Session update

Session update

Session is racing by with only five or six weeks left depending on when we adjourn. If we can get all of the bills taken care of and a budget approved, we could possibly end session early, which would save the state money.  Given our revenue shortfall, every penny we can save is a blessing.

As of Friday morning, the governor had signed nearly 70 bills including HB 1749, which I carried in the Senate.  It prohibits any state agency from making payroll deductions on behalf of a state employee for membership in any organization that collectively bargains on behalf of its membership and puts the responsibility back upon the individual and organization rather than using public employees for this purpose.

I was disappointed that she vetoed my SB 346.  This is the second year in a row she has vetoed this transparency measure even after I changed the bill to address her objections from last year.  In her veto message, she claims the bill would have imposed “burdensome and a needless administrative mandate on state agencies”.  I maintain that transparency and accountability are of the highest priority for every level of government, and this bill wouldn’t have added any undue burdens upon agencies.

The bill would have created the Governor’s Transparency Act of 2015 requiring agencies that enter into a Memorandum of Understating (MOU) or Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with any other agency to publish a report on its website and the documents.ok.gov website of all such memorandums within 15 business days of the memorandum’s effective date.

The measure would have allowed an exemption for any agency from publishing a report on a MOU or MOA that is privileged under law pursuant to the Oklahoma Open Records Act. However, a report would have had to be filed to indicate which entities were subject to the privileged understanding or agreement in order to still maintain a level of transparency. Finally, the measure would have required each memorandum to cite the constitutional or statutory authority granted for the subject addressed in the agreement.

The bill had overwhelming support in the legislature – passing the Senate unanimously and the House 90-4. Considering the ease and efficiency of posting documents online, the claim that this bill would create an undue burden is just not based in reality. It’s still unclear the true motivations for a veto of such an important bill that was supported by the legislature, but I’ll continue pushing for transparency and accountability until the true reasons are discovered.  If we don’t require them to report how they operate and spend our money, how do we know they’re being efficient and aren’t just wasting our hard-earned money.

This week, the Senate Appropriations continued the state agency budget hearings.  These are imperative given the $611 million revenue shortfall we’re facing.  That’s double the amount it was when we originally met with these agencies in the fall so we needed to reexamine the budgets of these 12 agencies that receive more than 90 percent of annual state funds.

These meetings have given these agencies the opportunity to tell us where they can possibly cut to be more efficient and how different levels of funding decreases would affect their services.  We’re going through the agency budgets line by line trying to find anything that can be combined, tweaked or removed.

So far we’ve met with the Department of Corrections, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, the State Department of Education, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, the Department of Human Services, the Office of Juvenile Affairs, the Department of Health, and Career Tech. Next week, we’ll meet with the Department of Public Safety as we continue to finalize the budget.

To contact me at the Capitol, please write to Senator Nathan Dahm, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 534, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, call (405) 521-5551, or email me at dahm@oksenate.gov.

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