Last week was the deadline week for bills to be heard in the house of origin in the Oklahoma Legislature. In all, about 850 pieces of legislation are left alive in the House and Senate for consideration, down from an original total of 4100 in early February.
OICA has been working on several different pieces of legislation, and I am pleased to say that we have made progress in several of our priority areas. For instance, I recently wrote about my concerns regarding Senate Bill 1435, which allowed public schools to suspend students – even very young students – indefinitely. Since I voiced those concerns, we have worked with legislators to modify and moderate the language in that bill. While the newest version still lowers the age for which schools can suspend students for assault, it also reduces the length of time they can be suspended for and increases opportunities for counseling. We feel this language is far better than both existing law and the original bill. Thank you to Senators Ron Sharp and Allison Ikely-Freeman for their work with us in the Senate. We hope some of the minor changes we would like to see moving forward will be considered in the House of Representatives, including further strengthening the provisions dealing with counseling and treatment for suspended students.
Criminal Justice Reform also continues to make major headway this legislative session, with six separate bills gaining traction in both legislative chambers and receiving early support from the governor. OICA strongly supports reform measures that would help families stay united rather than seeing more parents imprisoned. It is my hope these bills will receive a thorough review and a fair opportunity to be considered. Rep. Chris Kannady, R-Oklahoma City, was selected to be the new chair of the House committee which will oversee these reforms and I am confident he will be much more willing to see compromise and allow fair hearings than previous committee chairs.
As has been well-documented in the press, negotiations are ongoing and thus far fruitless regarding potential revenue enhancements. I am personally very worried that our Legislature is not only incapable of passing a revenue raising measure with a three-quarters majority, but also incapable of mustering the simple majority required to place such a measure on the November ballot. While allowing the people to vote on new revenue may feel like a no-brainer, some legislators are hyper-sensitive to any vote that can be labelled as supportive of tax increases during an election year, even with the obvious and critical funding needs we now face. OICA will continue to work with legislators and advocates to champion needed funding for child-related issues. To that end, please join us on May 9 for Child Advocacy Day at the State Capitol as we call upon lawmakers to pass kid-friendly bills and a responsible budget. You can find details at oica.org for what will be scheduled.
Finally, congratulations are in order to Senator Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City and Representative Charles McCall, R-Atoka for their recent elections as the top leaders in their respective legislative bodies. We hope to continue our work with them to see better things for our state and hope for bipartisan solutions for the problems we face in Oklahoma. Both gentlemen have been personal friends of mine since before their elections to office, so I have a long track record of working with them and hope to continue that productive relationship in their leadership roles.
OICA CEO Joe Dorman