The 2nd Session of the 57th Legislature has adjourned Sine Die.  It was one for the books as Oklahoma and our country was shut down by the health pandemic.  Just as most businesses did, we had to shut down and telework to protect our staff.  Because so much focus had to be put on addressing the health crisis and helping our constituents, our legislative work did have to be cut short.

The House and Senate worked together to make a list of bills that absolutely had to get through the process this year because they dealt with the state’s COVID-19 response, creating much-needed revenue or were essential to state agencies.

In total, we sent nearly 180 bills to the governor’s desk.  He signed all but 18, which he vetoed.  We successfully overrode some of those measures before adjourning Sine Die Friday.

While I had several bills still working their way through the process before we had to shut down, only two were chosen as essential and sent on to the governor and signed into law.  The others will be brought back up next session along with many others.

SB 1115 will allow the State Board of Education to continue renewing emergency certifications as long as applicants meet the qualifications.  Previously, emergency certified teachers could only be in the classroom for two years before they had to get fully certified.  The Board extended that to three years earlier this spring hoping to help local districts fill teaching positions. We currently have hundreds of openings because fewer people are going into the profession, many are retiring, and others are leaving to pursue careers in other fields. Emergency certified teachers is most districts’ only hope.

We’re also seeing that many emergency certified teachers just don’t have the time or resources to become fully certified, so they work their two years and then go to another job. Given the dire situation our state schools are facing with so many teaching spots unfilled, we need to allow our emergency certified teachers to work until a certified teacher applies for the position.  These emergency certified individuals are passionate about our students and helping them learn.  We need to support and utilize their services as long as they’ll stay in the classroom.

HB 3242 exempts Medicare supplement policy insurers with fewer than 5,000 policyholders from premium rate filing requirements.

This week, though, the most exciting news was that our incredible retired public employees are finally getting a cost-of-living adjustment after 12 long years of fighting for one.  This has been one of my top priorities since getting into office, and I will continue to fight to ensure more assistance in the future and on a more regular basis.

Those who have been retired for more than five years will get a 4% increase and those at 2-5 years will get a 2% increase. Anyone under two years won’t be eligible this time around.

In other news, the state has received $1.25 billion in COVID-19 federal relief for state agencies, counties, tribes, cities and schools.  The governor has formed both a legislative and a business advisory board to help his administration to efficiently and effectively distribute the funds.

Counties and cities can apply for reimbursement for COVID-19 response efforts at governor.ok.gov/crfgrants. It’s paramount that the public and those receiving the funds have absolute transparency of the process. You can see how the funds are being distributed on Oklahoma’s Checkbook at https://checkbook.ok.gov/ under CARES Act.

One other way we can help our state and communities recover faster is by being counting in the U.S. Census. This official population count is used to calculate the state’s portion of federal funding for education, healthcare, public safety and other government services. Every person counted gets Oklahoma another at least $17,000 in federal funding over the next ten years.  Please be counted by going online at 2020Census.gov, by calling 1-844-330-2020 or filling out your paper form.  This will ensure your community, county and state get the federal assistance they need.

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