Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Senate Education Committee Passes “Parent Empowerment Act”


The “Parent Empowerment Act,” has passed its first hurdle in the Legislature. The bipartisan bill, SB 1001, authored by Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, and Sen. Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa, will give Oklahoma parents a new tool to accomplish dramatic and positive change in their child’s underperforming school. The bill was approved 7-3 by the Senate Education Committee on Monday.
The Parent Empowerment Act establishes an Oklahoma version of a concept often called a “parent trigger.” If a majority of parents in an underperforming school sign a petition, they may transition the school to a charter school or terminate the administrators. The option to terminate administrators is only available in Oklahoma or Tulsa counties. An underperforming school is defined as a school that has received a ‘D’ or an ‘F’ for at least the last two years under Oklahoma’s new grading system, or a ‘D’ or an ‘F’ for two of the last three years, as long as the most recent grade was a ‘D’ or an ‘F’. If the parents choose the charter school option, the charter school will first serve all students in the existing attendance boundaries of the school.
Holt praised the Education Committee for its action.
“I think the Parent Empowerment Act provides an important new tool for Oklahoma parents,” Holt said. “It won’t be the right answer in every circumstance, but where it is, it has the potential to change the trajectory of thousands of young lives.”
Holt explained that charter schools provide more flexibility, and the goal of chartering an underperforming school under the Parent Empowerment Act would be to provide the flexibility needed to improve student performance at the school in a manner led jointly by motivated parents and school district leaders. The process of creating a charter school outlined in the Parent Empowerment Act is designed to create a collaborative relationship between the parents and the school district, rather than an adversarial one.
Parent triggers have been enacted in at least seven other states, most notably California, where the first schools are now in the implementation process. Oklahoma State Superintendent Janet Barresi, The Oklahoman, and noted education reformer Michelle Rhee have all endorsed a parent trigger law for Oklahoma.
SB 1001 now advances for consideration by the full Senate.

Medical Marijuana Bill Snuffed Out


A measure that would have helped ease the pain and suffering of thousands of Oklahomans by providing them access to alternative medicine was killed Monday in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. Senate Bill 710 would have legalized the use of medical marijuana prescribed by a doctor in the state. The bill’s author, Sen. Constance N. Johnson has been advocating for this issue for the past seven years and was pleased that it was finally given a hearing by the committee.
“Getting a hearing on this issue was a victory in itself. Like so many controversial issues throughout history, it takes many legislators a long time to see the positive benefits of certain measures like Senate Bill 710,” said Johnson, D-Oklahoma County. “Now we can further develop the game plan by which to continue advocacy and education on this issue.”
The bill failed 2-5 with only Johnson and Sen. Jabar Shumate, the only other Democrat on the committee, supporting the bill. Johnson said, based on her colleagues questions, that she feels they are missing the purpose of the bill and seem to only be able to focus on the misconception that SB 710 will lead to increased illegal marijuana use, which is not possible given that all cultivators would be licensed and regulated by the federal Department of Agriculture as well as the state Department of Health, and patients would have to have a prescription from a medical doctor.
“I’ve heard many personal accounts from patients around the state about how medical marijuana can help terminally ill cancer patients, people suffering from PTSD, or children with autism when nothing else helps. I hope my colleagues on the committee will take the time to go see and talk to these individuals – their constituents -- as well and get a better appreciation of the big picture. Hopefully, they will then see this bill as a way to help people, and not as something that only leads to increased illegal use of marijuana.”
The state Department of Health would be authorized to issue licenses to qualified patients and other cultivators as well as create rules pertaining to fees, licensing procedures, etc., while the Department of Agriculture would be tasked with ensuring standards on the quality of medicinal marijuana.
“With Senate Bill 710, the goal is simply to give Oklahomans who are suffering with debilitating diseases and their doctors the right to decide what the best approach is to easing their suffering. Present options such as oxycotin and other pharmaceutical options are at best ineffective and at worst deadly,” said Johnson. “As the Legislature, our efforts should be aimed at ensuring access to effective medicine to keep people from further suffering. To do otherwise is inhumane and heartbreaking.”

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

OK House Republican Caucus Unveils Pro-Growth Strategic Plan


OK State SealThe House Republican Caucus today unveiled their 2013 legislative agenda, which included a three-point plan addressing economic development, education reforms and infrastructure funding and maintenance.

