Ex-lawmaker named Senate's general counsel
Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman announced Friday that former Sen. Jonathan Nichols, of Norman, would be the new general counsel for his office, replacing former Sen. James Williamson. Nathan Atkins, spokesman for Bingman, said Nichols has agreed to work for a salary of $19,379. The salary will be paid with non-appropriated funds raised through fees charged for mailboxes at the state Capitol. Nichols, who reached term limits and was unable to seek re-election, will take the post beginning in January. A state law prohibits elected officials from taking state government jobs within two years of leaving office, unless the salary comes from private or federal funds. Bingman also retained several of his other staff members for his office. He named the following senate staff members: Randy Dowell, chief of staff and fiscal director; and Paul Ziriax, secretary of the senate and state election board secretary. Ziriax must be approved by the Senate in January.
End to Insurance Commission spending sought
Sen. Harry Coates said Friday he will introduce a bill to restrict purchases at the state Insurance Department to end recent expenditures that have included shotguns, bulletproof vests and patrol cars. “Oklahomans have gone to the polls in recent years to send the message that we need fewer bureaucrats, not heavily armed bureaucrats,” Coates, R-Seminole, said in a news release. “Not only is it wasteful spending, but it stands to create more problems than it solves.” State Insurance Commissioner John Doak has said the purchases were necessary as part of a crackdown on criminal insurance fraud.
Two counties lag in assessing taxes
Two of the state's 77 counties continue to assess real estate values improperly, a state board was told Friday. Jeff Spelman, director of the Oklahoma Tax Commission's ad valorem division, told members of the state Board of Equalization that Caddo and Sequoyah counties remain out of compliance. Spelman told members of the board, made up of several state officials, that both counties are making progress. “They still have a lot to do,” he said. Caddo County has been out of compliance since 2006 and Sequoyah County has been out of compliance since 2009. Sequoyah and Caddo counties both have been placed in Level 2 category on annual evaluations. Caddo County also was placed on Level 1 for residential and commercial assessments. Failure to show progress next year could result in being placed in Level 3, which is the most severe case, and could involve a financial penalty and the state taking over the assessor's office until compliance is reached.