BY JOE DORMAN
We are in the fifth week of the legislature, which means the committee process has ended and the bills to be considered further must now pass the entire body of origin. House bills must pass the House of Representatives by next Thursday to move on if they will become laws, just like the Senate bills in the State Senate.
I have detailed my bills so far in my columns, so I want to update you on some of the more interesting bills which have been authored by other legislators and where they stand in the system. These three were authored by Republican colleagues.
• HB 1706 by Rep. Ann Coody failed in committee last week, but the bill would have created a $500 million bond through the State Department of Education to administer grants for local schools to upgrade facilities to make them safer. Many members had different reasons based on the debate and the vote came down to 7 yes votes and 18 no votes. My concerns with this bill were the amount of the bond, the discretion of the Superintendent Janet Barresi to give the grants to schools based on very little oversight in the bill, and what I feel is the need for the local school districts to have the ability to decide on if and what should go into a bond package for school security, so I voted against this bill. There are also bills by other authors which could be heard to allow teachers and school personnel to carry firearms in schools;
• HB 1721 by Rep. Leslie Osborn passed the House of Representatives on Monday. This bill would reduce the next income level for qualification for the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program (OHLAP), or Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship, which would have increased next year. OHLAP replaced grant programs in the past and provides tuition assistance for low-income college-age students from Oklahoma families to offset the cost of rising cost of tuition. I voted against this bill as this changes the income cap for many families who were about to qualify for the program and makes it harder for those kids to get a college degree. The income levels would have increased to $100,000 to take in double earning middle income families, but if this bill should become law, that level will instead be lowered to $60,000 based on family income rates. Parents who are school teachers with no other income would not qualify, to use an example;
• HB 1917 By Speaker TW Shannon also passed the House of Representatives on Monday, requiring state agencies to prepare for the possibility of a 25% reduction in federal funds. I supported this bill as we are entering a time when budgets are questionable due to the inaction of our federal government and their inability to prepare a budget. The effectiveness on this will depend on how serious state agencies will take this mandate and if the federal government will cut state funding to that level. The Oklahoma Department of Health relies on 56% of their budget to come from federal matching dollars, along with the State Department of Education likely facing tens of millions of dollars being cut from It
It will be a busy weekend coming up! On Friday, I look forward to visiting with the Lawton Chamber at their legislative luncheon about work at the Capitol so far this year. This Saturday evening is the Starlight Ball in Lawton which will benefit the children’s programs at Comanche County Memorial Hospital. Sunday afternoon, I will lead a workshop teaching 7th and 8th grade students the legislative process for their participation in the YMCA Youth in Government program at the Grady County Extension office, so contact me if you have a student who might be interested in attending the one-day conference on Friday, March 29th at the Capitol. On Saturday, March 16, there will be a bean supper to raise funds for the Apache Fire Department starting at 5pm at the high school. I also want to congratulate the teams in our area who competed in the various basketball playoffs and especially the Chickasha and Fort-Cobb/Broxton men and both Sterling teams for making it to State!