Patrick B. McGuigan
A number of significant policy challenges will be tackled in the next few months, even though the Legislature is not in session. With the approval of departing Speaker of the House Kris Steele, a broad range of issues will be scrutinized between early August and early November, with the potential that the “Interim Studies” will lay the basis for important reforms.
State Rep. Sally Kern of Oklahoma City will investigate “safeguarding charter schools.” (Interim 12-068) Her request contends:
"Charter school laws in Oklahoma and across the nation are designed to serve public school students free from many of the mandates imposed upon existing public schools. This situation can provide a lack of oversight in teacher credentialing and bonding for example. We propose a number of oversights for Charter schools in Oklahoma to provide accountability to students and taxpayers."
She indicated she will call a trio of witnesses, including a Texas attorney, and will invite the state Department of Education to testify, as well.
Kern will also lead Interim 12-063, focused on Student Rights to Privacy and Education Reform. For this study, Rep. Kern said she was have testimony from Professional Oklahoma Educators, the Oklahoma Education Association, Restoring Oklahoma Public Education (ROPE), the Eagle Forum and interested parents; additionally she will be asking the state Department of Education to join the study.
In her summary of the study’s purpose, Kern said: “The right for public school students to maintain privacy of their education records is protected by federal FERPA laws. Recent changes in these laws combined with Oklahoma's effort to create a Statewide Longitudinal Database for public school students ages Kindergarten to age 20, can pose serious risks to the privacy of student records."
In recent months, journalist M. Scott Carter of The Journal Record, an Oklahoma City business newspaper, has laid bare a wide range of problems in the state’s system of Veterans homes. Speaker Steele has approved a pair of Interim Studies that seem likely to impact the policy response to the recent disclosures.
State Rep. Richard Morrissette, an Oklahoma City Democrat, will study (12-059) “Reform of state veterans homes: addressing failures to protect those from abuse and neglect who so honorably defended our nation.”
The description of the study’s objectives reads as follows: “After many reports of mistreatment, abuse and neglect of our veterans in state homes, investigations reveal little oversight to allow for vast differences in the quality and performance of care delivery in these facilities. Retired Air National Guard Maj. Gen. Rita Aragon, Gov. Fallin’s cabinet secretary for veterans affairs, will testify, along with a representative from the Department of Veterans Affairs and dozens of advocates to include members of the Vietnam Veterans Association and other support groups. The discussion will focus upon identifying policy and procedural failures, funding and the need for improved oversight to protect our treasured veterans.”
State Rep. Joe Dorman, a Rush Springs Democrat, will investigate “oversight and regulation of state Veterans Centers.” Dorman wrote, “This study will look at current and previous Oklahoma policies, along with federal guidelines and oversight used by other states with how state-operated veterans centers are monitored.”
Three studies guided by state Rep. Jason Murphey Guthrie will seek to build on momentum for agency and technology reforms already projected to save taxpayers’ money.
The first (12-003), co-sponsored by Rep. David Brumbaugh of Broken Arrow, will “consider possible legislative changes to drive down fleet usage costs incurred by state agencies and explore possible methods for breaking up centralized fleet’s segregation by agency allotment methodology.”
Rep. Murphey’s second study (12-004) intends to “review the implementation of modernization reforms.” Specifically, Murphey promises to scrutinize “various modernization reforms including centralized purchasing reforms, information technology consolidation, shared financial services, payroll consolidation, the consolidated business one-stop, transparency reforms and the tele-work pilot program.”
A related study (12-005) will “explore the possibility of future modernization reforms including agency consolidation, omnibus human resource shared service implementation, creation of a span of control policy and consolidation of the state government network and fiber infrastructure.”
In 2011, state Rep. Randy McDaniel of Oklahoma City led a set of transformative changes in state pension policy, but a press for further reforms in 2012 was frustrated. This year, McDaniel will lead two Interim Studies aiming at making the case for broader changes or better management.
Study 12-008 will conduct “analysis of the state pension system.” McDaniel’s Pension Oversight Committee “needs to review the impact of recent pension reforms enacted. We may also explore new ideas to continue to improve the financial condition of the plans.” McDaniel plans two sessions devoted to the effort.
In study 12-052, Rep. McDaniel will investigate “strategic funding” for pensions. He promises to press on “the relationship between pay raises and contribution rates, … the use of excess state funds to reduce unfunded liabilities, … funding mechanisms for financial improvement,” and “funding challenges and responsibilities and the need for reforms.”
State Rep. Jeff Hickman of Dacoma will lead a look (12-025) at income tax reduction or elimination, coupled with a possible sales tax on services. He says he will “Look at options for income tax reduction, possibly using sales tax on services as way to supplement the reduction.”
The proposed Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture will be the focus of state Rep. Ron Peters’ Interim Study 12-027. The score of this study, he says, will “Investigate the value to the state that may occur if subject museum receives the support needed to proceed,” and “Look at what support the Museum has from the private sector and the entertainment sector.” The Tulsa Republican promises to “Assess the viability of the museum to generate sufficient revenues to cover the costs of operation.”
State Rep. Leslie Osborn of Tuttle, author of the unsuccessful legislative effort to reduce state income tax in 2012, will lead study 12-041, focused on “the amount of school district administration in our state. Delving into percentage of necessary administration per student ratio and possible school district administration consolidation.” A second Osborn study (12-040) will look at “state employee compensation vs. private sector compensation; high turnover and retraining costs associated with that problem and possible solutions for efficiency and cost savings.”
Among several interim studies granted to members of the Democratic minority is 12-045, allowing Rep. Jerry McPeak to analyze the impact of end of instruction testing on the state high school graduating Class of 2012.