Monday, April 29, 2013
Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair
Real workers compensation reform is within sight in Oklahoma! Senate Bill #1062, authored by Senator Brian Bingman, (R-Sapulpa) passed the State House 74-24 last week. It now heads back to the Senate for approval on the House amendments that were added and then to the Governor’s desk for signature.
SB#1062 will move Oklahoma from a judiciary workers compensation system to an administrative system. Oklahoma is one of only a handful of states that still uses the court system to settle workers comp disputes. It is an adversarial system that reduces the amount of payment to injured workers and forces Oklahoma employers to pay some of the highest workers comp insurance rates in the country. Under the current system, workers who are injured on the job could wait years for a benefits judgment due to the slow and costly legal process under the current judicial system.
SB#1062 will implement a system similar to Arkansas. Back in the early 1990s, Arkansas moved from a system similar to what Oklahoma has to an administrative system. Since then, workers compensation insurance premiums to employers have dropped steadily. Last year, Arkansas’ workers comp premiums were 63% of the national average, Oklahoma’s was 147% of the national average.
"There's too much litigation in Oklahoma," said Allyn Tatum, a former Arkansas Workers Compensation Commission chairman and Tyson Foods executive. "In Arkansas," said Tatum, "the incentive is for employers to put employees back to work, and for employees to go back to work."
In an interview with Capitalbeatok, Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak said, “Workers’ Compensation reform is a subject that I identified as critical and important to our state from the moment I was elected. Oklahoma has one of the highest average costs of Workers Compensation benefits in the nation at a rate of $830 per employee. Because Arkansas and Texas are under $300 per employee, this has not only had an impact on our state economy, but also limits the growth of local businesses.”
Oklahoma Labor Commissioner Mark Costello told CapitalBeatOK what might, politically, be the most significant thing about anticipated passage of the administration system, saying, “The days where trial lawyers dominated Oklahoma politics for their own economic interests are at an end. After all, it is workers’ comp, not lawyers’ comp.
Three observations about worker’s comp reform:
First, don’t expect existing Oklahoma businesses to start hiring more workers immediately because of the reduction in workers comp premiums. It takes some time for the impact of a price reduction to filter its way to the public. The long term impact will be significant, particularly on the recruitment of new businesses to the Sooner state. For years, the knock on Oklahoma by potential businesses was we didn’t have right-to-work; we had high workers compensation premiums and a state income tax. Two out of three of the issues have been addressed and the legislature is making progress on the income tax (reducing it to below 5%).
Second, credit the Republican-led legislature with having the courage to address the issue. Past legislatures have nibbled around the edges of workers comp reform for years, making some progress, but still leaving the lawyers in the system. They were simply afraid of upsetting the powerful trial lawyer lobby who didn’t give up easy. When Senator Anthony Sykes, (R-Moore) presented workers comp reform two years ago, he was attacked relentlessly by the trial lawyer lobby. While Sykes didn’t waffle or crack under the pressure, their tactics were effective enough with other legislators to derail a total change in the system.
Third, workers compensation reform(SB#1062) is a win-win! Oklahoma’s injured workers will get more money in settlements. Oklahoma employers will pay lower premiums. The system will be more civil and less adversarial. What’s not to like about that?
Monday, April 22, 2013
Weekly Opinion Editorial
COMMON CORE IS ROTTEN!
by Steve Fair
The American Diploma Project(ADP) was created in 1996 by the National Governors Association and some private sector business leaders to help states raise academic standards in public schools to better prepare students for college and life. The American Diploma Project had specific goals:
First, it aligned standards and assessments with the knowledge and skills required beyond high school. Second, ADP required all high school students to take challenging courses that actually prepare them for life after high school. No more basket weaving or hay hauling. They were supposed to take more math and science. Third, the project asked state education leaders to hold schools accountable for graduating students.
Fast forward a few years and the ADP has morphed into Common Core Standards. The Common Core State Standards Initiative brings diverse state curricula into a common one size fits all for all states. Just another in a long line of failed attempts by the feds to fix the public school system, Common Core has become the flavor of the month.
