COMMENTARY: Legislative session marked by both victories and defeats
Published: June 5th, 2019
Oklahoma City – The end of the 2019 legislative session finally arrived just before Memorial Day.
While there were some great ideas passed into law and a budget that provided additional funding to many worthy causes, there were also several issues left unaddressed.
For instance, the restoration of the refundability of the Earned Income Tax Credit – which would lift thousands of families out of poverty – did not receive consideration this year. Similarly, an “Oklahoma Plan” for using federal funds to reduce the uninsured rate never materialized, though there was an initiative petition filed by citizens to send this proposal to the voters.
Criminal Justice Reform was a mixed bag. House Bill 1269 passed, making the provisions in State Question 780 retroactive. This means that non-violent offenders previously convicted of simple drug possession will have an opportunity for early release through the pardon and parole process. However, other reform measures failed or were ignored – including bail reform – that are important to pursue if we are serious about reducing Oklahoma’s nation-leading incarceration rates. We hope more progress is made on this front in 2020.
With all that said, there were many bills that passed which will support children and families and improve the services they rely on, including the General Appropriations Bill. That includes additional funding for schools, further support for foster care programs, an extra $4.6 million for county health departments to provide vaccinations, and another $10 million to help reduce the Developmental Disabilities Waiting List. There was also an increase in resources for SoonerCare, which offers health insurance coverage to children in low income families.
We will be documenting policy successes – which in some cases were the direct result of successful advocacy by OICA, our advocates and partner youth organizations – in our upcoming legislative report card. Our report card will allow Oklahomans the chance to learn about child-related bills and which lawmakers supported them.
Moving forward, OICA is also asking for your assistance in submitting ideas to lawmakers for potential legislation. Between now and the 2020 legislative session, state senators and representatives can request an official hearing in order to research a topic. These interim studies are submitted to the presiding officer of the requesting member’s body and they can approve, deny or consolidate these studies together for consideration. From these studies, lawmakers can propose potential legislation for the next session, review the actions of a state agency doing work regarding a previous bill that has passed, or simply raise awareness about an issue which needs further attention.
If you have an idea for something which should be studied at the state level, please contact your state senator or representative to have the issue filed. If your idea centers on policies impacting the youth of our state, please also contact us at email@example.com to help us provide that idea to lawmakers in hopes of having a detailed analysis occur.
We have seen these studies successfully impact policy, as it has done in the ongoing study of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) at the state level. We hope to continue this momentum to see even more ideas become reality on behalf of the children of Oklahoma (https://capitolbeatok.worldsecuresystems.com/reports/the-more-things-change-the-less-they-stay-the-same).
While we did not achieve all our goals in 2019, we are thankful for the progress which was made for the children of Oklahoma, and we will build on this momentum as we move into 2020.
NOTE: Joe Dorman is executive director the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA). A former five-term member of the state Legislature, he was 2014 Democratic candidate for governor of Oklahoma. His commentaries appear occasionally here at CapitolBeatOK, an online news organization.