EDITOR’S Note: The House communications staff emails a column from Rep. Kevin Wallace weekly during the legislative session. To try something new for the 2022 Legislative Session; The Luther Register will compile all of the columns in this one post, starting with the most recent. These columns appear as submitted. Rep. Kevin Wallace serves District 32 of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. His district includes Lincoln County and part of Logan County.
April 29 | Focusing on Education
By Rep. Kevin Wallace
As House and Senate leaders continue to negotiate the state budget for the next fiscal year, it’s a perfect time to detail the area that will get the largest share of taxpayer funding – public education. In most years, education receives 51% to 53% of the state appropriated budget.
Public education, along with most core functions of government, suffered during the economic downturn following the 2008 fiscal year. But in the past six years, House Republicans have increased education funding by 35%. This includes back-to-back teacher pay raises, more money for school support staff and more funding for classroom needs. In addition, we’ve updated the school funding formula to ensure taxpayer dollars more accurately follow the student and in a way that equalizes funding for districts that don’t receive as many local ad valorem dollars as others.
At the same time we’ve increased funding, we’ve emphasized improving student outcomes. We triggered lower classroom sizes in kindergarten and first grade – vitally important for young students learning the fundamentals of reading and math. We’ve strengthened supports to make sure students are reading by third grade, which helps them excel in other academic subjects. We’ve added a civics test to high school graduation requirements to ensure students know something about their constitutional rights and how our democracy works. We’ve increased access to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and computer science coursework.
The last three years, we’ve fully funded concurrent enrollment in college courses for high school seniors, and we’re expanding access for high school juniors. In addition, we fully funded the purchase of math and science textbooks, which are the most expensive at $60 million.
These are all in an effort to ensure our students are better prepared for higher learning or the workforce by the time they graduate an Oklahoma public school.
In other news, this past week was the deadline for the House to consider Senate bills and for House measures to pass out of the Senate. Now, those bills that have been amended in the opposite chamber will return to their chamber of origin for final passage. If amendments are accepted, or if bills were not amended, the measures continue to the governor. He already has signed a number of bills into law recently.
If amendments are not accepted, there’s still one final chance for the legislation to advance – conference committee. Members of the committees from both chambers that originally considered the bill can work on final language. If an agreement is reached, the bills can advance to the governor.
On a final note, I’ll be giving my next legislative update from 8 to 9 a.m. May 13 at the Prague Municipal Building, 820 Jim Thorpe Blvd. Anyone is welcome to attend.
April 25 | A&B Deadline Week
by Rep. Kevin Wallace
We heard the final six Senate bills in our House Appropriations & Budget Committee last week in advance of the April 22 deadline. We also passed bills in the Joint Committee on Appropriations & Budget. Now these bills are eligible to be heard on the House Floor. We have until April 28 to consider all bills from the opposite chamber.
One of the bills passed in JCAB and off the House floor last week would give Oklahoma the opportunity to be the center of an emerging industry, adding thousands of high-paying jobs to our state.
House bill 4455 would create the Large-scale Economic Activity and Development (LEAD) Act of 2022, providing a 10-year investment rebate program for qualified capital expenses by specific businesses based on their creation of these new direct jobs.
The bill comes in response to one of the world’s most prominent, enduring technology brands expressing interest in building the largest Gigafactory in the world in Pryor to produce electric vehicle batteries. The project calls for 4,000 direct jobs at the Gigafactory and 4,000 additional support positions. The 3.3-million-square-foot facility (76 acres under one roof) represents a $4 billion-plus capital investment in our state.
If Oklahoma lands this deal, we could become the nation’s largest hub for electric vehicle battery manufacturing. Other facilities and jobs could then spread to other areas of the state.
Oklahoma will always be an oil and gas state, but it’s important we continue to diversify our economy. Electric vehicles already are gaining a large place in the U.S. auto market, and predictions are they will be preeminent worldwide in the next 30 years. With our state’s central location and a focus on workforce development, we are ideally positioned to become the major player in this market.
