State Representative Carl Newton and State Senator Casey Murdock headlined the second installment of Eggs & Issues for 2021, sponsored by the Fairview Chamber of Commerce.
After an opening prayer and introductions, Senator Carl Newton addressed those present.
He stated this session has a lot of education funding bills to discuss. Mr. Newton also stated a lot of the legislators in the more urban parts of the state, are wanting vouchers to allow parents to decide where their children are educated.
An item first addressed during the first Eggs & Issues event of the year was again discussed, that being a proposed change to the state funding formula. One funding formula bill would do away with using the three year high and instead going year to year. It’s a bill that Fairview Public Schools Superintendent Craig Church previously said would be catastrophic for rural schools that have oil production in their districts, should the bill pass.
According to Representative Newton, a factor towards the bill being produced stems from the state educating around 700,000 students a year while actually paying the equivalent of about 755,000 students.
One amendment to the bill would allow districts to control the number of students allowed in a school district.
It was noted by Mr. Newton, public education wasn’t the only area of education being looked at this session, as EPIC is currently looking at cuts between $54 million and $100 million.
Representative Newton also spoke about the continued battle with Medicaid Expansion in the state. Funding for the expansion and who will manage the expansion has continued to be a sore spot in the state since voters passed an initiative petition to have the measure placed on a statewide ballot last June.
Mr. Newton stated he believes the Oklahoma Health Care Authority should be put in charge of handling the expansion as opposed to hiring a company outside of the state to manage the funds…a move that Governor Stitt has reportedly favored.
The floor was then yielded to Representative Casey Murdock. He stated the winter storm a few weeks ago has put a strain on getting bills out ahead of the constitutional deadline.
As Oklahoma continues to move forward from COVID shutdowns last year, Mr. Murdock stated somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000 students are set to come back to public education from being enrolled in EPIC. However, he said EPIC is continuing to receive funds for the students who have transfered.
Senator Murdock explained that a bill has made it out of committee to make Oklahoma a Second Amendment Sanctuary State.
Representative Newton briefly stated a bill is being presented to oppose Federal mandates in the state, one of which is a mandate that deals with transgender athletes in sports.
The floor was then yielded back over to Senator Murdock and he spoke about how Oklahoma was able to host the Cattleman’s Conference last December in Oklahoma City. The event took the place of the National Western in Colorado, which was canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions in Colorado.
The event brought a large amount of revenue into the state and leaders are working to bring the show to Oklahoma City on a yearly basis.
Fairview Public Schools Superintendent Craig Church then provided information to Mr. Murdock and Mr. Newton on how IEP students impact Federal Funding and the proposed.
Mr. Church also provided information on how student transfers under the bill seeking to change the funding formula, could lead districts to have cut staff. Reason being if a district sees quite a bit of fluctuation in the number of students on a yearly basis, during years of high enrollment a district could have to hire additional staff to meet the increased student volume.
In the situation experienced last year with COVID-19 and the downturn in the oilfield industry, Fairview was among many districts that saw a decline in student population.
With the current funding formula in place, Fairview Public Schools were able to retain all staff amidst the slowdown in large part because the district will be able to budget the reduced funding over time, that comes with the loss of students.
However; with the current funding bill being proposed, a year to year evaluation of districts would cause districts to make up the decreased funding immediately, which would lead districts to likely have to layoff staff to make up the difference.
Superintendent Church went further by stating the so called “Shadow Students” in public education is a “Bald Faced Lie.” He went on to say EPIC currently has a graduation rate of around 10 percent and for the most part, it’s those numbers that are creating “Ghost Kids” and not public education.
Senator Murdock did state that just because a bill passed out of committee, doesn’t mean it can’t be revised before going to a full floor vote.
A question was then asked by an audience member that deals with oil and gas issues that would require royalty owners to pay division orders. The bill would require mineral owners to sign division orders in order to get paid.
A question was also asked that stemmed back from the previous Eggs & Issues in which ballot initiative guidelines were discussed.
The question was about a proposed amendment that would require a certain amount of signatures to be collected in rural counties before a ballot initiative could be placed on a statewide ballot.
After discussion, Representative Newton said the bill targeting that has been pulled for this session and will be rediscussed next year and will include a combination of a couple of different bills that were to be voted on this session.
Senator Murdock then told the crowd he would personally like to see something set up similar to the electoral college for each Senate district in the state. Reason behind the proposal is statewide ballot initiatives such as State Question 802 (Medicaid Expansion) that failed in 70 of the 77 counties, but still passed due to receiving support in the larger metropolitan areas.
Another issue originally discussed at the first Eggs & Issues event that was touched on again had to deal with Chinese and foreign entities purchasing land in Oklahoma.
It was noted that it is illegal for people outside of the country to own farm land; however, individuals are buying land with houses and calling it a domicile.
Some present though, stated there has been land purchased in Major County for top dollar prices that didn’t have homes constructed on the land. Senator Murdock stated that would need to be looked into then.
Senator Murdock feels the ongoing purchase of the land purchases really needs to be addressed and monitored.
Both Representative Newton and Senator Murdock then discussed the process by which naming a successor to a legislative seat in the event that a legislator passes away, is handled.
The way the law is written, the House submits a list of three names for the position and the Senate then has to approve them. If the Senate rejects the names, the House then has to repeat the process.
Once both sides agree to the list, they are sent to the Governor, where one individual is selected.
If the Governor rejects all three names, the process starts over again the House. It was noted at no time can the Governor pick the replacement on his/her own.
Oliver Lackey then gave his thanks to Senator Murdock and Representative Newton for their support of pharmacy bills, but expressed his concern over bills that have been passed not being enforced.
It was noted that a measure that would enact a $12 dispensing fee on medications that has been touted as a measure that would cost citizens millions in unnecessary fees was discussed.
Lackey explained that as pharmacy prices are set by insurance companies, many of the times the pharmacies lose money just by filling the prescription.
The $12 dispense fee offers a way for pharmacies to recover some of the funds lost just by filling prescriptions.
Another topic of concern recently of wind turbines being shut down during the winter storm was also discussed.
It was noted by a representative, that Texas and Oklahoma wind turbines do not have deicing systems built into them like they do in northern states.
Reason being, is Oklahoma and Texas don’t see enough of the conditions recently experienced, to warrant the additional cost associated with adding deicing systems.
The event then began to wind down with questions being answered one-on-one. Final Eggs & Issues event for 2021 will be held at 7:30 a.m. March 26.