The last several weeks have been a roller coaster ride as my fellow freshmen members of the Senate and I have been preparing for the 2019 legislative session. We’ve been through caucus meetings, orientation and training sessions, awaiting our committee appointments then working with staff to get bills filed ahead of the session. It went by in a flash.
On top of the learning curve, until a couple of weeks ago, none of us had offices to work from. That’s because most of the offices on the fourth and fifth floors were being gutted as part of the state Capitol renovations and repairs.
There was damage inside and outside of the more than 100-year-old building due to years of neglect, plus a dangerously inadequate electrical system that was designed to meet the needs of the early 20th century—not the 21st century. This project will ensure the building is safe, for those who work and visit here, and is capable of meeting electrical and other demands both now and in the future, while ensuring the historical design of the Capitol is maintained.
We’re all settled into our offices now, and the 2019 session is well underway. This past Monday we gathered in the House Chamber to hear Governor Stitt’s first State of the State address. I think we all applaud his optimistic goal for Oklahoma to become a Top Ten state.
I was also pleased that many of the governor’s policy priorities mirror the legislative agenda unveiled by the Senate Republican Caucus prior to the beginning of the session. Having greater accountability throughout executive agencies, more transparency in the budgeting process and continuing to make education and criminal justice reforms top priorities are all things we agree upon.
Senate Republicans support giving the governor greater power to hire and fire directors of key agencies. It means he or she would be able to put the people into those positions that would best be able to help fulfill their vision for the state. We’ve also called for the establishment of a special legislative staff division to independently gather and analyze budget and program information so we can be better stewards of all public dollars appropriated.
We all know the skyrocketing growth of Oklahoma’s prison population is unsustainable. For the past several decades, funding for the Department of Corrections has taken up a larger and larger slice of the budget pie, draining already strained resources that could be used for education, health, mental health and other core services that actually keep people out of prison in the first place. Violent, dangerous criminals should be behind bars. But there are better ways to hold nonviolent offenders accountable and end the revolving door of incarceration for these individuals.
We know that states that invest more in diversion and treatment programs for nonviolent offenders have seen their prison populations decline along with their crime rates. We’ve made a good beginning in Oklahoma, but there is more to be done. We’re committed to continued criminal justice reform.
Finally, we continue our commitment to education as a top priority for our state. There are many who have raised the issue of finding incentives to encourage districts that have gone from four-day school weeks to move back to holding classes five days a week. I feel like that approach must take into account districts where the four day schedule has been a good fit with positive outcomes. We need to include exemptions for those districts so they can determine what works best for them at the local level, while continuing to support excellence in education for all schools.
Thank you for the privilege of allowing me to be your voice in the Oklahoma Senate. Please feel free to contact my Capitol office with any questions or concerns you may have about legislation or other issues impacting our state at 405.521.5628 or at email@example.com.