Senate Communications Division
Starting this Saturday, two new laws go into effect that Sen. David Holt believes will promote greater government transparency for Oklahoma citizens. Holt, R-Oklahoma City, was Senate author of those measures as well another new law taking effect Saturday intended to combat Oklahoma’s domestic violence crisis.
For his efforts to increase transparency, Holt was honored this year with the “Sunshine Award” by Freedom of Information Oklahoma, an organization dedicated to promoting openness in government. During the 2014 session, he passed SB 1497 which will enable citizens to enforce the state’s Open Meetings Act. He also passed HB 2676 ensuring dash-cam videos recorded by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol will be subject to the state’s Open Records Act. HB 2676 also includes a section on copying records that has taken on new importance in recent weeks after the Norman Police Department declined to allow copying of the Joe Mixon tape until HB 2676 takes effect on November 1st.
“Government meetings should be open to the public and government records should be accessible to the public and available for inspection and copying,” Holt said. “These simple concepts are enshrined in our state’s transparency laws, but efforts to thwart them are never-ending. November 1st represents a red letter day in the quest to preserve and expand the taxpayers’ fundamental right to know what is being done in their name and with their money.”
A third new law by Holt, HB 2526, authored with Rep. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, also takes effect November 1st and creates an important new procedure for law enforcement responding to domestic violence situations. HB 2526 requires law enforcement to ask a series of questions of victims to assess their physical danger. The questions will help the victim understand the reality of the situation and will assist the law enforcement officer as they determine the most appropriate services toward which the victim should be directed.
“Oklahoma has the third-highest rate in the nation for women being murdered by men,” Holt said. “Whatever we are doing is not enough. This issue has been highlighted in recent months because of national events, and I hope there’s a positive effect that results from that attention. It’s a long road, but it starts with actions like we took with HB 2526 and starting this weekend, I hope this new law ultimately saves lives.”
For his efforts in the 2014 session on behalf of women and children, Holt was given awards this year by the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women and Parent Promise, representing the Exchange Club and Prevent Child Abuse Oklahoma.
Rep. Jason Murphey
Former Oklahoma Attorney General Jan Eric Cartwright once took two of his employees on a taxpayer-funded trip to Louisiana for a meeting between the attorney generals from other energy-producing states to discuss matters threatening the energy sector.
The two employees benefitted from going on this trip because they received travel vouchers from the airline which allowed them to receive a reduced price on their next ticket. However, they made the mistake of discussing their plans for using the vouchers for their own personal travel in front of Cartwright. Cartwright admonished his employees by stating, “Oh, no you’re not. The state paid for your ticket. Someone else who has to travel on state business can use it.”
Unfortunately, I do not think all government agency heads appear to have been as successful at deterring this type of activity.
In 2010 a concerned constituent brought it to my attention that government employees were potentially taking advantage of a variation of this concept by charging government travel to their credits cards, getting reimbursed for the travel and keeping the associated travel miles or other rewards.
This incentivized government employees to travel on the taxpayer dime as they would personally benefit for finding reasons to travel.
The potential for abuse became even more clear to me after working with state purchasing officials on a plan to modernize the way state government pays for travel. The officials had identified needed changes in the law to realize savings from travel contracts in much the same way we have incurred millions of savings for other commodities and services through our other purchasing reforms.
As one purchasing official excitedly described the proposal he said, “We have a lot of travel!” This left me feeling a bit conflicted. I was eager to help and incredibly appreciative to the state officials who diligently sourced the savings opportunity by locating a commodity for which the state was spending so much money. But, it was disconcerting to realize how often state government officials are traveling on the taxpayer dime.
A quick check of the state’s purchase card records reflect the heavy usage. In the 2014 fiscal year, the state purchase card was in excess of 20,000 times for air travel and more than 17,000 times for room charges. Approximately 150 of the purchases were placed with Hotel/Casino co-locates including an impressive array of recognizable Las Vegas establishments.
In 2011, I sponsored legislation to end the practice of government officials receiving a personal benefit from taxpayer-funded travel. After navigating through the opposition, the legislation passed by an 86-10 vote. You may see the debate at http://hd31.org/654.
This new policy makes it a best practice for the travel to be placed on the state purchase card instead of personal credit cards.
This has two benefits. First, because the state purchase card is used, it becomes possible to track the amount of and nature of the travel spend. The numbers I have written about in this article would not have been as easily retrieved without the clarity and standardization provided by our state purchasing card vendor. This allows us to demonstrate the need for future reforms which diminish the amount of taxpayer-funded travel.
Second, the taxpayers receive the benefit because a purchase card rebate goes back to the state instead of frequent flier miles going to the government official. Deprived of personal benefit, the government official isn’t as likely to engage in superfluous travel.
