Prison Budget Fix Advances

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The Oklahoma Legislature is advancing a $13 million supplemental appropriation for the state Department of Corrections to avoid an agency budget shortfall.

Director Robert Patton was able to reduce a $27 million agency budget shortfall to the $13 million figure by reprioritizing funds within Corrections. Senate Bill 2126 also authorizes the agency to spend money from the Prison Industries Revolving Fund. The legislation is now available for a vote on the floor of the Oklahoma Senate.

Gov. Mary Fallin has signed a bill that will help get more public safety officers on the streets. Senate Bill 1372 will lower the age limit for commissioned officers within the Department of Public Safety from 23 to 21 years of age and provide educational credits to those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces. This includes the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, which is struggling to fill the 950 positions authorized by state law. SB 1372 also modifies the number of hours of accredited college or university experience to include military service. The agency is currently seeking applications for the 63rd Oklahoma Highway Patrol Academy. For applications or to learn more, visit www.ohptroopers.com.

With this legislation and the 14 percent trooper pay raise that has been signed into law, I think we are going to see more public safety recruits available to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and other critical law enforcement agencies.

In other developments, the Oklahoma Transportation Commission has voted to sell a 97.5-mile stretch of railroad line to the Stillwater Central Railroad. This vote concludes a six-month process passed by the Oklahoma Legislature last year.

We are still in negotiations with the Senate and the governor. We are making good strides but still have a ways ago. We are mandated by law to be done by May 30 and we must have a balanced budget. House priorities include targeted increases to essential services and reductions in non-essential services. We are also pushing for Capitol repair direct appropriations.

Soon, I hope to have a budget agreement to present to you. I will go through the ins and outs of it and what it means to Oklahoma in the coming weeks.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at (405) 557-7407.

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