By ROB W. ANDERSON
The first month of the Oklahoma Legislative session has come to an end, and lawmakers now face their first deadline to get bills out of committee and onto the floor for a vote.
Local and area legislators – including Rep. Mike Brown, D-Tahlequah; Rep. Will Fourkiller, D-Stilwell; and Sen. Earl Garrison, D-Muskogee – were on hand at Go Ye Village Friday morning for the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce Legislative Focus to discuss the first month of action at the state capitol.
Legislator urged audience members to remain vigilant in questioning and expressing concern to lawmakers on issues that impact Oklahoma voters. Each addressed the need for lawmakers to reconsider decisions that affect government spending and raising certain fees or taxes.
Garrison said a Senate bill passed recently will take away the due process rights of support personnel in educational settings. Having worked in public education, Garrison questioned why the Legislature would pass a measure that harms a population that doesn’t have equal lobby representation.
“I’ve worked with [education] support people my whole life, having been in the education arena. Some of the most loyal people in the world are your support people,” he said . “They keep the school going. They’re the unsung heroes, and on top of that, they make less than anyone in the school district.”
Garrison also pledged his support for the expansion of Medicaid.
“This is a good thing for Oklahoma. I met with the hospital association three or four weeks ago, and they said this is going to kill our small, rural hospitals if we don’t get Medicaid expansion put in place,” he said. “Those people who stand up and say ‘well, we don’t want federal intervention’ need to realize that those dollars come into Oklahoma are Oklahoma tax dollars coming back. It’s ludicrous to me.”
Fourkiller extended the Medicaid discussion, saying the support is needed for people working minimum-wage jobs while trying to support a spouse or family.
“The Medicaid expansion is going to benefit so many of those working-class folks. They’re going to benefit from that by having coverage that they can’t afford otherwise,” Fourkiller said. “They’re working people and our elderly. I hope we’re able to work through that and things go like we need them to go.”
Fourkiller is also a former educator, and expressed his frustration over lawmakers’wanting to run education like a business. That formula can produce the wrong numbers, he said.
“You can’t just cookie-cut everything in the state. There is just no way. In education they want everything just like this in every area, and they want to go big,” Fourkiller said. “Numbers prove that big isn’t better in education. If you look at the bigger school systems, they’re the ones with lower test scores and lower performance.”
Fourkiller is entering his second term and remains excited about his participation as a legislator, though he wishes the time spent at the state capitol was executed with direction and efficiency.
“For instance, this week we finished up committees and we’ve had bills out on the floor,” said Fourkiller. “I know the Senate may be a little bit more organized than the House is sometimes, but we had a floor calendar that has [several pages] and there’s no order to it. You never know what you’re going to cover or what’s going to be taken care of. Committees are over, and now we have two weeks before deadline to get our bills out of the House to send them to Sen. Garrison there. It’s just aggravating.”
Brown reminded his peer that the seemingly disorganized process may be intentional on the part of some.
“Sometimes leadership uses that deadline to kill bills. Believe it or not, deadlines are their friends. When they don’t have the gumption to tell a fellow member [a] bill stinks and [they] don’t want to hear it, they let it run out on deadline” he said. “They’ll put it on the agenda, but they’ll never hear it because the clock just ran out. The minority has to use the clock to its advantage, too.”
Brown has co-authored a bill that will help law enforcement in the battle against synthetic marijuana, also known as K2 or “Spice.” “It’s worse than marijuana. It’s actually worse than the real stuff. If you’ve ever seen how this stuff is manufactured, it would blow your mind, which that’s what it’s doing to our young kids,” said Brown. “We’ve added some language to help the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and other law enforcement agencies to nab these guys and get this product off the street.”
Brown elaborated on the state’s reduced revenue issue, saying lawmakers are going to deposit $83.3 million in the rainy day fund, which will bring the fund total to about $160 million.
“I tell you this because we have things that you will have an opportunity to vote on, if they pass, and that’s HJR 1011,” he said.
“It’s going to allow you to cap how much we spend out of the revenue that’s available to us. It’s not going to say it’s going to reduce your taxes, but it’s going to say you’re going to stop these government officials from spending too much money. We know in Washington they spend too much money frivolously, and that’s a popular phrase right now. ”