By Rep. Scott Fetgatter
The Legislative session adjourned a week early after the House, Senate and governor agreed on a final state appropriation for Fiscal Year 2020.
scott fetgatterThis $8.1 billion general appropriations’ bill represents an increase of about 6 percent to all core service areas such as education, transportation, health care and public safety as well overall economic growth activities and job recruitment efforts.
This budget prioritizes education, giving teachers a $1,220 pay raise – the second raise in two years to get Oklahoma teacher pay to the top of the region. We also devoted an additional $74.3 million more this year than last toward classroom spending. The Reading Sufficiency Act is fully funded, for the first time ever, to help ensure children in early grades can read on grade level. Concurrent enrollment programs are funded so high school juniors and seniors can earn college credit. And, we gave more money to CareerTech and higher education to help with staff and professor pay raises and to help universities build their research programs.
In transportation, we restored $30 million to the County Improvements for Roads and Bridges Fund and fully funded the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to keep their 8-year project list on track.
In health care, we increased our Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage (FMAP) match to increase provider rates by 5 percent, which in turn will increase funding support to hospitals, health clinics, health providers and nursing homes. We saved $29 million in a Medicaid preservation fund so when the federal government’s 3-year rolling average results in a rate decline our provider rates will stay level. When matched by federal dollars, that should net the state over $80 million. The budget also provides $62.8 million for graduate medical education programs to support physician training for those who will serve in rural hospitals. And, it includes $10 million to decrease the Developmental Disability Services waiting list and increase provider rates, which will help some of our most vulnerable citizens. Finally, a $4.6 million increase is designated for immunizations and to staff county health departments throughout the state.
On the public safety front, we increased pay for correctional officers by 14 percent, or $2 an hour, to help with understaffing and high turnover at our state prisons. We will fund two new Highway Patrol Trooper Academies next year and we put $1 million toward reducing the backlog of untested rape kits. We also are spending more money for Women in Recovery programs, substance abuse services and for mental health care services to help divert people away from prison who suffer from addiction or mental illness.
This budget also will help us grow our economy and the number of jobs in our state. We were able to put $19 million into the governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund to prioritize job recruitment opportunities in Oklahoma. We put $1 million for additional job growth and economic development specifically in the automotive industry and in aerospace through the Department of Commerce’s Aerospace Commerce Economic Services (ACES) program. We designated $1 million to assist new entrepreneurs and small business innovators through the Oklahoma Center for Advancement of Science and Technology. And, we allocated $5.3 million to modernize and expedite the Oklahoma Corporation Commissions’ permit processing for energy development.
For rural Oklahoma, we gave $1.5 million to improve rural flood control dams. We allocated $1 million to our county extension offices to help them continue to provided needed services to our rural residents and to provide for our great 4-H programs for our youth. And, we added $3 million to Rural Economic Action Partnerships (REAP) programs to help us attract jobs and economic activity to our rural areas, among other things.
I’m proud of this budget and what it will mean for Oklahomans, particularly those who live in our House district. In my next column, I will detail some of the legislation I passed this year. Until next time, please feel free to contact me. My Capitol phone will still be answered during the interim, and I will be checking my email: (405) 557-7373; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

chelsea headingNot very long ago John Oliver repeated a study from a knowledgeable source stating there would be a dramatic increase In “Robo” calls. The source said there would be an increase of 30,000 calls. Wellsir, I definitely believe that as I have had 10,000 this month and this month is barely a week old.
Yes, many people have told me they do not answer calls when they do not recognize the displayed number. As I do not remember, nor have memorized, almost anyone’s number, that doesn’t work for me. But, no, I do not answer every call but sometimes I decide to answer to see what I can get away with.
Whenever there is a Pakistani/India accent, I really have fun. A couple of years ago the voice said my uncle left a suitcase full of money in a Miami airport. He had to approve my identity and it would be mine. The voice kept trying to get me to answer questions and give information. I kept trying to get him to bring me the money. I offered to split the money with him if he did.
This went on for almost a half-hour with voice getting more and more frustrated. I continued to be more and more dumb and not understanding why I couldn’t get the money sent or brought to me. Finally, Mr. Pakistani became so frustrated he snapped. He screamed at me, “I am goin’ to come over there and keel you!” (Use your internal very foreign when reading that. ) Of course I apologized and began to question him about what was wrong. He hung upon me! Can you imagine?
