As Oklahoma’s baby boomers enter their retirement years, more of the state’s citizens will face issues such as the need for senior services and programs. They’ll also face a greater risk of financial exploitation and other crimes that target the elderly. Those issues and others are on the minds of the state’s Silver Haired Legislature which convened on Tuesday at the State Capitol.
Charlene Norris of Ochelata serves as a representative in the Silver Haired Legislature. Just as in the State Legislature, Norris said their work as members begins by visiting with seniors throughout their districts to learn about their needs and concerns.
“Then we come to the Capitol and have the opportunity to sit down and come up with five priority bills that we can present to our legislators to see if we can get those things passed,” Norris said.
Members of the Oklahoma State Senate attended the opening session of the Silver Haired Legislature to welcome the members and to discuss some of the issues they’d been involved with on behalf of seniors. Those lawmakers included Sen. Co-Pres. Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee, Sen. Debbe Leftwich, Sen. John Ford, Sen. Ron Justice and Sen. Andrew Rice. Other Senators will also meet with delegates during the two-day session of the Silver Haired Legislature.
Coffee told members of the Silver Haired Legislature that even though the Senate was equally divided between the two parties, when it came to issues impacting Oklahoma seniors, the Senate was united in its desire to help.
“I think all of us realize how important it is to ensure the laws we pass will assure a better quality of life for our seniors,” said Coffee, R-Oklahoma City. “This is an issue that impacts the lives of countless Oklahomans in every community in this state.”
Leftwich discussed one particular piece of legislation she has worked on for several years—the creation of a single agency to handle programs for older Oklahomans.
“That was the first bill I carried as a freshman, and I’ll continue to fight for this as long as it takes,” said Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City. “Oklahoma seniors have to find their way through a maze of state agencies and red tape just to get the services they need—they shouldn’t have to deal with that kind of frustration. I’m proud to work with the Silver Haired Legislature on this issue.”
Ford praised the members of the Silver Haired Legislature for the countless hours they volunteer in order to better the lives of senior citizens throughout the entire state.
“They’ve raised their families, had long careers, but instead of just enjoying retirement, they are meeting with other seniors, working through important proposals at the Capitol and then are helping educate their state legislators about the issues and their concerns,” said Ford, R-Bartlesville. “I think they’re a wonderful group.”
Rice talked to the members about legislation he sponsored last year to help families with the cost of caring for older relatives. Senate Bill 725 would create a tax deduction for middle class families caring for elderly relatives.
“Many of these families are part of the sandwich generation—they’re still raising their children, but are also caring for their parents or other elderly relatives,” said Rice, D-Oklahoma City. “This measure cleared the Senate last year, but was not heard in the House. I’ll continue to work for its passage during the 2008 session.”
Justice said it was extremely important for lawmakers to address issues such as financial abuse and other crimes that target Oklahoma seniors. He was principal author of legislation that made it a felony to knowingly, through deception or intimidation, obtain or use the funds, assets or property of individuals 62 years of age or older or those who are disabled.
“Oklahoma’s seniors have special needs and challenges, and often we can help find solutions through legislative action,” said Justice, R-Chickasha. “I’m pleased to speak on their behalf and really appreciate input from the Silver Haired Legislature in addressing those needs.”