One of the yearly highlights here in Senate District 20 is the annual Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival in Guthrie, a festival founded by one of the most remarkable talents to call our state home, Byron Berline. His festival highlights an American style of music loved and played in countries all over the world, and showcases local, national and international Bluegrass stars, attracting fans from near and far to the family-friendly three-day event. The event also raises thousands of dollars each year for scholarships for budding musicians. The festival kicks off this year on September 30 and runs through October 2 and will be the first since Byron’s passing last month.
Our hearts and prayers go out to Byron’s family and friends. It’s a tremendous loss, but I’m also grateful for the positive impact he made in his hometown of Guthrie, in our state and in the world of music. I can think of no finer tribute to Byron than for Oklahomans to continue to support this outstanding festival.
Back at the Capitol, work continues daily on a variety of issues. When I was asked to be the Senate’s point person on the tremendous backlogs in processing driver licenses and REAL ID’s in our state caused by the pandemic and software issues, we drew inspiration from the mega centers created to help reduce the backlog in unemployment benefits.
I am so pleased to report that the first of two planned REAL ID MegaCenters opened up on July 26 in Oklahoma City, with a second center opening in Tulsa on August 16. In just the first seven days of operation, some 4,641 Oklahomans had been helped. Because many people from the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metros had been going to get their driver licenses in smaller towns due to the backlog, this will also help reduce tag agency lines in rural Oklahoma. The Megacenter hours are 6:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, please go to https://oklahoma.gov/dps/real-id.html.
I am always excited for the opportunity to look at challenges in our state and find solutions that will move us forward, not only in the short-term but for years to come. I’ve been given that opportunity again as I work with fellow members on a special joint legislative committee to support the state planning of $1.9 billion in pandemic relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Under federal law, these ARPA funds are to be used only to respond to the public health emergency and negative economic effects caused by the pandemic.
As vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I’ll have an integral role in this process, helping coordinate with subcommittee chairs in the areas of Economic Development and Workforce, Health and Human Services, Government Transformation and Collaboration (which I’ll also serve on as co-chair) as well as Transportation, Infrastructure, and Rural Development. These subcommittees will vet proposals for the use of the ARPA funds as we collaborate with all stakeholders to help make recommendations on the best uses for these federal dollars, now and in the long-run.
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 Chuck.Hall@oksenate.gov.