We’re now approaching the next big deadline for policy bills moving through the legislature. April 22 is the final day for the Senate to vote on bills that were introduced in the House, made it through their committees, and were approved in their chamber. Likewise, they face that same deadline for voting on bills sent over from the Senate.
More than 300 House bills were approved by Senate Committees, and this past week, we voted on close to 120 of those—we’ll continue working on the remaining bills through next Thursday, so it will be another intense week with long floor sessions.
There are exceptions to those deadlines, including appropriations bills as well as redistricting bills that will soon begin moving through the Legislature. I wanted to stress that even though bills from these areas have not yet been heard by committees or on the floor, our work in both of these areas actually began before the session convened back in February.
As vice-chair of Appropriations, I’ve come to appreciate how intense the preliminary work on the budget really is. We start looking at the numbers fairly soon after the end of the legislative session, and that work continues throughout the interim. We monitor the revenue projections and other economic indicators as they become available, the revenue certifications by the state’s Board of Equalization in December, and then in February, and hold a series of budget hearings for state agencies and other entities.
At this point in the session, Appropriations Chairman Roger Thompson and I are holding meetings with subcommittee chairs at least one to two times each week, and he and I meet with our House counterparts about that often. We are also meeting with our Senate fiscal staff daily. Because we were still uncertain last year about the impact the pandemic would have on revenues, we did not appropriate all the funds available, giving us a sizable carry-over for the next budget. However, those are one-time funds, meaning they won’t be available for recurring expenses. We will continue to take a measured, fiscally conservative approach that prioritizes core services and takes into account additional new expenditures we must fund, including the Medicaid expansion approved by voters last year.
The redistricting process has been a bit more of a challenge this time around compared to previous years. Redistricting is the redrawing of legislative and congressional district boundaries every 10 years to account for population shifts—each district must contain as close to the same number of people as possible.
Usually the U.S. Census Bureau gets the final numbers to the states the April following the year in which the census is concluded, but because of the pandemic and numerous related issues, we’ve been told it may be August before we receive those. The challenge is that we’re constitutionally required to complete our legislative redistricting by the end of this session. To stay on track, we’re utilizing the population estimates provided by the Census Bureau. We’ve also been completely dedicated to making this an open and transparent process throughout. We’ve held numerous town hall meetings in communities throughout the state and in person, and enabled private citizens to ask questions, make comments and submit their own maps.
We will complete our legislative redistricting by the end of this session as required, and if the final numbers indicate any revisions are necessary, we’ll do that in a special session this coming fall, during which time we’ll also complete work on congressional redistricting.
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.