The Oklahoma Legislature will convene for the 2018 regular session on Monday, February 5. Also, on that day, Governor Mary Fallin will deliver her final State of the State address. Speaking on behalf of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA), I hope Governor Fallin makes child well-being a priority in her speech and in her policy agenda.
OICA has identified five priority areas we hope she and our lawmakers focus on. They include: economic opportunity for Oklahomans; foster care, adoption and child welfare; criminal justice reform; race equity issues; and early childhood development.
As the session develops, I plan on writing frequently about these issues and relevant legislation. One of the bills that has drawn our attention early on is Senate Bill 1517, dealing with trauma informed care.
Oklahoma ranks first in the nation for multiple Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) impacting children. ACEs include traumatic events like suffering from physical or sexual abuse; neglect; witnessing domestic violence; witnessing drug abuse; or having a parent in prison. Multiple studies (including Kaiser Permanente’s 1998 Adverse Childhood Experience Study) have proven that these events or circumstances have adverse effects on an individual’s ability to function and his or her mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being into adulthood.
OICA has worked with the Potts Family Foundation and other partners to increase awareness among legislators about the proven social impact of ACEs. An interim study was held at our request by the House of Representatives this past summer that looked at the impact of traumatic experiences and how they can be addressed. Senator A.J. Griffin listened to those conversations and has since filed SB 1517. This legislation will create a task force on trauma-informed care to study and make data-driven policy recommendations that are results-oriented. OICA applauds Sen. Griffin for her focus on this important issue.
Another piece of legislation we are monitoring closely at this time is House Bill 3146, which reinstates the refundability of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC is a tax cut for low income working families that may also supply some families with a refund beyond what they owe in income taxes. Oklahoma removed the refundable portion of the EITC, a move that was rightly criticized as an attempt to balance the budget on the backs of the poor. Rep. Jason Dunnington of Oklahoma City has filed HB 3146 to restore that provision within the EITC and deliver low-income families some much-needed relief. OICA strongly supports this proposal.
These are just two of the bills filed this year. A total of 706 Senate bills and 1,226 House bills have been filed, along with 1,996 House and Senate measures carried over from last year (which also includes measures vetoed which could be overridden). As you can imagine, legislators have a full four months ahead of them.
As we await the State of State, now is the time to start contacting your own legislators and ask them to make 2018 the “Year of the Child” and remember kids as they are crafting legislation and casting their votes.
By OICA CEO Joe Dorman