This legislation signals Oklahoma is open for business and gives us a way to grow our economy and improve our quality of life.
On a note closer to home, I’m speaking from 8 to 9 a.m. April 29 at a legislative breakfast at Stroud High School, 1096 E 7th St. Anyone is welcome to attend and ask questions as I give an update of legislation and the state budget.
On the budget front, negotiations between House and Senate leadership are close. As I mentioned above, we’ve wrapped up committee work, and we should be presenting budget bills on the House floor soon.
April 14 | Recognizing the Importance of the National Guard
by Rep. Kevin Wallace
The House and Senate convened in joint session April 12 to recognize the important contributions of our Oklahoma National Guard members.
We were addressed by Oklahoma’s adjutant general, Brigadier General Thomas H. Mancino, and Chief Master Sergeant Scott Irwin with the Oklahoma National Guard. The two and other officers bestowed several awards for outstanding service, achievement and contributions to National Guard members and those who support the Guard’s mission. They also recognized members of the Guard that have been killed during service to our state and nation. The selfless sacrifice of these members is never forgotten, and I am forever grateful for their service.
Governor Stitt also issued a proclamation that recognized that the men and women of the Oklahoma National Guard, have come to the defense of our nation and provided aid and comfort to their fellow Oklahomans for 127 years, fighting and dying in conflicts around the world including World War II, Korea, the global war on terror and other operations.
The Oklahoma National Guard is invaluable to our state. They help keep citizens safe during times of unrest. They rush into service when there are emergencies such as catastrophic weather events, pandemics and many other scenarios.
Also this past week we had the pleasure of recognizing 4-H students from across the state for 4-H Day at the Capitol. This is an amazing leadership training organization for our youth that shows them the value of hard work and commitment as well as civic engagement. I was blessed to be visited by Kyndra Darphin, a sophomore from Carney who is a member of Lincoln County 4-H.
This past week was busy with committee meetings as Thursday was the deadline for all Senate policy bills to be advanced out of House committees. We have until April 22 for bills with a fiscal impact to pass out of our Appropriations & Budget Committee. Once bills pass committee they are eligible to be heard on the floor, so the next two weeks should be busy voting on many of these measures.
One area of legislation House leadership has focused on the past few years is supporting law enforcement. We’ve advanced measures that enhance pay for our officers and that would better protect those who protect us. These measures should help us recruit new individuals into this necessary field as some of our officers with more years of service retire. In addition to common-sense legislation supporting our law enforcement officers, House Republicans have stopped a number of “defund the police” bills from advancing in the House. While many states are defunding the police, we are working to fund the police and make sure our law enforcement officers have everything they need to be successful. In Oklahoma, we back the blue, and the 12 bills we’ve passed over the last few years to either support our officers or stop defunding efforts prove it.
April 8 | Budget Talks
by Rep. Kevin Wallace
As chair of the House Appropriations & Budget Committee, I have the responsibility to assign all bills with a fiscal impact to the House A&B subcommittees before they are considered by the full committee. Monday, April 4, we met the deadline for subcommittee work on Senate bills. Full A&B met April 7 to consider 25 of those measures. We’ll meet again before our standing committee deadline April 22.
Once bills pass full A&B they are eligible to be considered on the House floor. Those that pass without being amended by the House can move to the governor for his consideration of signing them into law. The Senate, meanwhile, is considering House bills.
At the same time we’re weighing legislation, House and Senate leaders are negotiating the state budget. Against this backdrop, we recently received the latest report from the state treasurer, which shows March gross receipts to the treasury point to accelerating economic expansion in Oklahoma. This is pushed along by wage growth, higher-than-average gross production tax receipts as the cost of oil has risen, and additional rising inflation factors. This is a double-sided coin. Rising revenue based on jobs and wage growth is terrific, but inflation is a bubble that can pop at any time. We’ve all lived through lean years when this has happened. So, while we have record-high state revenues to appropriate for our next fiscal year, we must still take a very conservative approach with our state budget. We must continue to save for any eventual economic decline. We’ll still be able to appropriate adequate funding for programs and state services such as public education, infrastructure, health and mental health care and public safety among others.
