After announcing a joint budget agreement with the Senate and Governor this week, the House has passed our FY2020 budget! This well-thought out budget fulfills many needs and requests of our state agencies, most of which have been the victims of severe budget cuts in recent years. It now moves to the Senate for consideration before it heads to the Governor’s desk.
Education continues to be a major priority for the Legislature. The budget includes a $1,220 pay increase for teachers, which would bring Oklahoma to number one in the region in teacher pay and help address our statewide teacher shortage.
We’re also investing an additional $74 million directly into classrooms to provide for the needs of our teachers and students. Combined with last year’s education budget, the Legislature has raised the education budget by over 26%.
We’re also focusing on post-secondary education: career tech centers will receive $18 million to increase pay for employees and teachers, and higher education will receive $28 million to bolster research programs and give a salary increase to professors.
In the area of infrastructure, we’re restoring $30 million of funding to the County Improvements for Roads and Bridges (CIRB) Program, which constructs and repairs county roads and bridges on the county highway system.
The Legislature has also focused on healthcare in our budget. $62.8 million will go to the Graduate Medical Education program, which supports physician training for rural hospitals. About $5 million is appropriated to county health departments to hire new staff and increase immunizations. We’re also allocating $105 million to increase provider rates for physicians, hospitals and nursing homes across Oklahoma. Oklahoma needs better healthcare, and we’re taking steps to improve the quality of care available in our state.
In criminal justice reform, we’ve approved a $2/hour pay raise for correctional officers. This is a 14% increase from their current salary, which brings our pay for correctional officers to the regional market average. This should help the Dept. of Corrections fill numerous vacancies they’ve continued to face year after year. We also allotted $10 million to the smart on crime initiative for Drug Courts and Diversion programs.
One of my bills this year focused on criminal justice reform, and was rolled into a comprehensive reform bill, Senate Bill 252, to address bail reform. SB 252 modifies the conditions for the release of arrested persons by requiring a person arrested for a misdemeanor be taken before the most accessible county civil officer for an initial appearance within 48 hours.
The portion of SB252 I authored involved the assessment of a defendant’s “ability to pay” aspect. This means that the civil office would individually determine how much the defendant can afford to pay for bail. An affordable bail would allow the defendant, who hasn’t yet been found guilty of the crime, to return to work and their families while awaiting a court date.
SB252 is one way to address our serious criminal justice issue in our state, and I’m glad the House has focusing heavily on this area throughout session. This is an important step in addressing the consistent issues in our criminal justice system.
In the midst of budget discussions, I was visited by my constituent Beth Dilling Courter and her young family for Food Allergy Awareness Week. After I learned Oklahoma has seen a 215% increase in food allergy and anaphylaxis reactions during the last decade, Senator Stephanie Bice and I authored House Concurrent Resolution (HCR) 1008 declaring May 12-18 as Food Allergy Awareness Week for our state. We need to continue to raise awareness, support research and find new treatments to improve the health and quality of life for these individuals, many of which are children.
The Senate is expected to hear the budget bill on Monday. In the meantime, the House will continue to meet to consider remaining legislation, and I encourage constituents to contact my office with questions or concerns. You can reach me at (405) 557-7357 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rep. Nicole Miller, a Republican, serves District 82 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, which includes parts of Edmond, Oklahoma City and Deer Creek.