The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

March 1, 2013

Legislators hear concerns at forum

ENID, Okla. — Area lawmakers shared the topics of discussion during this legislative session and heard the concerns of area residents Friday at the annual Greater Enid Chamber of Commerce State Legislative Forum

Legislators met and spoke with area residents at Northwestern Oklahoma State University-Enid.

Sen. Patrick Anderson and Reps. John Enns and Mike Jackson, all R-Enid, spoke briefly about the 2013 session, before addressing questions from the 20 plus people in attendance.

Anderson began the hour-long forum, addressing issues such as veteran’s affairs, school safety and mental health.

“There is quite a bit going on with Department of Veterans Affairs in trying to improve some quality care issues,” Anderson, said. “(Sen.) Frank Simpson of Ardmore is heading up that project.”

He said studies conducted and meetings held over the summer brought in some individuals who’ve seen problems at some Veterans Affairs Care Centers. Work is under way to make some changes to improve overall care for veterans.

“There are some issues they’ve been having there that are extremely upsetting,” Anderson said.

The senator said Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb was heading up the committee on school safety, and he has been to one of the meetings.

“They’re very well attended,” Anderson said. “I think everyone can feel comfortable they’re looking at these issues thoroughly.”

He also said the Legislature has been looking at further spending for mental health.

Jackson, also R-Enid, said the House has two more weeks of committee work, and bills have been coming out “fairly smoothly” so far.

“We’re getting a lot of bills out. We have approximately 300-350 general order, which is a lot. I think it will be hard for us to hear all 350,” he said. “I think everything is running pretty smoothly and running pretty well.”

Some big issues being considers are tax cuts and changes to the state’s workers’ compensation system.

Jackson said there was talk of eliminating state income tax, but that would be “hard to do.”

Cutting the tax would leave too much of a gap in state revenues, he said.

“We’re seeing tremendous growth in Oklahoma,” Jackson said. “We’re seeing tremendous job numbers.”

He noted the increase in the numbers was not just due to the resurgence of the energy industry in the state.

“You’re seeing growth in aerospace, you’re seeing a lot of different  industries crop up as well,” he said.

He said it also would be difficult to get a bond issue passed for making repairs and improvements to the state Capitol complex.

“I think a bond issue is very difficult to pass. The last bond issue failed by 30 votes,” he said. “The speaker of the House has rolled out a pay-as-you-go plan.”

Jackson said the plan looks at the possibility of using the unclaimed property fund or a reduction in state assets to free up funds.

“We’re the largest property owner in the state,” the representative said.

He said discussions also have been held about sequestration.

“It looks like Woodring tower will be closed as of April 1,” Jackson said. “You’re talking about a lot of different places that are going to close.”

Jackson said there also have been discussions about Northern Oklahoma Resource Center of Enid and Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley.

A bill to keep the two state-run centers for the developmentally disabled open unanimously passed the House Human Services Committee. The decision to close the facilities was made in November by the now-disbanded commission overseeing Department of Human Services.

Enns told those in attendance at the forum about sitting at the Capitol when smoke began coming from the air conditioning vents.

“I went downstairs and sat for a while. No alarm ever went off,” he said. “We got back up there and found out the air conditioning system has gone out.”

He said he would like to see some improvements being made at the building.

“This is something that I would actually be more for than I was before,” Enns said. “However, I would still like to do it with excess funds.”

Enns said there are plans to spend about $16 million more on mental health and substance abuse.

“Eighty percent of drug deaths are due to prescription drug abuse,” Enns said. “We’re seeing a rise in that across the state. For whatever reason, I think it’s because of access.”

He said bills pertaining to horse processing have become emotional topics for some.

“It’s an emotional type deal. I have a horse. I understand,” Enns said. “The fact of the matter is, we’ve got people out there with higher feed costs that cannot afford it.”

He said he fears if the costs become too high, people will begin releasing horses.

“We’ve got to have a place we can go with these horses,”  Enns said, noting some take horses to Mexico for slaughter. “You want to talk about inhumane.”

During a question-and-answer session, the three were asked about Gov. Mary Fallin’s decision to not accept the health exchange funds from the federal government.

“The state’s decision to not expand Medicaid is the correct one. The state of Oklahoma is not the only one who is not going to accept it,” Jackson said. “At the end of the day, the health debate is not over. The monster they have created is not sustainable either.”

He said the state’s budget for health care already has increased.

“If we expand it voluntarily, at the end of the day what that is going to hurt is transportation and education,” Jackson said, “all those things people believe should be invested in.”

Enns said he intends to fight against the expansion of Medicaid and federally mandated health care.

“I’m going to do everything I can to fight it,” he said. “Honestly, I’ve been hit already by Obamacare in a negative way. Since it was signed, I’ve received two different notices my insurance was going up because of the changes.

“I get a letter right before Christmas that basically says we are sorry we can no longer keep you as an individual.”

Enns said he got health insurance right out of college when he began farming because he always believed it was important to have. It paid for his accident in 2004 and was called “great” by those who cared for him.

“Now, before Christmas, I get a letter saying because of health insurance reform, it is just too expensive for us to meet individual claims,” he said. “I guarantee you there are more people out there in my situation. They’re sitting there saying, What am I going to do?”

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