Forty five states, including Oklahoma, has adopted Common Core, but not without controversy. In a letter sent to Governor Fallin last month, a number of state pastors wrote, “Let’s restore American exceptionalism and reject the [Common] Core Curriculum. We’re smart enough to make decisions about our own children and our own schools. Let’s return Oklahoma schools to Oklahoma control.”
One of the holdouts is Virginia and officials maintain that the state’s Standards of Learning are sufficiently challenging and they don’t want the feds to tell them how to run their schools. The fact is there is no indication or proof that higher standards result in higher student achievement. In a 2009 study by Russ Whitehurst of Brookings Institute found there was little or no detectable difference in scores between students from states with weak content standards as compared by to states with higher standards.
More recently, Tom Loveless from the Brookings Institute wrote a research paper entitled, “Predicting the Effect of Common Core Standards on Student Achievement. Loveless came to the same conclusion as Whitehurst; there is no direct coalition between higher standards in education and student achievement.
So why is Common Core a bad idea:
First, Common Core usurps local control over education. The quality of education in the U.S. has been in decline since we started to nationally fund the education system. Clearly these ‘one size fits all’ programs have failed to produce the results promised. Not to mention, the U.S. Constitution clearly delegates the federal government no power to determine the content, methods, testing, or staffing procedures of local American schools.
Second, we don’t know how much Common Core will cost. According to Eagle Forum, Common Core will cost the state of Washington $300 million to implement in a time when they already face a 2 billion dollar deficit. Oklahoma State Representative Gus Blackwell, (R-Laverne) said that taxpayers shouldn’t pay for a program that little is known about. Last week, Blackwell filed a House Joint Resolution to stop further implementation of Common Core until more is known about how much it will cost.
Third, we have absolutely no proof Common Core will result in better education. Take your pick- from the National Defense of Education Act in 1958 to Head Start to No Child Left Behind, the federal government’s track record of improving education has proven to be dismal.
At the recent Republican National Committee meeting in Hollywood, we unanimously passed a resolution stating that Common Core education standards are a bad idea and should be rejected by the states. At Saturday’s Oklahoma state GOP convention, the delegates unanimously approved a platform with a plank opposing the implementation of Common Core in Oklahoma.
I have talked to dozens of teachers through the years(I’m married to one) who have improved their student’s test scores and achievements, but not one educator has cited ‘higher standards’ as the reason the improvement happened. Curriculum is certainly a factor, but how teachers are trained, motivated and supported in the classroom is the key.
Monday, April 15, 2013
Weekly Opinion Editorial
TERM LIMIT THE JUDGES!
by Steve Fair
The Oklahoma Supreme Court is no friend to the unborn. In December, the nine member panel voted to overturn HB #1970 that would have simply required certain abortion-inducing drugs be administered in the way deemed safest by the FDA. The liberal Oklahoma Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional because they said HB#1970 violated the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. They also overturned HB #2780, which required that women have an ultrasound performed and described to her within an hour before having an abortion.
HB #1970 was defeated by a unanimous opinion from all eight judges and HB #2780 was defeated by seven of the judges. One judge recused herself from the case of HB #2780 because she had issued an injunction against the law in 2010.
After the actions of the State Supreme Court, Oklahoma State Attorney General Scott Pruitt filed a petition on March 4th for review of HB #1970 with the U.S. Supreme Court. “We have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review Oklahoma’s law that seeks to provide full and accurate information to women about the outcomes of abortion,” Pruitt said. “We have an obligation to protect our citizens and to make sure a life-altering abortion is held to the highest medical standards.”
Last Monday, Americans United for Life filed a brief with the high court supporting Oklahoma's appeal. “Lives have been lost through cavalier use of dangerous, life-ending drugs,” said the group's president and chief executive officer, Charmaine Yoest. Seventy nine (79) of Oklahoma’s 149 legislators, a majority of the two chambers, joined in the petition with AUL.
Yoest said the abortion industry is big business and it’s all about money. The abortion industry's motivation in adopting protocols that endanger women and girls is as transparent as it is chilling. Their flagrant misuse of abortion-inducing drugs means abortion providers can push these drugs on more women and pocket larger profits than they would receive if they followed the protocols put in place by the FDA. Oklahoma's law was enacted to stop this dangerous and exploitative scheme,” Yoest said.
