Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy releases 2023 Legislative Agenda

As newly-elected state lawmakers prepare for their 2023 session, the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy organization has released its “Children’s Legislative Agenda” ahead of the upcoming deadline to submit ideas for legislation.

“The mission of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy is to create awareness, take action, and support policy to improve the health, safety, and well-being of Oklahoma’s children,” said OICA Chief Executive Officer Joe Dorman, a former 12-year member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

“We worked with child advocates from across the state during our Fall Forum meeting to develop a list of priorities to make children’s lives better for lawmakers to consider.”

Release of the annual Children’s Legislative Agenda is the first action the organization takes each legislative cycle.

This year is special, the group said in a press release, as it begins OICA’s 40th Anniversary, marking four decades since child advocates established the organization to be an independent watchdog on state government in the aftermath of the child welfare scandal brought to light in the Gannett report, “Oklahoma Shame.”

That report can be found on OICA’s website.

From the input of child advocates, the OICA Board of Directors considered the suggestions and coalesced them into recommendations divided into four specific categories: tax reform and fiscal policy; child well-being; the economy, including workforce and labor issues; and health and Medicaid issues.

The final day for lawmakers to request bills is Friday, Dec. 9, so OICA first presented the agenda a full week before the request deadline.

Tax Reform and Fiscal Policy

OICA’s top fiscal issue for child advocates is to encourage state lawmakers to expand the Sales Tax Relief Credit rebate. This targeted tax cut provides a $40 rebate per household member based on income, age, ability, and family structure.

In addition, Oklahoma has one of the most regressive tax structures in the nation. According to OICA, this puts “a greater tax burden on lower- and moderate-income families than on the wealthy.”

OICA recommends changes to reduce taxes on those most harmed by the state’s tax structure.

Recommendations include that tax rates be adjusted, and that the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Care Tax Credit, and the Child Tax Credit all be expanded.

Further, OICA recommends the state’s grocery sales tax be eliminated in such a way that does not put an undue burden on counties, cities, and towns. OICA also supports policies to create more affordable housing opportunities for low-income families.

Child Well-Being

OICA continues advocating policies that ensure all the state’s children have opportunities to be as healthy as possible. OICA supports improved access to various assistance programs for children, along with interventions to help justice-involved youth and to reduce barriers to children getting mental health services.

Continued improvements to school counseling services, access to nutritious meals at school and during the summer months, enhanced anti-bullying and “Handle with Care” programs, and state collaboration with non-profit services for youth is also encouraged in the OICA Agenda.

The press release from the advocacy group continued, “Lawmakers should improve the safety of children while in motor vehicles by prohibiting youth drivers from operating electronic devices while the vehicle is moving and requiring minors to wear seat belts regardless of age and providing parental waivers for students who are in a student driver’s education vehicle.”

Economy (Workforce & Labor Issues)

OICA supports policies ranging from ensuring parents have job opportunities to access quality, affordable child care. Other specific initiatives include incentives for child care centers to increase their hours of operation for parents working nontraditional shifts; increased incentives for jobs in child welfare, education, medical care, and career readiness; increasing salaries of teachers, nurses, and other careers facing shortages; and increasing government transparency.

Improved access to job and life skills classes in schools is also a recommendation, along with improving teacher and school support staff pay and benefits.

Health & Medicaid

OICA continues advocating for health policies that benefit Oklahoma’s families. Issues ranging from affordable, accessible healthcare to addressing social determinants of health of diverse communities. The primary recommendation is to improve the quality of health for rural, urban, minority, and diverse communities by making health insurance and resources more affordable and accessible, removing barriers to health care, and making basic health services mobile to provide services to hard-to-reach communities.

Support for policies emerging from Gov. Kevin Stitt’s H.E.LP. Task Force to improve access to quality medical care for expectant mothers is also included in this agenda, along with streamlined services to help with adoption services.

“This is an ambitious agenda that would, if passed, improve the quality of life for every child in the state of Oklahoma,” Dorman said.

“We call on every Oklahoman who cares about the state’s children to join us in making these recommendations a reality.”

“And we ask every member of the Oklahoma Legislature to consider not only supporting these suggestions but to write bills carrying these measures into law. Improving the lives of children is the highest of callings, and we ask advocates and elected officials to answer that call.”

Lawmakers’ votes and support for the Children’s Legislative Agenda will determine their scores in the 2023 Legislative Scorecard that will be published in the summer after the session adjourns.

The entire 2023 Children’s Legislative Agenda is available on OICA’s website located at http://oica.org. The direct link is https://tinyurl.com/2023CLA.

Note: The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy is celebrating its 40th Anniversary in 2023. The organization was established in 1983 by a group of citizens seeking to create a strong advocacy network that would provide a voice for the needs of children and youth in Oklahoma, particularly those in the state’s care and those growing up amid poverty, violence, abuse and neglect, disparities, or other situations that put their lives and future at risk. The group’s mission statement: “Creating awareness, taking action and changing policy to improve the health, safety, and well-being of Oklahoma’s children.” OICA executive director Joe Dorman’s weekly columns often appear on the CapitolBeatOK.com website.