Capitol Week In Review: Lawmakers Focus On Finances As Legislative Session Winds Down
OKLAHOMA CITY - The legislative session is in its final few weeks and lawmakers are focusing on finances. The legislature has until May 31 to wrap up the state’s business, and there is a lot on their plates.
The Democrats plan includes 1,200 dollar raises for teachers and $81 million for higher education and career tech. Dems want to pay for it with a combination of Medicaid expansion and tax increases.
“Oklahoma’s top earners enjoy the fifth lowest tax burden the entire country while our students attend underfunded and understaffed schools. Our budget addresses both of these issues,” said Representative Emily Virgin (D) House Minority Leader.
The proposed Democratic budget also includes $40 million for criminal justice diversion programs. Governor Kevin Stitt is proposing considerably less.
“I’m asking for $10 million in diversion techniques, because the judges have got to have different programs to send some of our non-violent drug offenders to,” said Governor Stitt.
Senator Greg Treat (R) President Pro Tempore said, “$10 million is better than zero. We have tried to get a higher number on diversion programs.”
Senator Kay Floyd (D) Minority Leader added, “My understanding is we need about $90 million over the next two years, so I think the amount we need this year is closer to $40 or $45 million.”
An ex-con who has become the national face of criminal justice reform met with Oklahoma state lawmakers this week. President Trump granted Matthew Charles clemency after he was sentenced to 35 years in prison for a non-violent drug conviction.
“We had some good conversations about criminal justice reform. This state as well as the leaders of this state, acknowledge that there needs to be a change,” said Charles.
An anti-abortion bill that could change the state constitution to say abortions are not protected in Oklahoma stalled in the state legislature. Also, the governor vetoed a bill that would have required the lowest paid state workers to get overtime pay instead of comp time.
So far, the governor has received 315 bills from the legislature and vetoed eight.
Next week, Oklahomans can expect the legislature to focus on teacher pay, criminal justice reform and the budget.