Funding education and health care, and how the state will proceed in regulating medical marijuana, promise to be hot topics in the upcoming legislative session, Tulsans learned Thursday evening at the Tulsa World’s latest Let’s Talk Community Forum.
The event, focusing on the new session, was held in the OSU-Tulsa conference center auditorium.
The forum panel included state Sen. Kim David, R-Porter, state Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa, lobbyist Margaret Erling and Tulsa World political writer Randy Krehbiel.
Education is “the top priority without a doubt,” David said. “We’re all tired of being last in education in the nation.”
She added, “We also have a health care crisis in our state. That needs money also. We also have a crisis in the Department of Corrections.”
Asked if she believes the state could see another teacher walkout in 2019, Erling said she “would be surprised if there is.”
“I don’t expect any discussion of another walkout prior to April 1. ... I think the governor has been up front about taking a look at education funding. I think this is going to be a fix-it session. I think education is the top priority with three or four other issues.”
On the issue of health care funding, Goodwin reiterated her call for Medicaid expansion. “We have been talking about that for a long time. It makes sense,” she said. “Bring those dollars back, expand Medicaid. We’ve got the government saying we want to give you your money back, just open up your hand and we’ll do it.”
David said legislators should be “open to that discussion,” but at the same time “we don’t want to throw away good money on a system that’s broken. We would still have the lowest health outcomes in the nation.”
On medical marijuana and how Oklahoma is going to regulate it, Goodwin said, “We have more questions actually than answers … all those questions still need to be resolved. Oklahoma is going to have to see what other states have done. I think we owe it to the population to make sure it is safe, that it is for people with legitimate illnesses. It’s going to take lot of hard work. The people have spoken and we have to work on it.”
Krehbiel gave a breakdown of the new legislature, offering some demographics on what makes it stand out from past legislatures.
“We have 47 new members in the House, 12 in the Senate. In a normal year you have very few incumbents that leave,” he said.
Along with the big turnover, there was a boost in the number of women and some rural-urban party realignment, he said.
“It’s no secret we’re going to have a much different legislature,” he said.
Krehbiel added: “I think you’re going to see a somewhat more moderate legislature — one that is more focused on state issues and less concerned about what’s going on in Washington.”
Among other questions addressed, David said she agrees that newly elected Gov. Kevin Stitt should be able to hire and fire state agency heads.
“I quite frankly was shocked when I got elected to learn that most of power in the state was in the hands of bureaucrats — people not voted into office,” she said.
She added she’s glad Stitt is shining some light on an issue she’s tried unsuccessfully to address as a legislator.
About 90 people attended the event, the World’s third Let’s Talk forum.
World Editorial Pages Editor Wayne Greene served as moderator. Some of the questions taken by the panel were submitted previously by the public.
“This is going to be one of the most interesting but also one of the most inspiring (legislative) sessions,” Tulsa World Publisher Gloria Fletcher told the crowd.
“This is just one night. Let’s not forget to stay interested and continue to ask questions.”