by Rep. Kevin Wallace, Oklahoma House District 32
The House this past week met what is known as the third-reading deadline, the date by which all bills have to be passed from their chamber of origin. Bills were still being counted as I wrote this, but it appears we will pass 409 across the rotunda to the state Senate to be considered.
As far as committee and floor work is concerned, the Legislature will have a bit of a lull this coming week. Then we will start hearing Senate bills in committee and on the House floor. I and other budget leaders in the House and Senate, meanwhile, continue to work on budget negotiations for the appropriations bill that will fund state agencies for Fiscal Year 2021. We’ve had some questions about our budget with all of the economic uncertainty caused by the coronavirus. Our state was in good shape coming into this. We built up record high reserves last year. Of course we are very watchful, but we are in a good position to respond to any potential revenue failure that might come late in this fiscal year. I believe the economy will recover.
The House and Senate did hold Joint Committee on Appropriations & Budget meetings this past week to pass a bill that will allow the Administrative Office of the Courts to transfer money from the Lengthy Trial Fund to the Supreme Court Administrative Revolving Fund or the Interagency Reimbursement Fund to meet operating and payroll expenses of the courts through June 30, 2021.
I also am continuing to work with House and Senate leadership and the governor’s office on the specifics of his SoonerCare 2.0 plan. We are still talking with hospitals about the use of Supplemental Hospital Offset Payment Program (SHOPP) funds to help offset the state’s $150 million share of this expansion this year to match the roughly $1 billion in federal funds we would receive. We also are talking to the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust to look at ways they can play a role this year and moving forward.
This week, the House passed a bill that would give state retirees in six of the state pension plans a cost-of-living adjustment. Teachers, police and other law enforcement officers, firefighters, other state employees, and judges and justices would receive a 4% increase if they have been receiving retirement benefits from the state for five years or more and 2% if two years but not five. This is a much needed increase to help these retirees keep up with the costs of health care premiums and other living expenses. I’m optimistic this bill will pass the Senate and be signed by the governor. Our pension plans are in good shape and can absorb this COLA without undue harm to the unfunded ratios.
Kevin Wallace is the state representative for House District 32, which includes all of Lincoln County and a small portion of Logan County. He is the chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and also serves on the house Natural Resources and Wildlife Committees. A lifelong Lincoln County native and Wellston High School graduate, he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Central Oklahoma in 1993. Kevin founded American Cellular Service and Dynatek Development Services, which he sold in 2000. That same year he founded SWT Construction, where he continues to serve as a manager. He also owns an equipment rental company and a small investment firm. Kevin is co-owner of The Wilderness Refuge, a hunting reserve, and Wallahachie L.L.C., a whitetail deer and cattle breeding operation. He is an active member of First Baptist Church of Wellston.