Oklahoma Senate Update: Saving for a Rainy Day, Redistricting ruling, Purchasing Reforms – and honoring a hero

OKLAHOMA CITY – Updating news from the state Senate, including a boost for Day funds, other important policy issues, and honors for an Oklahoma hero:

State Sen. Joe Newhouse, R-Broken Arrow, says Oklahomans should decide if the legislature can save additional funds each year by increasing the constitutional savings cap on the Rainy Day Fund, which is the state’s emergency savings account.
Newhouse’s proposal comes as the state Legislature gets to work in wake of Monday’s State of the State address. 

The legislature has the discretionary power to decide how much money to save while building the yearly state budget. Currently, the savings cap is 15 percent of the amount certified for the prior fiscal year’s General Revenue Fund. Senate Joint Resolution 30 proposes a constitutional amendment to increase the maximum savings deposit from 15 percent to 30 percent.

Newhouse said, in a February 5 press release, increasing this cap is a strategic financial move that allows state leaders more flexibility in saving, which could provide economic stability and certainty for future state operations.
“It’s important for our economy that Oklahoma is financially sound,” Newhouse said. “Practicing fiscal discipline while our businesses and industries are flourishing is a smart financial move. A strong savings account helps to boost the state’s credit rating and offers assurances that we can take care of our core services even in an economic downturn.”

Moody’s Investor Service recently changed Oklahoma’s outlook from “stable” to “positive” due to the state’s strong financial management and commitment to increasing reserves. The commitment to financial stability is a priority for Gov. Kevin Stitt and his administration. He recently endorsed Newhouse’s proposal in the State of the State address.

“Senator Joe Newhouse has filed legislation that would give Oklahomans a voice this year on increasing the Constitutional cap on our state’s Rainy Day Fund to 30 percent,” Stitt said. “Let’s get it to a vote of the people.” If passed, S.J.R. 30 could be seen on the ballot as a state question later this year.

Republicans applaud state High Court ruling on redistricting initiative

On Tuesday (February 4), Senate leaders commented on the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s ruling regarding redistricting. “The court made the right call. Regardless, we’ve remained focused throughout on developing a redistricting plan that will help us do our job well. We are setting up a process that will allow us to work efficiently and effectively once we receive data from the 2020 Census,” said Senator Lonnie Paxton, R-Tuttle and chair of the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting. 

“I’m pleased with the outcome in court. The Constitution charges the Legislature with redistricting and our planning is an effort to ensure we are up to that task,” said Senator Dave Rader, R-Tulsa and vice chair of the Select Committee on Redistricting.

“I’m pleased with the court’s ruling. This is nothing more than a power grab by out-of-state liberal activists. As I have said before, the Senate will handle this job in a professional and thorough manner. The Senate will announce more details soon about its redistricting process,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City.

Legislative redistricting takes place every 10 years following the release of U.S. Census data. The state Constitution provides that each legislative chamber oversees redistricting efforts to ensure districts are updated as necessary to reflect any population changes.

Sen. Thompson seeks Purchasing Act reforms, honors for an Oklahoma hero

Just before the session commenced, Senate Appropriations Chair Roger Thompson filed a bill to reform the Oklahoma Central Purchasing Act. Thompson, R-Okemah, said the legislation will create government efficiencies while modernizing state agency spending.
The Central Purchasing Act sets limitations on agency spending. Although this section of the statutes was amended in fragments over the past 20 years, the last comprehensive and uniform review was in 1998. 

Thompson’s Senate Bill 1422 would update agency spending limits to reflect the increased prices of goods and services and address additional modernizations. If approved by both chambers and signed by the governor, S.B. 1422 will take effect November 1, 2020.

Each session, a handful of Oklahoma heroes are honored with the naming of bridges or highways in their memory. This year, Sen. Thompson wants to include Edward DeVore, a soldier from Henryetta who was killed in action in Vietnam and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest honor.
“Edward was just a few months away from his 21st birthday when he died in 1968 in a firefight in Vietnam, heroically giving cover to wounded and trapped soldiers, continuing to fight even after he’d been mortally wounded. His selfless bravery saved the lives of his fellow soldiers that day,” Thompson said.

The official citation for DeVore’s Congressional Medal of Honor described his bravery in a battle that took place in Vietnam in March of 1968: 

“With complete disregard for his safety, Sp4 DeVore assaulted the enemy positions. Hit in the shoulder and knocked down 35 meters short of his objectives, he ignored his pain and the warnings of his fellow soldiers, jumped to his feet and continued his assault. Although mortally wounded, he continued to place suppressive fire upon the entrenched insurgents. By drawing the enemy fire upon himself he enabled the trapped squad to rejoin the platoon in safety.”

Thompson said, in a late January Senate press release, he wants the state to name the bridge over Coal Creek on US Highway 75 Business in Henryetta the “Edward A. DeVore, Jr., Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Memorial Bridge.” The language will be included in an omnibus bill containing other memorial highways and bridges to be named for Oklahoma heroes who died in the line of duty.

In other news from the upper chamber, Republicans have elected Sen. Rader caucus chair and Senator Greg McCortney caucus vice chair, the President Pro Tempore’s Office announced last week. (The elections were necessary due to the resignation of Senator Jason Smalley, who previously served as caucus chair.)
Rader previously served as caucus vice chair. McCortney, R-Ada, recently was appointed chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee to fill a vacancy created by Smalley’s departure.