House committees reached their first deadline March 1, meaning any bills not heard in committee are likely dead for the session. All totaled, representatives heard nearly 350 bills during the Legislature’s first month.
Fortunately, several good pieces of policy have advanced and are now eligible to be heard on the House floor. Many bills, however, didn’t even manage to receive a hearing. My bill removing the car tag fee lawmakers approved last session was one of those bills.
A quick refresher: legislators approved a bill increasing the cost of buying a car in the final weeks of the 2017 legislative session. Car purchases were made even more expensive due to this additional “fee,” and I heard from several people about it. In an effort to lessen the tax burden, I filed a bill reversing this change. But ultimately, I was told the bill would not be heard in committee. “Once a tax increase occurs, it’s almost impossible to reverse,” a colleague told me.
This is both disappointing news and a cautionary tale. Let’s not tack on tax increases as “temporary fixes” only to be stuck with those higher taxes for the known future. I can promise you that despite this setback, I’ll continue to fight for protecting your wallets for years to come.
More positively, the bill directing the Commissioners of the Land Office (CLO) to fund teacher pay increases is moving along. A few of my colleagues and I met with Harry Birdwell, the CLO director, on March 5. It’s safe to say we won’t be getting a round of applause from him when we get this thing done. Like most CEOs, he wants to protect his bottom line. All lawmakers are asking is for the CLO to further its mission by providing additional money (part of the CLO’s unrealized gains) to schools for teacher raises. We have lots of support from senators and several sponsors in the House, but we’ll need help from teachers and superintendents. Let’s provide teachers with the raise they deserve without hiking taxes.
Along those lines, I’m also working on a bill allowing community colleges to reap CLO benefits as well. Concurrent enrollment is currently costing our local community colleges nearly $6.5 million annually. The option for high schoolers to take college-level classes is invaluable, but our community colleges are paying way more than regional schools and big universities. The CLO has the opportunity to step in and help our local folks out, and I’m working to make this happen.
My bill allowing prisons to sell cigarettes in commissaries is also progressing. After its committee hearing, I continued to hear from correctional officers and wardens. They are fighting for the bill’s passage because it should improve prison safety. I expect a floor hearing next week, and I’m thankful for the support from prison workers so far.
Finally, the legislation concerning moving the Talihina Veterans Center cleared the House floor on March 5. It now moves to the Senate for committee consideration.
The next couple of weeks, lawmakers will be hearing dozens of bills on the House floor. If there’s a piece of policy you have strong opinions on, please let me know. It’s always an honor to speak with constituents in House District 3. I’m at Rick.West@okhouse.gov or (405) 557-7413. Thanks, and God bless.
Rick West represents District 3 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. To participate in the Times Record's Community Matters series, email Executive Editor Mardi Taylor, firstname.lastname@example.org.