This past week I was fortunate to have a page from our House District serve in my office. House pages get to take part in a mock legislative session where they draft and debate their own bills. They also get to run messages onto the House floor when we’re in session, and they get a behind-the-scenes look at the legislative process, a tour of the state Capitol and more. Paging is a valuable experience.
This week’s page was Leslie Clark, a senior at Prague High School. Leslie is the daughter of Robert and Tonya Clark. She hopes to attend Seminole State College to obtain an associate’s degree in business management then transfer to the University of Central Oklahoma to get a dual bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and psychology.
Leslie is a drum major in the Pride of Prague and plays clarinet. In addition to band, other extra-curricular activities include Business Professionals of America, Student Council and the National Honor Society. She also serves as Book Club president and captain of the Academics Team. It was great to have Leslie with us in the House this week.
April 1 | Midway Point
by Rep. Kevin Wallace
We’re at the midway point in the legislative session. The House has passed 381 bills and joint resolutions over to the Senate, and we received 327 Senate measures to consider. Most have been second read and assigned to committees. The next few weeks will be focused on committee work, then we’ll start hearing legislation from the opposite chamber on the House floor while they consider our measures.
Despite the slow floor week, we held several important meetings at the Capitol this past week. The Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) presented its latest report to the Oversight Committee – an examination of revenues, expenditures and asset valuation for the Oklahoma state park system under the Department of Tourism and Recreation. LOFT looked at contracts to remodel and operate restaurants in our parks as well as at impacts from a recent bond package. There are some concerning items in this report for lawmakers to scrutinize in the coming weeks.
The Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding also met. Several working groups of the committee met as well. Health and Human Services heard from new Higher Education Chancellor Allison D. Garrett on funding requests from various state colleges to help address the nursing shortage in our state. Government Transformation and Collaboration heard survey results from nonprofits negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The group is working with the Oklahoma Department of Commerce before recommending the release of $25 million in grants to address needs such as housing and food security, behavioral health services, substance abuse treatment, human trafficking and domestic violence aid. The working groups will make their recommendations to the full committee, which will determine what gets passed along to the steering committee and the governor for final selection.
The public portal for ideas and projects to use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding, meanwhile, officially closed March 31 after receiving more than 800 applications totaling more than $13 billion in requests. That’s about $11 billion more than we have to distribute. The full committee will be examining these requests to see which ones are recommended for funding.
The House this past week also observed AERO Oklahoma Day at the Capitol. The day focused on the many contributions of aerospace and defense industries in Oklahoma – two of the state’s largest sectors. Combined, the two have an economic impact of about $44 billion annually and employ about 120,000, with an additional 200,000 jobs impacted. Aerospace manufacturing is one of the state’s fastest-growing industries, according to the Oklahoma Department of Commerce. More than 1,100 aerospace entities operate in the state including manufacturers, maintenance, repair and overhaul facilities, research and development, military and others.
I was fortunate to be invited to dinner on the eve of this event with many representatives from the industries. Chris VanDenhende, chief financial officer and chief strategy officer for Southwest Fuel Systems and Mint Turbines in Stroud, also attended. VanDenhende spoke recently at the Stroud Chamber banquet. It was a pleasure to get to see him again and to discuss his company’s growth in our House district.
March 25 | Deadline Week
by Rep. Kevin Wallace
This past week in the House was one of the busiest we’ll have this session. We heard 165 measures on the House floor in four days. In total, we passed 380 House bills and joint resolutions in advance of the third-reading deadline by which all bills have to be moved from their chamber of origin.