Michelle Movahed, staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, the New York-based group that filed legal challenges to the state measure, said clearly the law is unconstitutional. “The law had only one purpose — to make it impossible for women to access a medically proven safe, effective and legal alternative to surgical abortion,” she said. “We are confident that the nation's highest court will reject this latest effort to chip away at women's constitutional rights and uphold the sound decisions of the state district judge and the Oklahoma Supreme Court.”
On a related note, the state of Indiana passed and signed into law last week similar legislation to the two bills just described. The legislation in Indiana treats currently unregulated abortion-inducing drugs, such as RU-486, the same as surgical abortions by requiring women seeking either type of abortion to undergo a pre-procedure ultrasound and receive a state-designed "informed consent" brochure featuring color photos of fetuses at various stages of development.
How did conservative Oklahoma get such liberal thinkers on the state Supreme Court? It doesn’t make sense. Seven of the nine current members were appointed by a Democrat Governor, six by Henry,- just two appointed by a Republican.
An Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice is appointed by the Governor for life or until they are not ‘retained’ by the voters. The Oklahoma Judicial Nomination Commission, a fifteen member group of attorneys and non-attorneys, interview and vet possible candidates and then present finalists to the Governor who makes the final decision. After appointment, the justices serve until the next general state election. At that time, they must face a ‘retention election.’ If retained, they begin a six-year term.
Here’s the rub- Oklahoma has never turned a judge out of office since we begin using the retention ballot system. Clearly the retention ballot system doesn’t work. There is no way we have not had judges who needed to be out of office. But no one knows anything about the judges so many just don’t vote or vote yes.
It is past time Oklahoma enacted term limits for judges. Legislation proposing that has been proposed in the last couple of sessions, but hasn’t gotten anywhere. Contact your State Senator and Representative and ask them to support judicial term limits or go to a system where voters directly elect Appellate Court judges.
So long as these appointed and retained liberals are on the Oklahoma Supreme Court, no baby is safe in the womb. We must stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.
Monday, April 8, 2013
Weekly Opinion Editorial
THE IRON LADY!
by Steve Fair
The ‘Iron Lady’ passed away on Monday. Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of Great Britain was 88. Thatcher was the daughter of a grocer, who was also a Methodist preacher. Maggie rose to become the first and only female Prime Minister of Britain. She was a chemist and a lawyer, but she was best known for her uncompromising style of leadership. She was unapologetically a conservative. Thatcher and former President Ronald Reagan shared a unique friendship because they both believed in the free market system and private enterprise. Thatcher served as Prime Minister of Great Britain for eleven(11) years, the longest in modern history.
Thatcher got the nickname, “Iron Lady” after a Soviet Union journalist described her that way in an article because she would not compromise in her stance against communism. But she wasn’t just tough on foreign policy, Thatcher expected people to take personal responsibility in her country and described the attitude of most Brits in 1985 in the following way:
“I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand "I have a problem, it is the Government's job to cope with it!" or "I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!" "I am homeless, the Government must house me!" and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbor and life is a reciprocal business and people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations.”
What made Thatcher unique in the political world?
First, Maggie was a risk taker. Her stand against labor unions in England was one that was risky from a political standpoint, but it was right for the country. Great Britain’s manufacturing base was leaving the country. Jobs were being lost, productivity was down and the country was headed to a welfare state (sound familiar?) Thatcher correctly pointed out the country’s economy was headed to ruin. She persuaded enough members of Parliament she was right and Great Britain made some strategic changes that turned their economy around.
Most elected officials base their votes/positions on issues on how it will impact their next election, but Thatcher never worried about that. She was willing to risk her political future on a righteous cause. That is the stuff great leaders are made of.
Second, Thatcher was unwavering after she determined the right course. She never governed based on polling data. When told that taking a stand against organized labor in England would end her political career, Thatcher simply shrugged the admonition off and stayed the course. Effective leadership can get lonely. Good leaders are often standing alone. Thatcher was ethical and consistent in her positions. Unlike the majority of politicians, who are guided by the political winds, Thatcher didn’t change. There were times in England when Thatcher was not popular with the average citizen. But her determination and resolve to stay the course changed not only her country, but the world.
