At the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, our team was pleased to hear Governor Mary Fallin declare in her State of the State Address on Monday that “we deserve better and our children deserve better too.” With 800,000 young Oklahomans facing an uncertain future, lawmakers and those in positions of influence need to remember the importance of their actions. It is up to advocates to remind them of this from time to time.
Governor Fallin argued throughout her address that it is time for lawmakers to find consensus and compromise, especially on budget solutions. It was clear the theme of her speech was to focus on the future and reverse the mistakes of the past, including some tax cuts. Labeling the beginning of the 2018 session as “a day that we press forward for a better future” and “a historic defining moment before us” resonated with the people in attendance and those of us watching on television.
I agree with Governor Fallin that we cannot resign ourselves to 4-day school weeks, to allow Texas to continually steal our teachers, and to accept deteriorating health care services for our neediest and most vulnerable citizens. Nor can we allow further decreases in funding for substance abuse treatment or accept a criminal justice system that warehouses, rather than rehabilitates, non-violent prisoners. It was heartening to see some of these ideas receiving a standing ovation from legislators.
Governor Fallin also presented, along with her annual address, a proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year (available at https://www.ok.gov/OSF/documents/bud19.pdf). Her proposal reflects a belief that the best and maybe only hope for a balanced budget that adequately funds government services is the Step Up Oklahoma plan. Step Up is backed by dozens of business, civic and non-profit leaders and organizations (including OICA), and includes a variety of revenue-raising measures, a $5,000 teacher pay raise, and reforms that encourage government accountability and transparency.
Legislation reflecting the provisions in Step Up will be filed in the currently-operating 2nd Extraordinary Session and could be voted on as early as this week in committee and on the floor of each body next week. To learn more about this plan, go to http://stepupoklahoma.com. The plan is envisioned as a non-partisan proposal that requires Republicans and Democrats to compromise and work together. We hope they do, for the sake of Oklahoma’s children and other vulnerable populations that rely on government services.
The governor’s speech was not the only thing happening on Monday. OICA was pleased to partner with the Oklahoma Women’s Coalition, Women Lead Oklahoma, Together Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Municipal League to present an advocacy training seminar during the opening hours of the first day of session. The attendees heard from lawmakers, advocates and nonprofit leaders about the importance of engagement with those who represent us. You can find the training documents at http://oica.org/legislation/use-your-voice/ and another outstanding reference guide at https://okpolicy.org/resources/2018-oklahoma-legislative-primer/ which covers additional information to better equip you to communicate with lawmakers.
The people of Oklahoma are demanding results, and this truly is a defining moment for our state. Finding the political courage to raise revenue and adequately fund government will be difficult. It will only happen if Oklahomans from all corners of the state and all backgrounds speak up in one voice and call for solutions. It is my hope that OICA’s advocacy tools provide you with the information you need to join in the call for better times for Oklahoma, and indeed make this a place our children want to call home.
By Joe Dorman, OICA CEO