Many bills to consider during session
Last week marked the beginning of the 1st Session of the 58th Oklahoma Legislature. With session cut short last year by the pandemic, many bills were unable to be heard and have been reintroduced this year. As a result, there are more than 1,100 Senate bills to consider. With that said, there’s a sense of urgency to start moving bills through the process with no time to waste.
We got things kicked off Monday by convening in our respective chambers before going into joint session for the governor’s State of the State address. What our state and all of us have experienced in the last year was historic and beyond difficult, but we made it through and it’s time to show the nation once again how resilient Oklahomans can be.
While you may not have agreed with the governor’s decision to reopen the state’s economy in June, it has put our state months ahead of others who are facing astronomical budget problems because their businesses have been closed for so long.
The business community provides jobs that support thousands of Oklahoma families, and the tax revenues, whether income, corporate or sales taxes, fund our state agencies and their programs. In June, our state unemployment rate was 40 percent below the national average and nearly 60 percent lower than New York’s.
Our hearts break for the more than 4,000 Oklahoma lives lost to this terrible virus. State leaders and agencies are working tirelessly to get as many citizens vaccinated as possible to help prevent further deaths. More than 400,000 Oklahomans have been vaccinated, and our state ranks 7th nationally for vaccines administered per capita. We’re doing good, and we’ll do better. Vaccine delivery is increasing.As vaccinations for health care and frontline workers and those 65 and older continue, we’ll soon be moving into the next phase. Our teachers and school staff will be getting theirs this month, which will better protect the health of our schools and hopefully all Oklahoma students can return to in-person learning.
While we were authorized to spend much more last session, we had no idea the extent the pandemic would impact our state’s economy and future revenues. The governor praised us Monday for our caution with the budget and because of that fiscal prudence, it appears we will likely face a flat budget this year. While the governor’s budget proposal was based on the December preliminary revenue figures, the State Board of Equalization will release the actual amount on Feb. 15. We’re anxiously awaiting their announcement.
Overall, his proposed agenda focused on keeping the state Top Ten for business, giving taxpayers more for their money and investing in our fellow Oklahomans. As he said, we need more taxpayers, not more taxes.
This will involve helping and protecting the businesses and industries we have while attracting new ones. Part of this also involves having a strong education system and a skilled workforce—both issues we’ll be working on this session.
He also wants to see continued work on improving the state’s transportation infrastructure, cutting red tape and eliminating excessive regulation of businesses.Gov. Stitt also encouraged further innovation within our state agencies to save money. Like DHS closed 25 of their offices last year and were able to shift that savings to improve access and provide more services for Oklahomans in need.
He also wants to modify outdated hiring practices for state employees and how they’re promoted and rewarded. Within state government, promotion typically comes with seniority rather than experience and capability like in the private sector. He’s urging the legislature to give agencies more freedom to promote and hire the best and brightest.
As we continue studying his budget proposal further, I know the legislature is anxious to get to work on those issues that will help improve the lives of Oklahomans and further strengthen our economy. We have a lot of work ahead of us, and I’ll keep you updated as we move forward.
Thank you again for the privilege of serving our district and the State of Oklahoma in the Senate. If I can be of any assistance, you can reach me at (405) 521-5563 or Chris.Kidd@oksenate.gov.
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