Training? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Training

Training? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Training - February 24, 2019

State Representative David Perryman

The classic 1948 John Huston film, Treasure of the Sierra Madre stands at No. 30 on the American Film Institute’s all-time best movie list. It is an iconic adaption of the B. Travens novel of the same name. True to Travens’ form, the plot examines “oppressed and exploited” characters whose life experiences have left them with few options.

Perhaps the most enduring line from the film came when Fred Dobbs (played by Humphrey Bogart) had been confronted by Gold Hat (played by Alfonso Bedoya) and his Mexican outlaw gang who were pretending to be Federales. When Dobbs questioned the gang’s authority and demanded to see their badges, Gold Hat’s famous response was, “Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!” Despite misquotes and paraphrases over the past 71 years, the message remains identifiable, constant and clear.

A couple of Bills currently pending in the Oklahoma legislature bring the quote home. House Bill 2597 and Senate Bill 12 have been drafted to repeal the law that requires permits, and more importantly, training for handgun possession.

When questioned, proponents of the Bills claim that the right of all citizens of the United States is a Constitutional Right embodied in the Bill of Rights as the Second Amendment to the Constitution. They claim that any conditions imposed on citizens are an infringement of that right. Despite that position, most Oklahomans believe that permits and training are necessary. In fact, a poll of Oklahomans taken in March 2018 finds that Oklahomans overwhelmingly support the state’s current training and permitting laws.

The poll conducted by Survey USA shows that 89% of Oklahomans want our current firearm training and permitting and background check laws to continue in effect while only 8% want to remove those requirements. When asked whether the law should be changed to allow persons without permits to carry weapons in public, 81% said “No,” while only 15% said “Yes.”

The survey also asked if the respondent would be more likely or less likely to vote for a legislative candidate who supported removing the state’s gun permit requirement. In response, 68% said that they would be less likely to vote for that candidate while only 12% said that they would be more likely to vote for a candidate that supported eliminating the requirement of a permit for carrying a gun in public places.

Despite these numbers, when HB 2597 was presented on the House Floor on February 13, 2019, 70 of the 76 Republican members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives voted to allow guns to be carried in public by individuals who have had no background check, no training and no permits.

The dichotomy becomes even more remarkable when a review of the website of the National Rifle Association clearly promotes firearm training, to “Take charge of your family’s safety and get the basic knowledge and skills to safely handle or store firearms and ammunition in the home” and to instill the “techniques needed to develop a defensive mindset” with a goal of developing “the knowledge, skills and attitude necessary to carry and use a concealed pistol ethically, responsibly and with confidence.”

So why would a legislator totally disregard the wishes of an overwhelming super majority of Oklahoma citizens? The answer is simple, the 8% who want to remove training and permitting requirements and the 12% who would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supported eliminating those requirements represent the base of those 70 members. Even though the base is relatively small, they are reliable and with a re-election in the balance, more often than not, they are the difference between winning and losing.

Until voters truly become concerned about firearm safety and proper training, the echo through the Capitol Rotunda will be, “Training? We don’t need no stinkin’ training.”

Questions or comments contact David.Perryman@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7401.

King Oil

King Oil - February 17, 2019

State Representative David Perryman

Prior to Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin in 1792, processing cotton had been a low-profit, labor-intensive drag on the agriculture industry of the American South. In fact, most early Americans believed (and many hoped) that rock bottom cotton prices would never sustain the long term viability of the “peculiar institution” of slavery and that the immorality would eventually be swept away.

Instead, the efficiency of the cotton gin spurred an immediate and unimaginable demand for raw cotton. Skyrocketing prices made Cotton King and for generations, slavery and the southern economy were inextricably intertwined. King Cotton became the foundation of the southern economy, southern culture and southern pride.

The world had never seen an industry that was so wealthy, so pervasive and so overwhelmingly controlling as King Cotton. No other industry of like power appeared until the rise of King Oil a hundred years later. Wielding massive amounts of financial, cultural and political influence, King Oil was allowed to dictate the terms of its own existence. Nowhere has a government been more capitulating than Oklahoma where legislators have drank deeply from the well of oil and gas campaign contributions.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission had no general authority over the industry until 1915 when the commission began hearing cases that dealt with the protection of mineral owners, production companies and affected citizens. That protection within municipalities was largely left to the police power of the local governments themselves. In 1935 the Oklahoma legislature adopted Section 137 to the Oil and Gas Code making it abundantly clear that cities and towns possessed the authority to protect its waters, its residents, its roads and bridges and the property of its citizens from the effects of oil and gas production.

For eight decades the oil and gas industry complied with zoning regulations and setbacks. Through the years, municipalities were allowed to protect their resources from pollution; their citizens from harm and their roads from ruination.

As the industry experienced huge profits and made big campaign contributions, political influence ballooned. In 2015, nearly 80 years to the day after the 1935 Oklahoma legislature had affirmed the power of municipalities to protect citizens, lawmakers abruptly reversed course. The oil and gas industry called its chit. Legislators whose campaign accounts burgeoned with oil and gas cash dutifully obliged with the passage of SB 809, repealing Section 137 and adopting in its place a diametrically opposed Section 137.1 that basically stripped municipalities of their regulatory authority and placed most oil and gas activities under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Corporation Commission.

Cities and counties striving to protect residents by imposing setbacks of wells from homes or fracking noise ordinances or regulate the round the clock flaring of natural gas in close proximity to houses, businesses and other structures, were either sued or threatened with suit. One county that attempted to protect drainage in its ditches, culverts and bridges was sued in the Supreme Court and forced to repeal its regulations.

This session, those same legislators, who four years ago put the interests of oil companies ahead of the people of our state, have been joined by several new faces and are in the process of working HB 2150 through the legislature. This Bill will adopt a Section 137.2 aimed at blocking municipalities from enacting  Ordinances or Resolutions to protect citizens or property rights if the effect of the regulation would “make it more difficult” for the oil and gas to be produced. No matter that the intent of the municipality is to protect things like roads and bridges.

While this will be advertised as a “mineral owners rights bill,” the true benefit will inure to the “King Oil” corporations who own a growing percentage of Oklahoma’s minerals. Unfortunately, campaign contributions from oil companies will once again influence more votes than will what is right or what is best for the citizens of Oklahoma.

Questions or comments contact David.Perryman@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7401.

With Friends Like These

With Friends Like These - February 10, 2019

State Representative David Perryman

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Warren G. Harding, America’s 29th President once famously said, “I have no trouble with my enemies. I can take care of my enemies in a fight. But my friends…they’re the ones who keep me walking the floor at nights.”

President Harding himself an Ohio Republican, kept less than scrupulous friends. A tight circle of his “friends” were called the “Ohio Gang.” Among the group was Harding’s Attorney General, Harry Daugherty. Daugherty ended up as a joint owner of a bank account after he helped free up some frozen assets that had belonged to a German company at the end of World War I. The kickback was approximately one-tenth of the more than $500,000 that members of the Ohio Gang received in payoffs.

Charles Forbes, another Harding friend, became the first director of the Veterans Bureau. Forbes had helped Harding attain the White House by use of the motto, “Return to Normalcy.” In the less than two years that Forbes held the position, he embezzled approximately $2 million, mainly in connection with the building of veterans' hospitals, from selling hospital supplies intended for the bureau, and from kickbacks from contractors.

A residence at 1625 K Street in Washington D.C. was the unofficial headquarters of the Ohio Gang. So sinister and pervasive were the activities of the men who routinely met there, the moniker, “Little Green House on K Street” entered the American lexicon symbolizing political corruption. The group meeting at the green house devised the “Teapot Dome Scandal.” Teapot Dome involved the transfer and no-bid leasing of military oil reserves and resulted in Harding’s Secretary of the Interior receiving no interest loans in addition to gifts that today would be valued at between $5 and 6 Million Dollars.

