The 2019 Oklahoma Legislature goes in the book as a success, if not the success it could have been.
Let’s review some of the good that was done this year:
• The state budget for public schools went over the $3 billion mark for the first time in state history. The governor says a $1,220 teacher pay raise will put the state in first place in the region, and even if that doesn’t turn out to be right, we’ll certainly be closer. The state is fully funding its third grade reading mandates and giving school districts another $74 million to deal with class sizes and closed programs.
• Five smart-on-crime bills were sent to the governor, including one to make provisions of State Question 780 retroactive so that people are no longer serving prison sentences for “crimes” voters have said aren’t really worthy of prison time. The state budget weans prosecutors from the fines and fees paid by criminal defendants, eliminating a glaring conflict of interest in the state justice system. Next year, we need to do the same thing for judges.
• The governor got the ability to fire and hire key state agency leaders. That makes state government more responsive to voter-approved agendas and ends the days of entrenched bureaucrats running out the clock on reform-minded elected leadership.
• Virtual charter schools have been put under the same reporting standards as traditional public schools. An effort to allow stealth vouchers — expanded tax credits for donations to private schools — foundered, although it got dangerously close to passing and remains viable next year.
There’s also a state employee pay raise, a bigger bump for state prison workers and some more money for higher education.
All in all, and even taking into account some of the new laws we don’t think are in the state’s best interest, that’s not bad. It certainly could have been worse.
But it also could have been better.
Lawmakers adjourned for the year a full week ahead of the constitutionally mandated end to the session.
With $200 million in money available for appropriations still on the table, we wish they had stuck around to address unresolved issues: More funding for public schools, higher education and mental health, more smart-on-crime reforms, restoration of the state earned-income tax credit and dealing with the crisis-level numbers of uninsured Oklahomans.
Those unresolved issues will be waiting for legislators when they return next year.