Bills passed include House Bill 3349, which would suspend the state’s 4.5% portion of the sales tax on groceries for two years. This will grant temporary relief during this time of historic inflation while we continue our discussions on comprehensive tax reform. This does not affect the local portion of the sales tax on groceries.
House Bill 3353 would increase the grocery sales tax credit to up to $180 a year for low-income Oklahomans, depending on income levels, age and household size. This tax credit enhancement also would be in place for two years.
House Bill 1358 would grant a one-time tax rebate of $125 for individuals and $250 for households this year for Oklahomans who filed a state income tax return in 2021. The cost of the rebates would be paid for out of surplus state revenues as one-time expenses, leaving no impact to the overall state budget.
These bills put money back into the pockets of the Oklahoma taxpayers – an offset to inflation and a proven way to further stimulate our economy.
We also passed bills this past week that protect babies in the womb, that protect the integrity of our elections, that reform medical marijuana policies and much more.
Now, we’ll have a few slow days as bills are moved over from the Senate. Then committee work will pick up as we consider legislation from the opposite chamber.
Back home in the district, I was pleased to get to attend the Davenport Chamber of Commerce Banquet on March 21. It’s always good to get to speak with constituents and small business owners and hear their concerns.
I’ll get a similar opportunity at a number of upcoming legislative breakfasts in which I’ll be discussing in detail some of the legislation we’ve passed this year as well as the state budget and other items of interest to those who live in House District 32.
I’ll be speaking:
- April 15 in Seminole at 326 E Evans;
- April 22 at the Vassar Community Center, 730 N Main St. in Perkins;
- April 29 at Stroud High School, 1096 E 7th St.;
- May 13 at the Prague Municipal Building, 820 Jim Thorpe Blvd.; and
- May 20 at the Fat Rooster, 970690 S Highway between Chandler and Meeker.
Each breakfast will be from 8 to 9 a.m. Anyone in our House district is welcome to attend.
March 17 | Spring Break Week Brings OYE
by Rep. Kevin Wallace
For nearly a century, youth from all across our state have gathered each spring to take part in the Oklahoma Youth Expo (OYE) – the world’s largest junior livestock show.
The show draws more than 7,000 best-of-the-best 4-H and FFA students from all of the state’s 77 counties to compete in showing and selling animals they’ve raised. It’s more than a livestock show, however, it also includes a leadership training academy for 10 worthy youth. But for all the young participants, it teaches the value of hard work and the joys of showmanship.
Since 2002, OYE has given over $2.1 million in scholarships to more than 1,000 Oklahoma students. The economic impact of this 10-day show is about $24 million annually.
One of the highlights for lawmakers each year is participating in the show alongside a young person often from their legislative district. I’ve had the honor of doing this many times, and it’s always fun. I’m proud of the young people who participate in OYE. They truly are outstanding. We recognized them and their accomplishments on the House floor this past week with House Resolution 1045.
Also this past week, I received word of a $22,000 Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) Healthy Incentive Grant that’s been awarded to the Town of Wellston. The money will be used to improve the town park. The grant was awarded to encourage people to be more physically active and to use outdoor public spaces more often. Grants are awarded to schools and communities that have implemented sustainable policies and strategies to encourage Oklahomans to adopt healthier lifestyles. I’m proud of Wellston’s leaders who have enacted policies that resulted in this grant.
We had a short week in the House this past week, allowing us to take a brief spring break before coming back for deadline week. We heard 63 bills compared to 158 the previous week. We’ll likely hear several hundred more before the March 24 third-reading deadline by which House bills must pass to stay active this session.
One of my bills I was happy to see pass was House Bill 4082 relating to law enforcement responsibility for transporting persons for mental health services. A measure we passed last year specifies if transportation is needed within a 30-mile radius, the law enforcement agency that made the initial contact within its jurisdiction is required to transport the individual inside that radius. This bill clarifies that transportation requirements are considered completed once a connection has been made with staff of the health care facility and its apparent the patient is not a harm to themself or others. The issue was a request by several sheriffs in and around my district.