Although no collusion was ever proven between Harding and his friends, Warren Gamaliel Harding passed at age 57 after having served only 2 years, 4 months and 29 days. Perhaps President Harding’s demise was due in part to walking the floor at night contemplating the activity of his “friends.”

This past November, Oklahomans elected a number of legislators who claim to support public education. The bills they are filing are betraying their claim of affection. On its face, SB360 purports to help children whose parents are incarcerated. What it really does is attempt to channel money away from public education instead of properly funding strong public schools, social supports and criminal justice reform. Likewise, SB570 purports to protect children who have experienced bullying. It too takes money out of public schools and puts it in private schools where, I guess, no bullying ever exists.

These “Friends of Public Education” have put forth SB14, disguised as a bill protecting teachers but instead, disregards Oklahoma’s science curriculum and allows “scientific information” that isn’t scientific fact to be taught. It is not the teachers who seek to depart from teaching science and teachers around the country consistently oppose legislation of this type. Also, SB592 hampers the ability of any group to peaceably assemble at the Capitol by requiring a $50,000 bond.

Not to be outdone, one member of the House filed HB2214 to make it illegal for teachers to repeat the walkout of 2018 and just last week House leadership had hallway barriers installed on the fourth floor to keep pesky citizens like teachers, parents and students from getting too close to their offices.

Just like President Harding, Oklahoma public school teachers are realizing, “With Friends Like These, Who Needs Enemies?”

            Questions or comments, contact David.Perryman@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7401.

Angels in the Outfield

Angels in the Out Fields - February 3, 2019

State Representative David Perryman

The 1994 film, Angels in the Outfield featured Danny Glover, Tony Danza and Chistopher Lloyd in a family sports fantasy that provided the answer to a young boy’s prayer and along the way engaged the services of a group of angels who helped the California Angels win a pennant and gave him the family that he had so desperately longed for.

I was reminded of that storyline this weekend during a Super Bowl commercial. The ad was for a wireless phone company but it was centered around Major League Football coach Anthony Lynn who had been asked to give a motivational talk to a group of First Responders. As he spoke to the Police Officers, Paramedics and Firefighters who had been gathered, he confessed to them that fourteen years earlier he had nearly died when he was hit by a speeding car as he walked across a street.

Unknown to Coach Lynn, several of the men and women who had responded to his 2005 accident had been assembled in the group to which he was speaking. For the first time since he was injured, he and those who had rendered aid to him were reunited. The emotional coach told the First Responders that he had been told that angels had helped him survive. He surmised through tears that these men and women were indeed those angels.

Across Oklahoma’s 77 counties there are a lot of “out fields.” We call them rural communities and long stretches of highways that at a moment’s notice may need first responders, paramedics and other emergency personnel. The people who need those “angels” are not just the citizens of rural Oklahoma. Visitors to rural Oklahoma hail from all corners of the state and nation as they engage in recreational activities, enjoy nature and attend hundreds of festivals, fairs and other events that represent the true history and heritage of our great state.

While there has been much news coverage about hospitals and emergency rooms closing across the state, the rate of insolvency and closure of Oklahoma’s ambulance services exceeds that of Oklahoma hospitals. More than 50 rural Oklahoma ambulance services shut down between 2003 and 2015 and the rate of closure has not slowed. When an ambulance service closes, that simply means that the territory becomes absorbed in the next closest service. Consequently, distances between ambulance services increase. When Oklahoma ambulance services suffer, so do the people who need them. It is no wonder that life expectancies in some rural communities are as much as 20 years shorter than life expectancies in more urban areas.

A May 11, 2018 Policy Brief by the National Rural Health Association provided the most concise illustration on the challenges facing EMS Services in rural America. 1) The cost per transport is higher in rural areas because the base costs of “maintaining readiness” are sunk costs. 2) With lower volumes there is less of a funding stream to offset costs. 3) Reimbursement rates by Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance are often based on call volume and therefore, in a vicious cycle, studies have shown that over 60% of rural EMS providers rely on volunteers for EMT-Intermediate or EMT-Paramedic staffing and over 70% report having difficulty in recruiting volunteers.

The statistic that is most injurious to rural emergency medical services is the demographic of rural Oklahoma. Oklahoma’s rural population is older, poorer and less healthy than urban Oklahoma. Therefore, when an ambulance call is made in rural Oklahoma, it is less likely that the patient is privately insured or can afford to pay for the services rendered. That “uncompensated care” is often the straw that breaks the back of a rural ambulance service.

There is a solution. If Governor Stitt, in some form or fashion, would accept federal Medicaid funds, $2.3 Million PER DAY would go to Oklahoma hospitals and ambulance services, thus preventing hundreds of Oklahoma EMTs, nurses and medical personnel from losing their jobs. It would not only sustain medical care in rural areas but also roll those dollars many times over through Oklahoma’s economy.

Rural Oklahoma is important to our state and residents and visitors there need “angels” just as urgently as do urban areas.

            Questions or comments, contact David.Perryman@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7401.

The Value of an Employee

The Value of an Employee - January 27, 2019

State Representative David Perryman

Retail entrepreneurs have coined enduring mottos designed to invigorate the people who work for them. For instance, Marshall Field was famous for directing his employees to “Give the lady what she wants” and reminding them that “The Customer is Always Right.” What Mr. Fields and thousands of other successful CEO’s knew was that while the “Customer was King,” the men and women that he employed were the most important asset that he had.

Richard Branson, British entrepreneur, who founded the more than 400 companies comprising the Virgin Group and whose net worth exceeds $5 Billion, best captured the concept when he said, “Clients do not come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” This theme was not just British. For generations, the “partnership” between American business and its employees was strong and vibrant. The successful business model created “company men” and “company women” who in return for the security of employment and its benefits would contribute a lifetime of loyalty to their jobs.

Change came gradual. Whatever the reason, this era of massive pay gaps between executive salaries and other company employees is indicative of corporate America’s devaluation of its employees.

            According to a January 2018 report from the Economic Policy Institute, the average CEO pay is 271 times the average pay of the typical American worker. The Institute compares that with 1978, when CEO earnings were roughly 30 times the typical worker’s salary.

            Forbes Magazine in May 2018 reported that if we have any doubts about the disappearance of the American middle class, we need look no further than this pay-gap. That report stated that, “In the 1950’s, a typical CEO made 20 times the salary of his or her average worker and in 2017 CEO pay soared to an average of 361 times more than the average rank-and-file worker pay.”

            According to Al Lewis of Market Watch, frustration is heightened through our realization that when a business goes bankrupt, receives taxpayer bailouts or pay millions in fines for fraud, the average golden parachute for “forced out CEO’s” in 2013 was valued at $48 Million, while average employees are left in the cold.

The economic damage does not stop there. In increasing quantities, corporate assets are allocated to lobbying and legislative influencing through an embedded process that undermines pensions, workers compensation and other special benefits that have historically provided retirees and disabled workers with a safety net to prevent them from retiring into poverty or having to rely on welfare after their bodies become worn out or injured in the service to their employers.

            For instance, even though cases of black lung disease among miners was on the rise last year, a report in Roll Call published last week shows that coal companies and coal industry groups actively lobbied federal lawmakers against extending a program that has historically provided benefits for sufferers and their families. According to mandatory financial disclosures, the coal lobby spends between $1.5 and $2 Million annually to influence legislation. A portion of that last year was spent seeking a 55% decrease in the tax that funds the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. Legislators followed the industries direction and allowed the decrease to take effect despite the fact that since 1979, the fund has had to be supplemented nearly every year.

