Together Oklahoma Priority Wins and Losses
Now that we’ve had a little time to rest since the legislative session ended, let’s process how we did this year while it is still fresh in our minds. As a loosely affiliated coalition of concerned citizens, we kicked off the 2015 session with six top policy priorities. Here is how things went:
Oppose Constitutional Convention WE WON! (for now)
Whew! The Con-Con was a scary prospect. We certainly can’t take all the credit, but our legislators opted to NOT call for a Constitutional Convention and that is something to celebrate. However, Con-Con measures are still alive and could be brought back up next year, so our work to educate lawmakers and the public must continue.
Get Smart on Crime WE MADE PROGRESS
Thanks to bipartisan efforts, and encouragement from you, our criminal justice system has some new ways to work smarter instead of harder. HB2168 was passed and signed so more ex-felons who can enter the work place and get licenses for jobs not substantially related to the crime for which they’ve payed their dues. Mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses have also been reduced and judges were allowed to set aside some mandatory minimums when they are not in the interest of justice. There’s still work to be done, but Oklahoma can build on these reforms to become a safer and more just state while imprisoning fewer people.
Boost Electoral Participation WE MADE PROGRESS
According to the Oklahoma election board we can expect to have online voter registration up and running within the year. Hooray! Online voter registration has been proven to increase voter turnout. As you’ll recall from our series on Repairing Oklahoma’s Broken Democracy we need all the help we can get. Bills passed this year also mean it will be easier to get 3rd parties on the ballots and submit an absentee ballot. These steps can improve the ability of Oklahoma citizens to be informed participants, who help shape the way we run this state and how we pool our resources. There are other bills ( including many of these ) that we can start talking about now for for next year’s session.
Curb Unnecessary Tax Breaks WON SOME AND LOST SOME
Without a doubt, some of our legislators realize that tax breaks should be given strategically only to boost something important that wouldn’t be happening without the break. While they didn’t take action to curb many tax breaks this year, lawmakers created a system to evaluate the costs and benefits of tax breaks with clearly defined goals. That is a good start! Obviously our biggest disappointment was that they didn’t halt the tax cut that will cost Oklahoma hundreds of millions more in revenue, nor did they eliminate wasteful tax breaks like the double deduction for state income tax. They rushed through passing a budget plan “that ignored nearly all common-sense options that could have preserved important services“. There is a lot of work to do to convince the legislators that the way to ensure a strong state is by being fiscally responsible and NOT by just cutting revenues left and right.
Restore Education Funding WE LOST
Flat funding might sound great to some folks, but the truth is that we can’t maintain services at last year’s sticker price. Lawmakers ignored responsible options that could have restored funding to reduce class sizes and give teachers a much needed raise. Oklahoma has made the biggest cuts to education in the nation since the recession. It is unethical to ignore responsible budget options when our children aren’t receiving the education they need to succeed in this changing world. Yes, Oklahomans should be mad about this. Yes, we need more Oklahomans to see that revenue is the biggest education issue. Yes, we’re going to have to come back to this again next year, and now is a good time to be thinking about how you personally can help create the mental shift necessary to get lawmakers to put our children first.
Expand Health Coverage THE RESISTANCE IS CRUMBLING
While most of our legislators didn’t talk about accepting federal funds to expand health coverage on the legislative floor we know that many of you talked to them. A majority of Oklahomans think that we should accept the billions in federal funds to increase tax revenue, create more jobs, and take care of our own. We need to keep the pressure on until lawmakers do the responsible thing and bring these federal dollars back into Oklahoma.
When do we get back to work on our priorities?
The simple answer: is right now. Without the pressure of watching bills, and without the distraction of losses and wins on a daily basis, now is the time for you to find the people who care about these things just like you. Soon we’ll be unveiling the next step in our Together Oklahoma plan. By reading this you are already on the team,and we’re going to give you more tools to make that team great!
Thanks for all your efforts this session. It’s good to know you are there and that together we are making Oklahoma better for all Oklahomans!