Oklahoma State Senate
State Senator Chris Kidd
Senate District 31
(Comanche, Cotton, Jefferson, Stephens and Tillman counties)
March 24, 2017
The Senate tackled a wide range of issues this week but the two main areas of focus were criminal justice reform and education.
The legislature began working in recent years to find ways to address our over-capacity prison system as well as get treatment for those with mental health and substance abuse issues rather than simply locking them up. Together these changes will help the state save millions of dollars, which can be redirected to other crucial state services like education, transportation and public health.
SB 603 requires the Department of Corrections to administer risk and needs assessments for prisoners. The agency must develop plans of action based on the assessments.
SB 649 exempts elderly citizens from escalating punishment for committing a felony (with certain exceptions).
SB 689 allows nonviolent offenders sentenced to life in prison to have their sentence modified after 10 years of imprisonment. The bill allows the courts to waive fees for service.
SB 271 requires a sex offender who is given a suspended sentence to report to local law enforcement and the Department of Corrections parole office in their district.
SB 303 authorizes the OSBI to submit fingerprints to the FBI Rap Back System.
SB 377 provides framework for nonviolent drug offenders to be sentenced to GPS monitored confined conditions. Felons and those convicted for viewing child pornography aren’t eligible.
We also debated several important education bills. When we invest in and improve our education system, we’re strengthening our future as our students will be more prepared for college and the workforce. The better educated and skilled our workforce, the stronger our economy will be.
The bill most Oklahomans were most interested in was SB 618, which modifies the minimum salary schedule and would provide a four percent pay increase (about $1,500 depending on length of service, certifications/degrees) for teachers beginning this coming school year with another four percent the following year. The Senate author proposed raising Oklahoma’s fuel tax, which is one of the lowest in the nation, to pay for the raises. However, the bill is only a suggestion as only the House can introduce tax raising measures. They approved their own teacher pay raise bill this month but they didn’t include a funding stream in the legislation. Raising the fuel tax would provide an estimated $178 million and the first pay raise in SB 618 would only cost $80 million so the remaining $98 million would go towards closing the $288 million revenue shortfall. Again, this is just one of the suggestions working its way through the legislative process but it takes money to pay for all of the government services provided to Oklahoma citizens so we’re going to have to create new sources of revenue.
Another area of interest is Oklahoma’s high school administrative costs, which are some of the highest in the nation. Mind you, administrative costs are set by local school boards not the legislature. The legislature also can only set the minimum salary schedule for teachers while salaries above that schedule are determined by each individual school district and their local school boards.
SB 514 requires the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) to study shared administrative services, like technology and accounting for instance, of school districts in the hopes of reducing administrative costs.
SB 15 directs the OSDE and the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education to implement a targeted recruiting program for teachers.
SB 70 and 72 directs the State Auditor to conduct a performance audit on the OSDE and the Department of Career and Technology to see how funds are being utilized and what programs are working.
SB 243 requires a monthly financial report to be prepared by the local school’s treasurer and sent to the local school board. Fiscal accountability is key for school districts and local boards are the ones responsible for making financial decisions so it’s imperative that they are kept up to date on a school’s financials.
You can read about more of the bills that were considered on our website at www.oksenate.gov.
At the State Senate, I can be reached by writing to Senator Chris Kidd, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 411A, Oklahoma City, OK 73105, emailing me at email@example.com, or by calling (405) 521-5563 and speaking to my assistant Suzanne Earnest.