            Consequently, coal companies receive another big tax break while afflicted employees and their families are left to seek other sources of revenue to meet health and medical expenses they face solely because of the occupation that they engaged in.

            The situation is not foreign to Oklahoma where employees are suffering from similar treatment. Employers of tens of thousands of Oklahomans do not provide health insurance coverage and do not compensate their employers sufficiently to allow the employee to purchase health insurance. Without access to insurance, affected employees involuntarily become recipients of uncompensated care; hospitals and ambulance services are required to provide services for which they will never be paid; and the rest of us are subsidizing those employers who are not paying wages to cover the cost of housing, food, education and medical care.

            For the sake of protecting shareholder dividends and CEO salaries, uninsured employees are placing such a burden on Oklahoma’s health care providers that we may all lose health care access.

            Questions or comments, contact David.Perryman@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7401

Button, Button

Button, Button - January 20, 2019

State Representative David Perryman

What do Louisa Mae Alcott’s “Little Men,” “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” David Bowie in “Labrynth,” and Walt Disney’s version of “Alice in Wonderland” all have in common? They all contain a reference to the age old children’s game, “Button, Button, who’s got the Button? Over the past 150 years, very few of us made it past elementary school without confronting the task of attempting to locate that evasive, hidden button.

Over the past decade, Oklahoma’s education budget has given Button, Button a whole new perspective. With daily attendance being a primary factor in the “game” of school funding, the concept of whether a student is “present” or “absent” can literally shift millions of education dollars from some schools to others. With that much money in the balance, it is inevitable that rules are stretched, twisted and sometimes broken.

For brick and mortar schools, the concept of being present or absent at school has remained constant for a hundred years or more. At the beginning of a school day and at every class period throughout the day, a student is either present or absent or tardy. With the advent of “virtual” schools facts get a little fuzzy.

According to  a 2016 Oklahoma Watch article by Jennifer Palmer, “With no seats to fill and no roll to call, ‘attendance’ in virtual education takes on a different meaning.” In fact Palmer reported that in the previous year, every single one of the state’s virtual charter schools reported near perfect attendance with two, including the state’s largest, reporting 100 percent attendance for the entire school…FOR THE ENTIRE YEAR!!!!

Now we’re not talking a drop in the bucket. Last year, virtual charter schools reported a statewide combined K-12 enrollment of nearly 12,000 students.

The natural question is, why should Oklahomans care? Fact is, so long as funding of our public schools is based at least in part on daily attendance and so long as virtual charter schools are allowed to establish their own method of counting attendance, schools that are able to use it for their benefit will, all to the financial detriment of those public brick and mortar schools who will consequently receive a smaller piece of the same funding pie.

While proponents, like the Epic Virtual Charter School Superintendent have been quoted as saying, “When they’re enrolled in an online course, they are considered in attendance; we just follow the law,” holding virtual charter schools accountable by changing the law may be more difficult than it would seem. In November 2018, Palmer, in another Oklahoma Watch article, reported that supporters of the state’s largest virtual charter school had “ramped up” political contributions to elected officials to the tune of at least $145,000, arguably to keep in place status quo policies that harm “brick and mortar schools” across the state.

For instance, the founders of Epic made donations that included “a combined $23,800 for State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and more than $11,000 to State Attorney General Mike Hunter.” Other recipients included Governor Kevin Stitt and more than 50 legislative candidates.

This session, Sen. Ron Sharp, a former teacher from Shawnee has filed Senate Bill 56 in a push for more transparency in the truth behind attendance numbers. The Bill would require virtual charters to submit attendance records of enrolled students to the student’s resident district. Sen. Sharp hopes to eliminate the current situation where hundreds of kids are falling through the system and no one knows where they are.

How far his bill will go remains to be seen. Much depends on whether virtual charter schools will be made accountable regarding attendance numbers or if their generous and well placed political contributions will allow them to perpetuate a costly and wasteful version of Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?

Questions or Comments should be directed to David.Perryman@OkHouse.gov or 405-557-7401.

An Apple a Day

An Apple a Day - January 13, 2019

State Representative David Perryman

We have all heard the common saying, “An apple a day will keep the doctor away.” What most of us don’t know is that it devolved from the 19th century Welsh proverb, “Eat an apple on going to bed, and you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread.”

Both the original proverb and its more modern transliteration, touted the benefits of a healthy diet including fresh fruits and vegetables. But a more literal interpretation of the original version would indicate that physicians, pharmacists and other health care providers could be negatively impacted when trying to earn a living in a healthy society.

In Oklahoma, we need not worry about that. There is plenty of work to do. Our urgent consideration should be to address the root causes of our dire circumstances. Whether we first consider the rates by which Oklahomans are covered by some form of insurance or rates which Oklahoma citizens partake of healthy diets and exercise or rates of immunization, or availability of health care, we find that Oklahoma ranks near the bottom both in virtually all categories.

For instance, the “Physician Access Index (PAI)” published by Merrit Hawkins, nationally recognized experts in the placement of health care workers, examined, on a state-by-state basis, 33 benchmarks and metrics, including demographic, economic, health insurance coverage, physician, nurse practitioner and physician assistant workforce factors, that influence and determine patient access to medical services. The latest edition of that Index shows that Oklahoma’s overall score ranks dead last among all states.

However, do all these bad numbers, low rankings and unhealthy outcomes really matter? For instance, it is difficult to tell by the voting pattern of most Oklahomans that over the past 26 years the life expectancy of Oklahomans has dropped to the point that our state’s life expectancy is shorter than any other state in the country except Kentucky, according to an American Medical Association Report issued in April 2018.

It is appalling that Oklahoma’s elected officials continue to ignore reality and avoid addressing problems such as high uninsured rates; low reimbursement rates; discriminatory pharmaceutical prices and scores of other factors that need their attention.

For instance, Governor Fallin constant refusal to allow the Medicaid program to be made available to working Oklahomans whose employers do not provide health insurance and whose income is not sufficient to cover the cost of health insurance costs. This refusal has negatively affected Oklahoma hospitals, clinics, ambulance services and health care providers across the board.

            In similar fashion, Oklahoma’s elected State Insurance Commissioner has undermined the benefits of the Affordable Care Act by failing to properly regulate the rates and coverages of health insurance carriers. Oklahoma voters allow elected officials to take campaign contributions, defer control of their department to their donors and abdicate their duty to protect citizens.

Oklahoma cannot expect healthy citizens if insurance and pharmaceutical companies continue to run the show with a focus solely on net profit and not on health outcomes. Our state’s frail system of health care providers will never be strong enough to improve health outcomes so long as the delivery of quality of health care is undermined.

Last fall and spring when Oklahoma needed three sessions to address ten years of educational neglect, Arkansas used three days to adopt legislation preventing predatory and discriminatory pharmaceutical pricing. Arkansas was looking out for its citizens and communities by allowing small pharmacies to receive fair reimbursement rates. Oklahoma needs to do the same. I have filed a bill patterned after the Arkansas legislation to prevent drug stores from being harmed by corporate prescription benefit managers. It is a step that needs to be taken. Insurance Companies and PBM’s should not favor corporate pharmacies and thereby prevent rural physicians and druggists from “earning their bread.”

Questions or Comments should be directed to David.Perryman@OkHouse.gov or 405-557-7401.

Times, They Are a Changin'

Times, they are a Changin’ - January 6, 2019

State Representative David Perryman 

            When Bob Dylan released his 1964 hit song, “Times, They are a Changin’” he had no idea how prophetic the lyrics were. We understand the truth that he sang, “Come gather ‘round people wherever you roam and admit that the waters around you have grown and accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone. If your time is worth saving then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone.”

