Senators Want to focus on the Economy, Health Care and Education to Build a Brighter Future for all Oklahomans
Senate Democratic leaders unveiled their legislative agenda for the first session of the 52nd Oklahoma Legislature focusing on policies that will energize Oklahoma’s economy, strengthen Oklahoma’s middle class, focus on Oklahoma’s health and build a brighter future for all Oklahomans.
“Oklahomans want access to affordable health care, they want an education system that allows their children to become all they were intended to become and they want an economy that will produce good paying jobs,” Democratic Leader Charlie Laster said. “This legislative session, the Senate Democratic caucus will fight everyday to make our voices heard on the issues that matter most to Oklahomans and policies that will make a real difference in the lives of our people.”
Senator Laster (D-Shawnee) pointed to policies that will help lift Oklahoma into greatness as top priority for the Senate Democratic Caucus including the following priorities:
• Building on Oklahoma’s strength in the energy sector to grow the economy and protect the environment
• Make college education more affordable for more Oklahoma families and protect public schools from potential budget cuts
• Strengthening Oklahoma’s middle class
• Affordable health care that focuses on insurance reform and prevention
“Focusing on these important priorities in the upcoming session, we hope to empower more Oklahomans to make choices in their life that will lead to a brighter future for them and their families,” Laster said. “We have a responsibility to fight for policies that matter to them, rather than focus on policies that help the powerful special interests that roam these capitol halls.”
Laster said in a year when budgeting will be tight it will be more important than ever to prioritize investments that will help grow Oklahoma’s economy.
“The national economy is a train wreck and we’ve been fortunate in Oklahoma that our economy is still strong. But we know we must be pro-active in creating policies that will continue the growth we have seen in recent years,” Laster said. “That includes ensuring we are building on our strength in the energy sector to become a national leader in alternative energy technology, investing wisely in education to grow our workforce, creating policies that increase access to affordable health care to lower the number of uninsured in our state and investing in infrastructure improvements across our state to create jobs.”
Laster said in this session, when Republicans have control of the upper chamber for the first time in the history of Oklahoma, the Senate Democratic Caucus wants to work with their counterparts across the aisle to foster ideas that will move Oklahoma forward.
“Senator Coffee has indicated that he is committed to keeping the Senate a place where all ideas are embraced despite political party and we intend to hold him to those intentions,” Laster said. “Now is not the time for Republicans to play payback politics for the years they spent in the minority. Now more than ever, we must work together to protect Oklahoma’s families from the consequences of a lagging economy,” Laster said. “We stand ready and willing to help the Republicans govern effectively and in the best interest of all Oklahomans.”
“Building a Brighter Future”
1: Energize our Economy
·Support new energy technology
*Oklahoma is in a unique position to lead the country in new energy technologies.
* We have built our great state based on our strength in the oil and gas industry and we should make it a priority to build on that strength to bring new high paying jobs to our citizens while helping to reduce our dependency on foreign oil and protect our environment.
*The possibilities are limitless here in Oklahoma to invest our natural resources to create new renewable resources such as wind power, compressed natural gas and bio-fuel technology.
*Senate Democrats will support economic development initiatives and other incentives to help grow this sector of our economy because we know in a lagging economy, investing in our natural resources to become the national leader in new energy technology that will protect our economy, protect the environment and provide jobs for our people.
*We stand ready to bring our ideas to the table.
·Protect our water
*One of our greatest natural resources is our water and the aquifers that rest below the Oklahoma soil.
*Protecting this groundwater has always been a priority for Senate Democrats and in fact we passed legislation by Senator Gumm a few years ago that put a moratorium on the sale of our water.
*We will fight to keep these necessary protections in place.
*We also believe a statewide water plan will protect our water for years to come and help our communities solve the problems they have in regards to water shortages.
Build better roads and bridges
*It is no secret our roads and bridges are in bad shape. The great news is over the past few years, we have been able to make important investments in our state’s infrastructure needs.
*By investing in our roads and bridges we stand a greater chance of attracting businesses looking to move here and allow our citizens to feel safe when they travel our highways.
*We know in a tight budget year, new money will be hard to come by for road projects, but we should stand ready to support any federal economic stimulus package that would invest money in Oklahoma’s infrastructure needs.
2. Strengthen our Middle Class
·Middle class tax cuts
*We are aware in a tight budget year further tax cuts could cripple our government’s ability to fund critical services upon which all our citizens depend.
