Area legislators speak at Ponca Politics
Ponca City Now - February 27, 2015 4:38 pm
Sen. Eddie Fields, Rep. Steve Vaughan and Rep. John Pfeiffer addressed several topics facing the Oklahoma Legislature this session.
Fields said that during the first four weeks of the session, the Senate has had 815 bills filed and more than 400 of those have been passed out of committee.
In his opening remarks, Fields said one of the issues he’s concerned with is end-of-instruction testing and whether other options would be better. He also said the Senate is looking at the issue of tax credits and whether they are bringing in the jobs and revenues promised when they were granted.
Fields said the Legislature has $611 million less in appropriations than it did last year, which means about $550 million less to work with.
“Do we tap into the Rainy Day Fund? More than likely we will,” Fields said. “It is important for us to know how much money is available for us to tap into.”
He explained that apportionments are the money that is taken off the top of the budget and set aside. Legislators can only appropriate what is not apportioned, he said. The priorities are to provide funds for the common, core functions of government, he said.
Vaughan said this is his fifth year in the state House, and said he finally understands the process.
He said the state will not do away with AP classes and that issue had been completely blown out of proportion.
Vaughan said the bill prohibiting texting while driving had passed the House.
“Only two people in the House voted against it,” Vaughan said.
The newest and youngest legislator from the region, Rep. John Pfeiffer, introduced himself. His family settled in the Mulhull-Orlando area two days after the Land Run. He attended Oklahoma State University for a while, then joined the Marine Corps.
Pfeiffer said he left the Marines on April 1, spent April 2 driving back to Oklahoma, and started campaigning on April 3. He represents the 38th district, which includes the north part of Logan County, Noble and Grant counties, and most of Kay outside of Ponca City.
As a freshman, he has co-authored a bill to set up rural development zones in counties with declining populations.
“It gives companies five-year tax exemptions if they come into Oklahoma,” Pfeiffer said.
“While they would not pay certain taxes during that period, they are not paying those taxes now. We are trying to increase the populations in these areas. We have lots of jobs, but not enough qualified people to fill them. This gives the Chambers of Commerce and Economic Development Authorities another tool to recruit.”
The bill has been passed off the floor of the House, he said.
“Another big controversial issue we’ve taken up is transportation of feral hogs in the state,” Pfeiffer said. “All 77 counties have feral hogs. We’re looking for ways to thin down the population and control some of the diseases they carry. They are being transported to high-fence hog-hunting facilities.”
After their opening remarks, the three answered questions which were submitted on cards by those in the audience.
Will you be listening to your state education leaders opposing guns on campus?
Fields – I am opposed to guns on campus and will continue to oppose guns on campus. Applications are given to campus presidents and those presidents can make those decisions.
Vaughan – I am 100 percent pro Second Amendment. I am the last person you will find to tell people they cannot carry a gun or protect themselves. I have spoken with Cheryl Evans at NOC. I don’t want to tell anyone they cannot carry a gun. But I believe a business or school has the right to say “not on my campus or in my store.” I will always vote for you to protect your rights. I can’t vote for a bill written as it is because it is a sense of security and safety. I have five kids and two are in college. Matt and Ashley could defend themselves and some kids cannot and sometimes kids get crazy. It’s a safety aspect and a sense of responsibility for me. I respect the campus and the person’s business who say “not on their property.” You do your policy. It’s under statutes now.
Pfeiffer – This is definitely a local control issue. I’ve been around a lot of 18- to 21-year-olds with guns. Before they receive proper training, it’s a little scary. Schools and techs need to be able to assess whether their students have the maturity to handle guns. They (students wanting to carry guns) can ask for permission from the schools right now. There are not thousands of requests. Chancellor Glenn Johnson said there were only 12 requests last year. These universities know these kids and should have the right to decide what’s right for their campus.
Do you support bills that intend to restrict or disallow same sex marriage.
Vaughan – Guys, this was a hard one and you guys know me. I would be just as bad if someone wanted to teach my children something other than Jesus. I had to do more soul-searching on this one. It makes it really hard for me to vote on this one.
Pfeiffer – The federal government continues to tie our hands on this one. Oklahoma continues to push laws that we will have to defend because they are going to be overturned. I am personally very pro traditional marriage, but it’s time to quit throwing good money after bad.
Fields – As a state we voted several years ago that we support traditional marriage. We are now forced to take this up. I stand for traditional marriage. But as Rep. Pfeiffer said, our own courts and federal courts handcuff us on these decisions that affect all Oklahomans.
Where do you stand on Senate Bill 278, which would increase the fee for cellular customers to pay for 911 services?
Pfeiffer – I’m still getting caught up on the House bills. I’ll worry about the Senate bills when they cross into the House.
Vaughan – They will have to have a really good reason to raise rates.
