FRC Action is hosting a seven-state “Faith, Family, Freedom Tour” to encourage pro-family voters to vote their values when casting their ballot on November 4th. As part of the tour, the bus will be stopping on Wednesday at South Plaza Steps of the Capitol at 10 am.
The rally will include speakers such as Josh Duggar of reality TV’s 19 Kids and Counting; candidate for Congress Steve Russell; Congressman James Lankford; President of the Family Policy Institute of Oklahoma Timothy Tardibono; State Senator Rob Standridge; State Senator Josh Brecheen; and other conservative leaders.
Oct 21 2014 | Posted in General
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Attorney General Scott Pruitt
President John Adams said, “Nothing is more dreaded than the national government meddling with religion.” However, the federal government may be signaling its intention to forego the wisdom of President Adams. Recently, a Wisconsin-based atheist organization hailed its “victory” over the IRS after settling a lawsuit alleging the agency had failed to enforce the federal tax code laws prohibiting tax-exempt religious groups from electioneering.
Since 1954, the Johnson Amendment has expressly prohibited pastors from endorsing political candidates through sermons delivered from the pulpit. Such actions are what the IRS has monitored since the implementation of that law. But never has the federal government gone beyond that and attempted to police the content of sermons preached from the pulpit even where there is no specific candidate endorsement.
The lawsuit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation complained to the IRS about so-called electioneering violations by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association after it urged citizens in newspaper ads to vote along biblical principles. The atheists also complained about a letter an Illinois Roman Catholic Bishop sent to Catholics stating, “Catholic politicians, bureaucrats, and their electoral supporters who callously enable the destruction of innocent human life in the womb also thereby reject Jesus as their Lord.”
Those actions clearly are not candidate endorsements, but are examples of pastors and priests exhorting their flocks to abide by important lessons from the Scriptures. The law allows clergy to address important societal issues such as the sanctity of life or the sanctity of marriage. It would be troubling, to say the least, if the IRS has agreed to take punitive action against churches based on the content of sermons delivered from the pulpit. Yet, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is claiming victory because the group said the IRS has agreed to new protocols regarding enforcement of the federal tax code.
My office has asked both the IRS and Department of Justice for a copy of the settlement agreement and any new enforcement protocols agreed to as part of the settlement. Shockingly, the federal agencies have yet to respond to our request. We remain undeterred in our effort to obtain this information. I have also written to Oklahoma pastors and clergy to encourage them to contact my office if they encounter new IRS protocols.
The founders of our country clearly believed in the importance of protecting the ability of Americans to freely exercise their faith, enshrining that very right in the First Amendment of our constitution. The First Amendment also guarantees our right to free speech, which at its core protects our ability to engage in the political process. Where those two fundamental rights intersect hangs the right of religious organizations to encourage their members to engage in the political process in a manner consistent with the core tenets of their religions. The IRS shouldn’t punish pastors and priests for the content of their sermons and should they try the agency will be met swiftly and strongly by my office in the courtroom.
The 2014 State Questions
Every two years, prior to the November elections, I write an article describing the state questions which will be on the upcoming general election ballot. As a legislator I have the benefit of having already considered these questions during the preceding two years because most state questions are approved by the Legislature prior to placement on the ballot.
I think this is the easiest year to write about these questions because there are only three on the ballot, and they are not controversial.
I supported each of these proposals.
State Question 769 won legislative approval in 2013 after an Oklahoma district attorney and member of the Oklahoma National Guard became involved in a legal question over whether or not the Oklahoma Constitution allowed him to serve as an active member of the military while holding office. SQ 769 seeks to remove any doubt as to the ability of office holders such as a district attorney to serve in the Guard.
Oklahoma’s Constitution currently allows disabled veterans to receive an exemption from most property taxes. State Question 770 allows disabled veterans to sell their home and transfer the exemption to their new home during the same calendar year with no drop off in the exemption.
State Question 771 provides this same exemption from property taxes to the surviving spouse of a military member who is killed in the line of duty. The exemption will no longer apply if the surviving spouse remarries.
You may be curious to know why there are so few questions on this year’s ballot.
This is actually a testament to the fact that the Legislature and Governor have worked out many of the issues of consequence.