            Our changing world is both exciting and frightening. One of the greatest minds of our times, Buckminster Fuller was a renowned 20th century inventor and visionary who dedicated his life to making the world work for all of humanity and pursued a more sustainable planet.

            In 2013, David Russell Schilling, a freelance technology writer stated in an online publication that, “Buckminster Fuller created the “Knowledge Doubling Curve,” noting that until 1900 human knowledge doubled approximately every century. By the end of World War II knowledge was doubling every 25 years.” In 2013, Shilling observed that human knowledge was doubling every 13 months.

If that is not fast enough for us, IBM technicians, predict that the build out of the “internet of things” will eventually lead to the doubling of knowledge every 12 hours. The growth of technology to deliver knowledge is not limited to the internet. Today, social media such as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat and Facebook live play a vital function in the dissemination of that knowledge and despite the use of the term “social” they affect nearly all functions of life.

One area that is not immune is government. Of course, if there is any transparency in any area of our lives, it should be in our government. Ours cannot be a government “of the people, by the people, for the people” without transparency. Good or bad, citizens should have access to the means to know what the government and their elected officials are up to. That is the very basis of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

Over the past few years, many elected officials have incorporated the use of social media to let constituents know what is going on in real time. Oklahoma is no exception. Last session a majority Representative from the Tulsa area broadcast a video made on the House floor to comment negatively about educators who were at the capitol seeking increased funding for education. While that video went viral, most Legislators who use video capability do so for positive communications with constituents in real time.

On Friday afternoon the majority caucus released proposed House Rules for the 57th Legislature that will convene next month. The rules are to be voted on this week so there was naturally as scramble to compare the proposed rules with the expiring House Rules for the 56th Legislature. One change will prohibit video recording or broadcasts by Members while on the House Floor while the House is in session.

It is not clear whether the majority’s intent is to protect legislators from repeating the fiasco of the viral video or to limit real time access to constituents. Nonetheless, such a rule change will negatively impact transparency and will surely be the subject of debate when the new rules are considered.

Times, they are a changin’ and Dylan hit it on the head when he sang, “Come senators, congressmen, please heed the call. Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall. For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled. The battle outside ragin’ will soon shake your windows and rattle your walls, for the times they are a-changin’.

Questions or Comments should be directed to David.Perryman@OkHouse.gov or 405-557-7401.

Reality over Rhetoric

Reality over Rhetoric - December 23, 2018

State Representative David Perryman

When I was about four years old, a family in town had agreed to purchase a full-blood Boxer pup from friends of theirs who had a beautiful female Boxer. However, somewhere along the line the mama Boxer had been visited by a bird dog and the pup looked more like Petey, from the old Little Rascal show than an AKC registered Boxer.

By chance, we were without a dog and the rejected pup came to live with us. We named him Bozo and what we got was truly a faithful friend and companion. He had the heart of Lassie, the adventure of RinTinTin, and the valor of Rex the Wonder Dog. No amount of money could have purchased a better companion for my brother and me as we experienced special times and special places exploring the countryside from one end to the other.

The bond that I had with that mongrel named Bozo helped instill my deeply held conviction that true friends are not normally those from wealth and privilege, but instead are those who may simply need a fair shake, a kind word or a helping hand to boost their confidence and give them a sense of self-worth.

Several years later, Mom and Dad purchased a nicer home with additional land for our cow-calf operation. Cross country, the new place was about four miles from the old one and Bozo who was by then an old dog had a hard time with the move. Every few days, he would disappear. We would drive out to check cattle and there he would be laying on the front porch of the old house coping with his inability to face the reality of our move. Each time we would load him up and take him back to the new place he seemed feebler. Then one day, Bozo just didn’t show up. We searched but could not find him.

In retrospect, it is difficult to imagine the emotional torment that Bozo faced. He could not overcome his rhetorical logic that returning to the familiarity of the old house would bring normalcy. He was unable to face the reality of our move and his new surroundings.

Rhetoric is like that. It causes us to ignore reality.

Oklahoma’s state government is in crisis. Responses based on dogmatic rhetoric present themselves as failed leadership and an inability to address the reality of the issues we face. Instead of properly funding state agencies, our leaders are chronically unable to overcome the rhetoric of the day.

When I was first elected to the legislature, the buzz word was Zero Based Budgeting, defined as the theory that the state would save money and eliminate waste if the budget of every state agency were stripped to zero and each agency were required to justify every dollar requested. When legislative leaders realized that budget requests were justified and state government was woefully underfunded, the call for Zero Based Budgeting quietly dissipated pending renewal by some unwitting future legislator.

The current rhetoric at the Capitol supports granting private entities contracts for expensive audits on state agencies. In reality, the evidence shows that the costs of the audits exceed any minimal waste that may be eliminated. The irony is that the budget of the State Auditor and Inspector who has the constitutional responsibility to perform audits has been repeatedly cut.

As a state this type of rhetoric has moved us away from adequately funding education and roads and mental health and child welfare and veterans’ benefits and host of other agencies.

There is currently a dog that wanders up and down the road near my home, a couple of miles in each direction. He reminds me of Bozo from my childhood. Like the state’s leaders, they both seem to react based purely on raw emotion rather than the reality of the situation.

Careful What You Ask For

Careful What You Ask For

State Representative David Perryman

          The Christmas Season is upon us and for many, this time of year jogs family memories from decades ago. The holidays at my grandparent’s house were particularly full of life. In the late 1950’s they began using an aluminum Christmas tree that was marketed by a company in Wisconsin. For a little guy, it and the accompanying color wheel that splashed the tree with alternating shades of red, blue, green and amber, was a sight to behold.

Of course, the best memories are connected to cousins and aunts and uncles who came and went. There was Uncle Clarence who shared pockets full of lemon drops that he carried to keep his dentures from clacking.

Then there were the presents. Like the time that my grandfather who had four main goals in life: Maximize the yield on the wheat he grew; catch as many fish as possible as often as possible; make certain that neither the wheat nor the fish got in the way of dominos; and pull fast ones on as many family members as possible.

It was only fitting that the year he had asked for a shirt, that he opened a gift containing one that was “just like one I already have…smell and all.” Soon, after he realized that he was the butt of the joke, the unwashed shirt was replaced with his real gift, a brand new flannel to his liking.

In another case of “careful what you ask for,” Aunt Vivian and Uncle Edwin realized after they opened their third package containing a corn popper, that Vivian had probably mentioned that their old one had given up the ghost to a few too many people. Thank goodness for gift exchanges.

Unfortunately, some “gifts” are much more difficult to return. Currently the state’s health care infrastructure is in freefall and that fact is devastating to thousands of our fellow Oklahomans.

What Governor Fallin and the Oklahoma legislature have asked for is “savings” by not allowing more Oklahomans to enroll in Medicaid. The “gift” that Oklahomans are receiving from refusing to allow working Oklahomans whose employers neither provide health insurance nor pay wages adequate to allow the employees to purchase health insurance privately, is health outcomes among the worst in the country, an uninsured population that is among the worst in the country and rural hospitals and ambulance services that are being shuttered at rates among the highest in the country.

Uninsured Oklahomans hammer our state in two respects. The leading cause of personal bankruptcies are medical expenses and the leading cause of hospital closure is uncompensated care, defined as providing services for which payment will not be received. According to an October 2018 report issued by Wallethub, Oklahoma’s uninsured rate of 16.35% is second only to Texas.

