Governor has tried to strong-arm Senate

Sen. Bill Coleman

With just two-plus weeks left until the constitutional conclusion of session on May 26, there are certainly concerns about the amount of work to be done in that short of time. I’m so disappointed in the process on education funding that has held up budget negotiations. Normally, an agreement would already be announced but we can’t until education matters are settled, given it’s the largest portion of the total state budget.

The Senate approved the largest teacher pay raise package in state history, ranging from $4,000 to $8,000 based on years of experience. This package also included one-time $3,000 bonuses for other certified staff, like nurses and librarians, along with support staff. Unfortunately, the House rejected this, while passing legislation to fund private schools instead, so work continues to come up with a plan to properly recognize and reward our dedicated school employees while also attracting more people into this outstanding profession.

The hangup appears to be the House is demanding we create a new funding source for schools called the “Oklahoma Student Fund”. This fund would allow smaller rural schools to have a higher per pupil spending than larger schools. The House says this is the only way their rural legislators would agree to pass school choice funding for private schools. The Senate has offered several alternatives that would accomplish the same thing but those are being rejected. We believe this new fund could be found unconstitutional at the most, and at the least tie all monies up in the courts for quite some time. We believe the disparity in per pupil spending will create a large legal battle and no one will benefit while this litigation takes place. 

More than 200 bills have been signed into law, but Governor Stitt has also been busy vetoing measures, including many from the Senate that passed both chambers overwhelmingly. This is retaliation against the Senate because he’s trying to strong-arm our chamber into passing his education proposals. Hopefully we can come to an agreement this coming week on education funding, so we can move on to the full state budget.

I’m glad that several of my bills are among those that have been signed into law. These include expanding the time allowed to make a claim to the Crime Victims Compensation Board; improving our state incentive evaluation system; and increasing the maximum loan finance charges for supervised loans. Several of my reform measures on alcohol sales and regulation have been approved to clarify advertised and shelf pricing for retail spirits licensees; empower the ABLE Commission to decide penalties for those who sell to minors; allow caterers licensees to sell beer and wine on site to applicants for an on-premises beer and wine license or mixed beverage/caterer combination license; and reinstate the compliance percentage parameters for gross receipts tax paid on alcohol. Many of my other bills are going to conference committee to work on amenable language and hopefully get them to the governor’s desk.

Last week was our annual joint session to honor Oklahoma’s 340,000 veterans and their families. This is such a special time for us to salute the service and sacrifice of these courageous heroes. I’m proud to share that Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Gary Miles, of Ponca City, was recognized as the Veteran of the Year for his passion, dedication, and support of Oklahoma veterans. He serves as Commander of VFW Post 1201 and is the chair of The Ponca City Veterans Day Parade Committee. No one is more deserving.  

We also honored the Ponca City High School Po-Hi Steppers for winning the 2023 Large Team Overall National Championship, being named National Academic Champions, and winning numerous other divisions. We’re so proud of this outstanding team and their coach Kristin Smith.

You can contact me by calling 405-521-5581 or emailing Bill.Coleman@oksenate.gov.