Work continues at the state Capitol ahead of the 2022 legislative session. Friday, Dec. 10, marked the deadline for members to notify staff of their bill requests. This deadline helps Senate staff manage the workflow as they assist members in the process of developing the language for measures, identifying where in existing state statutes this language would be placed if signed into law, proofing, formatting, and other procedures that must be followed. The deadline for members to give staff the specific language or information we want included for proposed legislation is Jan. 6, and the deadline for filing those bills is Jan. 20.
While these deadlines apply mainly to bills dealing with public policy, bills dealing with the budget can be filed later in the session. But it’s important to remember, the work on the new budget begins long before that part of the process. As vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I’ve been working closely with our chairman, Senator Roger Thompson since the last session ended in May preparing for the new fiscal year. Throughout the year, we monitor state revenue reports, economic analysis, and other data, giving us an idea of whether we’ll be facing growth, static collections or a decline in revenue.
The good news is revenue collections have been strong this year. This past week, State Treasurer Randy McDaniel released his report on November revenues for the state. All major revenue streams in November rose by at least double digits, pushing Oklahoma Gross Receipts to the Treasury up by almost one-fourth compared to the year before. The Board of Equalization will meet at the end of this month to make its initial certification of how much money will be available for the Legislature to appropriate for Fiscal Year 2023, which begins next July 1.
We’ve also received budget requests from state agencies for the next fiscal year, and our appropriations subcommittees have begun holding budget hearings with individual state agencies, giving them an opportunity to show members how their appropriations have been used in the current budget year, and their anticipated needs for the next one.
Our Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding and its working groups have continued looking at funding proposals. The bipartisan, bicameral committee has been tasked with vetting and making recommendations on the use of Oklahoma’s share of nearly $1.9 billion in funding through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). This past Monday, the joint committee approved two recommendations to address needs that have become even more prominent during the pandemic.
Oklahoma is ranked among the lowest states in the nation for access to broadband services. As schools, medicine, businesses and even local and state government pivoted to online services and meetings during the pandemic, it really focused a spotlight on the digital divide and the need to ensure all Oklahomans have access to high-speed internet. The joint committee approved the use of $2 million for broadband mapping, which is the first step in determining exactly what the needs are, where the gaps are, and how best to move forward.
We also approved the use of $7.5 million for the expansion of the emergency department at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital, creating another 10 emergency department beds to appropriately care for young people suffering from mental health crises. Right now in Oklahoma, we simply do not have the resources needed to address mental health needs among our children and teens, and many families are forced to seek help out of state. As more children and teens experience feelings of hopelessness, depression and suicidal thoughts, it’s imperative for their future and the future of our state that we ensure they have the help they need.
Both of these recommendations will now move to the steering committee. That group will then conduct a final review of each of these projects before sending them to Governor Stitt for his approval.
In closing, from my family to yours, I want to wish everyone of you a Merry Christmas. Please remember the true reason for the season—that God sent his only son into the world as a tiny baby, born to be King of Kings, yet born in a manger, destined to die for our sins so that we may have forgiveness, salvation, and the hope of eternal life. It is the greatest gift ever given. That is the true reason we celebrate this blessed day.
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.