Committee Deadline Looms

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Session took on a busier tone this week as we approached the first legislative hurdle, the deadline for House bills to be heard by House committees.

I am proud to report that my House Bill 3085 was approved by the Appropriations and Budget Committee. It would add the American Legion to a list of non-profits that receive a sales tax exemption. Revenue-reducing bills are always a little more difficult to get through the process, so I was pleased that my colleagues made the American Legion a priority. In truth, this small exemption will cost state government very little, but will mean a lot to local American Legion organizations, which do so much in our communities. These organizations are made up of the veterans who have sacrificed so much for us. This is the very least we can do to show our gratitude.

The Oklahoma Board of Equalization has issued a new estimate for fiscal year 2015, now saying we will have $188 million less to appropriate. The state is expected to have slightly more than $6.9 billion to spend for fiscal year 2015, or 2.6 percent less than the current year.

Oklahoma Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger has explained this figure. Gross tax revenues to the state treasury have continued to rise while the amount available for appropriation has declined. The reason for this is that state lawmakers have designated some funds to immediately go to roads and bridges and higher education, before the appropriations process. What this means is that revenues are up, but a portion of those revenues is already spoken for. On the bright side, we ensure our road and bridge programs are paid for, but it does create a more difficult budgeting process.

I mentioned a bill last week to create a grievance process for foster parents independent of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. I am proud to report that the legislation was approved unanimously by the Oklahoma House of Representatives and now heads to the Oklahoma Senate.

A request has been made for supplemental money to finish out the current budget year by the agency. DHS states it is running out of reserve money because of a large growth in the number of children being taken into custody. That request might be unrealistic considering our limited resources. DHS has already received large increases and is one of the more bureaucratic agencies in the state. I and other lawmakers take the request seriously, but will have to weigh other priorities against it as well as look into what resources DHS may already have at its disposal. We will continue to look for ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of this agency.

In the coming weeks, we will be focused on debating House bills on the floor. I will report what bills make it off the floor and those that failed to get a majority of votes in future columns. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at (405) 557-7407.

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