MARCH 11 | Busy Week Ends With Pandemic Relief Funds Meeting
by Rep. Kevin Wallace
Most bills with a fiscal impact have their title struck before being voted on in the House. This means the bill will have to return to the House before the title is restored and final passage is granted.
The House and Senate Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding met on March 10, voting to close the state’s website portal on March 31 for American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) project requests. The portal opened on Oct. 1, and the public so far has submitted 884 project proposals totaling $13.3 billion. We have only $1.87 billion to allocate. After the portal closes, this committee will decide which projects will be allocated funds to help improve the state’s economy, enhance services that benefit all Oklahomans, especially the most vulnerable, and expand our physical and digital infrastructure. Ideas can still be submitted as well. So far we have 119 idea submissions.
Our four working groups already have made some recommendations on how funds should be spent including $60 million to address the state’s nursing shortage. While our portion of ARPA funds have not yet been allocated, the University of Oklahoma this week held a press conference with legislative leaders and the governor to announce that they are able to accept 100% of their qualified applicants into their nursing program. Southwest Oklahoma State University in Weatherford also says it should be able to double its number of nursing graduates as well as increase graduates in technician fields. Murray State College is on the list of those recommended for funds as well to increase their nursing school graduates.
The Workforce and Economic Development Working Group recently issued a call for proposals regarding childcare and workforce development projects and determined the state Department of Human Services is best positioned to fulfill these requests. They will now pivot to examining other areas of need. The Transportation Infrastructure and Rural Development Working Group will be meeting in the next several weeks to examine their project submissions. I look forward to hearing the recommendations from these groups.
In addition to the state’s portion of funding, counties and municipalities also are receiving ARPA funds. Of the municipalities – listed as Non-Entitlement Units – 377 have been approved to receive $113.7 million, or 99% of total funding, and 145 applications are being reviewed. Some NEUs chose not to apply for the funding; others, including unincorporated communities, did not qualify.
MARCH 4 | Legislative Work Kicks Up
With icy roads shutting down portions of the state for several days, it forced all remaining committee work into one long deadline week at the Capitol. We had three Appropriations & Budget Committee meetings this past week and one Joint Committee on Appropriations & Budget meeting. We heard 77 bills in all.
Once bills pass committee, they’re eligible to be heard on the House floor. Over the next few weeks, we’ll likely hear hundreds of bills in advance of the third-reading deadline when bills must pass from their chamber of origin to the opposite legislative chamber.
The House this week passed a resolution expressing our support for the people of Ukraine and Taiwan and condemning the recent invasion by Russia of Ukraine and threats against Taiwan. The resolution urges the immediate removal of Russian troops and calls for Oklahomans to refrain from buying Russian goods. The measure states that if we stay silent while these countries are attacked, we face the very real possibility of an escalation toward a broader war. We’re calling on our congressional delegation and the president of the United States to take strong actions against Russia and any other aggressor.
The invasion of Ukraine has resulted in the loss of life and the destruction of homes and other properties, and we pray for those in harm’s way. It’s also caused economic upheaval, shaking global markets and increasing the price of oil to over $100 a barrel.
Among the upcoming pieces of legislation we will consider is a comprehensive package of marijuana reforms that will help us better regulate this wild-west of weed industry. The state question that legalized medical marijuana was almost devoid of any regulation. Consequently, we’ve faced numerous issues, including an explosion in illegal grow operations and black market sales as well as overuse of utilities, strains on law enforcement, tax compliance issues and others. The proposed legislation will help put a stop to illegal activity and help us better monitor legitimate growers and sellers. We already recently had one of the largest drug busts in state history resulting in the seizure of a half a billion dollars-worth of illegal marijuana, the shutdown of a dozen illegal grows and 13 arrests. More raids are planned.