“Oklahomans have spoken loud and clear this year by voting in the largest Republican majority in Oklahoma history,” said House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton. “They want overreaching regulations that limit their freedom repealed. They want policies enacted that protect their rights, that encourage job growth and prosperity and that improves our education system so their children can have a brighter future.”

On infrastructure, Speaker Shannon proposed an eight-year, pay-as-you-go plan to directly fund the upkeep and repair of infrastructure.

“In the past, the model has been to neglect infrastructure to the point of decay and then to take out bonds to repair those needs,” said Shannon. “Our plan will be similar to the eight-year transportation plan we introduced last year that allows us to prioritize projects based on need and to pay our way as we go without adding more debt onto the backs of hardworking Oklahomans.

Regarding the state budget, State Rep. Scott Martin addressed the budget discussions that will be taking place during the upcoming session and indicated that a tax-reduction proposal would be included.

Rep. Martin noted that he has introduced a measure that would reduce the tax rate by .25 percent this session.

“We need a budget that covers our core services and is responsible with our taxpayers’ money,” said state Rep. Scott Martin, R-Norman and chair of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. “We are going to continue the efforts of the past few years to craft a fiscally conservative budget that takes into account the daily needs and burdens of our citizens and businesses. We need to reduce the tax burden on families and businesses so they can have more money at the end of the month to put food on the table and gas in the tank.

“We also need to pay attention to what is happening at the federal level, where their inaction on fiscal issues will impact our state spending. Unlike the federal government we will pass a balanced budget on time.”

The caucus also stressed the importance of making additional reforms to the state’s expensive workers’ compensation system and the debt-burdened public pension system.

“One of the main issues we will be looking at will be fundamental changes to workers compensation system,” said state Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang and chair of the House Judiciary Committee. “We have passed several important reforms to the workers compensation system during the last several years, but we want to look at possible ways to improve on those changes.

“In particular we want to make sure that injured workers are properly taken care of and even retrained if need be so they can get back on the job as quickly as possible. We want to create an environment where existing businesses can grow and add jobs and also look at ways to encourage new employers to relocate to Oklahoma.”

“We will offer a pension plan that will be competitive with the private sector and that will give more investment mobility to state workers,” said state Rep. Randy McDaniel, R-Oklahoma City and chair of the House Pension Oversight Committee. “We believe in giving workers more opportunity and choices for greater economic prosperity.”

On education, the caucus committed to increasing local control, accountability and finding ways to fund previous reforms.

“We believe it’s important to restore as much local control on education issues back to the local communities,” said state Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing and chair of House Common Education Committee. “We want to look at ways to increase accountably for our schools, our teachers and our administrators so we can focus on providing a quality education for our children.

“We also want to find a way to fund past reforms that our schools simply cannot afford to implement and to push back against one-size-fits-all federal mandates that restrict our ability to make improvements to our education system.”

The House Republican Caucus agenda in its entirety is as follows:

Oklahoma House Republicans 2013 Strategic Plan and Agenda Guiding Principle

Economic Opportunity for All

  • Enact workers’ compensation, pension and unemployment reforms to ensure a pro-business environment
  • Reduce tax burden on Oklahoma families, individuals and businesses to promote greater economic prosperity and quality of life
  • Reduce burdensome state regulations and resist federal and state intrusions on Oklahomans
  • Encourage workforce development through promoting coordination among common education, career tech and higher education institutions

Commitment to Quality Education

  • Restore local control of education by fighting “one-size-fits-all” federal regulations and mandates which constrain learning in the classroom
  • Sufficiently fund mandated reforms to Oklahoma schools through targeted increases in funding
  • Increase accountability among schools, teachers and administrators to ensure the best use of taxpayer dollars

Investments in Infrastructure

  • Protect our current investments in ODOT's eight-year plan for improving Oklahoma roads and bridges
  • Develop and implement a long-term infrastructure plan to repair and maintain state assets

OK Bill proposed to strengthen 2nd Amendment


Legislation filed by state Rep. Paul Wesselhöft would eliminate a felony for law-abiding gun owners, he said.
Under current law, anyone found boarding a bus with a firearm, concealed or otherwise, would be guilty of a felony. House Bill 1558 would allow licensed gun owners to board a bus with their firearm without fear of reprimand  by adding the statement “or person in possession of a valid handgun license issued pursuant to the provisions of the Oklahoma Self-Defense Act” to section D of the law.

