Building on past successes and providing innovative solutions for the future, Senate Democrats unveiled their legislative agenda to “Strengthen Small Business” Tuesday afternoon at the Oklahoma State Capitol.
Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Morgan and Shawnee Senator Charlie Laster teamed up to make the announcement.
“The proposals we announced today, like all the plans we will propose in the coming days and weeks, put a premium on personal responsibility and accountability. They will develop a healthier and better trained workforce for small business in our state and will lower the costs for small business with common sense reforms of the state’s civil justice system,” Morgan said.
Pointing to the annual Pollina report and Economy.com’s cost of doing business survey, Morgan said Oklahoma is consistently ranked among the most business friendly states in the nation. (The Pollina Corporate Top 10 Pro-Business States for 2005 ranked Oklahoma with the 10th most pro-business climate in the nation and Economy.com reported that Oklahoma has the 4th lowest cost of doing business in the country.)
“We should build on the successes of the past and provide a blueprint for future growth of small businesses in our state,” Morgan said.
Senate Democrats propose expanding Oklahoma’s health insurance premium assistance plan to make it available to all businesses with 50 or fewer employees. Currently, enrollment in the plan, which was developed by the Legislature in 2004, is limited to businesses with 25 or fewer employees.
Under the plan, the state pays 60 percent of the health insurance premiums for employees of participating small businesses. The employee pays 15 percent and the employer pays the final 25 percent.
“Employers and employees who are willing to take on the responsibility of contributing to the cost of health insurance are rewarded because the state contribution keeps down the cost of health insurance for those individuals. Employees get health insurance they couldn’t otherwise afford and small businesses get a healthier workforce,” Morgan said.
Saying the lawsuit reform measures passed in 2003 and 2004 have reduced the number of lawsuits and slowed the skyrocketing cost of malpractice insurance premiums for doctors, Laster introduced a series of civil justice system reforms that will further reduce frivolous lawsuits, eliminate nagging cases that drag on in the courts for years, and regulate television advertising by attorneys.
“Frivolous lawsuits and those suits that take years to come to trial add to the cost of doing business, especially for small business owners. The Lawsuit Responsibility Act will lower those costs without limiting access to the courts to just those big corporations with an army of lawyers,” Laster said.
Morgan also proposed a pilot program to offer tax incentives to small businesses which provide tuition assistance and pay for retraining for their employees. Federal law allows for the creation of tax free life-time learning accounts but currently they tend to benefit wealthy Oklahomans who can afford to have an additional deduction from their paycheck.
The plan will offer a tax credit to employers who contribute to life-long learning accounts for their employees, making those accounts possible for middle class Oklahomans, Morgan said.
“It offers an incentive to employers who will shoulder the responsibility of helping their employees be better equipped to do their jobs and provides an opportunity for working Oklahomans who are willing to take on the responsibility of furthering their education,” Morgan said.
The plan rewards both employers and employees by resulting in a better educated, better trained small business workforce in Oklahoma, Morgan said.
The Senate Leader said each of the proposals in the Senate Democrats legislative agenda to “Strengthen Small Business” will contribute to developing a culture of greater personal and corporate responsibility in Oklahoma
“Oklahoma should be a state where if you work hard and play by the rules, you have the opportunity to succeed. We believe these proposals can make a difference as we strive to make responsibility and accountability core values that guide our community life,” Morgan said.