On a final note, the Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief is considering closing the state’s website portal for submitting American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) project requests on March 31. The portal opened Oct. 1, and the public was invited to submit ideas and projects to qualify for a portion of the state’s share of federal relief dollars. More than 823 projects have been received, totaling $12.8 billion. This is $11 billion more than the state received. The submissions have helped this committee identify needs and priority areas to help us recover from the pandemic. But the time has come to stop gathering submissions and turn to the work of deciding which will be allocated funds to help improve the state’s economy, enhance services that benefit all Oklahomans, especially the most vulnerable, and expand our physical and digital infrastructure.
February 25 | Strong Revenue Picture for State
by Rep. Kevin Wallace
The Board of Equalization met Feb. 22 to certify $10.49 billion for state appropriations for the next fiscal year. This exceeded the amount the board projected in December. It shows our Oklahoma economy is strong and continues to outperform our expectations.
This is great news for Oklahomans. We will be able to continue our commitment to deliver core government services such as record education funding, investments in infrastructure and public safety, and dedicated funding for health and mental health care among others. We also anticipate saving again this year as we have the previous two years. The revenue certified by the BOE includes about $1.3 billion in one-time funds and cash reserves from previous sessions. We also have record amounts of federal pandemic relief funds that can only be used for one-time projects before the funds cease. Partner that with energy prices that are bound to come down at some point and the eventual down cycle of the overall economy, and it reinforces the decision to be conservative with our spending. As I said, we’ll be able to accomplish much with this revenue, but we’ll save as well.
Along the lines of prudent fiscal decisions, I continue to be pleased with the work of the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT). This office, created through legislation, began its work in 2019. It has statutory authority to examine and evaluate the finances and operations of all departments, agencies and institutions of Oklahoma and all its political subdivisions. LOFT’s mission is to assist the Legislature in making informed, data-driven decisions to serve the citizens of Oklahoma by ensuring accountability in state government, efficient use of resources and effective programs and services. To date, the office has completed more than a dozen reports containing 160 recommendations or policy ideas, several dozen of which have resulted in legislation to improve transparency and efficiency in state spending. The office has reported on factors impacting the teacher shortage, medical marijuana oversight, progress toward reducing the waitlist for the developmentally disabled, the use of tobacco trust fund dollars and more. As chair of the committee to which LOFT presents its evaluations, I look forward to its continued efforts.
On the legislative front, we have a bill that will be heard soon that would create a state broadband office to oversee the buildout of high-speed internet to cover more than 95% of the state. The office will be funded through federal relief dollars and sunset when the dollars cease. In this way, we are not growing government, but simply making the best use of these funds while we have them. Internet is necessary for Oklahomans to access education and health care services and to stay competitive in our current business environment. I’m excited to see the passage of this bill and the work it will accomplish.
February 18 | Honoring the Sanctity of Life
by Rep. Kevin Wallace
The House of Representatives on Feb. 16 recognized Rose Day by unanimously adopting a resolution that honors the sanctity of life of the unborn. A vast majority of Oklahomans support protecting life in the womb. Rose Day brings hundreds of these supporters together at the state Capitol where they distribute roses to elected officials to remind us of this cause. I was proud to co-author this resolution.
On another note, I’m pleased to continue my role as chair of the Joint Committee on State-Tribal Relations. I was appointed by House Speaker Charles McCall. The committee is responsible for overseeing and approving certain agreements between tribal governments and the state. I believe this committee gives us a good opportunity as legislators to work together with our tribal leaders. Committee members are appointed by the speaker and the president pro tempore of the state Senate.
The House Appropriations & Budget Committee, which I chair, held its first meeting of the session this past week, considering our first six bills. Our A&B subcommittees must complete their work by Feb. 21. Bills that have a fiscal impact on state dollars must first go through a subcommittee before they can be considered by the full A&B Committee. Our next few meetings will be much more robust as we begin to hear all of those bills.
