Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Morgan and members of the Senate Democratic Caucus today announced their “Agenda for a Safer Oklahoma” at the Oklahoma State Capitol.
“We believe government should be accountable for the safety of its citizens – those people who work hard and play by the rules and ask only that they be allowed the chance to raise their children in a secure community,” Morgan said. “Our agenda will do that by making sure our prisons are adequately staffed and that our state law enforcement agencies and our rural fire departments have the resources they need.
“Additionally, we will look to strengthen laws to protect our innocent children and plan for the future by investing in our state’s water infrastructure.”
Senator Kenneth Corn, D-Poteau, is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee on Public Safety and Judiciary. He announced Senate Democrats plans to boost funding for the Department of Corrections.
The Senate Democrats plan, he said, will allow DOC to hire 150 new corrections officers and provide a $3,200 a year raise for corrections officers to help the department retain its highly trained staff. The plan also calls for a raise for other DOC employees.
Corn is recommending a $21 million supplemental appropriation for the Department of Corrections and a $40.5 million increase in the department’s budget for Fiscal Year 2007.
Additionally the Senate Democrats plan calls for:
Additional agents for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation; the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs and the Alcohol Beverage Law Enforcement Agency;
Additional personnel for the Medical Examiners Office;
More investigators for the Pardon and Parole Board;
A pay raise for the officers and agents in all state law enforcement agencies;
And additional funding for the Council of Law Enforcement Education and Training.
Corn also said an Interoperable Communications System to allow emergency personnel from different agencies to communicate in a crisis is also among the priorities in the Senate Democrats “Agenda for a Safer Oklahoma.”
Senator Jeff Rabon, D-Hugo, unveiled the Senate Democrats plan for beefing up rural fire departments.
“Across our state we have seen both the devastation caused by wildfires and the heroic efforts of our mostly volunteer firefighters. Rural fire departments are the first-responders when natural disasters strike rural Oklahoma and we must make sure they have the resources they need to adequately protect our homes, our lives, our schools and our businesses,” Rabon said.
The plan unveiled by Rabon, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee on Natural Resources and Regulatory Services, calls for:
Doubling the annual operational grants for the state’s 875 rural fire departments;
An immediate appropriation from the Rainy Day Fund to allow these departments to replace worn out equipment that these fire departments are being forced to use in this time of crisis;
And create a tax credit to reimburse small business owners who employ volunteer firefighters and continue to pay them their regular wages while they are away from work fighting fires.
Another plank in the Senate Democrats “Agenda for a Safer Oklahoma” is Caitlin’s Law, a measure that will strengthen bail laws by requiring persons charged with a violent crime to prove they are not a public danger before they may post bail and beef up victim protection order (VPO) laws in Oklahoma to mirror federal VPO laws.
The measure, contained in SB 1037 by Senator Susan Paddack, would also allow for an electronic notification system known as VINE, which stands for Victims Identification Notification Everyday, to be put into place statewide in order to notify victims when offenders move throughout the criminal justice system.
“It takes courage to turn tragedy into triumph. The family of Caitlin Wooten has shown great courage since this innocent teenager was taken from them in August. This piece of legislation will honor Caitlin’s memory and in the process prevent other Oklahoma families from suffering a similar loss,” Paddack said.
Senate Democrats also support protecting and further developing Oklahoma’s water infrastructure. Morgan said the caucus will favor replenishing the Statewide Water Development Revolving Fund with a $25 million appropriation from the state legislature.
He explained that the fund was created with $25 million in 1982. Since that time, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board has leveraged the state appropriations and federal grants it has received into $1.4 billion in loans and grants for water and wastewater needs in the state.
But, Morgan said, funds in the Statewide Water Development Revolving Fund have been fully committed as security for bonds issued to fund water and wastewater loans.
An additional $25 million appropriation to re-capitalize the Statewide Water Development Revolving Fund will allow it to continue to assist communities that will need an estimated $5.4 billion for water and wastewater projects over the next 20 years, the Senate leader said.
Senate Democrats also support the $6.5 million statewide water plan and funding for a $2.5 million for a study of the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer.