Contracts awarded for road projects
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Transportation Commission awarded 17 contracts totaling $62 million at its March meeting
Commissioners awarded a $28.6 million contract for construction of the state’s first Diverging Diamond Interchange at Interstate 40 and State Highway 6 in Elk City. The interchange design has been used in several states with positive results, including safer, less congested intersections and a reduction in wrong-way collisions.
Commissioners also awarded a more than $1 million contract for rehabilitation of the U.S. Highway 75 bridge over Lewis Avenue and the Pine Street bridge over US-75 in Tulsa, a $1 million contract for 4 miles of SH-37 resurfacing in Newcastle and a nearly $12 million contract to reconstruct and widen 7 miles of US-54 near Tyrone in Texas County.
House passes DHS custody bills
OKLAHOMA CITY – Two bills designed to grant more rights to minors in the custody of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services were approved by the House of Representatives on Wednesday.
House Bill 1273 and House Bill 1279 both passed the House unanimously. They now move to the state Senate.
“These bills ensure children in state custody are well taken care of and also give them a voice and a level of control in their changing situation,” state Rep. Mark Lawson, R-Sapulpa, said.
HB 1273 addresses cases where parental rights have been terminated. The bill lowers the age a child can request to reinstate parental rights from the current minimum age of 15 years old to 14 years old to align with other DHS rules that allow children age 14 and above input into their placement.
HB 1279 grants minors the right to demand a nonjury trial in hearings to determine if the minor is in need of treatment for mental illness or a drug or alcohol dependency. The current system requires a jury trial for these hearings.
State Sen. Brenda Stanley, R-Midwest City, serves as the Senate author on both bills.
School Choice Day is Thursday at Capitol
OKLAHOMA CITY – Parents, students and educational groups will gather Thursday at the Oklahoma Capitol for the annual School Choice Day. Hundreds are expected to meet with lawmakers and advocate for policies that protect and expand rights of parents to determine where and how to educate their children.
Robert Ruiz, executive director of ChoiceMatters, said the group supports charter schools, expansion of the Equal Opportunity Scholarship program and tax credits, and expansion of the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships to help homeless children and children of incarcerated parents.
The rally is scheduled to last from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the fourth-floor rotunda of the Capitol.
“Our message to lawmakers is simple: put children first,” Ruiz said. “Children are more important than systems or buildings, and our policies should reflect that. If we are thinking first and foremost about the well-being of our children, it means always giving them and their family a choice to find the best educational opportunities available to them. It means never telling a family ‘no’ simply to preserve a system or to protect the status quo.”
Senate approves accountability measures
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed two government accountability measures that are part of a larger deal to give the governor the ability to hire heads of five of the largest state agencies.
Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat’s bills would give the governor the ability to hire and fire the head of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (SB 456) and the director of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (SB 457) with Senate confirmation.
“The century-old system we operate now is broken” said Treat, R-Oklahoma City. “Agencies aren’t accountable to anyone other than a board of un-elected bureaucrats. That is unacceptable and it must change. As the CEO of the executive branch, Oklahoma’s governor needs the ability to hire a team to enact his or her vision for the state. Agency directors will be directly accountable to the governor under our government accountability bills. That’s the best way to inject more accountability into state government and give the governor the ability to truly make improvements all across state government.
Key parts of government accountability bills:
- The governor would have the authority to hire and fire the agency leader with Senate confirmation.
- State agencies would maintain governing boards, but board members will serve at will and a conflict-of-interest provision is included in legislation.
- The governor would appoint a majority of the board members, and the House and Senate would gain appointment seats on the boards.
The House and Senate would be able to remove agency leaders with a two-thirds vote in both chambers.
SB 456 passed on a 37-9 vote, and SB 457 was approved on a 36-9 vote. Both measures now head to the House of Representatives.
The other bills in the government accountability agreement are: HB 2480, Oklahoma Department of Corrections; HB 2479, Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs; and HB 2483, Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
Stitt calls for audit of Medicaid enrollment
OKLAHOMA CITY – Gov. Kevin Stitt has called for an audit of Medicaid enrollment in the state.
A request was submitted on Wednesday to the Oklahoma Auditor and Inspector’s Office, asking for a review specifically of Medicaid enrollment in the state for the period July 1, 2015, through June 30, 2018.
Stitt wants to determine whether the Oklahoma Health Care Authority is meeting requirements for determining eligibility and re-eligibility or re-certification of Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, beneficiaries. He also wants to find out if individuals enrolled in the Medicaid or CHIP programs meet state and federal eligibility requirements, and whether the OHCA is processing updated information and removing in a timely way people from Medicaid and CHIP rolls who no longer meet eligibility requirements.
“It is important that we ensure our resources are supporting those in our state that need it the most,” Stitt said. “States across the nation have already completed Medicaid audits and found significant savings because of it. I believe this audit will allow us to continue to be transparent and efficient with taxpayer dollars while also ensuring we are providing a safety net for the most vulnerable in Oklahoma.”
American Legion tax bill advances
OKLAHOMA CITY – A bill to exempt the American Legion Department of Oklahoma from sales tax has passed in the House of Representatives and is headed to the state Senate.
House Bill 1003 passed the House by a unanimous vote of 94-0.
“The American Legion has been in Oklahoma for 100 years serving our state veterans and their families as well as our youth through a variety of patriotic education programs and outreach ministries,” the bill’s author, House Majority Leader Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, said. “The Legion also promotes a mission of strong national security. It deserves the same tax-exempt status that other organizations with similar missions already have.”
Sanders said he is optimistic the bill will be passed and signed into law this year.