Also this week in the House, we observed Higher Education Day. This annual day brings students and college professors and administrators from across the state to the Capitol to talk about the benefits of earning a college degree. I was privileged to be asked to make some remarks to this group as they visited the House chamber and to introduce my daughter, Hailey Wallace, as one of the college student speakers.
The role our colleges and universities play in preparing our young people for their futures is invaluable. We have critical workforce needs currently in the fields of nursing, teaching and engineers, so we’re presenting several bills in the House this year that will help us address these shortage areas. Research also shows us that among populations where a greater percentage of people possess a college degree, health outcomes are better, crime rates are lower, average incomes are higher and quality of life is improved. I would say the same thing goes for those who earn a trade certification through our state’s CareerTech system or even through industry apprenticeship programs.
On a more local note, I want to mention a nonprofit that helps school-age children with reading and other learning activities that is opening a location in Wellston. Jubilee Partners – Wellston will begin with a Summer Kid’s Club two afternoons a week this summer. They will provide lunch, a Student Leadership Program for middle and high School students, a reading program, Life Skills classes, science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) classes, and hobby classes for elementary school students.
In the Fall, the group will offer an After School Program at least one day per week, which will include leadership opportunities, tutoring, STEAM and Life Skills for elementary and middle school students with high school students being eligible to participate as student leaders. More information about the group can be found online at http://www.jubileepartnersokc.org/.
February 11 | Shared Priorities
by Rep. Kevin Wallace
The legislative session got off to a good start this year when Gov. Kevin Stitt delivered his fourth annual State of the State address. I and other House leaders look forward to working with him on some shared priorities.
One of those is the continued push back against federal overreach. Last year, the Legislature passed and the governor signed into law House Bill 1236, which empowered us to fight against unconstitutional mandates of the current federal administration. These include personal health care mandates, illegal immigration policies and election measures that threaten our current voting system. Passing this measure legislatively allows us to help determine when matters should be litigated, and that better protects our personal liberties.
Another shared goal is to get a better handle on the state’s medical marijuana industry, particularly when it comes to illegal operations and those with foreign interest. It’s worth a reminder that it was through the initiative petition process and not the Legislature that medical marijuana was legalized via State Question 788 in 2018. The question, however, left huge gaps in enforcement and regulation. The governor in his speech pointed out that Oklahoma has since seen a ballooning number of growers – 8,300 in Oklahoma, compared to just eight in neighboring Arkansas. We have seven times the growers of California with just 10% of the people. We’ve got multiple bills to address licensing, public utility usage, pesticide use and other issues this session.
Growing our broadband infrastructure is another priority. The Broadband Council, established through legislation, did a great job of laying the groundwork for this expansion. Now a dedicated office is needed to distribute the money to begin the buildout. Bringing more and better quality high-speed internet to under- or non-served areas of our state will help our residents access services such as education and healthcare, and it will help us attract more businesses and jobs that will improve our overall economy.
The governor also mentioned wanting to invest another $13 billion in transportation over the next 10 years to continue improving pavement and safety on urban and rural highways and to ease travel throughout the state. This too would be a major economic driver. Our state already is in the Top Ten for our bridges.
Specifically named in the governor’s speech was the city of Harrah, which in the last year has seen construction start on more than 2,200 new homes. The city’s first hotel opened in November, and the population is estimated to double within three to four years. That kind of growth is anticipated for other cities as well as more highways and turnpikes are completed throughout the state.
The governor also mentioned several education policies, in which House leadership is interested. These include increasing pay for high-performing teachers and investing in higher education workforce initiatives that will increase the number of candidates in high-demand fields such as nurses, engineers, technical workers and teachers.
Tax reform is another area of interest. Last year, the Legislature cut the personal income tax and the corporate tax rate. We hope to accomplish more of that this year. With record-high revenues and a commitment to continue growing the state’s savings account while investing in priorities, we’re in a good position to continue to look at ways to stay competitive with our tax rates.
Kevin Wallace serves District 32 of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. His district includes Lincoln County and part of Logan County.