You are not as old as I so you probably do not get the wonderful news about the wonderful savings you can get with your Medicard savings card. So far I haven’t either. The connection is usually cut when I answer “no” to the question, “Do you want to save money, etc.?” If I let the recording go on I start talking or singing. This is enough to have the automatic recorder cut me off. I really prefer live voices.
A couple of days ago one fella asked me a long question ending with if I wanted major savings on “something.” I said “No.” He continued and asked the question about a different savings. Being a life-long teacher, I asked him the proper question to fit the situation: “What part of “NO” do you not understand?” He hung up instantly.
Gosh, I thought I could help him better understand our native language.
A friend gave me a very good idea and it worked as I got to use it a couple of times. It seems a female voice called my friend. He complimented her, starting with her beautiful voice. He said he could tell she was pretty by just listening to her. Continuing his personal descriptions, he then asked, in his most smarmy voice, “What are you wearing?”
Female voice hung up immediately!
I have tried that but have not gotten as far as my friend. You know, I bet that voice never calls his number again –ever- and probably posts it on some “DO NOT call, list.
So, if you want to have fun and are not too busy, make up your own script and see how far you get. Turn the tables on these people who won’t find a real job and try to scam innocent people. Just this morning I made it only to two questions. The female voice hung up.
Oh, and yes, I answered a familiar telephone number and as I was raising the phone, my brain kicked in and I realized it was my own number!
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chelsea headingYessir, we Americans are far too obsessed with our automobiles. If you do not believe me, try to think of ten things you can do outside your home that doesn't involve your car. See, I told you. I know, I know, there are places where one can survive without an auto, but not everyone wants to live in a major huge city. And, he adds hastily, even in most of our big cities one needs an auto to get out of your neighborhood. Not every city has subways or good bus service.
Driving to the airport in Tulsa to do my volunteer job is like a try-out for the Indianapolis 500. Now, before you completely dismiss me as a cranky old man, let me tell you.
O K, so I am a cran. . .never-mind. I have driven in at least six foreign countries, all fifty states and the largest cities in the U.S. Yes, that includes NYC and L.A.
Those silly people in Europe think cities are supposed to be for people. They have these strange things called a bus. That is a large vehicle that goes from a place to another dedicated place and people ride on it. They get on, pay a fare, go to someplace and get off. Some even read a book or newspaper while traveling. Some actually talk to another person without have a virtual heart attack at every intersection. Some of the vehicles I saw, were three buses long. They were hooked together with accordion looking material. They held three times as many people. Yessir, I imagine they didn't turn many corners.
Oh, and the Europeans have another thing to travel in city to city. Those things are called "trains." Instead of two hundred people taking 200 autos for a hundred miles or less, they do not pollute the air and all ride comfortably in a train. I have ridden on these devices and it is quite nice.
In Finland, I would ride a train to and from our meetings. I paid a small fee, sat and read or watched the city swoop by. I spoke to many Finnish people, talked to several and enjoyed all of that. Yes, they had autos and we rode in many but, just going from my flat to a meeting I rode a train as they have of those available in most cities. Oh, their cities were not air-polluted.
We Americans could take some lessons from abroad.
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chelsea headingYES, I have told the story of the German Joyful Singers a few times. OK! Maybe more than a few times. Other than having children, not enough grandchildren and then some Greats (!), this is one of the nicer things I have experienced. Since I told you of it last week, I shall refrain from repeating, but, if you would like to hear Chapter Two, write me and I shall comply;This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Most of you know I volunteer at the information desk at the Tulsa International Airport. I enjoy it as I get to help several people on every shift I am there. We volunteers get to wear a red jacket which makes us look important – and knowledgeable. That last part is not always correct but we don’t talk about that. There is something about helping people that makes the day a little better. 99.9 per cent of teachers feel the same. We Americans are a helpful lot, with or without an information desk. Volunteers from the USA are all over the world doing a zillion different ways of helping people. As you probably know from your reading, many time they are in dangerous places doing difficult work. Many times they get shot at and have their lives at stake. Then, after the shooters have left or been captured, they come out of hiding and start again.
