A state legislator is out, hopes for teacher raises are dying and a breakdown in communication over the state’s $900-million budget shortfall all are highlighted in this legislative week in review.
Senator Kyle Loveless resigned this week after criminal and ethics investigations into campaign money he allegedly accepted but didn’t report.
“Well, he basically said that he was resigning his position and again he thought it was for the best of the caucus,” said Senator Ron Sharp (R) Oklahoma County.
Loveless is the sixth legislator to be replaced since the beginning of the session.
A plan to take alcohol sales tax revenue from counties died in the House of Representatives.
“I guess it comes really to a decision point of whose budgets are hurting worse, the state budget or the county budgets,” argued Representative Glen Mulready (R) Floor Leader.
The legislature didn’t move on key revenue raising measures like a tax on gasoline; the production of oil, and tobacco. Insiders say a faction of lawmakers wanting cash from the tobacco tax to go towards managed health care instead of mental health and healthcare.
“The cigarette tax is desperately needed for mental health, for DHS, for Medicaid, OU and OSU,” said Senator Rob Standridge (R) Majority Whip.
Backers say more of a focus on mental health and addiction would reduce the prison population which, this week, reached a record 62,000 inmates.
On the crime side, Attorney General Mike Hunter is calling for a task force to look into what, he calls, the epidemic of opioid abuse in the state, and the governor signed an executive order requiring an inventory of the state’s untested rape kits.
Also, a House of Representatives plan to give teachers a $6,000 raise over three years was not heard in the Senate, because no one has figured out a way to pay for it.
“Our main focus has to be to fill the $900-million hole so that then we can look at those options,” said Senator Kim David (R) Tulsa, “But until then it would be irresponsible for us to be able to do a teacher pay raise.”