The 2019 legislative session is now officially adjourned. When the session began back in February, most of us felt this had to the potential to be one of the most productive sessions in the history of our state—and it was.
After several years of working hard to shield our core government services from the deepest impact of budget cuts, we were able to invest new resources in the most critical areas, including education, health and mental health, public safety and transportation infrastructure.
We were able to place additional dollars into our public schools and give educators an additional raise this session to make Oklahoma schools more competitive and enable us to attract and keep the best and brightest teachers. We were also able to invest additional resources in our colleges, universities and career techs.
We’ve addressed some very important public safety needs in our state this session. Oklahoma corrections officers were given raises, a move that will help us address chronic understaffing in our prisons. We also funded two Highway Patrol Trooper academies, helping us get up to 80 new troopers on the road in 2020.
The new budget also fully funds the Department of Transportation’s 8-year plan, and restores $30 million in funding to our county roads and bridges. We also approved new investments in our county health departments and in mental health services.
Our state employees will also receive raises of up to $1,500 this year, on top of the salary increases covered in last year’s budget.
Before the session began, Senate Republicans outlined a four-point agenda that prioritized public education, increased budgeting transparency, improved government accountability and criminal justice reform. Every single agenda goal was passed by both chambers and signed into law.
I was also very proud to author legislation to help Oklahoma foster families this session. Senate Bill 893, which was signed by the Governor, provides a $5,000 income tax exemption for foster families for taxable years beginning on or after January 1, 2019. It’s important to offer this help to those families who’ve opened their homes to these children, and we’re hopeful it will help the Department of Human Services in their efforts to recruit more foster parents.
Oklahomans overwhelmingly approved a state question creating Marsy’s Law, a constitutional amendment outlining victim’s rights. This session we passed statutory language necessary to ensure those rights are enforced. We also passed legislation to help solve cold missing and unidentified persons cases by utilizing existing technology.
The Senate, House and Governor approved legislation helping Oklahoma Veterans this session, granting a much-needed sales tax exemption for the American Legion, which has helped support veterans in our state for 100 years. We also passed legislation to ensure some of our most vulnerable veterans will get the help they need should they become unable to make vital medical, legal and financial decisions, through the help of trained volunteers who truly have a heart for these American heroes.
Pay for Success is another important piece of legislation approved this year. The legislation encourages public/private partnerships that will result in innovations to help state agencies meet wide-ranging challenges without risking public resources. Under this new law, a private sector entity would be able to contract with a state agency to provide a program or services with the goal of achieving a certifiable result. That private entity would provide the financing up-front, but would only receive payment if they are successful. This model has already proven highly successful in helping divert non-violent female offenders into programs that treat their substance abuse and help them get the education and tools to become contributing members of society. Now we can expand this model to all areas of state government.
Throughout the interim, there will still be studies taking place at the Capitol to help us take a deep dive into issues that will likely be debated during the 2020 session. Those meetings are open to the public and you are welcome to attend.
In between those and other meetings, I will be spending much more time here in the district and at various community events. I hope we’ll have an opportunity to meet and visit in person. Your comments and suggestions on future legislation are always welcome. Even when I am not in my Capitol office, my Executive Assistant, Audra Brice, will be here to answer your calls and emails.
If you have any questions or concerns, I can be reached at email@example.com or (405) 521-5522. You can also write me at the state Capitol at Sen. Paul Scott, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd., Room 428, Oklahoma City, OK 73105.