by Gus Blackwell
State Rep. 61st Dist.
The first Session of the 50 th Legislature was called to order at noon on Feb. 7 at the State Capital. Shortly thereafter a joint session of both the House and the Senate convened to hear the Governor deliver his State of the State address. This is the traditional beginning of the legislative process as defined by the Constitution. However this was far from a traditional start to this session. Thirty-nine new members of the House are serving for the first time, which is the most since statehood. The Speaker of the House is also a Republican, which marks the first time this has happened in 80 years. This will be a very historic session for the legislators.
My hope is that this will be a very historic session for the taxpayers and families of Oklahoma also. Last session marked the passage of several bills that increased pay for both teachers and state workers. Now is the time to help increase the pay for the rest of the workers in Oklahoma by passing meaningful Worker's Compensation reform insurance. This issue is one of the top issues that can bring business growth to Oklahoma. The Governor has agreed with the Todd Hiett, Speaker of the House, to make this a priority. Right now, Oklahoma ranks as one of the lowest in the nation in amount of money paid out to injured workers. Oklahoma ranks as one of the highest in the nation in the amount of money paid into the system. Obviously this makes losers of both the workers and the business owners. Meaningful reform can help bring business to Oklahoma and allow existing businesses to grow and expand.
The legislature is also expecting an extra $500 million to appropriate this session above that appropriated last session. This is in direct contrast to the almost 700 million shortfall that the Legislature faced during the first session of the last legislature. With a robust and growing economy, the budget surplus seems at first glance to be very large. However, there are several bills from the last session that come due this budget year. This includes pay raises for teachers, state workers, and health insurance increases. This will still leave enough money to be deposited into the Rainy Day Fund. That will bring that fund to the maximum of $500 million.
The legislature will be looking at several important issues that can help grow Oklahoma and benefit every taxpayer. Both the Senate and the Governor have joined the call of the Speaker of the House for tax cuts. There will also be a chance for Oklahoma to invest in higher education with a 500 million dollar bond issue. This gives our state an opportunity to begin to take a lead in both research and technology. Hopefully this will be a historic opportunity for Oklahoma to see reform, tax cuts, and investment in education. This session indeed is an opportunity to move Oklahoma forward.
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