OPINION

State legislators prepare for 2021

Bill Coleman

With the holidays quickly approaching, legislative staff is hard at work researching and drafting several hundred bills. We’ll know exactly how many bills will be filed when we reach the deadline on Thursday, Jan. 21.

We recently received our committee assignments for the two sessions of the 58th Legislature. I’ll be serving as the Vice Chair of the Business, Commerce and Tourism Committee, and will also sit on the Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government and Transportation and the Public Safety, Rules and Transportation Committees. I’m excited about these new assignments and appreciate Pro Tem Greg Treat’s confidence in me to help lead the Business Committee.

As we continue dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s imperative that we do all we can to continue growing our state’s economy and attracting new businesses and industries to our communities while also supporting our hardworking business community. I have been so impressed with the Oklahoma Department of Tourism, which has done a tremendous job of promoting the many scenic jewels in our state. I highly encourage you to check out their website at www.travelok.com/ where you can find cozy cabins to enjoy Oklahoma’s great outdoors, 50 special places to celebrate the winter season, the Route 66 passport, unique holiday shopping locations and the best fishing trails and other great tourism sites.

Tourism is one of our top industries, so it’s important that we’re always working to promote every attraction our state has to offer, as well as creating new ones. This not only attracts travelers, but helps families and businesses looking to relocate or expand.

On Jan. 5, the Legislature will be convening for an organizational day to officially elect leadership, adopt session rules and take care of some other housekeeping matters. The 2021 session will then begin on Feb. 1 at noon with the governor’s State of the State Address, where he’ll present his Executive Budget, which includes his budget proposal and agenda items he’d like to see tackled this session. Gov. Kevin Stitt's budget will use the Board of Equalization’s preliminary revenue estimate of $8.5 billion, which was released Friday. They will then reassess state revenues and certify the official amount in late February, and the Legislature is constitutionally bound to pass a balanced budget using that updated amount.

For the next several weeks, the Redistricting Committee will continue traveling around the state for town hall meetings to educate and involve citizens in the redistricting process. The census population count will be used to determine federal funding for hundreds of government programs and services in Oklahoma over the next decade, but it also is used by the state Legislature to redraw state legislative districts and congressional districts.

Last week, we learned about Maptitude, which is the software program that will be used for redistricting. You can find a schedule of Senate redistricting meetings at www.oksenate.gov and watch them virtually. Please mark your calendars for the Ponca City meeting on Jan. 14 at 6 p.m. in the Summit Conference Room at City Central. House meetings can be viewed at www.okhouse.gov. We welcome your input on this important process. Questions, comments and ideas can be shared at redistricting@oksenate.gov.

Speaking of Ponca City, I want to congratulate the community for being recognized by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce’s Main Street Center and receiving the most awards of any community statewide. Programs competed in 20 award categories representing the “four points” of the Main Street Approach – Organization, Promotion, Economic Vitality, and Design. Ponca City was among the top 10 honorees, and Chelsea McConnell was recognized among the top four Main Street program directors. The community received four awards – Best Community Education/Public Awareness and Creative New Event for the Main Street Mixer, and Best Creative Fundraising Effort and Premier Special Event with under 1,000 Attendees for BrewFest. Congratulations to everyone who worked on these special events, and thank you Chelsea for your dedication to this important program and our great community.

My family and I would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year!

Please contact my office at (405) 521-5581 or Bill.Coleman@oksenate.gov if I can be of any assistance.