February 3, 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – For the Children Weekly Column

Contact: Joe Dorman, CEO – Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy

Telephone: (405) 833-1117

Email: jdorman@oica.org

For the Children: A Weekly Column by Joe Dorman, CEO – OICA

 Legislative Session Begins; OICA Begins Examining Proposals

Gov. Kevin Stitt delivered his second “State of the State” to the Oklahoma Legislature Monday on the first day of the Second Session of the 57th Oklahoma Legislature.  The bicameral legislative branch meets from the first Monday in February until they must constitutionally conclude business on or before 5 p.m. the final Friday in May.

Along with the speech, the various newly-submitted bills offered by the lawmakers were considered “first read” on the opening day, another constitutional mandate.  The Oklahoma Constitution requires bills be read at least three times on three separate days in each house before it could be sent to the governor for consideration.

This provision prevents lawmakers from rushing through a proposal any faster than five calendar days, a safeguard protecting citizens and allowing the press to monitor every bill. Having said that, in 25 years of working in and around the State Capitol, I only remember bills passing in the constitutional minimum five days only a few times, and those were in special sessions called specifically to deal with one issue.

OICA has not taken an official position on most of Governor Stitt’s proposals, but I want to share with you some of what was discussed.  The governor asked lawmakers to set aside $100 million of current funds for the state savings account, the so-called “Rainy Day” fund.  The governor said the state’s greatest challenge is dealing with reducing bureaucracy and securing the fiscal stability of the state. His vision includes combining various missions into fewer agencies, and even collapsing into one agency all those that provide health care aid to Oklahoma citizens. 

The governor discussed SoonerCare 2.0.  SoonerCare, the state’s version of Medicaid, certainly will be discussed by lawmakers and Oklahomans will get their say when the vote is set on the initiative petition signed by thousands of voters to attract more of our health care tax dollars back home from Washington.

Another issue of is the governor’s dispute with the sovereign Native American tribal governments on the gaming compact which allow for the Vegas-style gaming in casinos across the state. For now, the governor’s dispute with tribes is in the federal courts as he continues to press tribes to renegotiate the compact.

Other areas of interest discussed in the speech touched on education. The governor recommended immediate acceptance of teacher certifications from other states, that $25 million of your tax dollars to support scholarships for some children to attend certain private schools, and that Jobs for America’s Graduates, known as JAG, be approved.

The governor also asked lawmakers to by law make all newly-hired state workers unclassified employees. He also wants lawmakers to allocate interest from the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust to support rural health programs instead of grants and work the trust currently funds.

As we go forward over the coming weeks of the session, the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy staff and State Capitol liaisons will gather more information on these ideas to share with you.  We will highlight legislation of primary concern to child advocates, recommending ways to help by contacting lawmakers.  Please sign up to follow our action alerts at oica.org so you can help keep your senator and representative informed with information from these emails.