“If we take the Second Amendment seriously, there is no reason why a concealed carry permit holder must be charged with a felony for simply boarding a public bus,” said Wesselh√∂ft. “The data has shown again and again that it is rarely law-abiding gun owners who commit crimes.”
State Sen. Kyle Loveless, who will carry the legislation in the state Senate, said this is an issue of particular interest to urban Oklahomans.

“Buses are a common means of getting around in Oklahoma City and I believe we have nothing to fear from lawful gun owners. Gun ownership is a right given to us by the Second Amendment and as lawmakers, it is our duty to respect lawful gun owners and not treat them as criminals.”

Nothing New Under the Sun


What has been will be again, what has been done will be done
again; there is nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9

2006 Headline -Bill Clinton Helps End Soda Sales In Schools

2013 headline - New federal rules aim to make school snacks more healthful

Covenant Marriage bill approved in Senate Committee

marriageThree states – Arkansas, Arizona and Louisiana – have legalized covenant marriage, and Sen. Josh Brecheen wants to do the same in Oklahoma in an effort to lower the state’s high divorce rate. Senate Bill 105 was approved unanimously Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data, Oklahoma has the highest divorce rate in the nation. One out of every three currently married Oklahomans have been divorced,” said Brecheen, R-Coalgate. “Love is a choice. You don’t fall in and out of it accidentally. It’s something you have to work at every day and make a conscience decision to do whatever it takes to make the marriage work excluding cases of abandonment, adultery and abuse. Covenant marriage is an O-P-T-I-O-N for those who are serious about making a stronger life-long commitment than that of a traditional marriage.”
Unlike a traditional marriage, in order to get a license for a covenant marriage, a couple must attend premarital counseling. There are also fewer reasons why couples are allowed to get a divorce in a covenant marriage. While there are twelve grounds for divorce in a traditional marriage, there are only five in a covenant marriage including adultery, physical or psychological abuse of the spouse or any children in the home, abandonment for one year, having been separated for a year without successful reconciliation through counseling, or fraudulently entering into the marriage.
With a year of separation and unsuccessful reconciliation through counseling, divorce can still be granted.
“The point of covenant marriage is not to make divorce impossible but to ensure that couples make every effort to reconcile when possible,” said Brecheen. “We must do something to slow the growing rate of divorce in our state. According to statistics, divorce not only increases a state’s poverty rate, but also inflicts psychological and social damage upon children that can be carried into adulthood.”
Brecheen noted that one of the most common causes of divorce can be addressed in counseling.
“According to statistics, financial disagreements are the leading cause of divorce for our state. Such issues can be mitigated through the counseling required under covenant marriage and the “cooling off period” that allows couples to seek a more introspective review of their actions and their initial vow of ‘til death do us part’.”
Between one and three percent of all marriage applications in Arkansas, Arizona and Louisiana are for covenant marriage.
“I recognize this won’t be the total solution to our state’s high rate of divorce but like any good public policy it would have a positive impact on some within our state and is therefore worthy of our time. If this only saved one marriage or one family it would be more than worth it.”
The title was stricken to allow the authors to continue working on the bill. SB 105 will now go before the full Senate for further consideration.

Conservative Lawmaker Wants to Protect Privacy Rights


510f0849525fe_image_State Rep. Paul Wesselhoft is teaming up with the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma this legislative session to advance three bills aimed at protecting the privacy rights of Oklahomans in the face of rapidly advancing technology. The Senate author of the bill is Rob Standridge.
House Bill 1559 would prohibit the Department of Public Safety from installing Radio Frequency Identification tracking technology in a driver’s license or state issued identification card. House Bill 1557 would require law enforcement, absent an emergency, to first obtain a warrant before they access the geolocation data stored by a cell phone user’s cellular provider. House 1556 would, among other regulations, require law enforcement, absent an emergency, to first obtain a warrant before using drones for surveillance purposes and prohibits the state from outfitting drones with weapons.
“Privacy is not a partisan issue, and I am confident we will find bipartisan agreement that our laws should keep pace with technology,” said Wesselhoft, R-Moore. “Our current laws do not contemplate RFID scanners that can collect your personal data at over 100 yards away and at 100mph, drones that can fit in your hand and can stay aloft for hours undetected, or that the government, without a warrant, can precisely track your movement with your cell phone.”
Ryan Kiesel, Executive Director of the ACLU of Oklahoma, pointed to the emerging drone industry in Oklahoma as evidence that it is time our privacy laws adapt to new technology.
“Those who would dismiss the need for increased privacy protections as speculative, should look no further than the growing industry in our own backyard. These technologies may seem novel to some, but the use of RFID tracking technology is already commonplace, our cell phones are already sending detailed geolocation information to our cell phone providers, and the domestic use of drones by the public and private sector will be routine in under five years.”
Wesselhoft noted that each of these technologies can serve important functions, from life-saving location data in the event of an emergency, to improving efficiencies in the private sector.
“Our goal is not to limit the legitimate roles these technologies can play, but we have to keep in mind that these technologies also have the very real potential to seriously erode privacy rights, and I urge lawmakers from both parties to support these commonsense bills that establish ground rules to secure our privacy,” said Wesselhoft.
“With these three pieces of legislation, we ensure that the people of Oklahoma enjoy the benefits of these emerging technologies, without inching towards a surveillance society in which every move we make is tracked, monitored, recorded, and reviewed by the government,” said Kiesel.

