Last Friday marked the end of what political insiders call “deadline week” at the Oklahoma State Capitol. It is the last opportunity this year for legislation to pass in the chamber (House or Senate) where it was originally introduced. Legislation that fails to advance is "dead" in 2017.
It is a major turning point in the session, as it gives us an opportunity to evaluate what ideas and reforms are gaining traction and which have fallen by the wayside. The House of Representatives, for instance, began with 1370 bills and resolutions, but only 316 made it past deadline week and remain active. Likewise, in the state Senate, 881 bills and resolutions have been winnowed down to 341.
While the number of bills has been dramatically reduced, there is still quite a bit of active legislation left. Luckily for Oklahomans who are engaged on child wellbeing issues, we at OICA have selected the highlights (and, unfortunately, low points) below, arranged in a format that many will find familiar:
• Improvements in child welfare: Kudos to Sen. AJ Griffin for authoring SB 727, a bill which aims to increase support for foster parents, increase accountability at the Department of Human Services, and increase collaboration between parents/guardians and child welfare workers. SB 727 passed unanimously in the state Senate and now goes to the House for consideration.
• Victories for food security: House Bill 1875 by state Reps. Eric Proctor and Jason Dunnington permits school districts to donate unused or unopened food to an on-campus nonprofit organization. The food may be received, stored and redistributed at the school at any time, and school employees may assist in preparing and distributing the food as volunteers for the nonprofit organization. HB 1875 passed without opposition in the House and is now in the Senate.
• Politicians overrule voters on criminal justice: HB 1482, a bill to roll back criminal justice reforms approved by voters on the 2016 ballot, passed in the House by a razor thin margin. If it becomes law, it will undo many of the “smart on crime” sentencing reform related to personal drug use and reinstate policies that break up families and increase our incarceration rate.
• Budget mess continues: Legislators are now contemplating 14.5 percent cuts to education, child welfare, health services and other government responsibilities. Irresponsible cuts continue to threaten our most vulnerable children and adults.
If you are interested in learning more about legislation affecting children, OICA is tracking each bill through our Oklahoma Kids Legislative Analysis program, found at www.oica.org.
We also invite you to get active: OICA will hold our very first Advocacy Day at the State Capitol on May 10. More details and registration can also be found on our website.
We need Oklahomans of all ages to attend, advocate on behalf of children, and help inspire senators and representatives to pass a responsible budget which will not hurt the children of our state.
If you are able to join us, we will have morning and afternoon advocacy time with lawmakers, a luncheon with our new Kid Governor, Audrey Patton, and afternoon speakers and engaging panels. Please take this day to join us and fight for Oklahoma’s children!
The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy was established in 1983 by a group of citizens, to create a strong advocacy network that would provide a voice for the needs of children and youth in Oklahoma, particularly those in the state’s care and those growing up amid poverty, violence, abuse and neglect, disparities, or other situations that put their lives and future at risk.
Our mission statement: “Creating awareness, taking action and changing policy to improve the health, safety and well-being of Oklahoma’s children.“