A sweeping crime bill, a historic road construction program and a $56 million tax cut for business highlighted a busy legislative session that adjourned Friday. After approving the state budget and passing hundreds of bills, legislators officially shut down their 1997 meeting at 5 P.M. Friday as mandated by the Oklahoma Constitution.
"I think by any standards the 1997 session was a great success. We helped business people with targeted tax cuts, made our communities safer by cracking down on criminals, passed another sweeping workers compensation reform bill and boosted investments in job creation tools like education and road construction," said Senator Stratton Taylor, President Pro Tempore of the Oklahoma Senate.
"It's hard to imagine so many accomplishments in so many different areas in just one legislative session. This was a once in a generation session."
Some of the highlights included:
- A "get tough" crime bill that will increase the prison terms for violent offenders by 54 percent. This legislation repeals all early release programs and enacts Truth-In-Sentencing. Under TIS violent criminals must serve no less than 85 percent of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole. Lawmakers also voted to expand prison capacity with an additional 2,100 cells.
- The largest single-year budget increase for prisons in state history. The additional $51 million will help finance existing operations and new costs related to the crime bill.
- A $56 million tax cut for businesses. The 25 percent reduction in the unemployment tax will pump additional money into the economy, creating new jobs and opportunities.
- Another sweeping workers compensation reform package. This is the fourth such reform measure since 1992. Earlier reform package have already resulted in reduced rates for business.
- A record budget for education. Legislators approved the largest education budget in state history, pumping an additional $165 into schools and related entities. Common education received $92 million in new money, higher education $56.5 million and vo-tech $9 million.
- New restrictions on corporate hog farms designed to protect Oklahoma's air and water and the rights of nearby landowners. The legislation sets strict licensing and oversight requirements, in addition to setting minimum distances between hog farms and landowners.
- A balanced budget, delivered on time. While many other states allow deficit spending, Oklahoma legislators write a balanced budget every year during a four month session. While Oklahoma lawmakers finished their work on time as usual, legislators in Missouri weren't as productive. They adjourned their annual session this year with a large part of their budget unwritten.
"When the session began, the Senate outlined a very ambitious agenda on education, public safety and economic development. We met that agenda on almost every single point, in effect, batting a thousand. We didn't hit just one homerun, we hit a bunch of them.
"I'm not sure if any other Legislature has matched that record of success or will ever match it," noted Senator Taylor.
The Senate leader noted that one of the main goals of the session was to enact a legislative program that would help foster continued economic growth in Oklahoma.
"All of our major initiatives will have a positive effect on the economy. We've been enjoying an economic boom for several years now, and the actions take this session should ensure the good times continue," said Senator Taylor.
Senate Communications Division (405) 521-5605