OPINION

Oklahoma's economy is on the mend

Sen. Bill Coleman

It’s hard to believe, but it was one year ago that COVID-19 reared its ugly head in Oklahoma, causing mayhem and shutting down our economy. Our state has had to endure so much, but as with every other tragedy that has struck the heartland, we have overcome. And not only have we overcome, but our economy is strengthening.

State revenue is increasing, but we’re still just shy of 2020 numbers. February gross receipts were down by $6 million, less than 1%, when compared to last year’s collections. However, sales tax receipts are up by almost 8%, and that is expected to increase even more as Oklahomans receive their stimulus checks. Things are looking up.

Another great thing is Oklahoma’s unemployment rate continues to drop, despite the pandemic. As of January, it was at 4.3%, the 12th lowest unemployment rate in the nation. The national average was 6.3%, so Oklahoma’s lower and continued decreasing rate is something to celebrate.

We were busy meeting in committees last week, working our way through the more than 400 House bills that were sent over to our chamber; and I’m serving as the Senate principal author for 16 pieces of legislation. My bills deal with modernizing state liquor laws, the dispensing of antipsychotic meds to assisted living residents, death certificates regarding suicide, gambling crimes, water rights, fencing of certain state lands and modifying certain manufacturing exemptions.

Other bills include notification of business opportunities in the state, housing contracts for certain minors, and destruction of paper court records. We’ll go into more detail about these as they get out of committee.

I want to tell you more about the Senate bills that were approved in our chamber.

In recent years, there has been a lot of turmoil in our country, and while I support peaceful protests and the freedom of speech, it’s been disappointing to watch people take out their rage by destroying businesses and other private property. We even saw this last year in Oklahoma City when the building of a local nonprofit, Dressed for Success, was set on fire.

Two wrongs don’t make a right, so we passed Senate Bill 806, which will hold rioters who destroy property accountable. The Oklahoma Citizens’ Protection Act strengthens penalties for riot-related crimes including assault of a law enforcement officer, refusing orders to disperse, blocking or obstructing traffic on public highways or streets, and defacing or destroying property. It would also make community service and restitution in such cases mandatory, instead of optional.

While it’s been difficult, the pandemic has helped improve how the world does business by introducing many to new technologies. For state agencies and other public bodies, virtual meetings have helped increase participation, transparency and efficiency. The first bill signed into law this year extended the authorization of virtual public meetings until Feb. 15, 2022, or until 30 days after the governor’s state of emergency ends, and we passed another bill requiring that such meetings be live-streamed. Life is hectic and most people don’t have time to go attend a public meeting in person, but this will make it easy for them to tune in online.

As I mentioned before, we’ve addressed surprise medical billing, and another common problem is health insurance claim denial. SB 550 will require insurers to provide a detailed notice to both the patient and health care provider when denying a claim.

One last measure that I was proud to support was SB 567, which would establish the Oklahoma Homeland Security Revolving Fund to honor Oklahoma’s heroes who die in the line of duty. It will provide state funding for the funeral expenses of state military and law enforcement officers who make the ultimate sacrifice while on the job. This is the least our state can do to honor these courageous men and women as well as their families.

Next week, I’ll talk about some of the interesting House bills making their way through Senate committees. If you have any questions or concerns about legislation, redistricting or other legislative matters, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. You can contact me by calling 405-521-5581 or emailing Bill.Coleman@oksenate.gov.