*If there are serious discussions about tax cuts we believe they should be limited to tax cuts that benefit the majority of Oklahoma’s population which fall in the middle class.
*Tax cuts like an increase in the standard deduction, an earned income tax credit or eliminating the sales tax on groceries are all tax cuts that help Oklahoma’s middle class the most and should be at the forefront of any discussion about the tax system in our state.
·Target economic development investments
*In the past Senate Democrats have been instrumental in making certain the Governor’s efforts to invest in EDGE become a reality.
*We support EDGE funding because we understand it is critical to sending a message to others around the country that Oklahoma is serious about bringing high-tech companies and the jobs they will create to our state.
·Remember rural Oklahoma
*In a tight budget year, we understand it will be our job to look at our budget and see where we can find inefficiencies and help our state agencies make the most of the funding they receive.
*But we are concerned that Republicans have a mentality to simply slash critical programs that stand as safeguards to those living in rural Oklahoma and to some of our most vulnerable citizens.
*We will be supporting a resolution by Senator Tom Ivester to protect senior nutrition programs from any budget cuts that might be necessary to balance the budget.
*We understand rural Oklahoma communities depend on rural ambulance service and rural fire departments to keep their communities and their citizens safe.
*Even in tight budget years, we believe we can find more funding for these critical services and thus protect the rural Oklahoma way of life
3. Build a Brighter Future
*OHLAP is making college a reality for more of our citizens than ever before. As a result, more students are graduating from college and we are increasing the number of college educated citizens in our workforce. But there is still work to be done on this front.
*College tuition is merely a fraction of the related expenses Oklahoma families face when sending their children to our universities. Books and fees can and often do double the amount a family spends to make certain their child has the potential to realize their dream of a college education.
*We believe expanding OHLAP to cover the cost of books and fees for Oklahoma college students will ease the pinch of the pocketbooks of Oklahoma families who have children in college.
·Reign in out of control tuition increases
*Senate Democrats believe funding higher education at the appropriate levels will be critical to reigning in the skyrocketing tuition costs. We stand ready to fight any cuts Republicans might seek to the budgets of our colleges and the board of Regents.
*In a down economy, we do not believe cutting funding to education is the right direction to take our state and we will fight any politician who thinks education should be cut during the budget process.
·Fight back-door school consolidation
*One sure way to kill rural communities would be to force them to close their doors. We will fight any Republican effort, backdoor or not, to force rural school consolidation on patrons who depend on their school to be the lifeblood of their communities.
*SJR 1 by Senator Gumm will send to a vote of the people a measure that would change our constitution to allow patrons of local schools districts to make decisions concerning the consolidation of their schools.
4. Focus on our Health
·Making coverage count
*Senate Democrats want to end the practice of insurance companies making record breaking profits on the backs of the most sick and vulnerable among us and have filed a host of bills to send a message to insurance companies that they will be held accountable to their policy holders.
*We will again this year fight for a patient bill of rights so that doctors, and not insurance company bean counters, are in charge of the medical decisions of their patients.
*Senate Bill 14 by Jim Wilson requires insurance companies to pay for procedures that medical professionals deem medically necessary.
*We will also fight to end insurance discrimination against autistic children and those patients who choose to participate in clinical trials.
*Senate Bill 1 creates “Nick’s Law” which ends insurance discrimination against autistic children.
*Senate Bill 263 creates “Steffanie’s Law” which requires insurance companies to pay for medical treatment of Oklahomans who choose to participate in clinical trials.
*We will also seek to give greater authority to Oklahoma’s insurance commissioner to investigate rate hikes by insurance companies and allow the insurance commissioner to collect restitution on behalf of Oklahoma families who have been wronged by their insurance provider.
*Senate Bill 1068 by Senator Charlie Laster will allow the Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner to file suit against insurance companies who negligently raise insurance rates.
·Prevention and Personal Responsibility are Key
*Obesity is a major problem in Oklahoma. We know this problem can’t be solved overnight and that it will take the cooperation from businesses, health care professionals, community leaders and our citizens to reverse this obesity trend in Oklahoma.
*Personal responsibility is key to helping wage this war against obesity and that is why we will support a bill that will direct chain restaurants to provide nutritional information to their patrons.
*Senate Bill 1135 by Senator Randy Bass directs chain restaurants to provide nutritional information to consumers.
* We also believe preventive screening against deadly diseases such as colorectal cancer will go a long way to making our state healthy.
*Senate Bill 326 by Senator Debbe Leftwich requires insurance companies to pay for early detection cancer screening.