performance audits of state agencies
The Oklahoma Senate on Wednesday in a bipartisan vote approved a bill creating an independent commission to conduct comprehensive performance audits of state agencies. House Bill 2311 is authored by Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz, R-Altus, and House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka.
The bill creates the Agency Performance and Accountability Commission which is directed to conduct a comprehensive performance audit of state agencies, as well as conduct a diagnostic analysis of the state’s budget to identify spending trends. The commission would then make recommendations to the Legislature on how to implement best practices from both the private and public sector to ensure state government services are run in the most cost-effective manner.
The measure now returns to the House for consideration of Senate amendments to the bill.
Gov. Fallin Announces Oklahoma Task Force on Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence
Governor Mary Fallin today announced the formation of the Oklahoma Task Force on Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence to address the backlog of sexual assault forensic evidence kits, commonly known as rape kits, in the criminal justice system in Oklahoma. The task force will conduct an audit of sexual assault forensic evidence kits in the state, pinpointing the number of untested kits, and then identify possible improvements in law enforcement training, victims’ rights and access, and the process for gathering and analyzing rape kits.
Currently, Oklahoma does not have a statewide tracking system for rape kits nor a mandate to test all rape kits. It is estimated that only a quarter of rape kits are tested, leaving thousands of untested kits in police department warehouses across the state. In addition, current regulations are not very clear regarding when and how to destroy untested kits. The legislation that inspired this task force is Senate Bill 654.
Task Force members shall be appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the governor, according to the governor’s executive order. Members are:
· Lesley March, the chief of the attorney general’s victim services unit, or her designee;
· Danielle Tudor, a survivor of sexual assault with experience with sexual assault forensic evidence kit collection;
· Kathy Bell, a sexual assault nurse examiner;
· Andrea Swiech, Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation director of forensic science services, a person designated by the director of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation who has expertise in the analysis of sexual assault forensic evidence kits;
· Jan Peery, chief executive officer of YWCA of Oklahoma City, a person with experience seeking and applying for grants and other private funding;
· Phil Cotton, the executive director of the Oklahoma Sheriff and Peace Officers Association, or his designee;
· Bill Citty, chief of the Oklahoma City Police Department, or his designee;
· Chuck Jordan, chief of the Tulsa Police Department, or his designee;
· Ray McNair, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police, or his designee;
· Bob Ravitz, an attorney from a public defenders office with criminal defense experience;
· Karla Doctor, senior director of sexual violence prevention response, a sexual assault victims’ advocate from a community-based organization;
· Trent Baggett, executive coordinator of the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council, or his designee;
· Dawn Stover, executive director of the Native Alliance Against Violence, or her designee;
· Two nonvoting members from among the members of the Senate, of which may not be from the same political party; and
· Two nonvoting members from among the members of the House of Representatives, of which may not be from the same political party.
Computer Science, Coding Skills in High Demand by Businesses across Our State
April is science and technology month in Oklahoma. What a great time to highlight the emerging computer science scene that is shaping our economy and driving our future.
Colleges, universities and technology centers across the state offer classes and postsecondary degree programs in computer science; software development is part of the curriculum. Students who graduate with computer science postsecondary degrees and credentials are ready to join the workforce and shape our future with innovative software. Degrees in programming, coding and computer science skills are in high demand by Oklahoma’s businesses. Numerous high-paying jobs are available throughout the state.
In addition to formal software education, there are flourishing grassroots efforts to grow the coding community across Oklahoma. One of the most impactful is the vibrant community of coders nurtured by an Oklahoma City and Tulsa not-for-profit foundation known as Techlahoma.
Founded by the husband-and-wife team of Jesse and Amanda Harlin along with Vance Lucas, Techlahoma says its goal is to help Oklahomans become workforce ready by creating free training each week. It provides meeting space for user groups and boasts an online community of more than 3,000.
With accommodations provided by StarSpace46 in Oklahoma City and 36° North in Tulsa, Techlahoma is home to at least two dozen coding user groups that regularly meet in its space. Groups hosted by Techlahoma include Code for OKC, Code for Tulsa, Nerdy Girls OKC Code Club, OKC Python and OKC.js, one of several programming-focused groups that meet there.
Both StarSpace46 and 36° North are community-focused co-working and collaboration spaces that serve as startup incubators.
Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg recently invited two other governors and me to take part in the Girls Who Code 2017 Female Governors’ Summit at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. I was able to speak to our state’s thriving initiatives to connect Oklahoma children in the K-12 age group with computer science education and all things STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).