Guest column: Sen. Frank Simpson’s session review
It’s hard to believe that summer is coming to a close and school will be starting soon. Work will also be ramping up at the Capitol with interim studies, congressional redistricting, and the working groups to study the state’s pandemic relief funding, our state’s energy resources and electrical grid as well as further expanding rural broadband access.
During the summer, ceremonial bills signings are also held to allow legislators and bill advocates the opportunity to celebrate their session victories one more time. On Tuesday, a ceremonial signing took place for Senate Bill 86, which I authored along with Rep. Nicole Miller of Edmond. Unfortunately, I had a scheduling conflict in the district and was unable to attend the ceremony, but Rep. Miller was on hand to celebrate with members of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs and the Oklahoma Veterans Commission. Again, this bill, which officially became law on July 1, modified the commission’s membership to better represent our state’s veteran population. All nine members are now required to be honorably discharged vets. We reduced the number of Vietnam vets to one and added an additional Persian Gulf veteran. The bill also requires that commission appointments broadly represent the state’s veterans in terms of age, gender, race, and ethnicity. The governor will no longer appoint an at-large, nonveteran member with a family member residing in a state veteran center. Furthermore, it prohibits nepotism regarding governor appointees being related to ODVA employees, and members also can’t be employed by ODVA. These important updates will ensure that the best interests of our state’s veterans are fairly and efficiently represented.
As I mentioned, work on congressional redistricting is ongoing. Just this week, we held our last public town hall meeting virtually. Altogether, we held five in-person meetings in each of the congressional districts, along with two virtual meetings, to ensure citizens had every opportunity to participate in the process. You can also share any thoughts, questions or concerns about the redistricting process at email@example.com, and learn more about the process on the Senate website at www.oksenate.gov.
Normally, the Legislature would have finished both state and congressional redistricting during session, but the pandemic caused significant delays in the collection of census data, and the congressional districts must be redrawn based on those exact numbers, whereas the state legislative boundaries could be done using census estimates. The U.S. Census Bureau is expected to have the final counts to the states this month. Once those numbers are assessed, we’ll begin accepting public submissions for congressional maps. The Legislature will then convene in special session in October to vote on the final congressional boundaries.
In closing, I want to share some important resources for those who are unemployed, looking to hire, or finding themselves struggling emotionally, financially or in some other way.
If you’re job hunting or looking to hire, please visit the state’s free online job database at www.okjobmatch.com. You’ll find hundreds of job listings, and employers can post their openings for free. This is especially important for small businesses in rural districts like ours where it can be hard to get the word out about available positions. It also helps expand your application pool significantly. This is a critical tool that can help Oklahomans get back on their feet while also supporting our business community.
Another important tool for Oklahomans is Heartline 211, which provides instant access to a number of nonprofits to help meet whatever need you may have. You can visit www.HeartlineOklahoma.org as well as call or text 2-1-1 to get connected to nonprofit organizations in your area that provide food, clothing, school supplies, counseling, or other types of assistance. This is also the state’s official suicide hotline, so please share with anyone who may be struggling mentally and emotionally. This is a tremendous program that helps Oklahomans every day, and I hope you’ll share it with your friends and loved ones.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at (405) 521-5607 or Frank.Simpson@oksenate.gov.