Two reports released in the past week bear out the consequences. A Journal Record article reported that the United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings show that Oklahoma’s overall health ranking dropped from 43rd to 47th, the largest drop of any state. Simultaneously, according to an Oklahoman article, March of Dimes report showed that more than half of all counties in Oklahoma are “maternity deserts,” defined as not having a hospital performing deliveries or an obstetrics provider.

With hospital closures and bankruptcies across the state, conditions are not likely to improve. Cities like Frederick, Sayre, Pauls Valley and Eufaula are learning first-hand how partisan choices destroy a community’s health care infrastructure and impact everything from health outcomes, to life expectancy, to economic development.

While Medicaid expansion may or may not be the solution, Oklahomans can no longer endure the consequences of leaders who “just say no” and do not provide leadership toward an alternative solution. It is now evident that we are getting just what they asked for.

Questions or comments, contact David Perryman at 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.gov.

Lest We Forget

Lest We Forget - December 9, 2019

State Representative David Perryman

          Oklahoma State Fire Marshal John Connolly was a man ahead of his time. Marshall Connolly served in the early years of Oklahoma’s statehood and brought progressive ideas regarding fire protection and safety to the table. Unfortunately, even a man with the national respect and standing of Mr. Connolly was unable to budge the staunchly conservative attitude of the Oklahoma legislature in time to prevent one of the single most deadly fires in Oklahoma history.

          Ninety-four years ago this Christmas Eve, a horrific fire at the Babb’s Switch School brought Connolly’s warnings to center stage as the Oklahoma, the nation and indeed, the world, mourned the senseless death of nearly forty children and adults who had gathered for a school program and Christmas party about six miles southeast of Hobart, Oklahoma in Kiowa County.

          Much has been written about the fire over the past 94 years, but many documents of that era illustrate that much of the horror and ensuing heartbreak could have been prevented.

          On the front page of the report issued on January 26, 1925 by C.T. Ingalls, Manager of the Oklahoma Inspection Bureau were the simple words, “LEST WE FORGET.” That report concluded that even without any aggravating circumstances, a simple structure with very limited defective and poor means of egress is a dangerous place for public assemblage. Compounding that situation was a light frame structure made of pine wood and painted with oil based paint and a tinder-dry Christmas tree decorated with cotton and red and green lit candles. One door had been replaced with a coal chute that prevented egress and the other doorway had inward swinging doors that scraped along the floor. All windows were covered with heavy iron screens that had been bolted into place. Only twelve minutes after the candles ignited the tree and spread to the ceiling and one of the glass kerosene lamps had exploded, the structure was an inferno where it was a miracle that as many of the estimated 150 to 200 in attendance escaped from the 720 square foot building.

Since at least 1919, Fire Marshall Connolly had been promoting legislation to enact a state-wide building code and a sufficient budget to enforce it. In Connolly’s Ninth Annual Report published that year, he illustrated that the high cost of annual insurance premiums across the state was a hidden tax that was greater than the cost of State Government and would “build 500 miles of the very best hard-surfaced roads annually.”

Connolly reasoned that “building construction is at the basis of all fire prevention work” and “we need a State building code, a moderate law, which will empower the State Fire Marshall with concurrent jurisdiction in cities and towns having building codes” and which “would govern where local codes do not exist.”

His report further stated, “It would be impossible to estimate the benefits that flow from regulatory ordinances” and in the absence of regulations, “it subjects the community to the dangers of unsafe construction.” Of course, Connolly was a realist. He was aware that, “Sensible men appreciate these facts, and it is only once in a while that you find a man who is so ignorant and unreasonable that he will oppose any attempt to restrict him, even when the public interest demands it. Such a man must be taught the lesson that his fancied rights must yield to the stern necessity of public safety.”

In January 1925 the National Fire Protection Association issued a report in its Quarter publication. In that report, Fire Marshall Connolly is quoted as saying, “The tragedy of the schoolhouse could have been prevented if Oklahoma had enacted a state building code.” But he reported, time after time, the Oklahoma legislature had killed such a code in its committees.

          Connolly’s earlier attempts to obtain information and inspect all one-exit wooden schoolhouses in the state ballooned to 400 inspection requests by February 1925, but the legislature did not act until 2009, eighty-five years after the Babbs Switch School fire, to adopt the Oklahoma Uniform Building Code Commission mandating a state-wide minimum building code for all construction within the state.

          One fire and safety issue that remains a problem is fire official access to vacant structures. State and local laws do not provide fire officials with a procedure to gain timely entrance into vacant structures that may pose grave fire hazards or contain substances that could endanger the lives and health of firefighters who might later be called to fight a fire there. The National Fire Protection Association estimates that more than twenty civilians and 6000 firefighters are injured while fighting fires in these properties every year. Lest We Forget that fact, I plan to introduce a bill this session addressing those issues.

Questions or comments, contact David Perryman at 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.gov.

A Day of Infamy

A Day of Infamy - December 2, 2018

State Representative David Perryman

          If you have ever visited my office in the Oklahoma State Capitol, you know that it is on the 5th Floor near the north entrance into the public gallery above the chamber of the House of Representatives. Historically, the fifth floor has been used as the location to which the minority party is relegated after all of the desirable offices on the third and fourth floors have been assigned to members of the majority party.

However, even without the rich walnut furnishings of those lower, larger offices, there are two primary reasons that I believe that I have the best office in the Capitol building. Not only is my office immediately adjacent to the “People’s Entrance” into the “People’s Chamber,” a portrait that hangs by that entrance provides a daily reminder of the sacrifices made by men and women who have served our nation over the past two and a half centuries.

That portrait, by artist R. T. Foster, depicts the “Attack on the Battleship Oklahoma” in Pearl Harbor, an event that occurred 77 years ago this week, on December 7, 1941. The painting was a gift to the people of Oklahoma by Admiral and Mrs. William J. Crowe in 2001. Admiral Crowe served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush and as Ambassador to the United Kingdom under President William Jefferson Clinton. The fact that Admiral Crowe and his wife cared enough to go to the time and expense to donate this work of art is a testament to their character and compassion.

I am honored to have the opportunity to see that painting each time I enter and exit my capitol office and that honor grew deeper when I was able to place on my desk in direct view of the painting, a case displaying the flag that covered the casket of my father, who was a member of the PV-1 Naval Air Corp Squadron VPB-152, formed at Burns Flat (NAS-Clinton) and after training stateside passed through Ford Island in Pearl Harbor on its way to its duty station on Peleliu Island.

Originally, VPB-152 formed the core of a secret Navy project to develop a remote-controlled drone bomb. That and other experiments followed. On August 2, 1945, it was one of the planes from that Burns Flat squadron that spotted the oil slick and the survivors of the USS Indianapolis. The cruiser had been sunk by a Japanese torpedo on the night of July 29, only three days after it had delivered the parts and the enriched uranium (about half of the world’s supply of Uranium-235 at the time) for “Little Boy,” the first operational atomic bomb, which would later be dropped on Hiroshima.

So, in a way, in the North Hallway of the West Wing of the 5th Floor of the Oklahoma State Capitol, there are reminders of both the beginning and the end of World War II in the Pacific Theatre.

That makes me pause and continually assess dangers, sacrifices, loss of life and heroics shown by men and women on behalf of our country. It gives me gratitude that there have been millions of selfless individuals who have answered our nation’s call.

It makes me cognizant that they intended to protect rights and liberties for themselves, their neighbors and their children and to continue that to make that difference for the generations of descendants that they would never know.

Oklahoma’s veterans did not fight for a state where hundreds of thousands of its citizens do not have access to health care or suffer from income inequality. They did not put themselves in harm’s way for a state that is not willing to properly educate its children or allow them to go to bed hungry. They did not sacrifice for a state that neglects the needs of the disabled and the mentally ill.

