This session has been fast and furious as we’ve worked to revisit legislation lost last session to the COVID-19 shutdown and tackled hundreds of new issues all while dealing with the ongoing pandemic and last month’s historic winter weather. We started with around 1,060 Senate bills and joint resolutions, and after nearly six weeks of committee work and floor debate, we had whittled that number down to just under 460.
The second phase of session is now underway as we started the process all over during spring break with the 400 or so House bills that were approved in that chamber. We’ve completed our second week of the committee process, however bills were still being assigned during the break, so there were no meetings. Last week, around 140 House bills passed out of committees and on to the Senate floor. We have two more weeks of committee work and then it’ll be back to the floor.
Bills aren’t our only focus right now, though. Work on the FY’22 budget is ongoing behind the scenes. Legislative leaders, committee chairs and appropriations subcommittee chairs are meeting regularly with our House counterparts as we try to figure out our financial standing. We have just over $9.6 billion available for appropriation — the largest budget in state history. Over $1 billion of this amount is one-time funds — meaning these particular funds will not be available next year, so they have to be used carefully. Not knowing what was going to happen last year, we did spend much less than we were authorized to in order to have a financial safety net.
We also have many obligations to address this session, including paying for the Medicaid expansion approved by voters, which will cost an estimated $164 million., $115 million for property tax reimbursements and another $600 million in one-time funds that were used to balance the FY’21 budget.
The most recent stimulus package, and the estimated $6.4 billion Oklahoma is slated to receive, has added another layer to the budgeting conversation. Of that, the state will get just over $2.17 billion while local governments will get $1.3 billion. The remainder will go to capital projects, common and higher education, mental health, substance abuse, child care and other specific public services.
Besides crafting a budget and approving legislation, the Senate has a unique constitutional responsibility in the confirming of governor appointments. Last week, the nominations for State Commissioner of Health, Cabinet Secretary of Health and Mental Health, and Commissioner of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services along with other board memberships and cabinet positions were approved in committee and will next go before the full Senate. This is an important system of checks and balances to ensure appointments are truly vetted.
I had 13 Senate bills approved in our chamber and two of those have already passed out of House committees and will next be heard on their floor. Six of the House measures I’m the principal Senate author for made it over to the Senate and two have already received approval in committee.
I’m proud of the bills I’m carrying this year to improve public safety, protecting the mental health of our brave law enforcement officers and their families, helping our state employees, and allowing citizens more time to vote. Other issues I’m continuing to work on include water rights, modifying driver license revocation for minors and driving restrictions for those charged with impaired driving, and extending virtual meetings for public bodies.
There are so many bills to discuss but not enough time or space, so be sure to check out the Senate website at www.oksenate.gov. You can read bills and track them through the process as well as tune in to live committee and floor proceedings to listen to debate. You’ll also find meeting agendas, press releases and information on the Senate art collection. There’s a lot of great information to help you stay informed about what’s happening in your state Capitol.
If I can be of any assistance, you can reach me at Kim.David@oksenate.gov or (405) 521-5590.