Guest column: Sen. Frank Simpson’s Session Review
I hope everyone had a great 4th of July and took some time to remember and celebrate those who made our freedom possible and still protect it today. God bless our military men and women past and present.
Work has already begun on the Fiscal Year 2023 budget as committee chairs are working with agencies to learn how they’ve utilized the current budget and their plans for the FY’22 budget that went into effect on July 1. Budgeting is a year-round process.
Last time, I discussed some of the highlights of the historic FY’22 budget we approved this year, and I’d like to mention a few more important aspects. Once again, education was the big winner when it comes to appropriations, as common and higher education received over half of the total state budget. Funding for common education was increased by more than $210 million to a record $3.2 billion, giving this one agency nearly one-third of the total state budget. It’s clear to see that our schools and education are the legislature’s main focus. This funding increase will reduce class sizes for kindergarten and first grade as well as provide additional money for new textbooks. Oklahoma schools also received historic federal relief funds of just over $1 billion on top of their state and federal appropriations.
Healthcare was our other main focus. As I mentioned last time, we approved the $164 million for the first year of the voter-approved Medicaid expansion. The expansion went into effect July 1, and since enrollment opened on June 1, more than 123,000 low-income Oklahomans have been approved for the extended program. Individuals, ages 19 to 64, with an income that is 138% or lower than the federal poverty level, are now eligible for coverage. For individuals, this is up to $17,796 annually, or $36,588 for a family of four. You can apply at MySoonerCare.org or by calling 800-987-7767.
We also restored a major sales tax credit for OU Health that will help get significantly more nurses and doctors trained in our state to help fill the critical shortage we’re currently facing, especially in rural Oklahoma. Another $9.9 million will create a children’s mental health unit at OU Health to address the growing mental health crisis in our state. Along with the numerous healthcare reforms passed this session, we should see tremendous improvement in our state’s health outcomes. We’ll talk more about this next time.
Another important issue we had to tackle this year was protecting Oklahomans from federal overreach. The budget includes $10 million for the Attorney General’s Office to continue representing the state in the McGirt cases, while also investigating the substantial increase in foreign ownership of medical marijuana businesses and properties.
Work is also continuing for congressional redistricting. While the state legislative districts could be completed with U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the congressional districts can’t be redrawn until the state receives the final census numbers, which should be next month. A number of public town hall meetings have been scheduled this summer. The first was held on Thursday at the Capitol. There are no meetings scheduled in our district, but there will be two virtual meetings on Tuesday, July 13 and Tuesday, Aug. 3, both at 6 p.m. You can join these at https://www.okhouse.gov/Publications/VirtualMeets.aspx. We want as much public input as possible, so please submit your questions, comments, and suggestions online at https://oksenate.gov/redistricting/feedback.
In other news, I was proud to be one of only 22 legislators to receive a perfect score for the 2021 session from the Research Institute for Economic Development (RIED) for my support of legislation that will strengthen our economy and create jobs. The organization identified 19 bills dealing with numerous issues, including universal licensing, the rural broadband tax incentive, and the aerospace industry. In order to compete with Texas and other regional states, we must create a strong pro-business environment that is welcoming to new industries and businesses, while supporting the ones already here.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call, or email me at (405) 521-5607 or Frank.Simpson@oksenate.gov.