Not all state government officials have had the integrity of Attorney General Cartwright, but an ongoing array of state policy reforms, such as the one described herein, will eventually start to turn the tide against overspend on government travel.
State Chamber of Oklahoma
The State Chamber of Oklahoma is proud to welcome Jennifer Lepard to its staff of policy experts. She will serve as Vice President of Government Affairs starting October 31.
“Jennifer brings a wealth of knowledge to the State Chamber, especially in the critical area of health care policy,” said State Chamber President and CEO Fred Morgan. “Combined with her expertise in the legislative process, Jennifer strengthens the State Chamber’s voice for business at the State Capitol.”
Lepard will focus on health care and education policy for the State Chamber.
“After years of working in and around the State Capitol, I know that Oklahoma’s business community holds the key to solving many of the state’s most pressing issues,” said Lepard. “I am excited to be part of the State Chamber’s dynamic team working to advance policies that continue Oklahoma’s economic growth and opportunity.”
Lepard received her Master’s in Public Administration and her Doctorate in Public Health from the University of Oklahoma while working for nearly a decade as a Legislative Analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. Immediately prior to joining the State Chamber, she worked in private consulting serving clients in the health, energy and education fields. Lepard currently serves as adjunct faculty at the University of Oklahoma where she teaches a graduate level course on health policy.
Here’s political irony: the same people who were supporting Schools Superintendent Janet Barresi and Common Core are now attacking Senator Josh Brecheen, claiming he supported her.
Brecheen opposed Barresi’s support of Common Core.
In politics, lobbyists may stand for children, but not always for the elected officials who stood with them. A new commercial by the non-profit organization Stand For Children attacks Brecheen by linking him to Barresi.
The group is reportedly targeting Brecheen for defeat because he authored the repeal of Common Core. Barresi was an ardent supporter of the controversial legislation.
Rep. Mike Reynolds today sent a letter to University of Oklahoma President David Boren, formally asking for the university to clarify the circumstances of Emily Neff’s sudden resignation on Oct. 15, 2014, just one day after Reynolds requested clarifications regarding the university’s public position regarding a case involving an 1886 Camille Pissarro oil painting stolen by Nazis in 1941 from a prominent French family, the Meyers.
“Emily Neff’s sudden resignation on October 15, 2014, just one day after my committee’s inquiries into the museum’s possession of La Bergere, a Pissarro painting stolen by the Nazis in 1941 from the Meyers, certainly raises sufficient concerns for this committee to look into the circumstances of both Emily Neff’s tenure at the Fred Jones Museum and her involvement in this case, as well as the circumstances of her departure,” said Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City.
Reynold’s letter further requests that the University of Oklahoma communicates documents pertaining to:
- Emily Neff’s involvement in the Meyer case while she was the head of the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art;
- The resignations of Emily Neff and of Ghislain d’Humieres, the previous director of the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, as he resigned less than two months after a lawsuit against the University of Oklahoma was filed on May 9, 2013 by Leone Meyer demanding the restitution of La Bergere;
- Communications with Ghislain d’Humieres regarding the recommendations from Annette Schlagenhauff, Associated Curator for Research at Indianapolis Museum of Art, who advised the University in 2010 to contact Leone Meyer about La Bergere.
“If reputable museum leaders, such as Emily Neff, are unable to accomplish their professional responsibilities at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, the public, including both taxpayers and potential donors, should have significant questions or concerns that need to be addressed and resolved about the viability, credibility and the professional environment of this museum,” Reynolds said. “The very credibility of a flagship public institution of the state is on the line.”
State Chamber Of Oklahoma
The State Chamber of Oklahoma today promoted Jonathan Buxton to the position of Senior Vice President of Government Affairs. In this role, he will lead the Government Affairs Department which advocates on behalf of business at the State Capitol.
“Jonathan has been an integral part of our successful efforts over the past two years to make the state a better place to start and grow a business,” said State Chamber President and CEO Fred Morgan. “I’m confident he will lead our team of specialists to build on that success.”
Since joining the State Chamber in 2012, Buxton has focused on areas such as reforms to the Workers’ Compensation and public pension systems, health care, economic development and taxation.
“I’m proud of the work the Government Affairs team does on a daily basis for job creators in the state,” said Buxton. “We will continue to champion policies that reduce regulatory burdens and promote investment in Oklahoma.”
Buxton is a 2009 graduate of the Oklahoma City University School of Law and is a member of the Oklahoma Bar. Before joining the State Chamber, he worked for the Oklahoma House of Representatives as a research analyst. Buxton fills the position vacated by Gwendolyn Caldwell who left the State Chamber to start her own lobbying firm, Caldwell and Associates.
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.
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.”