Oklahoma's Legislative Black Caucus enters 2019 with seven members — its largest total ever — and hopes to build off last year when the group of African-American lawmakers worked to raise their profile and put a spotlight on issues such as criminal justice reform, health care, redistricting and voter suppression. The seven members of the caucus all come from the Oklahoma City and Tulsa area, but Sen. George Young said his caucus traveled last year to black communities outside of the state's two largest cities to give more black residents a voice at the state Capitol. "Last year we tried to get out more into the state and visit the pockets of African-American communities, even if they don't have a black representative," said Young, D-Oklahoma City, the chair of the caucus. The caucus also increased its presence on social media, which included Facebook video interviews with its members and a news conference carried live on the internet to announce success in getting state … [Read more...] about Growing black caucus in Oklahoma Legislature expands its voice
OKLAHOMA CITY – After ranking second-to-last for several years, Oklahoma more than doubled its female representation in the Legislature. Nearly a third of all lawmakers will be women. And for the first time in state history, two caucus leaders will be women: Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd and House Minority Leader Emily Virgin. Female incumbents said they’re looking forward to welcoming in the new members and working in the more collaborative environment they will build. Wyoming has long been the only state with a lower share of female lawmakers than Oklahoma, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. That remained the case for the 2018 Oklahoma legislative session, after a handful of women nabbed seats in special elections. That session, women held about 14 percent of the positions. By contrast, Arizona women held 40 percent of the legislative seats. That state tied for first with Vermont. State Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City, said … [Read more...] about Gender balance shifts in Oklahoma Legislature
Oklahoma lawmakers are celebrating an early end to the 2018 legislative session. There is no question they've made substantial progress in tackling the budget challenges that have plagued the state for the past decade. But much unfinished work remains for future Legislatures. After years of cuts and flat funding, next year's $7.6 billion budget is an increase of over 10 percent from this year's initial budget. Common education's funding was increased 19 percent, which will go to teacher pay raises of $6,100 on average, along with modest raises for support staff and some increased support for school operations. The budget also includes pay raises for state employees, increased funds for health care and human service providers, and some additional money for criminal justice reform. The new funding is partly thanks to a growing economy, but it's also the result of lawmakers from both parties coming together, for the first time in over a quarter-century, to raise taxes. More than … [Read more...] about David Blatt: Oklahoma Legislature still has much work to do
It's hard to find an Oklahoma representative or senator willing to say they're tired of being a legislator, but there are signs of fatigue at the Capitol after 15 months of near-constant session work. Bills that are considered controversial haven't made much of an impact this late in session, although there are some that can still be considered. Democrats and Republicans have agreed to vote together Monday on raising taxes for the second time in a month, this time on wind energy production and without a public showdown. Almost a dozen House lawmakers missed votes on Thursday, suggesting they weren't at the Capitol. One in 10 legislators decided not to run for public office, much less reelection to their Capitol jobs. "I do have a great concern about the fact that we're losing some good members out of frustration," said Tulsa state Rep. Weldon Watson, who is finishing his 12th year in the House and cannot run for reelection because of term limits. "It's just sheer frustration; this … [Read more...] about Is the Oklahoma Legislature feeling political fatigue?
WHILE no votes will be cast for months, 2018 is already guaranteed to significantly change the composition of the Legislature. The combination of term limits and lawmakers choosing not to run again guarantees it. The number of lawmakers facing challengers also suggests further turnover is possible. What remains to be seen is whether new faces translate into an ideological shift or better state management. In the House, 12 seats are open due to term limits. Another seat is vacant. But many seats are open because the incumbent either chose not to run again or sought another office. The rigors of the job have played a role in many lawmakers bowing out early. Legislators have been in session more or less constantly since February 2017 due to multiple, prolonged special sessions. Responding to union pressure, lawmakers approved more than $600 million in tax increases and other revenue measures this year, directing most of that money to large teacher pay raises and increased school funding. … [Read more...] about Next Oklahoma Legislature will have many new faces