Oklahoma is at a crossroads. Seventy-seven years ago this week, our nation rose to the challenge. Do today’s leaders possess the quality of character to put the people of our state before greed and selfishness, or will 2019 become OUR year of infamy and OUR date with destiny?

Questions or comments, contact David Perryman at 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.gov.

Jake and His Other Brother Jake

Jake and His Other Brother Jake - November 25, 2018

State Representative David Perryman

          As Thanksgiving Day comes around and families devour the turkey breasts, turkey legs and giblet gravy from an estimated 46 million turkeys, I often recall my personal encounter a few years ago with testosterone infused juvenile Meleagris gallopavo and my vivid realization that they are a menace to society and that in gangs they can be downright dangerous.

It all started off innocently enough. It wasn’t my birthday, but my wife had just presented me with a new digital camera, complete with a zoom lens. Anxious to try it out, one fall Saturday morning, luck sent the perfect opportunity in the form of what appeared to be a wild turkey strolling across the pasture about 60 yards below the house.

Not wanting to scare the bird, I took the camera and quietly slipped out the back door and around the side of the house just as it passed behind an outbuilding. I readied the settings on the camera so that I could begin snapping pictures as soon as the gobbler emerged into view.

Jo was busy inside the house and from her vantage point had also seen the bird but could not see where I had stationed myself. Slowly, as I began taking photos, not one, not two, but three “jakes,” juvenile male wild turkeys, stepped into view. As I clicked frame after frame, the birds spotted me and allowed me to capture pictures from the front, in all their glory.

I realized that the birds had taken a few steps toward me and I adjusted the zoom lens to compensate for the shorter distance. Turkey step by turkey step the need for the zoom lens decreased and just as I realized that the birds’ stroll had suddenly become a “turkey trot,” the zoom adjustment hit zero. It was then that I looked over the camera to realize that the turkey trio had congregated less than ten feet in front of me and were eying me and my camera.

          Knowing the propensity of male turkeys to use their spurs to inflict serious damage on their opponents, I wanted to make certain that they understood that I was not their opponent or if I was, that they understood that even in my unarmed state, they were no match for me.

          I roared and raised my hands in an attempt to look larger but the enjoyable photo shoot quickly escalated into a war of wills. The bird in the middle was closest to me and for an instant seemed startled, but turkey testosterone is an interesting chemical and every time the lead bird would hesitate, Jake and his other brother Jake (both of which lacked accountability) would crowd the closest one toward me.

Realizing that the birds were not leaving the yard, I started swinging the camera around by its strap, simultaneously yelling AT the turkeys and FOR some relief from inside the house. Unfortunately, even though Jo had seen the three birds come out from behind the shed, she had gone back to her task thinking that I was getting some great pictures.

My vocal chords were reaching a point of raw inefficiency when Jo happened to look out another window and realized my predicament. Wanting to rescue the camera, she grabbed a rake, and by simply coming around the corner, caused the assemblage of tyrannical turkeys to turn and trot across the field out of sight. Both the camera and my person were undamaged, and I had a series of photos, one of which has appeared on my personal Facebook profile page since I opened the account.  And my family has had another topic for “Dad” jokes around our table.

We hope that you and your family had a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday.

Questions or comments, contact David Perryman at 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.gov.

Will the 57th Oklahoma Legislature Effect Change

Will the 57th Oklahoma Legislature Effect Change - November 18, 2018

State Representative David Perryman

          Oklahoma convenes a new legislature every two years. 2019 will mark the opening of the 57th legislature. When the dust settled after the November 6, 2018, elections, not much changed.

Of the 101 members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, 76 will be Republicans and 25 will be Democrats. Currently, there are no Independents or third party members in the House.

At the end of last session, there were 73 Republicans and 28 Democrats in the House. The percentages that are most interesting relate to emergency enactments and rules suspensions. Both of those procedures require 68 votes. What that means is that in the last legislature there were enough Republicans to pass any law that they want and to adopt an emergency effective date that they want and to suspend any legislative rule that they want.

This session, with the addition of three more Republican legislators, their power is expanded.

Because of State Question 640, adopted in 1992, no revenue bill could become law without the votes of at least 75% of the members of both the House and the Senate. Therefore, the only thing that the Republicans could not do last session was increase taxes without at least three Democrats joining in the effort.

State Question 640 became a real issue last session when the oil and gas industry and its cohorts tried to ram the StepUp Plan down the throats of the legislature. StepUp was an attempt to cap the Gross Production Tax at only 4% and throw a bone at enough teachers to take the pressure off the industry and ignore the fact that public education had received 28% in cuts over the past decade. When the Democratic caucus refused to let the oil and gas industry continue to name its own tax rate, and held out until the GPT was raised to 5% so that public education, including textbooks, teachers and support personnel would take a step toward adequate funding, the effect of State Question 640 made the Republicans work across the aisle.

With a 76 member supermajority in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, that will no longer be the case.

The situation in the State Senate is very similar. At the close of the last session, there were 8 Democrats in that 48 member body. This year, 9 Democrats will be seated in the Senate. The fact that the number of Republicans in the State Senate went from 40 to 39 will have little effect since that chamber’s 75% Republican supermajority is not in jeopardy.

Legislators will begin pre-filing legislation over the next few weeks. When the final language of the bills is filed in mid-January, the Speaker of the House will sort the Bills out among Committees. Each Committee will have a Republican Chairman and a Republican Vice-Chairman who will determine which Bills will be heard and which will not receive a hearing.

What is clear is that the people of the State of Oklahoma have spoken. Our state has a Republican governor and every statewide office holder is a Republican and both houses in the legislature are held by a Republican supermajority. The most urgent questions surround whether the legislative agenda of the 57th Legislature will be a repeat of the four prior legislatures under Governor Fallin and whether Oklahomans will notice.

Questions or comments, contact David Perryman at 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.gov.

A Path Toward Better Health Care?

A Path Toward Better Health Care? - November 11, 2018

State Representative David Perryman

Oklahoma’s health outcomes rank near the bottom of all states. According to an August 6, 2018, KFOR news story, WalletHub recently ranked the Best and Worst States for Health Care and the results were not favorable for Oklahoma.

Researchers analyzed data and weighed several factors like health care cost, access and outcomes to rank the states with the best and worst health care across the country. Overall, Oklahoma ranked 45th on the list. Oklahoma was one of the states with  the highest average monthly insurance premium, the lowest percentage of insured adults between 18 and 64-years-old, and one of the states with the highest percentage of adults with no dental visits in the past year.

Health care experts often look at the infant mortality rate as a key indicator to measure the health and well-being of a population. Unfortunately, Oklahoma does not fare well there either. Oklahoma’s infant mortality rate across all races has been growing since 2015 in Oklahoma and in 2017 was more than 30 percent higher than the national average. To make that worse, according to a January 2018 report, the mortality rate for black infants in Oklahoma is twice that of white and Hispanic infants.

Not only do more children die in Oklahoma, adults die earlier. For instance, there are counties in Oklahoma where the life expectancy is less than 57 year, or 22.5 years less than the national average. That means that residents of some communities in Oklahoma face a shorter life expectancy than in the Congo and only months longer than Uganda.

The list continues and Oklahoma fails. From dental care to optometric care to mental health care, an analysis of Oklahoma’s health care delivery shows no bright spots. Plain and simple, people in Oklahoma aren’t healthy and show no signs of becoming healthy.

These and scores of other low ranking categories fall into the category of health care. All indicators point toward a health care delivery system comprised of hospitals, clinics, ambulance services, nursing homes, immunization rates, and many other components that are not adequately delivering services to hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans who are underserved.

