Oklahoma House Dems Release 2020 Agenda
“This agenda, the ‘Brand New State’ agenda, was a collaborative effort, and was created by every member of this Caucus,” said House Minority Leader Emily Virgin (D-Norman) in her opening remarks.
Virgin said there are four main policy areas within the agenda: healthcare, criminal justice reform, education and jobs and the economy. Each member of the Caucus was asked to participate in the development of the agenda in one of the areas.
There are four members of the Oklahoma State House of Representatives who served as policy chairs and who spoke about the details of the plan.
“We have a plan for education that puts Oklahoma children first,” said Rep. Melissa Provenzano (D-Tulsa). “Imagine if we simply applied what we know, and that research consistently supports that a well-trained, experienced teacher makes the single biggest impact in the education experience of a child.”
Provenzano filed legislation in January proposing a “Student Borrowers Bill of Rights” to protect higher education students from predatory lending practices.
Rep. Collin Walke (D-Oklahoma City) said that diversion programs such as drug courts and mental health courts would save taxpayers $15,000 per participant, versus incarcerating them.
“Those savings could then be used and reinvested in how we fund our court system and lessen our reliance on fines and fees which over the last six years has led to more than $600 million in delinquent court debt,” Walke said.
Walke said court debt leads to disproportionate jail stays solely because of an inability to post bond, which creates a debtor’s prison.
“If you can’t afford bail and you’re in jail for the same reason [as] somebody who can post bond, the only difference is a matter of wealth, and wealth should not decide justice,” Walke said. “Justice is blind, but she hears us, and with our plan we can become a state that leads the nation in being smart on crime, not just tough on crime.”
Rep. Mickey Dollens (D-Oklahoma City) referred to the economic agenda of “A Brand New State” as “an economy that works for everyone.”
“House Democrats have filed 17 bills that will improve the economic empowerment for citizens across the state,” Dollens said.
Examples, according to Dollens, include raising the state minimum wage, restoring the ability of municipalities to set their own state minimum wage and permanent cost of living increases for retirees. The bills also include expanding apprenticeships and workforce development “to meet the demands of a 21st century economy,” and put money back into the pockets of 300,000 Oklahomans by “ensuring they’re getting their full Earned Income Tax Credit,” Dollens said.
“At the end of the day, Oklahomans just want to be able to put know that they can pay their bills, put food on the table, spend time with their families and know that they can progress forward up the ladder,” Dollens said. “It’s with these values in mind that the House Democratic Caucus has put together our economic agenda.”
Rep. Forrest Bennett (D-Oklahoma City) said this session marked eight years since state leadership rejected Medicaid expansion and $3.5 billion that would have now been in communities.
According to a press conference handout on brandnewstateok.com, the agenda would “aggressively expand access to quality, affordable healthcare for all Oklahomans,” by Medicaid expansion, mental health and substance abuse funding, decreased mortality rates among mothers and infants, and lower prescription drug costs, and by “addressing the rising costs of healthcare.”
Bennett cited examples of how Oklahoma lags behind several other states in terms of healthcare.
“We see healthcare the way everyone should: as a smaller piece of a larger puzzle that must be intact for our state to see true prosperity,” Bennett said. “All of those issues – healthcare, criminal justice, economic opportunity and education – they’re all intertwined.”
Bennett also said that the day the state recognizes this is the day that everyone and not just those with wealth and resources will have access to the best in these categories.
“The time is now, and the House Democrats stand ready to work with our colleagues all over the building to address these issues and bring that ‘Brand New State’ sense of hope and optimism back,” Bennett said.
Virgin concluded the conference by reiterating that through this agenda they can unlock the potential of Oklahomans all across the state.
“For too long, in this building we have focused and invested in people who can afford lobbyists, wealthy Oklahomans and corporations and it’s time we focus on working families, our neighbors,” Virgin said. “Those families have seen a state government for a very long time that has not invested in them.”
Virgin believes the new state agenda is much improved from past decades and calls upon House colleagues from across the aisle to work together in a legislative session that will be a success for every Oklahoman.