Session opens with important issues

The first session of the 56th legislature convened a few weeks ago and we now turn our focus on what lies ahead in the coming months.

On the first day of session, we heard from the governor in her annual State of State address where she shared her goals for the state, highlighting specific areas of concern for lawmakers to consider when allocating the budget, including a raise for public school teachers, enhanced criminal justice reforms and more funding for law enforcement officers.

In her speech, the governor proposed approximately $1 billion in tax increases in her budget, but those ideas will need to have 3/4ths approval in the House before they will be sent to the Senate for consideration.  With an $870 million shortfall, everything will be on the table for discussion.

The governor noted the most basic of responsibilities for government are to provide citizens with adequate programs for health care, public safety, education, as well as maintain and improve the infrastructure system.

These areas of concern, among many others, will all be part of the canvas of our work this session. The Senate has built a plan with our ideas and we will be looking for solutions that will lead to a more prosperous Oklahoma, including streamlining, or even eliminating, excessive regulations that could create more revenue to be used elsewhere.   We will work to find common ground with the House and the Governor’s Office on the budget and other policy ideas to move Oklahoma forward and build a stronger foundation for many years to come.

Education will remain a top priority as we seek ways to fund a pay raise for public school teachers.  To do this, we will evaluate funding sources and analyze current expenditures in an effort to maximize taxpayer dollars and streamline operations.

Public safety also topped the governor’s list as an area of additional concern.   She cited that 26 percent of Highway Patrol troopers are currently eligible for retirement, thus putting further strain on the younger patrolmen when the older generation decides to retire.  Adding to the pressure is the current 100-mile per day driving restriction presently imposed on troopers.   Restricting the mileage driven on their daily shift only further hurts the safety of all, so we will consider her request for the funding of a trooper academy as well as the elimination of the daily driving restriction in an effort to provide a higher degree of safety for Oklahomans.

The Senate is also acting quickly to bring Oklahoma into compliance with the federal REAL ID program.  Senate Bill 791 would create state ID’s compliant with the federal REAL ID program, but would also include an opt-out provision allowing Oklahomans not to be forced to have a license that is compliant.

Implementation would ensure Oklahomans who possess REAL ID-compliant identification will be able to board commercial airplanes with their state-issued driver’s licenses and not be required to use a passport.

I’m looking forward to a productive legislative and I always welcome your questions and concerns.

Please feel free to contact me at the state Capitol by calling 405-521-5620 or by email at rader@oksenate.gov.