The fact that so many of our friends and neighbors are not receiving health care is not due to the state’s hospitals. Oklahoma has quality hospitals that deliver cutting edge medical treatment to their patients. Likewise, Oklahoma’s ambulance services and nursing homes employee staff, including professionals, who are well trained and able to provide quality care.  We have dedicated doctors and nurses.

What is the problem and what is the path toward a healthier state? One idea that has been presented is the expansion of Medicaid for those working Oklahomans who have no health insurance and no current health care coverage. That approach has been soundly rebuffed by Governor Fallin for the past 8 years.

The people of Oklahoma are now looking to a new governor and a new, larger legislative supermajority to have a plan and to put that plan into action. We need to give them that chance. But they must understand that time is a factor. It is a matter of life or death to many Oklahomans.

 

Questions or comments, contact David Perryman at 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.gov.

Exes in Texas

Exes in Texas - November 4, 2018

State Representative David Perryman

          George Strait was probably not thinking about the lure of higher wages and the ensuing migration of Oklahoma teachers to Texas when he released the 1987 hit named “All My Exes Live in Texas.” However, that statement could be made by an alarming number of Oklahoma schoolchildren regarding former teachers whose economic reality of low pay pushed them to make the move for the benefit of their families and their personal futures.

The temptation could not have been greater. Huge billboards in Tulsa, OKC, Stillwater and Norman beckoned teachers to find their future in a Fort Worth, Texas classroom. The message promised starting salaries of $52,000 at a time when the AVERAGE teacher pay in Oklahoma was in the low $40,000’s and the hope of a salary in excess of $50,000 was not on the radar, even after a decade or two in the classroom.

The reality of a teacher’s life was that in the decade prior to 2018, Oklahoma’s K-12 Education had been cut by 28%, the deepest of any state in the nation. Low wages, continuing cuts and a lack of professional respect plagued those who had chosen to educate our state’s children.

Thus, it was no surprise that, first border district educators and then those from across the state, took neighboring states up on their offer. It takes a lot to make a person with the heart of an educator, leave their family, their community and their state, but Oklahoma legislators had neglected and cut and isolated our state’s teachers to the point that many educators took the only path to protection that they could find and that involved leaving Oklahoma’s classrooms.

In 2018, pro-public education legislators faced an uphill battle. “Everyone” agreed with them that teachers needed a raise, but few were willing to stand with them to identify and act on a source of revenue to pay for those raises. Repeatedly, teachers were told that the state could not afford to give them a raise, despite the fact that annually hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks and credits were being given to the oil and gas industry.

The public pressure intensified and the oil and gas industry saw an organized attempt to increase the Gross Production Tax to 7 to 9 % so that it would be in line with most other energy producing states. In response, the industry gathered a mostly anti-public education group to formulate what they called the StepUp Plan to “resolve Oklahoma’s education crisis.” In reality, it was just a strong arm attempt to set their own tax rate, cap the GPT at an embarrassingly low 4%, throw teachers a bone and relieve public pressure.

Despite that attempt, pro-education legislators were able to push through a 5% GPT bill that for the first time in ten years, not only gave teachers a legitimate raise, but also provided raises to support staff and put an additional $50 Million into textbooks and the classroom.

Teacher morale is improving, but it will take years to reverse the damage. Because a Veto Referendum lawsuit that tried to void the 5% GPT Bill was not dismissed before teachers had to make final plans for this school year, 57% of the state’s superintendents say that the teacher shortage is worse this year than last, and in fact, the state had issued a record 2,153 emergency certifications by the end of September, according to a survey conducted by the Oklahoma State School Board Association.

Because Oklahoma teachers’ salaries have been so low, for so long, I also predict that because of the impact of a belated salary increase, there could be an even greater exodus in three or four years due to retirement benefit computations based on their increased salary. Who can blame them?

Questions or comments, contact David Perryman at 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.gov.

Economic Development and a Walk in the Park

Economic Development and a Walk in the Park - October 28, 2018

State Representative David Perryman

            President Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children.”

            While Roosevelt is often assumed to have founded U.S. Park Service, Yellowstone, out first national park, was designated by President Ulysses S. Grant, in 1872, when Teddy Roosevelt was just fourteen years old and nearly 30 years before he would become President.

            Frequently, there are philosophical and rhetorical discussions about the wisdom (and expense) of the park system that documentary filmmaker Ken Burns called, “America’s Best Idea.” Oklahoma’s Park system has not been free from similar scrutiny.

            While this article focuses primarily on Red Rock Canyon State Park, near Hinton, Oklahoma, the same issues could apply to any of dozen and a half Oklahoma State Parks.

            Red Rock Canyon provided Cheyenne Indians with a sheltered wintering ground for decades and then in the 1840’s, it became a landmark and campsite on the old California Trail as gold seekers headed west for fame and fortune. The canyon’s rich history and unique qualities make it a special place for Oklahomans and visitors to our state.

            This weekend, a concerned constituent had heard that Red Rock Canyon State Park had been sold to a private entity. While I was not aware of a transfer of ownership, I knew that in early 2017 the director of the Department of Tourism and Recreation had recommended that Red Rock Canyon and 15 other state parks and a state owned golf course be closed and that publication of tourism’s magazine, “Oklahoma Today” be terminated.

            The director’s reason for the recommendation was because the targeted properties were not generating sufficient revenue to pay for their own operating costs. Tourism officials said earlier this year that in Fiscal Year 2017, Red Rock Canyon park revenues were about $140,000 and the annual costs to operate the park was just under $300,000.

            When the priority of the governor is to “run the state of Oklahoma like a business” decisions like closing parks are based solely on the economics of revenue, cash flow and costs of operation. Decisions of a corporation are supposed to be made purely in the best interest of its stockholders. Making money is the sole purpose of a corporation.

            One would hope that the future of a historical site or a recreational area would be based on more than the revenue that the site itself can generate. Perhaps the real culprit is the fact that between 2009 and 2018, the legislature cut Tourism’s budget by 38%, forcing parks to finance their own operations and crippling the state’s ability to properly fund tourism which is Oklahoma’s third largest industry.

Since the inquiry, my research has found that beginning on November 1, 2018, the City of Hinton and a private concessionaire will assume the responsibility of running the park which will henceforth be known as the “Red Rock Adventure Park.”

The move by the City of Hinton to operate the park rather than allow the state to close it was based largely on local economics with consideration given to its historical and cultural attributes. It is doubtful whether the City will be able to make it cash flow but closure as the state’s alternative was not acceptable.

Core function of government; or not? I would like to know your thoughts on this and other issues. Questions or comments, contact David Perryman at 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.gov.

Economic Development and Health Outcomes

Economic Development and Health Outcomes - October 21, 2018

State Representative David Perryman

According to the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, since 2010, 89 rural hospitals across the country have closed leaving communities without healthcare. The study shows that five of those facilities are in Oklahoma communities like Frederick, Pawnee and Eufaula and mean that in rural Oklahoma there are 204 fewer hospital beds to treat patients who may not have the means to travel to the state’s urban centers for medical care.

That list is only the tip of the iceberg. Most every rural hospital in our state is operating on a shoestring budget. Many are teetering on bankruptcy and several like those in Sayre, Atoka, Antlers, Drumright, Ceiling, Fairfax, Prague and Stigler have either been declared insolvent, been placed in receivership or are currently operating under the supervision of a bankruptcy trustee.

The most recent closure occurred last week in Pauls Valley where 64 more beds were lost and area residents have to be transported to Purcell to the north, Sulphur to the south, Ada to the east or Chickasha to the west, assuming there is a functioning ambulance service available to make the trip.

