OPINION

Legislative session moving along

State Sen. Eddie FieldsOklahoma District 10
Legislative session moving along

The Legislative session is moving along as we enter into the 12th week. This coming Thursday, April 21, is the deadline for consideration of House bills by the full Senate and vice versa. For many bills, this is the last legislative hurdle before heading to the governor. Any bills that the House and Senate like but can’t agree on will be sent to joint conference committees to work on compromise language.

On Tuesday, the governor signed my SB 1206, which authorizes the creation of an additional class of improvement districts within municipalities for tourism purposes including providing marketing services for public or private events, if those events can be reasonably expected to increase occupancy at a hotel or motel within the district.

Improvement Districts have been a key tool for Oklahoma’s cities and neighborhoods to invest in critical improvements. Instead of a broad tax impacting everyone in a city, Improvement Districts allow those who benefit the most to assess themselves to pay for improvements. Without this type of tool, Oklahoma cities and towns will continue to lose out on large events, conferences and tourists — meaning lost local and state sales tax as well as lost jobs in the tourism, restaurant, hotel and entertainment industries.

There are more than 123 cities across the country that have used Improvement Districts to invest in their tourism industry and strengthen their local economies, raising over $230 million for destination marketing each year. The new law will go into effect Nov. 1, 2016.

Three of the House bills (HB 2491, 2642 and 2649) I’m serving as the principal Senate author for are on their way to the governor’s desk for final consideration.

At the beginning of the week, the Legislature honored the 45th Infantry and the Oklahoma National Guard. The 45th served in combat for 511 days and lost over 3,000 people over the course of World War II. After receiving orders, the Division liberated thousands imprisoned in the concentration camp Dachau.

Assistant Adjutant General and Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Thompson addressed the Legislature and others gathered for the joint session. He told a heart-wrenching story that I’d like to share with you. Last year, during the 70 year anniversary of the liberation of Dachau, Thompson and other members of the Guard visited Germany to celebrate the anniversary of the event. Thompson had a 94-year-old man thank him, although he reminded the man that he didn’t participate in the liberation.

“He said, ‘I want you to understand that the morning the Americans came over the wall that was the morning I was supposed to die because I had been moved to the part of the camp that nobody came back from. That morning I saw the Americans and that morning I saw the cowards flee,” he said. “I dropped to my knees and thanked God. When I thank you, you represent the United States…Americans not only saved my life, they saved an entire generation of my family.”

Thompson also acknowledged the many contributions of the Guard, which does more than serve in military action. They have responded to tragic events like the 9/11 attacks, the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building, the devastating tornadoes that have struck our state as well as others and more recently, they assisted at the OSU Homecoming crash.

God bless our military! It is such a privilege to get to meet these brave men and women and thank them for all they do for our state and nation.

As of Thursday afternoon, Gov. Fallin had received nearly 130 bills and had signed 67 and vetoed one.

You can contact me at the state Capitol by calling (405) 521-5581 or by email at efields@oksenate.gov.

Eddie Fields represents Senate District 10, which includes Kay and Osage counties.