We took a few steps forward and several steps backward this week at the Capitol. Committee work continued, and some bills garnered international attention - unfortunately, not for the best reasons. I’m pleased to report that HB 1260, my bill to bolster a fund for uncompensated healthcare passed out of a sub-committee unanimously. Additionally, we took up legislation to finally address the REAL ID Act, which the legislature has ignored at great cost to the citizens of Oklahoma. Finally, for the second week in a row, my jar of peanut butter M&Ms is empty. More on that in a bit.
It is no secret that the State of Oklahoma faces crises in multiple areas of core government services - we’ve heard a lot about the state of education, but our prisons, healthcare systems, roads, and other core services are still hurting. Nevertheless, I spent my first two Public Health Committee meetings discussing bills like HB 1441 (the now infamous “Host” bill) and HB 1549, that would likely end up challenged as unconstitutional in the courts. I received a lot of calls and emails asking me to vote no on these bills, and I did. I also voted against them because I believe, especially in our current economic situation, that bills doing little to solve these problems but raising a myriad of legal questions should not be our priority. I said as much in debate on one of the bills, which you can watch here:
Six bills addressing the teacher pay issue passed out of Senate committees this week, which is a good sign. Discussion about how best to get our teachers a much-needed and well-deserved raise will continue. Unfortunately, other state workers and retirees who have waited nearly a decade for a raise or a cost-of-living increase are also anxious for economic relief, and a solution seems far away.
HB 1260, the Uncompensated Care Fund bill that I authored this year, passed unanimously out of the A&B Subcommittee on Finance. Perhaps it passed because it is a good idea; perhaps it passed because I began my explanation of the bill by saying, “this is a slam dunk bill, a great bill.” So maybe I’ll begin every explanation that way moving forward. Interestingly, the Chair of this committee is my former middle school principal. Because I was scheduled to be in another committee at the same time as I was set to present my bill in his committee, I was about a minute late. The chair - ever the stern administrator - chastised me for my tardiness and pointed out that he wasn’t surprised by it considering I was frequently late to class as a result of my chatty socializing between classes in school. I couldn’t deny the accuracy of his claim.
After passage of my bill, I was rushed to another committee to present a bill on behalf of a colleague who couldn’t be there in person. It was requested by the Oklahoma Dept. of Transportation, clarifying who is responsible for paying the bill when utility lines must be moved. Very thrilling, I know. It passed out of committee as well, so I am officially 2-for-2 on presenting bills! We will see how long my streak continues.
The full House took up the long-awaited REAL ID Act legislation, which would bring our driver’s licenses and ID’s into federal compliance. Had we taken no action, Oklahomans may not have been able to board airplanes or enter federal buildings using a driver’s license. The bill passed the House, and will move onto the Senate.
So, about those M&Ms: I keep a large jar of peanut butter M&Ms in my office for visitors to snack on. For the second week in a row, I’ll have to refill that jar. I think this is good news, because it means I’ve had a lot of visitors and enjoyed a lot of good and fruitful discussions. If you want to come up to the office - 539B on the fifth floor - and enjoy some M&Ms, you are more than welcome to! The more you eat, the less I’ll eat, which will help ensure that my suits continue to fit.
As always, please reach out to my office if you have questions or need assistance. My email address is Forrest.Bennett@okhouse.gov, our phone number is 405-557-7404. Additionally, you can follow me on Twitter at @ForrestBennett or on our Facebook Page facebook.com/forrestforoklahoma. It is my greatest honor to represent you at the State Capitol.