McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

Opinion

March 10, 2014

Condit’s Capitol Report

McALESTER — The House of Representatives operates on a schedule during the session. The next two weeks are deadline weeks. The House has to act on all bills that originated in the House by Friday, March 14th. We will be meeting late every night of these weeks.

There has been a lot of discussion concerning the retirement system for the state employees (OPERS) and salary increases for state employees. Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, announced recently that he wants to consider a salary increase bill at the same time as a pension bill. Rep. Randy McDaniel, R-Edmond, has authored House Bill 2630 that requires for state employees employed on or after July 1, 2015, to participate in a defined contributions program for their retirement rather than a defined benefits program.

There have been studies conducted in six states on defined contribution plans. All of those studies have found that defined contribution plans are more costly to the state than defined benefits programs. Also, three states have passed legislation years back to implement a defined contributions program and now West Virginia is in the process of returning to a defined benefits program.

Correctional officers, probation and parole officers, or fugitive apprehension agents who are employed by the Department of Corrections are not included in HB2630. At this time I will vote no on HB2630.

Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Chickasha, has authored HB3293. This legislation will attempt to raise state employees’ salaries to 90 percent of the private market workforce. This would be enacted over a four-year time period. State employees are currently paid 30 percent less than comparable positions in the public workforce. When considered on the House floor, I plan on voting yes.

There have been some concerns for the past several months concerning local vocational agriculture programs. The Career Technology department recently hired a new director, Dr. Robert Sommers. Dr. Sommers made the suggestion last fall that the state place the vocational agriculture programs (FFA) under the Career Technology system and have the classes taught at the area career techs.

A lot of people had major problems with this suggestion. First, it was questioned as to whether the Career Techs could accommodate all the vocational agriculture students. Second, what would happen to the instructors and equipment that are currently with the local high schools?

Rep. Scott Biggs R-Chickasha introduced HB3006. HB3006 prohibits technology center school districts from operating agriculture education programs or FFA chapters. We voted on HB3006 Tuesday and it passed 87-0.

I am a co-author for this legislation. It is a pleasure to work with the students and instructors of the agriculture education programs in District 18. Most people think that vocational agriculture programs and FFA chapters work only on farming issues and livestock. Granted, those are a vital part of the programs; there are also opportunities for students to excel in leadership and public speaking. I have watched young people take advantage of these programs and develop into productive citizens.

A couple of years ago the legislature passed a new law requiring all students read on grade level by the third grade. There have been numerous complaints about this new law.

I have a former student that is a young mother of four. One is a child of autism. The child is working extremely hard and continues to work after school and during summers to improve their reading ability. But, the child does not read on grade level. With this child’s disability, it would be of no benefit to hold the child back. But, with the current law the way it is, the child would be held back.

Rep. Katie Henke R-Tulsa had HB2625 heard on the House floor on Tuesday. HB2625 allows a “team” consisting of a parent or guardian, teacher, principal and certified reading specialist (if one is available) to determine if a child should not be held back and the student is then promoted to the fourth grade. HB2625 passed 84-6. Now we need to see if it will be heard in the Senate.

Thank you to the constituents from my district who stopped in to the Capitol to say “hello” this past week: Brett Smith, JoAnn Vermillion and Don LaGasse. Your visits are always appreciated!

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me at 405-557-7376 or 918-916-9004.  You can also e-mail me at Donnie.condit@okhouse.gov.  Thank you and God Bless America!

Rep. Donnie Condit, D-McAlester, is the state representative for Oklahoma District 18.

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