I want to thank everyone for their support and entrusting me to serve as your voice in the Senate for the next four years. This is a great privilege that I don’t take lightly or for granted, and I’m ready to tackle the many issues ahead of us this session.
It’s going to be a difficult road as our state works to overcome the many challenges created by the struggling energy sector and the health pandemic. As our state’s top source of revenue, low energy prices have impacted numerous others revenue streams statewide. COVID-19 has also hurt state revenues with businesses being closed, which caused lost wages and more tax revenue. Together, these two issues have the state over a $1 billion in the hole.
Another difficult revenue issue we’ll be facing is paying for the Medicaid expansion approved by voters last year. While we won’t know the exact cost until we get the enrollment numbers next year, we’re estimating that the state will be picking up the tab for around $160-$256 million annually. That is a new expense for the state that the legislature will have to find funding for or divert money from another agency or program. Unfortunately, State Question 814 would have used part of the TSET Fund to help with this new expense, but it failed.
This week, we had our swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol. It was much different than my first oath of office ceremony as the Senate Chamber is still under construction, and we were sworn in in small groups to allow for social distancing.
We also held our GOP Caucus to decide what issues we want to focus on this session. It’s important that we’re all on the same page and working on those issues most important to the state. While we will have some agenda items, the budget is going to be of main concern. We have to balance the budget while filling the $1 billion revenue hole.
Bills could start being filed on Monday, so our staff has been busy researching and drafting requests. As of Wednesday, 30 Senate bills had already been filed. I’ll probably wait until January to begin filing mine. The deadline to request bills is Dec. 11, and I like to wait to hear from all of you about what issues are of the greatest importance to the district. If you have any ideas for legislation, either new or to change current law, please let me know as soon as possible. I need time to research those suggestions and issues before I request legislation, and the deadline is quickly approaching.
We will receive our new committee assignments next month. The Pro Tem will also announce his leadership appointments, which will then be voted on during our Organizational Day on Jan. 5.
Unfortunately, Oklahoma’s number of COVID cases and deaths is skyrocketing. Only we can slow the spread of the virus. It won’t magically go away. Oklahoma is one of the hardest hit states right now. More than 100 Oklahomans have died in the last week. Our hospitals are full, and our health care professionals are stretched thin. Many patients in critical condition are having to be taken to other states because we don’t have the beds. This is an extremely dangerous situation.
Please, wear your mask, wash your hands and socially distance when around others. If you’ve been watching the news, Oklahoma’s doctors and other health care professionals are begging citizens to follow these simple safety precautions to slow the spread of the virus.
Gov. Stitt also has mandated masks in all state government buildings and House and Senate leadership agreed for the Capitol, too. I know masks are annoying and uncomfortable, but please think about those around you who are immune compromised, who have asthma or other illnesses that may not be able to fight this virus off. My family’s thoughts and prayers are with the families of the nearly 1,600 Oklahomans who have lost their lives to this awful virus and to the thousands in the hospital fighting for their lives. Please, let’s join together and protect our fellow Oklahomans and do what’s necessary to stop this virus.
I hope everyone has a safe and happy Thanksgiving. God bless you all!
To contact me at the Capitol, please write to Senator Dewayne Pemberton, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 429, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, or call (405) 521-5533. You can also email me at Dewayne.Pemberton@oksenate.gov.