We are now less than a week away from the beginning of the 2019 Oklahoma Legislative Session and Governor Kevin Stitt’s first State of the State address.  Lawmakers are holding pre-session budget hearings to discuss requests for funding submitted by large state agencies and sorting through bills they expect to move forward in the legislative process. This year’s crop of lawmakers – many of them new – have submitted a refreshingly large number of creative ideas and policy solutions (over 2700 total bills filed). At the same time, they will be met with an old and familiar challenge: many needs and limited resources.
 
The staff for the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) has identified several hundred bills which relate to the youth of Oklahoma.  We are working to identify which are positive versus negative for the children of our state, along with which bills will realistically have a chance of being considered in the committee system (many bills are ignored and do not advance at all).  We will have our tracking list posted at OICA.org within the week, so please check our website for further information.  While there, please also sign up for our action alerts which we will use to alert supporters of critical votes coming up which phone calls and emails to your lawmakers could help make a difference.
 
There are several major issues on the horizon, but as I mentioned, there is also the likelihood that funding will not be available to see all of them considered.  We will continue to promote issues such as the restoration of the refundability to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a program which was eliminated a few short years ago during the last budget crisis.  This program provides tax relief to working Oklahoma families who have a very limited income.  There are nine different bills filed in 2019 that restore the EITC’s refundability, but there is also the possibility that another version could be brought forward by legislative leadership toward the end of session with a budget agreement.
 
Criminal Justice Reform will also see quite a bit of attention this session with more than twenty different pieces of relevant legislation filed by lawmakers.  These bills range from making the provisions of State Question 780 become retroactive with the release of inmates who would not have been incarcerated should that have passed at an earlier date, to revisions of state statutes regarding topics such as Juvenile Life Without Parole and Failure to Protect laws.  OICA will not only monitor these proposals, but we will engage on each with what is determined to be the best interest of Oklahoma’s children by our board and advocates.
 
I want to again invite each of you to attend OICA’s upcoming advocacy training on February 4.  This will begin at 8:30 in the morning and will feature a panel discussion from lawmakers about what they expect from the upcoming session, workshops on how to effectively communicate with policymakers and a watch party to view the State of the State, followed by another panel discussion from capitol insiders about what will likely happen over the next four months.  To learn more or to register, go to OICA.org and sign up!  The cost is only $20 and this covers breakfast and lunch, along with the cost of the paperwork provided.
 
Finally, I am proud to announce our 2019 Daily Desktop Calendars are ready!  If you would like a copy, please contact our office at (405) 236-5437 or you can order one on our website.  You can review statistics daily on our OICA Facebook page to learn more about the well-being of Oklahoma’s children.