Rep. Tammy Townley was a woman alone Friday at the Ardmore Convention Center during the final Legislative Luncheon of the current session. Luncheon regulars Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Springer, and Rep. Tommy Hardin, R-Madill, were unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts. The bi-weekly event allows local legislators an opportunity to meet with constituents while giving an update on progress at the Capitol.
Townley kicked off the luncheon by sharing her frustrations with negotiations between both Chambers of the state’s government.
“Some of the things that have been going on between the House and Senate objectively slows down every part of getting things passed and getting things heard,” Townley said. “That’s one of those complications I never thought I would have. You think you have the Senate authors, you think things are going smooth, things are going right, then politics get involved. That’s been the biggest eye opener for me.”
Townley said she was still enjoying the process, using her freshman year in the Legislature as a learning opportunity.
“We have gotten things through that I think are excellent legislation,” Townley said.
One bill recently passed will provide state teachers a $1,200 pay raise.
“Our point and our purpose is that we want our teachers to know that we are still investing in them, we are trying our best as a legislative body to invest in our teachers,” Townley said.
SB 441 includes language that requires public schools to be in session for not less than 180 days or not less than 1,080 hours each school year. The legislation stipulates that in the event of alternative scheduling, beginning in the 2020-2021 school year, public schools must provide a minimum of 165 days of classroom instruction each school year, provided certain requirements are met.
“What I didn’t realize, we have school districts who are 5-day school districts who do not go (to class) 140 days in a school year,” Townley said. “So what they decided to do was go to a 165-day minimum. The 4-day school week people, it still gives them the option if they can prove they are meeting the standards, that their students are excelling. Upon approval, they can keep that 4-day school week, they have to jump through some hoops.”
Townley said efforts to expand Medicaid were not likely to be expansive unless it is done through a ballot initiative.
“We will never — unless it goes to a vote of the people and we are made to do it like with 788 and medical marijuana — we will never have full Medicaid expansion here,” Townley said. “What they are trying to do right now is expand it through Insure Oklahoma where we will have people that are working, able-bodied people, and they will be able to get onto Insure Oklahoma.”
Townley said efforts to expand Medicaid would likely continue though the summer and into the next legislative session.
“Something is coming and I think the people will be pleased,” Townley said. “Of course, some are not going to be pleased until it’s fully done and we have all of the federal dollars in here.”
Townley said the issue of federal dollars boils down to the potential to eventually lose those dollars in the future, which might leave the state in dire straights in the event of an economic downturn or other situations where funding to replace dollars lost isn’t available.
“When you take federal dollars for roads and bridges, then your federal funds fall through, you can stop building roads and bridges,” Townley said. “But when you are talking about someone’s life, someone’s medical care, that’s not as easy to stop. That’s a little bit more of an expense to our state, and that’s something we cannot fiscally keep up as a state if the federal dollars stop.”