One instance happened very recently. A lady from a town near here had a hive of bees trying to live in the upper art of her house: her outside chimney. Some mutual friend contacted me to see if I could help. I am a heighth atheist as I do not do heights. I posted her need of help on our bee club web page and Facebook page. Within an hour there were multiple responses. One man lived close and was also the first to contact me so I “gave” him the responsibility. Now, do not say he did that to get something from it. That is only partially correct. A lady was having a problem and he was in a position to help. Many other Oklahomans would have done the same. Yes, he wanted the bees but crawling around on a roof two stories off the ground is going above and beyond. We are people who like to help people.
You will hear some people harshly ask, “Why in the #@**! Would they do that?” Sadly, there is no answer to satisfy those who question a helper. Americans love to help. If this ever changes then the spirit of America the world admires, will have changed. The Trodglamytes will have taken over and we all will be the poorer for it. No, not all will be financially poorer. The Trods will still be mega-rich and more powerful. The one-percent will still have more finances than the other ninety-nine per cent. One of them now have more money than most small towns combined. Most have more money than the combined total of most Oklahoma counties.
But enough about them! Those “people” are like most hogs in a stock pen. They want what they have and will try to get what the others have. They can never get enough.
On a lighter note, spring is here! Glorious spring with flowers, birds, buds and my bees are bringing in pollen. Somehow I got a weak hive through the winter and it is now big enough to split. Also, I am hoping someone calls to tell me of a swarm so I can increase my hive numbers. It takes a great number of bees to make a jar of honey. It takes a great deal of honey when one has several grandkids.
Among the more interesting facts about honey is it never spoils. I have personally tasted honey that was estimated as over fifty years old. This fact you can easily check with Safari/Google. It was reported that cone was found in King Tut’s tomb. Yessir, it was still good. That honey was older than me, not much, but some older. My former students think I am at least that old.
But it is spring. In Oklahoma that means today may be ninety degrees, tomorrow in the thirties, the next day a tornado. Things are seldom boring in Oklahoma. Come visit sometime.
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The House has been hard at work since we started session in February, and we’ve accomplished a lot since then. Both chambers have already passed numerous bills, many of which have already been signed into law by the Governor.Logan Phillips
The House recently began the process of hearing bills passed by the Senate. Each bill goes through committee before being eligible to be heard on the floor, but bills with a financial impact must pass through a relative subcommittee and then the entire Appropriations and Budget Committee first. When a bill passes committee, it’s eligible to be heard on the House floor.
Since the House is hearing bills already passed by the Senate, most bills that pass the House floor will advance directly to the governor’s desk. However, many bills have passed their chamber with the title off, which means that the details were still being discussed when it passed. Bills with the title off will return to the chamber they originated in for another vote to confirm the final language.
A few weeks ago, I joined my colleagues in the Legislature to honor our state’s veterans for Veterans Awareness Day. We met in joint session to recognize the sacrifice of these brave men and women and were joined by Gov. Stitt and Lt. Gov. Pinnell. The ceremony was attended by many veterans, service members, supporters and family members, who packed the House floor and galleries to show their support.
Our veterans sacrificed an extraordinary amount to serve our country and state, and we owe them a debt that can never be repaid. Their selfless sacrifice cannot be overstated, and I’m proud to represent many veterans who reside in the community of District 24.
As we draw closer to the end of session, the budget discussion has taken front stage. After years of budget cuts for our agencies, we have a surplus this year of roughly $574.6 million. This is great news, as it indicates how well our economy is doing, but the Legislature still has to decide where that money should go.
State agencies have requested an additional $1.2 billion in funding, and unfortunately we don’t have the money to meet all of those needs, so we are being very judicious with our budget proposal. We’ll continue to examine how we can best serve the people of Oklahoma as we hammer out the budget details.
We are hopeful that both legislative bodies will provide more classroom funding and another teacher pay raise, but we are also mindful of the hundreds of state employees who are equally deserving of a long-overdue cost-of-living adjustment.
In the meantime, I encourage you to reach out to my office with questions or comments on legislation and budget discussions. Thank you for the privilege of serving District 24 in the House.