Dorman critiques omission of senior nutrition sites in budget deal

By Patrick B. McGuigan

State Rep. Joe Dorman, a Rush Springs Democrat, criticized what he called a “glaring omission” in the budget agreement announced this week by legislative leaders and Gov. Brad Henry. He said he might oppose the budget accord if his concerns are not addressed.

In a January 28 interview with CapitolBeatOK, Dorman said, “In my initial review the most glaring omission is funding for keeping the senior nutrition sites operating. This is a program that doesn’t need that much money, and that is a great benefit to the public. I really would like to see a better breakdown of how the money is going to be divided on particular budget items.”

In a release distributed to reporters, Gov. Brad Henry, Senate President Pro Temp Glenn Coffee and House Speaker Chris Benge said priority would be given to funding for “K-12 schools, higher education, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and the Department of Corrections.” Those agencies would, the leaders said, be provided supplemental appropriations. This fiscal year, due to tax receipts far below estimates, agencies of Oklahoma state government have faced monthly reductions in budget allocations amounting to 7.5% per month.

Anticipating the start of the legislative session next week, Rep. Dorman said, “Without a doubt, the key issue is and will be the budget. It’s going to be an incredible challenge trying to fund key services while making the cuts we simply have to make to fund government.”

Dorman said he wanted to hear from “all four of the agency heads before I decide how to vote. I’d really want all four of them to come to the [House Democratic] Caucus to tell us how they plan to spend the dollars that they will get compared to the rest of government. Essentially it appears that the regents for Higher Education, and Superintendent Sandy Garrett for K-12 schools, will be able to divide those dollars up. I have some concerns, and want to know how they will use the money. If the approach they plan to take is not clear, I certainly won’t vote for this agreement.”

Dorman also told CapitolBeatOK, “I’m concerned that public safety was not clearly covered in the budget agreement. I don’t have the impression that the furloughs of state troopers are addressed in the budget accord, so that concerns me. “

Dorman said, “I will be making phone calls first thing Monday morning to learn about how the four parts of government that the agreement indicates are protected plan to spend their money, and I’ll also be focused on the matter of possible furloughs of state Troopers.”

Dorman described four proposals he hopes will gain support and eventually the governor’s signature. His House Bill 3123 would restructure tax credits for volunteer firefighters. “A few years ago I worked to get better trainings for volunteer firefighters, at reduced rates. This proposal for a tax credit is a way to incentivize the system and to recruit more firefighters in areas where we need them,” Dorman said.

Another proposal, House Bill 3120 would allow local school districts “more excused absences for students engaged in certain extracurricular activities. The schools can already allow 10 days. Department of Education guidelines allow that to get as high as 15 days.” Dorman explained, “That is not enough for certain overachievers, kids who keep their grades up and are doing well in school and are very involved in outside and worthwhile activities. I’ve heard from a lot of the FFA instructors on this.”

Dorman also hopes to advance two “carryover” bills from the 2009 session. HB 1658 would grant more protection from lawsuit liability for doctors who volunteer for service with schools. Dorman’s proposal “would allow such doctors to come under the Good Samaritan bill. At the request of some of the veterans groups, I’m seeking to expand the focus of this bill to include psychiatric care provided on a voluntary basis to our military veterans.”

A fourth proposal from Rep. Dorman, H.B. 3130 “would establish a Public Servants’ Day. This is not a day off, but a day set aside to honor those who work in law enforcement, firefighting, Emergency Medical Services and the military.”

Rep. Dorman serves on these committees: Appropriations & Budget, Rules, Administrative Rule Review and Common Education.