Oklahoma State Senate
State Senator Chris Kidd
Senate District 31
(Comanche, Cotton, Jefferson, Stephens and Tillman counties)
June 12, 2017
In my previous column, I discussed the FY18 budget. While the budget was the major focus of the 2017 session, the senate achieved significant policy goals across a wide variety of areas. The REAL ID bill was the first one signed into law bringing Oklahoma into compliance with the federal REAL ID law and ensuring Oklahomans can use their state-issued IDs to enter federal buildings and fly.
We approved the Energy Jobs Act of 2017, which was one of the most significant job-creating bills of the year. The regulatory change is estimated to generate $18 million in new revenue for the state. The oil and gas industry predicts that it will generate approximately $490 million in new royalty payments and $229 million in new state and local revenues. They also say it will create 6,000 new jobs in the energy sector and lead to $6 billion in investment from major oil and gas companies.
Reforming Oklahoma’s criminal justice system is crucial. Oklahoma’s prisons are over capacity and are expected to grow by 25 percent in the next decade. We have the second-highest overall incarceration rate in the nation and the highest rate for female incarceration. If trends don’t reverse, we’ll have the highest overall incarceration rate and will be forced to spend nearly $2 billion to build three new prisons in the next decade. We have to continue passing policies that are smarter on crime and address the needs of those with addiction and mental health issues.
This session, the governor approved three bills based on the recommendations of her Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force. Bills were approved that would assess risks and needs of offenders to help lower recidivism; provide domestic violence victim safety training for law enforcement at the pretrial stage; and provide public defenders, district attorneys and judges training for abuse, behavioral health, and impact and dynamics of domestic violence. The task force recommended nine other bills but they failed in the House.
Improving education at all levels is always a priority. Bills were approved to improve assessments and accountability; require coursework/training in the use of digital and other instructional technologies as a requisite for teacher program accreditation as well as require schools to offer professional development training to teachers on the use of digital resources in classrooms; and create a taskforce of government leaders, educators and the business community to look at the State Aid Formula. We also put into place a framework and the basic components for a new A-F school accountability system, ensuring Oklahoma is compliant with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). A task force was created to study ways to reduce administrative costs and improve financial stability of school districts. The Senate increased the family income limit for eligibility under the Oklahoma’s Promise program and expanded the tuition scholarship to include more CareerTech programs.
Legislation was signed to protect the health and safety of our youth. We strengthened anti-trafficking laws by prohibiting the lack of knowledge of the victim’s age as a defense in the case of trafficking minors. Another bill will require sex offenders with suspended sentences to report to local law enforcement and the DOC parole office in their district. In addition, we broadened the scope of the Child Care Restricted Registry to include people with a substantiated finding of child abuse.
Lastly, we enacted policy reforms to support service members and their families. One will allow active or reserve military members 21 years or older can carry a gun without a handgun license. We increased service members’ financial and contractual rights by allowing members in the Armed Services or National Guard to cancel services like cell phone contracts, utilities, and health club memberships without penalty when mobilized or deployed. Another bill states that hourly employees won’t miss out on the first 240 hours of their pay when called to active service. We’re also establishing a state cemetery for veterans to ensure they have a dignified final resting place.
I look forward to visiting with you about these and other legislative matters this interim.
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.