By Rep. Mike Sanders
The governor on Tuesday released an executive order requiring those receiving state Medicaid benefits to work or volunteer at least 20 hours a week unless they are exempted for age, medical or mental health reasons. The House passed a bill the same day accomplishing the same thing as the governor’s directive.
The objective is to provide a path out of poverty for those who are able to work. It mirrors legislation of those receiving food purchase assistance. Those who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid can transition to the state’s Insure Oklahoma plan and still be insured. All who can work should work. We should not have barriers that keep people on government assistance.
In other business, this week and next are incredibly busy as many of the bills passed out of committee are being heard on the House floor. Bills and resolutions must pass from their chamber of origin by March 15. That means all House bills must be passed to the Senate and all Senate bills to the House by that date. We then have until April 26 for measures to be passed by the opposite chamber. If legislation is amended, it returns to the chamber of origin to get a final vote. If it is accepted as is, it goes to the governor for her signature to become law.
A lot of work happens in the background in the meantime. A bill’s author, for instance, is talking to constituents, those most affected by a bill, and the author in the opposite chamber to make sure the bill’s language and intent is exactly as it should be before it comes to a final vote. The author also talks to other legislators to ensure bills are understood and questions answered before they are brought for a vote.
Here’s a look at a few of the bills that passed the House this week:
House Bill 2910 would consolidate the Oklahoma State Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. These two agencies often work together now. This bill would get rid of duplicative services and has the potential to save the state some money.
House Bill 2632 would extend Oklahoma’s stand-your-ground protections to places of worship, granting immunity to churches that wish to allow parishioners to carry weapons for purposes of defense.
House Bill 2913 would create the Oklahoma Industrial Hemp Agricultural Pilot Program, allowing farmers in partnership with universities or colleges to grow hemp in order to study the environmental and economic impact of this crop. Hemp is non-narcotic. It has no THC, and people cannot get high from it. It is federally legal and regulated. Farmers say it would make a good rotation crop and could help them earn additional money. It’s worth studying.
At the same time lawmakers are working to get regular legislation passed, budget talks are continually ongoing. We have fewer bills this year than in the past, so that gives us more time to focus on the budget.
As always, I will keep you updated on legislation and the budget as the session progresses.