Insulin prices, cemetery bill, ad valorem taxes

• Murdock and Newton talk about coming legislative session


December 29, 2019

Desiree Morehead

Rep. Carl Newton (left) and Sen. Casey Murdock discuss bills planned for the upcoming legislative session. They were at a town hall meeting held Dec. 9 in Alva.

Upcoming legislation was one of the areas covered by Sen. Casey Murdock and Rep. Carl Newton during the Dec. 9 town hall meeting in Alva. The state legislators talked about bills they intend to support and legislative issues still in the development stage.

Insulin Prices

Murdock said he is "running" a bill that puts a cap of $100 a month on the price of insulin. He has copied what Colorado is doing. "Prescription drug cost is just out of this world, and if you're diabetic it is life or death," he said.

"The chairman of our health committee is also running a bill," he added. "It's politics as to who gets across the finish line, but I'm still going to file that legislation."

Cemetery Bill

Newton expects to pursue the cemetery bill, a continuation of legislation he introduced this year. He explained, "Somebody had a kid die 100 or 80 years ago and they buried them there and said well we need to buy three or four lots so we can be buried by them. And then they moved on and went to Colorado or someplace like that and they leave three or four spaces that nobody could use.

"So my bill is that after a person has had no contact with a cemetery for at least 75 years, the cemetery could re-allot that. Now if the person came back later, they would give them a comparable lot if that lot had been sold."

Although the bill made it through the House, Newton said, "It got held up in the Senate. The senators didn't understand what we were doing."

"That happens a lot," interjected Murdock.

Newton said one misunderstanding was what if someone lived over 75 years, would they lose the cemetery plot bought earlier. "No, it's if you have not had any contact," he said. "They're using the same contact on all sorts of legal matters ... three notices in the newspaper, letters to the last known address, all those things. And so I'm going to add that if they would happen to come back after that they get comparable value if they didn't want a different plot. I think 95 percent of them will never come back."

He explained that some cemeteries are landlocked. They are surrounded by property they don't own and can't buy. They have no place to expand. "I'm just trying to make it where they'll be better stewards of the land they have," Newton said.

Someone asked if the ownership being discussed was the original owners or could it go on to their heirs.

Newton said the plots could be passed down to heirs. "I'm just saying a family that has made no contact with the cemetery for 75 years. If you checked in with the cemetery 50 years ago, it would move it out 25 more years."

"Would that (reimbursement) be comparable to when they bought it or current value?" someone asked. Newton said it would be current value of the lot.

Tom Crenshaw said, "We had discussed that at the Alva cemetery meetings and are not really in favor of it because there are a lot of people that will buy a lot and maybe buy two of them. And it's on purpose because they don't want anybody buried beside them."

"That was one of the arguments brought up in the Senate," said Murdock, "because I know myself, nobody wants to be around me." (Laughter.) He said people do that so they can control who is buried nearby.

"If you requested that nobody be buried in the adjoining area, we would honor that," said Newton

Crenshaw said, "Another question that has come up, is this going to force all cemeteries to have to abide by that?"

Newton said no. "You're the one that would have to foreclose on it anyway. The cemetery would have to decide that land could be used for somebody else. It would not be the state government. It would be the cemetery board that would decide that," he said.

Crenshaw expressed concern that future board members or officials might not abide by those wishes or decisions.

Murdock said, "This is coming from being at the capital and term limits. One of the things I don't like about term limits is we lose the institutional knowledge. And it's very good to write things down. If this passed, what I would do as a board member is somewhere in there write this down and say this is what we have decided, and this is why. This is to future board members to let them know why those decisions were made."

Newton said he's pushing the legislation because some of the rural cemeteries around here want it.

New Farmer Incentives

Another idea Newton is pushing is an incentive to new farmers. "The state gives incentives to businesses all the time. What I'd like to do, for anyone who does a Schedule L and is a new farmer starting up, for the first five years we give them a break on their income tax based off their Schedule L," he said.

Murdock commented, "I'm still waiting on that first year I made money."

Newton explained it would be based on a new person coming in and buying land to farm. "Or inheriting," said Murdock. "That's trying to get the kids to come back."

"Otherwise, we're going to have a lot of corporate farms around here," said Newton. "I'd rather have families here than I would corporations."

"I think it ought to be the first year you make money," Murdock said with a grin.

Someone in the audience asked about those who might lease land to farm rather than buying it.

Newton said they would be included. He said they are still working on the language of the bill.

"We're not going to incentivize hobby farmers," Newton added. "This will be a true start up with the majority of their income coming from it."

Ad Valorem Tax Protests

"I have a bill on the issue we have in this state on protesting ad valorem. It's devastating to our local counties, schools, county governments," said Murdock. "There's an issue with protesting, and I am in the inception of creating a bill trying to fix that problem."

"In a timely manner, is that what you're going to do?" asked Newton.

"I'm trying to find a middle ground with legislation that both sides can agree on that will hopefully deter a lot of the protests," Murdock explained. "It's in the infancy stage right now, but I'm starting that process. It's a slow, slow process but I'm starting that."

Newton said he knows this can be a problem if schools are given ad valorem tax money ahead of time before protests are settled. "I know Mooreland is dealing with this now," he said.

Murdock said, "It should have gone into escrow."

Newton said, "It didn't and now the school's got to pay it back."

"We've got that issue in Beaver County," said Murdock. "You're supposed to put it in escrow until there's a decision made."

Renetta Benson said, "We've (Woods County) got one that it's four years now, one company, and it's four years and it's still not settled."

State Budget

The legislators also discussed the improved condition of the state budget. "We're going to have about $300 million over our needs this year," said Murdock. "Carl and I were talking about it, and he said that's not a lot. That's true but for Carl and I that's a heck of a lot of money. For the state's budget, it's not so much. But it's still better than the year I got elected with a $611 million hole in the budget. It's a heck of a lot better than Carl's first year when it was $1.3 billion. So we are turning it around."

However, said Newton, that trend may be changing. "I think this last month was the first time it went under our needs. We've been staying just above our needs in the amount of tax revenue coming in. This last month it fell just a little bit short. That's the first time it has fallen short since the tax increase a few years ago," he said.

Number of Oil Wells

Does the decrease in the number of oil rigs in the state indicate less oil and gas business? The lawmakers explained.

"If you guys don't know, the rig count is down ... about half of what it was," said Newton. "But you've got to think about this. A rig now can drill for two miles and they couldn't two years ago. One rig can do twice as much work as a rig could do two years ago because we expanded their long laterals to two miles."

"So the rig counts are down but our production is up," said Murdock. "Oil production is up in the state and rig counts are down. I think the long laterals have a lot to do with that."

Murdock said he voted to extend the long laterals but he's having second thoughts. "Hindsight's always 20-20. What worries me when you look at northwest Oklahoma (is) we're service companies. We've got lots of service companies here, and it worries me that just through technology what's going to happen to our service companies. If we've got half as many rigs, half as many employees, that concerns me.

"You know, your big guys like the long laterals, but how many jobs is that going to cost us? Like I said, I'm debating with myself. Was that a good decision or not. It was good for our big guys, but what about our small communities? Was it actually good for them?"

"A lot of individuals can't do a long lateral, can they?" asked Newton. "A lot of them are still vertical drilling aren't they?"

"A lot of them are," said Murdock. "The small guys are vertical guys."

The entire town meeting video may be viewed at


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