For example, in 2010, the Legislature sought to bypass the previous Governor by sending questions directly to the voters. As a result, Oklahoma voters were challenged to choose between 11 questions covering several controversial issues. These issues included the proposal to place term limits on statewide elected officials; created Oklahoma’s voter ID law; declared English as Oklahoma’s official language; sought to prohibit Oklahoma’s participation in the national health care proposal (an initiative which has since been part of Oklahoma’s lawsuit against the federal government); and the attempt to prevent the use of Sharia law in Oklahoma.
Since that time, with the election of a new Governor, the tension between the Governor’s office and the Legislature has dropped considerably, and the Legislature is not bypassing the Governor’s office this year through the issuance of special questions.
However, there are still tense moments between the various branches of government. In the near future I plan to detail some of them.
Rep. James Lankford today endorsed fellow Republican Joy Hofmeister in her bid to become Oklahoma’s next State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
“Joy Hofmeister is a mom, a strong conservative, and an experienced educator with a passion for students, teachers and families. I trust her to work collaboratively to promote higher standards, to increase graduation rates and have a positive impact on the schools in our state,” Lankford said.
“I am honored to endorse Joy for State Superintendent, and I look forward to working with her for the future of Oklahoma,” Lankford said.
Hofmeister said she was pleased to have Lankford’s support.
“It’s an honor to have the endorsement of a visionary leader like Congressman Lankford. Oklahoma is focused on education like no other time in our state’s history, and I am hopeful that together we can address our challenges and create a stronger public education system,” she said.
Hofmeister is a former classroom teacher, educator, and small business owner serving thousands of Oklahoma families for more than 15 years. She was also a member of the Oklahoma State Board of Education.
For nearly two decades, Hofmeister supported her local Parent Teacher Association and has been a member of the Jenks Public Schools Foundation.
The general election is Tuesday, November 4.
Oklahoma Public Employees Association
The recent disclosure of pay increases for some state agency directors shows another example of inconsistency in Oklahoma’s state employee compensation system. A recent compensation study showed that state employee compensation lags more than 20 percent behind private sector compensation and Oklahoma began to implement a five-year plan to bring pay closer to the private market.
The director salary list shows that some agencies took a different approach in raising directors’ salaries with some getting as much as a 58 percent increase. If a five-year plan is appropriate to bring front-line workers closer to market, it seems reasonable to use the same approach to raise directors’ salaries.
OPEA believes that the state needs to continually review all state agency positions, including agency heads, to ensure that compensation is sufficient to recruit and keep talented employees. Raising front-line and support staff compensation to be closer to market should be the top priority of all state agencies and director pay raises should be handled the same as their staff salaries. If a five-year plan to improve compensation is used for front-line staff, a five-year plan should be used for directors.
Governor Fallin, House Speaker Hickman and Senate President Pro Tem Bingman all questioned the way the agency directors’ salaries were carried out at a time state agencies were cutting some budgets. OPEA joins them in requesting that state agency boards and commissions look at all employees’ salaries and prioritize those positions with low compensation or high turnover before raising directors’ pay.
Oklahoma has begun a long-range plan to improve compensation by increasing compensation for targeted state employees who perform a wide array of services for Oklahoma citizens. We will continue to work with lawmakers to bring compensation closer to market. OPEA understands the need to make these changes over a period of time. What we don’t understand is why some agency boards and commissions believe the need to increase the bosses’ salaries should not follow the same plan.
Oct 21 2014 | Posted in General
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State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi and senior staff from the State Department of Education (SDE) asked for immediate reinstatement of Oklahoma’s flexibility waiver from No Child Left Behind in a conference call late Monday with high-level officials from the U.S. Department of Education (USDE).
“With word from the state Regents for Higher Education last week that our current state standards in English and math are indeed considered college- and career-ready, we have asked USDE for an immediate decision to return flexibility to Oklahoma schools,” Barresi said. “Such flexibility would come in the expenditure of federal funds and the removal of the burdensome federal requirements that exist under No Child Left Behind.”
The SDE will now begin the process of resubmitting the waiver request.
USDE rejected Oklahoma’s waiver extension request in August, saying the state was unable to demonstrate state standards were college- and career-ready. The decision came after a repeal of Common Core State Standards in English and math with the passage of House Bill 3399. The legislation directed the state to revert to Priority Academic Student Skills (PASS) standards in the two subject areas, which had been in place prior to Common Core’s adoption in 2010.
