Column by Fred Morgan, President & CEO of the State Chamber, published in The Journal Record on June 3, 2019
A month ago, I spoke with a reporter about the 2019 legislative session. I casually mentioned, at that time, the session was one of the most productive that I could recall.
After Gov. Kevin Stitt officially brought session to a close, my opinion didn’t change significantly. I believe that this year was one of the most productive and positive sessions I’ve witnessed. No doubt this was due in large part to Gov. Stitt’s new energy and a spirit of collaboration with legislative leadership.
Oklahoma saw a lot of positive items emerge this session, including supporting health care access, funding for transportation and infrastructure, investing in economic development, and continuing criminal justice reforms. All these accomplished with no new taxes, a $1,200 teacher pay raise, and placing $200 million in the state savings account.
As impressive as those accomplishments are, the State Chamber of Oklahoma is particularly proud of three items that crossed the finish line this year: government accountability measures, workers’ compensation protections, and employer protections related to the new medical marijuana law.
Earlier this year, Gov. Stitt signed into law five bills that will give him the power to hire and fire the directors of the state’s five largest agencies. As part of our OK2030 strategic plan, this long overdue reform – coupled with the new Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) – will bring unprecedented transparency and accountability to state spending.
But perhaps the highlight of this session for us was House Bill 2367 by state Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, and state Rep. Chris Kannady, R-Oklahoma City. After months of hard work and good faith negotiations amongst all parties, lawmakers struck a deal resulting in a competitive workers’ compensation market that encourages job creation and respects injured workers. This legislation is pivotal if we want to be a top 10 state.
Even with some glaring disappointments (like new regulatory burdens on Oklahoma businesses and government interference in private contracts), this session marked the beginning of Oklahoma’s turnaround.
As we look to 2020 and beyond, there are many challenges ahead. We must increase health care accessibility while ensuring services are affordable and improve our overall health rankings. Likewise, education outcomes for our students must also improve if we want to be a top 10 state.
However, the 2019 session was a big step forward for Oklahoma. Congratulations to everyone involved.