The Government Warrantless Cell Phone Tracking

The Documents: The Government Is Routinely Violating Americans' Privacy Rights Through Warrantless Cell Phone Tracking (click to read full story)

The ACLU received over 5,700 pages of documents from roughly 250 local law enforcement agencies regarding cell phone tracking. The responses show that while cell phone tracking is routine, few agencies consistently obtain warrants. Importantly, however, some agencies do obtain warrants, showing that law enforcement agencies can protect Americans' privacy while also meeting law enforcement needs.

The government responses varied widely, and many agencies did not respond at all. The documents included statements of policy, memos, police requests to cell phone companies (sometimes in the form of a subpoena or warrant), and invoices and manuals from cell phone companies explaining their procedures and prices for turning over the location data.

The overwhelming majority of the roughly 250 law enforcement agencies that provided documents engaged in at least some cell phone tracking — and many track cell phones quite frequently. Most law enforcement agencies explained that they track cell phones to investigate crimes. Some said they tracked cell phones only in emergencies, for example to locate a missing person. Only 13 said they have never tracked cell phones.

Many law enforcement agencies track cell phones quite frequently. For example, based on invoices from cell phone companies, it appears that Raleigh, N.C. tracks hundreds of cell phones a year. The practice is so common that cell phone companies have manuals for police explaining what data the companies store, how much they charge police to access that data, and what officers need to do to get it.

Most law enforcement agencies do not obtain a warrant to track cell phones, but some do, and the legal standards used vary widely. Some police departments protect privacy by obtaining a warrant based upon probable cause when tracking cell phones. For example, police in the Riverside County, CA, Denver, the County of Hawaii, Wichita, and Lexington, Ky. demonstrate probable cause and obtain a warrant when tracking cell phones. If these police departments can protect both public safety and privacy by meeting the warrant and probable cause requirements, then surely other agencies can as well.

Unfortunately, other departments do not always demonstrate probable cause and obtain a warrant when tracking cell phones. For example, police in Lincoln, Neb. obtain even GPS location data, which is more precise than cell tower location information, on telephones without demonstrating probable cause. Police in Wilson County, N.C. obtain historical cell tracking data where it is "relevant and material" to an ongoing investigation, a standard lower than probable cause.

Police use various methods to track cell phones. Most commonly, law enforcement agencies obtain cell phone records about one person from a cell phone carrier. However, some police departments, like in Gilbert, Ariz., have purchased their own cell tracking technology.

Sometimes, law enforcement agencies obtainall of the cell phone numbers at a particular location at a particular time. For example, a law enforcement agent in Tucson, Ariz. prepared a memo for fellow officers explaining how to obtain this data. And records from Cary, N.C. include a request for all phones that utilized particular cell phone towers.

Cell phone companies have worsened the lack of transparency by law enforcement by hiding how long they store location data. Cell phone companies store customers' location data for a very long time. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Sprint keeps location tracking records for 18-24 months, and AT&T holds onto them "since July 2008," suggesting they are stored indefinitely. Yet none of the major cell phone providers disclose to their customers the length of time they keep their customers' cell tracking data. Mobile carriers owe it to their customers to be more forthright about what they are doing with our data.
>>ACLU Open Letter to Wireless Carriers on Location Tracking of Cell Phones

Click here for detailed findings and analysis of the ACLU's cell phone tracking records requests »