Area residents were treated Thursday to key issues that will define the upcoming legislative session. Sen. Frank Simpson (R-Ardmore), Rep. Pat Ownbey (R-Ardmore) and Rep. Tommy Hardin (R-Madill) joined Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb at the 2013 Legislative Preview sponsored by the Ardmore Personnel Roundtable at the Southern Oklahoma Technology Center.
"You couldn't have better representation at the State Capitol," Lamb said. "It may sound like a shtick, but I mean it sincerely."
Lamb said it was apparent when watching Simpson, Ownbey and Hardin debate in committee and on the floor; their agenda was representing their constituents.
He also talked about his duties as a Lieutenant Governor and divided them into three areas:
n Statutory and constitutional assignments
n Duties assigned by the governor
n Personal goals and agenda
Lamb said one of the reasons he sought the office of Lieutenant Governor was the latitude the office is given. And as holder of the office, Lamb talked about the many different areas of state government he is involved in, which includes small business.
"Over 97.2 percent of Oklahoma is made up of small business," Lamb said. "It is the backbone of our economy."
In terms of Lamb's agenda, it was based on business growth in the state. He explored areas such as job growth, where Oklahoma ranks highly in the nation but said the state should not be content to rest on its laurels.
"We are on the move, we are on the rise and we are doing the right things," Lamb said. "We are doing really well, but how can we do better?"
In an effort to learn how the state can do better, Lamb visited every county in both 2011 and 2012 in a series of meetings. The top issue discussed was worker's compensation reform, which has been highlighted as an area that must improve in the upcoming legislative session. Oklahoma and Tennessee are the only two states that use a judicial system for worker's comp rather than an administrative system.
During a Republican Caucus, Simpson said everyone was asked to list the top five priorities for the upcoming session and on 99 percent of the lists, worker's comp was the top one. Simpson said worker's comp has been an issue for years and has not been addressed. He also cited worker's comp plans in place in Texas and Arkansas which are vastly superior to the one in place in Oklahoma. They are less costly, but also more effective in helping those with claims.
"We have chewed around the edges for so long and haven't accomplished anything," Simpson said.
Ownbey said the time is right for meaningful reforms to take place.
"We have got to be accountable," he said. "We have everything in place, a conservative house, conservative Senate and a conservative governor."
Lamb also said he has been named chairman of a commission formed to look at public school safety. The commission will hear from local, state and national experts to explore ways in which safety in schools can prevent a possible tragedy such as the one that took place at Sandy Hook.
Simpson also talked about schools and voiced concerns about reforms that are being implemented as to whether they are efficient and reaching the goal of providing quality education.
"I have a lot of questions about testing and what we are doing," Simpson said. "Education is important for building small businesses. We have got to do an honest assessment of how we are educating our children."
Ownbey addressed the issue of state income tax cuts, which will be discussed during the upcoming session. Gov. Mary Fallin has been a proponent of eliminating the income tax but drew opposition during the 2012 session.
"We will have to talk about tax cuts and see if it can be done efficiently," Ownbey said.
Hardin expressed concern over tax cuts while other programs are suffering with funding cuts.
"Show me how you are going to pay for it and I will think about it," Hardin said. "There area a lot of places we are cutting back."
Hardin said one of his concerns leading into the session is pay for Department of Correction Officers, which starts at $11.50 to $11.60 an hour. Hardin is also a member of a new committee, States Rights, which will explore different areas where the federal government may be infringing on state's rights."
Michael Pineda