Oklahoma, like most of the nation and the world, is in the midst of an unprecedented public health event. The situation seems to be changing daily around the globe and here at home. As of Tuesday afternoon, this is what I can tell you.
These are extraordinary times in which we are living.
Joshua 1:9 Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
The House this week passed legislation that would grant a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to state retirees in six of the state’s pension plans. House Bill 3350 passed 99-0. The measure would grant a 4% COLA to any state pensioner that has been retired for five years or more as of July 1 this year and a 2% COLA to those retired at least two years but not five. The House ran similar legislation last year, but it was not picked up by the state Senate. This year, a number of senators have signed on as co-authors of this bill. That gives me hope it will make it through that chamber and to the governor’s desk to be signed into law. It has been 12 years since state retirees received a COLA. Meanwhile, health care and other living expenses have risen in cost. It is time to give those who’ve dedicated years of their life to the state — our firefighters, police officers, teachers and other state employees — this much needed raise. Another piece of legislation that passed the House this week would put to a vote of the people a question of whether to amend how state questions are placed on statewide ballots. House Joint Resolution 1027 would ask the people to vote on whether we should require signatures from voters in each of the state’s five congressional districts to place an initiative petition, a legislative referenda or a constitutional amendment on the state ballot. Currently, state law just requires a number of signatures from legal voters in the state to place such state questions on a state ballot. The number is based on how many voters voted in the last governor’s election. But the way the law is written, the signatures can be gained from the state’s two largest cities, and this leaves rural voters out of the process. This would even the playing field so our rural voters would have to have a voice before the state’s constitution or state law is changed. A measure that classifies domestic abuse by strangulation, domestic assault with a dangerous weapon, domestic assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and domestic assault and battery with a deadly weapon as violent crimes also passed the House this week with a 92-0 vote. House Bill 3251 only makes sense. These are violent crimes, and they deserve full punishment under the law, including that anyone convicted of these crimes will have to serve 85% of their prison sentence before being released. This is a further protection for our domestic violence victims.
Gov. Kevin Stitt has been making his fair share of blunders lately. This would include the governor’s brain dead idea of keeping state gaming revenue in escrow, risking withholding funds from our rural schools, when there is no legal reason to do so. In Stitt’s ongoing negotiations with tribal leaders over state gaming compacts, the governor has started showing impatience and desperation by continued talk of full scale commercial gaming in Oklahoma to pressure the tribes. Rural Oklahoma and state evangelical leaders will not be amused if Gov. Stitt is serious about bringing full blown commercial gaming to Oklahoma. Evangelicals will not follow Stitt off a cliff. Stitt should keep the high ground and work with tribal members on a compromise over the tribe’s view that state gaming compacts renew every 15 years for all eternity. It’s time the parties find a mutually acceptable rate for the state’s gaming exclusivity fees and a compromise on the renewal of tribal gaming compacts that will bring clarity to the issue for years to come.