Interim Review: Rep. Richard Morrissette intends to file Nutrition measures

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Richard Morrissette, in an interim study held this fall before the state House Committee on Children, Youth and Family Services, presented budget impact data for each state agency he claims is affected by this state’s poor overall health.

“We have targeted every agency and specific line items of the state’s budget for examination in an exercise to relate fiscal reports and shortfalls to poor health outcomes,” the Oklahoma City Democrat said.

“Each agency has a mission to address particular needs of our citizens. Those needs never seem to be met without budget increases. All the while, data mounts indicating that we are number one worst in almost every measure of good health. At some point, it becomes our job as legislators and guardians of tax dollars to connect the dots to see if some picture emerges.” explained Morrissette, in detailing his interim legislative study 15-045: “Inadequate Nutrition and its Role in Poor Brain Development during Pregnancy and Infancy.”

Presenters to the study held Oct. 7 included top health professionals in the field of nutrition, representatives from our state agencies, and anti-hunger child-focused non- profit organizations.

Morrissette said, in a press release, he will file two bills related to the study subject for consideration during the annual legislative session next year.

The first, entitled the Oklahoma Child Brain Development Initiative 2016, will require that annually a nutrition education event be held for public school students and their parents, fresh food pantries be established in public schools for after-hours distribution to parents. 

The measure envisioned would also require that Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) funds, in part, be used to produce educational materials to help expectant mothers understand what is required in their diets and where to find such foods.

The second bill would create a system by which public lands, including school property, could be let out for use by local groups wishing to create community gardens.

“I always say, ‘Begin at the beginning’, and that starting point traces back to poor brain development,” Morrissette said. 

“We have the potential to help expectant mothers deliver healthy babies and to help children who struggle to make the most of their lives. 

This is completely up to us and I see this as a Godly mission to provide humane conditions for the born and unborn.

“Good food, adequate and appropriate nutrition, is not an option item that we can take lightly. It’s the starting point from which we should be assessing all current and future budget needs. We will not stop the fourth-highest rate of death from all diseases, the second-highest need for mental health care, highest rates of student failure, crime and unemployability, without fixing the nutrition piece.”

Morrissette explained that under Oklahoma’s shared-use statutes (Senate Bill 1882 adopted in 2012) and the Josephine Meade Anti-Hunger Act (House Bill 1418 authored by Morrissette and enacted in 2013).

“We can set up fresh food pantries in our public schools for parents a couple of nights a week.”

He continued, “Community gardens are also a solution; we have so much state land and school property that can be utilized to produce whole food locally. 

And let’s put TSET to work at ground level assisting our expectant mothers with information. What do we have to lose?”

TSET – Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust – was created by State Question 692, a constitutional amendment that Oklahoma voters endorsed on Nov. 7, 2000. Of the 46 states that entered into a settlement agreement with tobacco-product manufacturers, Oklahoma is the only state that established a constitutionally protected endowment funded by the national tobacco settlement.

Three-quarters of Oklahoma’s share of the national Master Settlement Agreement, which pays states annual amounts based on the number of cigarettes sold in the country, is deposited into the endowment each year.

Payments to Oklahoma to date from the master settlement agreement have totaled $1.2 billion, and will continue so long as cigarettes are sold nationally. 

The endowment has received $816.9 million of that $1.2 billion, and investment earnings boosted the corpus to $999.8 million as of June 30, ledgers reflect.

The 25 percent remainder has been divided between health care-related appropriations by the Legislature and the state Attorney General’s evidence fund, according to Tim Allen, deputy state treasurer for communications and program administration.

Editor’s Note: Presenters’ testimony, PowerPoint presentations and 11 chapters of research from Morrissette’s office have been posted to the Oklahoma House of Representatives website at (At the top of the page, move your cursor over to “Committees” and click on “Interim Studies,” then scroll down to 15-045 and click on it.)