The 2020 legislative session will get underway Monday when lawmakers return to the State Capitol.
More than 2,000 newly filed bills, along with scores of holdover proposals from last year, await legislators when they go to work.
The Legislature will also consider Gov. Kevin Stitt’s budget proposal and a host of policy changes that the second-year governor is expected to unveil in his State of the State address Monday.
Legislative leaders from both parties offered a glimpse of their priorities and expectations at a pair of annual events Thursday: the Oklahoma City Chamber’s Legislative Breakfast and the Associated Press’ Legislative Forum. Here’s what the leaders had to to say about some of the big issues they will tackle.
House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka: “With education, we have the opportunity for smaller class sizes in the state of Oklahoma, which I think would be a benefit for our teachers, students, parents and all stakeholders, quite honestly. We are close to 25 million to 30 million additional dollars going into the formula (so we can) reinstitute the classroom caps from House Bill 1017 (passed in 1990) I think that is a real opportunity for us.”
House Minority Floor Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman: “Education spending is a priority for us, and getting per-pupil spending back where it needs to be. Teacher pay, of course, (is also a priority).”
Medicaid Expansion Proposals
Senate Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City: “I do not personally support State Question 802 myself. There are members of my caucus who do. But we’ve got to find a solution to health care and make sure access to health is more robust in Oklahoma.”
Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City: “We believe this is a good time to be looking at Medicaid expansion. We believe the state of Oklahoma is ready for that. We had 316,000 signatures (for SQ 802 to get it on the ballot) and that tells us the public wants us to review this issue. I think we’ll see Medicaid expansion by the end of the year.”
Criminal Justice Reforms
House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City: “You are going to see the House continue to move forward with how do we lower our recidivism rates. I don’t think you are going to see sentencing reform – there is a state question dealing with that – but you are going to see more on how do we make sure (felons) don’t go back (to prison) and how do we keep our citizens safe.”
Virgin: “I think sentencing reform is very important. We need to give judges the discretion to go away from these very draconian and nonsensical mandatory minimums that we have on the books right now. Recidivism rates are also very important. We need to give people the tools to succeed.”
Cost-of-Living Adjustments for Pensioners
McCall: “We want to preserve our pension plans and have them continue to be healthy … I believe we should and will see a cost-of-living adjustment make it all the way through the process this year.”
Floyd: “Democrats in the House and Senate since I’ve been here – that’s seven years – have supported cost-of-living adjustments. But we are told by the majority party session after session after session about why it won’t work or, if it does, why they can’t get as much as they need.”
Higher Education Funding
Echols: “If we want to get out of systemic poverty, the path is higher education. That is the bottom line. We need to expand those programs that get people back into the workforce. Because yes, it is about businesses, but it is also about the people I represent and their ability to better themselves.”
Virgin: “Over the last decade, higher education in Oklahoma has seen some of the deepest cuts of any state in the nation, and I think we all are feeling that in one way or the other. We have too many students in Oklahoma who would like to go to college but can’t afford it or will be facing mountains of debt because they decided to pursue a college education. So whether it is through concurrent enrollment or increased and restored funding for higher education, that is something we need to focus on.”
Independent Redistricting Panel
Treat: “I am adamantly opposed to the initiative petition (to create an independent redistricting panel). Make no mistake, it’s a power grab and it’s a partisan issue. If you look around the country and at the people who are pushing this, you’ll see they are only doing this in states with Republicans in charge of the legislature.”
Floyd: “If the people of Oklahoma want to control redistricting by having an independent commission and not having legislators basically drawing in the voters (to their districts) so they can stay in office, then I think we should give the voters of this state the opportunity to do that.”
Guns on College Campuses
Echols: “I am A+ National Rifle Association rated and A++ Oklahoma Second Amendment Association rated. I carried (last year’s) constitutional carry bill. But as long as I’m floor leader, we will not have a guns-on-campus bill hit the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.”
Floyd: “My caucus is split on many bills related to firearms. There is no secret to that because they represent different districts and they have different constituents. But I can tell you we will not support guns on campuses.”