It’s the big day!
The CAIR Oklahoma Government Affairs Department has been researching bills, conducting meetings, and working in coalition in preparation for today. Monday, February 6 is the official start of the 59th Legislature, commenced by the State of the State Address by Governor Kevin Stitt.
With legislation already authored and public, many bills have sought to limit the right to medical access, censor education, and infringe further upon civil rights. The beginning of the session (the time period of legislators to meet, discuss bills, and vote) provides the opportunity for advocacy. Many people are already making their voices heard; the Capitol today held several protesters advocating for the rights of the trans community, who have been targeted by many of the bills this session.
Inside the Capitol prior to the State of the State were veteran groups, fellow non-profits, and other advocacy groups meeting with lawmakers. While many planned to attend the State of the State in person, there were ticket requirements prior to that few had heard about. Each legislator was provided one, but even minutes before the start of the session, many did not know where they came from. There was also reduced seating from previous years, with seating options removed.
The idea behind the State of the State is much like the State of the Union conducted by the President. It highlights the actual state (condition) of the nation or state, and then the administration’s upcoming plans.
The very beginning of the address from Gov. Stitt highlighted the achievements in government transparency in the State of Oklahoma. With both lawmakers and constituents struggling to access the legislature, this seems up for debate.
According to the State of the State for Oklahoma in 2023, the state is “the strongest it’s ever been” with replenished state savings, boosted economic growth, more jobs, tax cuts, and investments in infrastructure and education. Gov. Stitt claims all this success is due to maintaining “our conservative principles” of family, faith, freedom, small government and lower taxes”.
Gov. Stitt highlighted three key areas for the upcoming legislative session: Education, business, and freedoms.
Oklahoma currently ranks in the bottom ten of education nation-wide, a ranking which has even decreased in recent years. Gov. Stitt proposes to fund students through school vouchers instead of school systems, performance-based pay for teachers, and creating more schools to rectify this issue. He also wants increased involvement of parents in education.
In a “More of Everything” approach, Gov. Stitt wants to continue upping the appeal for businesses to move to Oklahoma, including proposals for more infrastructure, workforce, development, broadband and internet access. He calls for more university involvement in career placement, and less on diversity, equity and inclusion measures.
His last key focus is all-encompassing, “protecting and promoting Oklahomans’ freedoms.” This includes stronger transparency laws, highway safety, Second Amendment rights, election integrity, vaccine mandates, law enforcement, and more. There were many mentions about faith and family, but these are a homogenous view on what faith and family mean, one that excludes many Oklahoma residents.
What does this mean for us? With fact-checking ongoing from our Government Affairs team, we already know many of these claims of Oklahoma as a Top 10 state are questionable. Furthermore, the Governor made no mention of the housing crisis that affects many Oklahomans, and no mention of the tribal land we live on or of other issues facing our diverse state.
It’s clear that this session will require everyone to use their voice, and advocate for what Oklahomans really need to be Top 10 in.