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Capitol Week In Review: Lawmakers Dip Into Empty Account To Fund DHS

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OKLAHOMA CITY -

This week, state lawmakers advanced a bill to give teachers raises without a plan to pay for it, and they dipped into an account with no money in it, to fund DHS. 

Lawmakers also found out that last year, a deal was cut to only fund the Department of Human Services for 10-months.

“It’s a secret deal that rolls $4-million out of the rainy day fund account, which we know is zero, so we’re intentionally writing a check that’s going to overdraft the account,” said Senator John Sparks (D) Minority Leader.

The rest of the money will come from the unclaimed property fund, where nearly $80-million has already been withdrawn this year.

“That’s my duty as fiduciary in charge of unclaimed property is to make sure we are not in a position where we can’t pay claims back to the rightful owners,” said State Treasurer Ken Miller. “We are not in that position.” 

Miller did urge lawmakers to stop raiding that account.

Lawmakers passed several alcohol modernization bills that would allow liquor stores to have extended hours and open on Sundays. Backers doubt it will lead to increased alcoholism.

“I don’t know that I’ve seen any statistics that bear that out,” said Representative Glen Mulready (R) Tulsa. “So, I don’t believe that will happen, no.”

A Senate committee passed a series of criminal justice reform bills that will allow older non-violent offenders to be paroled sooner, but the committee did not hear a bill that could have overturned reform voters backed in November to reduce some non-violent crimes.

The House of Representatives passed Marsy’s law, which would amend the state constitution to ensure crime victims are given access to information about their case.

Kelly Vierling, whose son, Alex, was fatally shot at a party in Stillwater in 2014, says it’s a victory for victims.

“I’ve come to learn that the one thing all victims have in common is we feel helpless,” said Vierling.

A Senate committee also passed a bill to give teachers $6,000 pay raises over the next three years, but with no clear way to pay for it.

“We’re still trying to figure out exactly how we’re going to pay for this,” said Senator Ron Sharp (R) Oklahoma City. “Are we going to do as the house, some members want to reduce all the agency budgets by nearly 15-percent to pay for that? I think that would be a disaster.”

That bill now goes to the senate floor, but the governor is not expected to sign it into law unless the legislature can come up with a way to fund it. 

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