Melissa is a lifelong Tulsa area native, married mom to two and stepmom to two. As a graduate of Northeastern State University with a BS in Organismic Biology and University of Oklahoma with a MEd in Educational Leadership, Melissa honed her commitment to improving the lives of her fellow citizens by becoming an educator. First, as a Biology teacher at Will Rogers High School, then as an administrator at Booker T Washington High School, Hale Junior High, and Bixby High School. As a legislator, Melissa continues to bring this same commitment and voice, advocating for the families of Tulsa at the state capitol.
Current appointments: Democratic Education Policy Chair State Director, Women In Government (National) Emerging Legislative Leaders – Darden School of Business Committees: House Common Education Committee House Appropriations and Budget on Common Education Joint Committee on Administrative Rules County and Municipal Government Service Oklahoma Tag Agency Task Force Melissa was also recently awarded as the Oklahoma Educator’s Association Legislator of the Year. The OEA is a bipartisan organization dedicated to teacher and student advocacy in our public education system. Restoring the Teacher Pipeline Our teacher shortage crisis continues to deepen, and will get worse as teachers who have held off retiring begin to leave over the next 1-2 years. 17% of the teachers in our state are eligible to retire now, today. We must restore the teacher pipeline through our universities, who are experiencing a drop in enrollment. Studies across the nation clearly demonstrate that the best teachers for our children are those university trained professionals.
Access to Health Care The charge to ending surprise medical billing has begun, but there is still much work to do. Supporting Small Business Small businesses make America. Easy to understand tax laws, as well as support for funding entrepreneurs and start-up companies, are critical. Recovery from the pandemic has begun and is in full force, but we must continue to encourage and support Green Country start-ups big and small!
Education Funding Accountability for abuse of taxpayer dollars used for education was a focus for 2021 and 2022. I am proud to say I have been a part of holding private companies responsible for education dollars they have hidden and misused. We have put guardrails in so those companies will not take advantage of money that belongs to the taxpayer. We will need to remain vigilant in our pursuit to have those funds returned, and to ensure Adequate funding for supplies, textbooks, and technology is a critical need for all Oklahoma classrooms.
Last session the State Legislature made an excellent start in turning education funding around in our state. We must protect this budget in the coming year, and ensure that we spend those funds in the most efficient and effective way, and special interest must be shown the door.
Criminal Justice Reform Many defendants who have served their time in jail spend the next several years paying off fines and fees incurred while incarcerated. They often have to make tough choices between providing for their families or paying off these fees, which often lands them back in the system. We can do better. We should: Disclose to defendants the total amount of fines, costs and fees before they accept a plea deal. Determine the defendant’s ability to pay, and offer community service in lieu of fees if they are not able. Bail reform that is fair and feasible for defendants.
Social Equity Discrimination in any form is not acceptable. All voices matter and have merit. Opinions, lifestyles, and backgrounds may differ, but working together to find common ground unites us as one.
Quality of Living and Workplace Oklahomans have the right to earn a fair living wage that allows them to invest in a secure retirement while still putting food on their table each day and night.
School Choice School Choice is the right of every parent. With our tax dollars, we must demand transparency in spending as well as equal access for all in every public school setting, be it charter, virtual charter or brick and mortar. Parent choice is alive and well in our public schools, serving over 700,000 students and their families across the state. Every child deserves the same fair access in the setting that suits them best. (Read More)
What is the role of government in protecting public health and welfare?
Government has a responsibility in providing needed resources to ALL citizens. There are times when some need more help that others, and it is our responsibility to determine the best focus for our efforts for efficient use of taxpayer dollars, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or otherwise. When a community as a whole is healthy, a community thrives.
What are your views on individuals being able to safely and securely access sensitive medical procedures in privacy and without interference from the state?
Government does not belong in the conversation between an individual and their doctor when making decisions about health care. Patient care is best determined by those with the training and background to make the best decisions for an individual. The HIPAA privacy rule is meant to protect a patient from having their sensitive, identifiable medical information shared without consent. Of chief concern are recent developments in women’s care (Roe v. Wade), which place this right to privacy at risk. In Oklahoma specifically, physicians face some of the toughest and most punitive laws pertaining to women’s health care. If re-elected, I will fight to protect the right to privacy in patient care for doctor and patient alike.
What measures will you take to ensure that every Oklahoman has the chance to participate meaningfully in the democratic process?
There are a variety of ways in which voter education and access has come under attack in the last few years. In 2019 we successfully developed emergency processes (pandemic-related) to allow more remote voter access via easier absentee ballot procedures, which we now are working to make permanent. Additionally, we also won the effort to be able to do something as simple as providing a stamp to individuals to help them mail in their absentee ballot or voter registration form. In Oklahoma, we have about 2 million registered voters. Around half of those (or less) vote in any given election, largely due to voter apathy and the belief that “their vote doesn’t count.” Voter education and civic responsibility must take the forefront of our efforts, even in non-election years. Many races are decided by very small percentages of a community.
How can we make voting more accessible to Oklahomans?
There are many ways we can make voting more accessible to Oklahomans. The first step is to finally implement the online voter registration access passed into law several years back. Second, expand absentee voting options by permanently removing the notary requirement once identity is established, as well as adding more days and locations across Oklahoma for early in-person absentee voting. Many other states use secure ballot drop boxes for voters to return ballots. Ultimately, examine efforts of other states that have been successful in increasing voter turnout: ranked choice voting, open primaries and more could motivate an apathetic population of voters and promote the belief that each vote counts.
Many Oklahomans experience discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and other factors; how would you address these problems as an elected leader?
I consistently stand up to and fight this type of discrimination in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, either in committee or on the floor. In 2021 I stood up to debate against HB1775, which is causing much controversy across our state as we speak. I have fought back against restrictive library book rating systems and promoted parent involvement in selecting the types of books and resources our children access. This right belongs to the parent – not the government. We have students in our school systems who subjected to bullying because they do not look a certain way or fit a certain mold. I regularly fight back against bills that further marginalized these children and will continue to do so. We will be filing bills this coming session to repeal and undo much of the harm that has been caused and will support legal efforts by our community to overturn these laws because of their discriminatory nature.
What measures will you take to ensure that First Amendment rights to freedom of religion, speech, protest, and press are protected from infringement?
We must keep these unconstitutional bills from ever coming to the floor. Success in fighting such things comes most often by connecting with civic organizations that work outside the capitol building who can engage the community and reach out en masse to their individual legislators to voice concern and opposition for such measures.
How can our current criminal legal system be reformed to better protect the rights of all persons involved?
In Oklahoma, sentence length for felonies varies from county to county for the same crime. Fair sentencing reform, regardless of race, gender or ethnicity across all counties must be addressed.
What steps would you take to adjust or reform our criminal legal system?
In addition to supporting the measure above (see #7), our fines and fees structure in Oklahoma is oppressive. Our fines and compounding fees structure must be reformed to be more fair and equitable. Fees and fines can follow a person for years and keep them from investing in their lives in many other ways – buying a home, a car, obtaining more education.