Altus Kiwanis and the Altus Chamber of Commerce hosted the first of four Legislative Luncheon’s on Friday, Feb. 23. State Representative Charles Ortega and Senator Mike Schulz addressed the group on the major issues that will affect Oklahoma in this year.
The program and elected officials were introduced by Dr. Dana Darby, Vice President of Public Affairs of the Altus Chamber of Commerce.
Rep. Ortega presented some the House of Representative’s leading items on their 2013 agenda for Oklahoma, emphasizing its focus on economic development. Bills are being worked on to ensure Oklahoma “stays friendly, and in a position to attract new business,” and also be more “business friendly” to current businesses, explained Ortega. The GOP is working to address issues dealing with workers compensation, educational funding, infrastructure, gun laws, and sequestration. He added a disclaimer not to get too excited just in case some of these bills don’t make it.
Unemployment legislation, yet to make it to the floor, as Ortega explained, “will make it a little more difficult for an individual to arbitrarily quit and be able to collect unemployment benefits.” If a person is fired for reasons of misconduct, they will have to do more than just claim they were “unjustly” fired.
Ortega also spoke about the House’s interest, to increase funding for education, briefly mentioning the State Superintendent’s budgeting for $280 million dollars, and targeting areas like increased teacher pay and investing in classrooms. He also spoke about placing more emphasis on higher education, like Career Tech, to meet student needs and strengthen Oklahoma’s workforce, and making these opportunities available.
Lastly, Ortega mentioned other big issues that deal with infrastructure at the Capitol and State buildings, gun control and protection of our rights, as well as sequestration and being weary of the Federal governments overreach.
Following Ortega’s briefing, Sen. Schulz spoke briefly about the budget and the effect sequestration will have on the economy. In particular, he added, that the Secretary of Agriculture, under the President’s direction, plans to make all “essential” U.S. meat inspector employees to “non essential,” resulting in the loss of jobs and possible shortage of meat inventory on grocery store shelves within a few weeks. “And it’s being done for political purposes. It’s being done to say, ‘It’s your fault. No, it’s your fault.” Schulz added that he hears there are members on both sides that want to see that happen.
“One thing that is going to come off the floor in the next week is sweeping workers compensation reform,” Schulz said. After sending teams to Kansas, Arkansas, and Texas, Schulz explained, they have pieced together into one system the best of what was found in other’s worker’s comp systems. The bill will move Oklahoma’s Worker’s Comp system from a judicial court process to an administrative. “This bill has the language in it that we want.” The Governor has already commented that she is in support to get Oklahoma into an Administrative system, he said. This could be finalized by the end of March.
Schulz also spoke about school safety and how integration of future building designs would improve security, and active shooter drills improve preparedness.
He also discussed water supply issues including a lawsuit between that went to the Supreme Court, as well as looking for other sources.
He mentioned a discussion within the Senate about improving an outdated railway system to keep up with movement of agricultural products, crude oil, and frack sand, and hopes to further elevate the conversation.
He addressed the need to improve the lack of care for veterans as recently reported, and spoke about the many ideas brought to improve pension reform.
“At some point we really need to tackle this thing because it really is a million dollar liability,” Schulz said about pension reform.
Once the senator finished with his briefing, the elected officials were available for questions from the audience.
Some questions and concerns dealt with reform, income tax, school security, and helping disabled persons being who are caught up in closing of institutions.
The next Legislative Luncheon will be held on March 15.