This week members of the Senate convened for the first session of the 57th legislature, and we are anticipating another busy year. Senate Republicans will focus on many issues throughout this session, including the establishment of a legislative budget office to provide greater accountability and transparency of taxpayer dollars. Following last year’s $30 million Health Department situation, the need for objective, transparent and independent data to form policy and budget decisions is vital. Creating a non-partisan office with highly qualified staff to provide the legislature with valid budget and performance information will be invaluable in helping lawmakers and the public better understand the successes or shortfalls of various state programs.
Another area of concentration this year is the possibility of giving the governor authority to put the most qualified and skilled leaders in state agencies. Under the current system, unelected bureaucrats hold much of the leverage in Oklahoma and many agencies have struggled with minimal innovation and advancement while under the control of boards and commissions with the historical status quo placement of leaders. By empowering the governor to choose leaders, this will ensure agency heads are held accountable by the governor for poor management or lackluster performance, and the governor will be held accountable by the people for the performance of his or her team. Legislative oversight would still be in place, as appointments would still require Senate confirmation.
Our commitment to education is still strong, as we are set to protect the state’s $2.9B investment in students and educators by restoring 5-day school weeks, with reasonable exemptions. This is a necessary step in ensuring successful student outcomes and enhancing Oklahoma’s national reputation. We will continue to look for additional avenues to funnel more dollars into the classroom and focus on the importance of the benefits of a 5-day school week.
Expanded criminal justice reform will also be prioritized this year, with a goal to improve access to, and provide funding for, diversion programs. Senate Republicans have led the charge in reforming the criminal justice system and made great strides in recent years, but Oklahoma still lags behind in the crucial area of diversion and treatment programs. Research indicates states that have been successful in lowering prison populations as well as lowering crime rates have additionally provided funding and incentives for diversion and treatment programs. District attorneys and judges across our state agree that this component must be successfully established to have a substantive impact in the prison population over the long term. Previously, the state adopted a “tough on crime” approach, which caused the reform pendulum to swing too far, resulting in crowded prisons combined with the lack of adequate rehabilitation and diversion programs. Now, as the pendulum is swinging in the opposite “smart on crime” direction, we need to be mindful that the punishment still serves as a deterrent while providing effective reform and rehabilitation programs.
I encourage you to read and download current legislation by going to the official State Senate website at www.oksenate.gov and following the link for legislation at the top of the homepage. The Senate website also includes daily agendas, meeting notices, calendars, and other helpful information. The Senate also offers streaming audio and video with closed captioning from the Senate Chamber, as well as from all committee rooms. Wireless Internet access is available to all Capitol visitors throughout the Senate gallery, rotunda, committee rooms, offices and press rooms. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow the Oklahoma State Senate updates at OKSENATEINFO. You can also follow the Oklahoma Senate Republicans on Facebook, where one-on-one sit down interviews are posted with different Senators, along with pertinent legislative updates and feature pieces.
I also wanted to take this opportunity to express how grateful my family and I are for your prayers and support in our re-election to the Senate. I appreciate the voters’ ability to consider all the issues and not just one. The trust placed in me to put taxpayers before government or special interest groups is not something I take lightly and I appreciate the continued support from our district.
I am looking forward to the challenge of the new legislative session. As always, I will be keeping you aware of Senate news and the business of the state. Please feel free to contact me at the state Capitol by calling (405) 521-5555 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re at the Capitol and would like to stop by our office, we are now located in Room 419.