Patrick B. McGuigan, Publisher
OKLAHOMA CITY – The pace of work at the state Senate intensified in recent days, in advance of the formal start of the legislative session in February.
Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, filed a legislative package that would give new-Governor Kevin Stitt new authority to choose directors of five major state agencies. In a statement sent to The City Sentinel and other news organizations, Sen. Treat said:
“Our current system of government disperses power too widely so that most agencies aren’t accountable to the governor and in turn aren’t accountable to the voter. The system hasn’t worked. The system has bred dysfunction and allowed the ‘status quo’ to hold sway for far too long. It’s time we change this broken system.”
Treat’s proposals would touch five of the top 10 government agencies in terms of appropriated dollars, the release from Senate staff said the measures would enact provisions requiring Senate confirmation of nominees, who would service “at the pleasure of the governor.” According to the release:
* Senate Bill 456 would grant the governor authority to appoint the administrator of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.
* Senate Bill 457 would grant the governor authority to appoint the director of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.
* Senate Bill 458 would grant the governor authority to appoint the director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.
* Senate Bill 459 would grant the governor authority to appoint the commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
* Senate Bill 460 would grant the governor authority to appoint the executive director of the Office of Juvenile Affairs.
On Thursday (January 17) Treat filed legislation to allow homeless students to access the historic Lindsey Nicole Henry (LNH) scholarship program, the first major school choice program in state history, created in 2010. Treat’s proposal would, Senate staff said, “provide state funds to children with special needs to attend private schools that could better accommodate their needs.”
Treat reflected, “Educational opportunity is essential to unlocking a student’s potential. The Lindsey Nicole Henry scholarship program has been wildly successful in helping students with special needs receive the support and opportunity to enjoy a fulfilling education. Homeless students face tremendous obstacles. Giving them access to this scholarship program is a great way to help them overcome those hurdles by getting an education that hopefully could help them become a transformational generation in their family tree.”
Senate Bill 901 would amend existing to law to expand access to “a student who is classified as homeless, meaning that they lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence, and is enrolling in a school specifically designated for homeless students.”
Republicans retained a dominant position in state government in wake of the 2018 elections, including in the Senate, but Democrats expect to have a say in policy development in the coming year.
Minority Leader Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, has a trio of new bills that garnered attention in recent news reports. Sen. Floyd is widely recognized for her persistent advocacy that law enforcement agencies process all rape kits from longstanding cases, to increase chances to capture essential evidence and promote justice.
On Saturday, Jan. 19, Darla Slipke of The Oklahoman reported Floyd has introduced three measures that would, if ultimately enacted speed up processing of rape kits.
According to Slipke’s story, “More than 7,200 untested kits were identified in Oklahoma through a statewide audit ordered by former Gov. Mary Fallin in 2017. Law enforcement agencies reported a variety of reasons why the kits weren’t tested, including ‘lack of victim cooperation.’ Oklahoma does not have a mandate to test all rape kits, so different agencies follow different protocols when it comes to submitting kits for testing.
“The legislation Floyd introduced states that the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, accredited crime labs and the task force will work to adopt guidelines for the collection, submission and testing of DNA evidence obtained in connection with alleged sexual assaults. It also states those entities will implement a ‘priority protocol’ for the testing of untested kits.
Sen. Floyd has garnered bipartisan admiration despite small Democratic party in the upper chamber. When the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women designated her recipient of the 2017 “Guardian Award,” severan GOP solons attended to salute her in the state Capitol press room.
The Oklahoman reported that Floyd’s measures will have key elements of majority backing, as state Rep. Jon Echols and Senator Stephanie Bice, both Oklahoma City Republicans, will help advance the measures in their chambers. The state attorney general is backing the proposed new bills, as well.
Although Democrats lost ground in the state House (driven by major defeats in rural and small-city races), they part gained one seat in the Senate.
On Friday (January 18), communications staff for the Senate released a summary of measures introduced for the first session of the 57th Legislature. In total, 1,040 senate bills and 21 joint resolutions will be in play as the session begins. (Two years ago, according to the Friday release, “a total of 831 Senate bills were filed, along with 46 Senate Joint Resolutions.”
The reported raw numbers do not apply to appropriations measures. In some circumstance, other measures can emerge during session. A clear picture of bills still alive for consideration in the upper chamber will come by March 14, and “Measures not heard within that time frame can still be considered in the 2020 session. Senate rules also allow for bills by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate to be filed throughout the session.”
The 2019 session formally opens on Monday, February 4.