Lawmakers Return To Capitol For Already Fraught, Busy Session

Tuesday, February 4th 2020, 1:30 am
By: Grant Hermes

With more than 4500 bills filed, the Governor at odds with leadership over key policy areas and two new pushes to radically change state healthcare, lawmakers returning to the people’s work on Tuesday will face a jam-packed year. 

Education will likely take top billing once again this year. This session is supposed to be the final year of the Oklahoma Education Association's three-year plan, since the walk out to fund education.

However, with the state deadlocked in a legal fight between the tribes and the governor not receiving support from the leadership in either party, education funding will be a tightrope walk for many lawmakers.

Also, on the education agenda are 4-day school weeks. After The State Board of Education passed new rules making it much more difficult for districts to stay on 4-week schedules the fight over local control and whether shorter weeks means more money and better grades is expected to intensify.

On its way to heating up is the fight over funding for school vouchers and public schools. In his address, Stitt called for a lift on the cap donations for scholarships to private schools, which opponents criticized as thinly veiled voucher tax credits.

“In today's State of the State, Gov. Stitt asked for an increase of $25 million in state funding for vouchers for private schools, but only an increase of $12 million in state funding for public schools. If you want to fund public schools, fund public schools,” Minority Leader Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman wrote on twitter. “Stop the gimmicks.”

Criminal justice reform is also expected to continue its charge forward. Gov. Kevin Stitt had major success last year in reducing the state’s prison population and consolidating the Pardon and Parole Board into the Dept. of Corrections, alleviating investigative wait times. Reform advocates also praised gains made in 2019 through sentencing reforms and are now setting their sights on death penalty and bail reforms.

Lawmakers are also expected to take up consolidating government agencies, in an effort to lessen what some consider administrative bloat. It's a top down directive from Stitt who said Monday in the State of the State address that bureaucracy was the biggest threat to Oklahomans.

Not to be outdone, will be the fight over healthcare. Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, lawmakers have sparred over whether to expand Medicaid coverage but with the Governor's announcement of a first in the nation block grant plan, the fight appears to be entering its final rounds.

“We will seek to close the gap of those uninsured in Oklahoma. We will focus on much needed accountability in the Medicaid system, to focus on rewarding health outcomes and stronger performances in care,” Stitt said about what he’s calling SoonerCare2.0

The Governor and capitol Republicans will have to play catch up in messaging. The state question, SQ802, to put Medicaid expansion to a vote of the people in either June or November has broad appeal in the upcoming election this fall.

Session begins at 9 a.m.