Fields – The bill got shelved Wednesday in the Appropriations committee. It was written by Susan Paddack and then the title was stricken. A Republican in Oklahoma City hijacked her bill and claimed it was his. Several counties cannot account for that money. SB 278 is now SB 848, which looks at a statewide 911 system. Most people have eliminated their landlines. They want to leave that fee the same or increase it. We just heard this bill in energy yesterday because it was resurrected at the last minute. We do have a 911 crisis in the state, especially in rural areas.
How will we pay for teachers’ raises that were just approved?
Fields – there were several pay raises introduced this year. State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister wanted to do $5,000 over a 4-year-period. That was through apportionments. Teachers need a pay raise, but how we get there needs to be decided.
Vaughan – A $600 million shortfall means it will be difficult. The Rainy Day Fund is something for when we have a crisis that we can’t expect. What happens when it doesn’t rain next year? I have reservations on how to fund it back. We will have to decide how to scale back.
Pfeifffer – This year it will be hard to give teachers a pay raise. We’re in the hole. We are trying to make their lives a little easier with testing, etc. I am worried about where the money is coming from this year.
Do you support the decriminalization of marijuana?
Vaughan – I was in the ’60s, but no I am not. I will vote for the oil-based marijuana treatment for pain control. The cost could be a lot less than what they are paying for pain relief.
Pfeiffer – Alaska just legalized the sale of marijuana, the first Red state to do so. Colorado is having some difficulty with not having the income they expected. I have never used marijuana. I don’t see why we would ever want to legalize anything that would make people not want to work. We have jobs and we need people who want to work.
Fields – You look at Colorado who passed theirs 18 months ago. It is still against federal law. Colorado has run into problems with federal banking laws. States such as Colorado, Alaska and Washington have passed their laws. The oil treatment could be very beneficial.
SB 609 – another education choice bill. Where do you stand?
Fields – Jolly’s bill is what Arizona and Florida are doing. Took out the homeschool kids having access to public education funds. Broadened to the whole student body of the state. Until we address how we fund all education this is a moot point. I voted no in the committee. There will be a few rural Republicans. It was killed in committee on the house side.
Pfeiffer – Rep. Nelson ran a voucher program through the House. It is getting a lot of attention from outside the state. They are trying to get it passed here because Oklahoma is such a red state. We need to fix Oklahoma’s education problems the Oklahoma way. Districts like mine that are mostly rural – this would be a major school killer.
Vaughan – This came from Florida. I’ve been a charter school supporter from the beginning. But I can’t be for them.
The revolving funds are earmarked for building future technology. Is this robbing Peter to Pay Paul?
Vaughan – Going into the unclaimed fund is another one – I don’t know if it’s a real problem. Sometimes we have to rob Peter to Pay Paul to make something happen – I do that with my own money. But not with your money. It’s a domino effect. If we pull a domino out, what is the effect?
Pfeiffer – The effect when we pull money out of the revolving fund is if you don’t use it, you lose it. State agencies break their necks to spend their revolving funds. They have commingled some of those funds with appropriated funds. We don’t need to create the mindset that this money is out there to be used by a certain date before they lose it. What we need to do is look at these revolving funds and set up a system to incentivize the agency heads to save money, to encourage them to be better stewards of this money.
Fields – Part of the problem we face this year is because we pulled money from revolving funds last year. We have to be more transparent. Higher ed funds are encumbered. A lot of those revolving funds are fee-driven. A lot of revolving funds are comingled with federal funds so we can’t take federal funds for state use. We as legislators do not know what the mix is in those revolving funds. We need to be more transparent. It is a bad practice to Rob Peter to Pay Paul.
Opinions on texting while driving?
Fields – it would take an event of the magnitude of a fatality in somebody’s family. That guy was updating his social media when he hit the trooper. His baby was in a car seat in the back seat. When I was in the House and this was brought up, there were Republicans who say “my phone and my car are my private property.” But when your private property use crosses the line and costs someone their life, you will be fined and ticketed for using Twitter, Facebook, social media. There will be a bill on the Governor’s desk for her signature this year.
Vaughan – I could not even get a due-pass out of committee to get a bill through. I did see the dash cam of the trooper’s death. I will tell you this – the person drove for nearly 150-200 yards without looking up. The next thing he saw was an air bag that blew up in his face.
I’m as guilty as anyone who has done this but I am the first one to put the phone down when I realized I was putting someone else’s life at risk.
I co-authored this bill. I will defend it. It is a secondary offense and it needs to be a primary offense so a trooper can pull someone over. I asked the Department of Public Safety about this and basically they said we need to let the rocket take off. It needs to be out of the House and voted on in the Senate and signed by the Governor. Then we can modify it. It will affect me. It will affect you. But it will save somebody’s life.
Pfeiffer – Sometimes we get left behind, and Oklahoma has been left behind on this. One of the most important goals the government has is the safety of its people. This bill is what we could get done now. We need to move it on and then we can fix it. A lot of people said “My car, my phone. Government doesn’t have any right to tell me what to do.” This brings that issue into light to make sure all our citizens can drive safely.