Pawhuska FFA students visits capitol

Staff Writer
Pawhuska Journal-Capital
Sen. Bill Coleman

This legislative session is moving fast as we’re about to wrap up our first month of work.

The Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget (JCAB) met last week to begin work on the budget.

The State Board of Equalization met Feb. 20 and certified that the legislature will have just under $8.25 billion to appropriate for fiscal year 2020. As we suspected revenues have decreased since December. This is $574.5 million or 7.5 percent more than was appropriated for the current fiscal year.

Again, the legislature has many financial obligations to fulfill before we can start looking at dedicating new revenue. We’re looking at, among other things, $19.7 million in teacher flex benefit increases; $99.6 million in ad valorem reimbursements; $19.4 million for the Capitol bond; $7.2 million for the DOC bond; and $14.8 million for the children’s health insurance program. The list of obligations is long and agency requests are many. We must remain reasonable as we decide how best to utilize any remaining new revenue.

The Senate had its first agenda bill approved in committee last week. State Bill 441 will restore the five-day school week. Five-day weeks are what’s best for parents and students. The four-day weeks are hurting Oklahoma’s ability nationally to recruit new employers and jobs. Of course, the bill grants reasonable exemptions if schools can demonstrate that the four-day week hasn’t harmed student achievement and districts are saving money under that schedule.

One major component of the governor’s agenda is another $1,200 pay increase for teachers/certified personnel on top of the historic raise they received last year. House Bill 1780 flew through the House and will next be heard in the Senate Education Committee. The bill increases the minimum salary schedule, which is the only power the legislature has over teacher salaries. Pay above the minimum salary schedule is at the discretion of local school boards.

The Senate is committed to improving teacher pay. The main issue educators are concerned with, though, is getting more money into the school funding formula and into the classroom. We’re continuing to work with the House and Governor on how best to accomplish this.

The other big news last week was the approval of HB 2597, or the Constitutional Carry bill, which is just one step away from the governor’s desk. The bill will allow Oklahomans 21 years and older to carry a firearm without a permit. Veterans, active duty and reserve military ages 18 and over will be allowed to carry without a permit under the bill.

HB 2597 prohibits felons and those with domestic violence convictions, or who have been adjudicated as having a mental illness, from carrying a firearm. It also honors any current protections that allow private property owners to prohibit the carrying of firearms. Fifteen other states already allow constitutional carry, and those citizens have enjoyed the ability to carry without a permit in Oklahoma for years. This will grant Oklahomans that same right while protecting and enhancing the Second Amendment rights of our citizens while also maintaining private property rights.

In closing, Future Farmers of America Day was supposed to be Feb. 19 but with the weather, the event was cancelled. I was so pleased and surprised when the Pawhuska FFA showed up at my office anyway. They used their snow day to come visit at the Capitol. How great is that? This is my alma mater so it was a special treat to visit with these bright young people.

I recently had the honor of having breakfast with some of my colleagues at the Governor’s Mansion. Gov. Kevin Stitt has been hosting weekly legislative breakfasts to keep up on what’s happening in the Legislature as well as continue discussing his goals for the state and how we can work together to achieve those. I have to say getting to sit down with him was probably the highlight of my session so far. He is a tremendous individual who is so sincere and determined to help the state. I greatly appreciate his openness and willingness to work with the legislature to get the people’s business done.

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

State Sen. Bill Coleman, R-Ponca City, represents District 10, which includes Kay and Osage counties.