When HB 3399 was signed into law in June, the SDE immediately asked the Oklahoma Regents for Higher Education to help determine if PASS standards could be considered college- and career-ready. One of the definitions of such status is based on state college remediation rates, which in Oklahoma have hovered at about the 40th percentile for years.
On Oct. 16, the Regents announced that a study of PASS standards revealed that if students achieve mastery of the standards they could be considered college and career-ready.
The State Board of Education, in the meantime, is overseeing the process of writing new state standards in English and math. The standards are to be in place by the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year.
George Faught, Republican candidate in House District 14, today announced that he has been endorsed by several prominent state and local educators, including former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sandy Garrett, a Democrat.
“As former State Superintendent and a teacher, I had the opportunity to work with many leaders across this State. George Faught is one of those leaders who works hard and has earned people’s trust. As a State Representative, George worked tirelessly for local schools and teachers,” said Sandy Garrett, who served as State Superintendent from 1991 to 2011. ”George is committed to helping the next generation succeed with a quality education. Join me in helping re-elect my former student, George Faught, to the State House.” Garrett taught in Muskogee for 15 years, and was Faught’s first-grade teacher.
“George Faught will be a great representative who listens to the people of his district. He is a strong and proven leader. George supports local control of education and will work to give teachers more time to teach by stopping the excessive testing of students,” said Linda Murphy, former Education Advisor to Governor Frank Keating.
“George Faught has the experience needed to be the voice of House District 14. He cares about Oklahoma’s children and will ensure they receive the best possible education. George possesses the moral compass we need in Oklahoma City,” said Muskogee teacher Lorie Alexander. “Deeply devoted to his family and directed by his faith, George is a man of integrity you can trust with your vote.” In 2013 Alexander received recognition as the top Elementary Teacher in the state by Professional Oklahoma Educators and was given the ‘Elementary Educator Merit’ Award.
Jenni White, president of Restore Oklahoma Public Education (R.O.P.E.), also endorsed Faught’s campaign for re-election. ”I support George Faught for State House District 14 because of his strong stance on local control of education and the rights of parents to educate their children in the way they deem best for that child. In 2012, Rep. Faught sponsored Parental Rights legislation that clearly delineated the role of parents as the primary decision makers for their children. We need more Representatives at the state level willing to guard and protect the rights of parents – especially today, as we continue to fight to keep Oklahoma ‘Common Core’ free.”
White continued, “Though not a member of the House when historic HB3399 (the repeal of Common Core in Oklahoma) was passed, Rep. Faught voted against the initial legislation in 2010 that led to Common Core, and supported our fight to stop Common Core. We will need his advocacy as our new standards are written and the federal government continues to bribe states to educate Oklahoma kids their way. Please help me elect George Faught to the Oklahoma State House of Representatives.” White and her organization played a key role in advocating for the successful repeal of Common Core in Oklahoma.
“George Faught has been an advocate for National Board Certified Teachers and achieving excellence in our schools. He has supported teacher pay increases and common sense reforms. George Faught has a strong conviction to do what is right for Oklahoma,” said Alicia Rodgers, Fort Gibson teacher.
“I am honored to have the endorsement of these outstanding educators,” said Faught. “It shows that Education isn’t about partisan politics, but about preparing the next generation of Oklahoma’s leaders. We must work together to make it happen. The investment we make in Education today will determine the future of our state tomorrow.”
Senator Dan Newberry (R-Tulsa) has been cleared in a recent decision by the Ethics Commission regarding his campaign expenditures.
In September, the Oklahoma Democratic Party filed a complaint with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, accusing Newberry of improperly documenting expenditures from his campaign. Earlier this month the Ethics Commission dismissed the case, clearing Senator Newberry of any wrongdoing.
“Our campaign was diligent in documenting our work,” said Newberry. “It has always been our policy to follow standard accounting procedures and we have remained confident that our consistent adherence to strong oversight principles would expose the truth. We believe in accountability. It’s unfortunate that some chose to attack my character for partisan purposes, but I am glad these baseless accusations can now be put to rest. It is now time we focus on policy rather than politics and continue our work for the hardworking people of Oklahoma.”
Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman (R-Sapulpa) supported his colleague, citing Newberry’s integrity and work ethic.
“Senator Newberry is a committed public servant who works diligently for the state of Oklahoma,” said Bingman. “He is a man of integrity who governs out of conviction. Senator Newberry has persevered under pressure, and I stand beside him as he moves forward in representing the constituents of District 37.”