Third, Thatcher accomplished all this as a woman. Thatcher had to overcome the stereotype that a female leader just couldn’t handle the pressure or be tough. Like Esther in the Bible, Maggie proved that women can lead and can do so quite effectively. She surrounded herself with competent staff and advisors who shared her vision for Great Britain.
We need more political leaders like Thatcher- male and female. We need elected officials who are ethical, unwavering and risk takers. The ‘Iron Lady’ truly made the world a better place to live.
Weekly Opinion Editorial
COBURN IS RARE POLITICIAN!
by Steve Fair
“Washington is broke,” U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, (R-Muskogee) said as he opened his town hall meeting in Duncan on Monday evening. “We have too many career politicians in Congress who have no real world experience,” Coburn said. At the town hall, Dr. Coburn fielded questions ranging from illegal immigration to gun rights. Several in the audience were concerned about Coburn’s public support of expanding background checks for gun sales. “No one has a stronger record on the second amendment than I do,” Coburn said. ”I do think we need to make sure we are trying to keep guns out of the hands of known criminals and those who have mental illness that has them living in an alternate reality.”
First, Washington is broke- both fiscally and operationally- and it is broke because the American people have elected politicians who have broken it. We don’t have to look any further than in the mirror to find out who is to blame. People stopped paying attention to their government and holding their elected officials accountable. It appears there is some ‘awaking’ in the citizens of our country- aka Tea Party- and that is encouraging, but unless these new ‘experts’ on politics stay hooked up, we can only expect the same government we have always had. Washington is broke, but we can’t permanently fix Washington without fixing what is broke in our own city, county and state. Permanent change must begin from the bottom up. We need to flush out career politicians from the courthouse to the Whitehouse. As Coburn correctly said- “they(career politicians) have no point of reference in life other than government.”
Second, the 2nd amendment is critical to our country’s survival- even to those who hate guns. Those who are furiously protective of the second amendment understand that. The second amendment isn’t about duck hunting- it was put there by our founding fathers to insure us the right to protect ourselves against our own government. Even if you don’t own a gun, you should stand up for the 2nd amendment and applaud those who seek to defend it. If it weren’t there, it’s likely America wouldn’t have survived 230 plus years. Our founding fathers understood the nature of man and how that power corrupts, hence they included the 2nd amendment as a means for citizens to protect themselves from an overreaching, tyrannical government.
Third, Oklahoma and America is going to miss Tom Coburn in the U.S. Senate when he completes his second term in 2016. Senator Coburn is a rare politician. He doesn’t really care if he doesn’t get re-elected, but he really cares about America. Dr. Tom served three terms(six years) in the U.S. House representing the people of Little Dixie (SE Oklahoma). He then came home to Muskogee in 2000 to practice medicine when he could easily have won re-election and stayed in Congress. While Senator Don Nickles decided to not seek a fifth term to the Senate in 2004, Coburn jumped in late and easily won the GOP primary.
In a field that included the popular Mayor of Oklahoma City, a sitting Corporation Commissioner and the good doctor, Coburn made one of the shortest but most effective campaign speeches ever at the 2004 Oklahoma State Republican Convention. His two worthy opponents had waxed long and eloquent detailing their political pedigrees and credentials to the weary delegates. When it came time for Dr. Tom to speak he stepped to the microphone and simply told the OKGOP delegates; “You know who I am and you know what I’ll do.” As he left the stage he was given a standing ovation. I whispered to then State GOP Chairman Gary Jones, “The primary race is over.” Why did Coburn evoke such a response from a seasoned crowd of politician groupies? Because Coburn is a rare politician- he really does what he says he will do. He has never made votes or decisions on how it will impact his ‘likability’ numbers or his donor base.
Senator Coburn has served Oklahoma well- by the time he leaves the Senate, he will have given eighteen years of his life serving Oklahomans in Washington and not only Oklahoma, but America owns him a debt of gratitude.