There are a number of reasons for the current hospital and ambulance financial crisis. Insurance companies intercede with greater frequency and classify many more medical procedures to be outpatient procedures or otherwise substantially shorten hospital stays.

Decreases in the rates paid to hospitals by Medicaid and Medicare also impacts the facility’s bottom line.

Perhaps the most damaging issue faced by hospitals (and ambulance providers) arise out of what is called “Uncompensated Care.” In short, uncompensated care represents those services that are provided to a patient and for which the provider is not paid.

The primary reason that hospitals face the expense of uncompensated care is because a Reagan-era federal law requires that persons who are in need of treatment must be cared for without regard to whether they have insurance and without regard to their ability to pay.

Since the law applies equally across the entire country, one would think that hospital closures would be located consistently from coast to coast. The fact is that according to a study published in the January 2018 edition of the journal, Health Affairs, hospitals located in states that accepted federal dollars to pay Medicaid expenses for low income workers were six times LESS likely to close than in states like Oklahoma where federal funds were refused. Put another way, 90% of the nation’s hospitals that have closed since 2010 were located in states that had refused to expand Medicaid at the time that hospital closed.

The fact is that Mary Fallin is one of only 18 governors who have refused to allow Oklahoma to accept those federal funds. The other 17, like Oklahoma, are primarily in the southern U.S. The 32 states that did accept federal funds for Medicaid expansion have seen the uninsured rate drop by as much as 50%. Cutting the number of patients who cannot afford to pay for medical services by half is big in any state.

Other benefits include financially healthy ambulance services and medical related businesses that can only operate in the presence of a functioning hospital. Likewise, when more citizens are insured, the community enjoys healthier outcomes. But the most exciting part of Medicaid expansion occurs when a community’s economic development director can showcase the community to a potential business prospect and point with pride to a vibrant medical facility that can provide quality health care services to the CEO, his employees and to their families.

Questions or comments, contact David Perryman at 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.gov.

State Question 801 - Boon or Boondoggle

State Question 801 – Boon or Boondoggle - October 14, 2018

State Representative David Perryman

Every so often an idea comes along that has just enough plausibility to garner support. Between 2009 and 2015, amid great fanfare, Bill and Melinda Gates pumped $215 Million of their foundation’s money into a program that pulled $360 Million from public school budgets in Florida, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. The goal was to create a reliable teacher evaluation system.

Four charter school management organizations spearheaded the project and after six years and more than $575 Million spent, it was discovered that standardized high stakes testing of students did not produce a reliable means of teacher evaluation.

The study was the classic definition of the word, “boondoggle” and Oklahoma is not immune from these expensive “sounds too good to be true” rhetorical goose chases. Consequently, millions of dollars of our state’s budget is diverted to private companies that promised to root out waste or discover fraud and after making campaign contributions, receive contracts that produce no return on the investment.

On November 6, Oklahomans will consider State Question 801 to amend the Oklahoma Constitution to “allow” schools to use its adValorem derived building fund for general operational costs, including teacher salaries. Proponents say the technical change is necessary so that a school board could use the school’s 5 Mill “building fund” for purposes other than maintenance of property.

Historically, the 5 Mill Building Fund could only be used for maintenance and repair operations, upkeep and construction of district facilities and grounds, contractual services and salaries and benefits of custodial and maintenance people.

According to publications of the Oklahoma State Department of Education and current research, the Oklahoma Attorney General has previously opined that it is legal to use the building fund money to pay casualty and property insurance premiums on school buildings and to construct a school parking lot.

Oklahoma State School Board Association Executive Director Shawn Hime has expressed concern that schools’ building funds are not adequate for day to day janitorial and other facility needs. Under current practice, schools have to save year to year to take care of renovation and repairs and that the proposal will not change any districts per pupil funding. He concluded that he had “not hear from one single district that says they need to have more freedom with their building fund.”

Administrators from across the state echoed Hime’s fear that the SQ801 may be an attempt by the legislature and Governor Fallin to avoid proper funding of education and an attempt to shift the responsibility to local school districts.

Morrison Superintendent Jay Vernon, said “We do not, nor have ever had enough building fund monies to support all our utilities, maintenance and janitorial staff salaries for a year.”

Republican Senator Ron Sharp from Shawnee in opposing SQ 801, expressed concern that adValorem revenue is not equal among school districts and that the inequity would inevitably cause a federal lawsuit.

Oklahoma’s public schools do not need a boondoggle. They do not need to be told to rob an empty building fund account to pay teacher salaries. Shifting the responsibility of funding education is not the answer.

School districts across the state where the property tax base is small or is largely based on agricultural real estate do not have the ability to meet the financial needs without adequate state funding. Allowing the legislature to abdicate its responsibility to fund K-12 education will result in one of two things, increases in local adValorem taxes or closure. Neither is acceptable.

Questions or comments, contact David Perryman at 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.gov.

State Question 800 - Is It a Vision or a Mirage

State Question 800 – Is it a Vision or a Mirage - October 7, 2018

State Representative David Perryman

State Question 800 is one of those ballot measures that at first glance appears to be a wise and frugal approach to the state’s budget problems. Conventional logic is that sooner or later oil and gas prices are going to crater, thus proponents of this “new” concept seek to stabilize Oklahoma’s budget by segregating revenue while oil prices are high for use when they are low.

If this idea of saving money for a “Rainy Day” or for “Revenue Stabilization” sounds familiar, look no further than in our own current law. Remember, the current budget crisis is not Oklahoma’s first trip around the block.

In 1985, following that decade’s oil bust and dramatic drop in state revenue, the Oklahoma Constitution was amended to create a Constitutional Reserve Fund. Commonly called the “Rainy Day Fund” to hold excess revenues so that when the ever-cyclical oil bust comes around, money will be available to meet critical needs.

Unfortunately, the Rainy Day Fund only receives money when revenues exceed predictions and even then only an amount equal to 15% of the anticipated revenue may be deposited each year. Troubling also is the manner in which Governor Fallin and her staff “borrowed” from the fund despite the Constitution’s clear language limiting the purpose and restricting the manner in which this “locked box” fund is to be accessed.

Then, in 2016, the state legislature created a fund named the Revenue Stabilization Fund curiously (and confusingly) based on 7% Gross Production Taxes, Corporate Income Taxes and a Five Year Rolling Average that does not appear structurally able to net even one penny of revenue to stabilize anything.

So fast forward to 2018, State Question 800 is a legislatively proposed  Constitutional amendment creating a “Vision Fund” to serve basically the same purpose as the existing Rainy Day and the Revenue Stabilization funds were designed to do.

The “Vision Fund” if adopted will purportedly hold a portion of the GPT and other “excess revenues” to meet critical needs when the ever cyclical oil bust comes around. Some believe that “third time’s the charm” but a more reliable maxim is, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and each time expecting a different result.”

This attempt to figuratively sew a third pocket on Oklahoma’s tattered coat does little to fill that pocket with reliable, available revenue. During this era when cuts to education and health care and infrastructure has nullified Oklahoma’s ability to provide services to its citizens and when hundreds of millions of dollars are needed for things like incarceration costs and mental health care, available funds should be used to make programs viable now so that citizens needs may be met.

The diversion of 5% of the oil and gas gross production taxes (plus automatic increases in future years) from the general revenue fund into the Vision Fund whose investments will be as volatile as the stock market seems out of step with Oklahoma’s reality.

Perhaps a better plan would be to increase the GPT to at least the regional average, using it to properly fund our current needs and tweaking what we already have by removing the deposit limitation on the Rainy Day fund.

Questions or comments, call or write at David.Perryman@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7401.