Last week was an important milestone for this year’s Legislature, as any bill that had not been passed out of committee by Feb. 28 is now dormant for the remainder of the year. Of the approximately 2,815 bills filed in 2019, only about 1,000 are still “live rounds,” meaning they advanced past last week’s legislative deadline and can still be actively considered. That includes 243 House and Senate bills that directly impact children and families, each of which the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy is actively monitoring.
OICA is also actively assisting in negotiations and legislative work surrounding two key issue areas. First, legislators are working on bills that address school suspensions and – we hope – will emphasize counseling over the use of long, punitive suspensions for students who act out. Banishing children from the classroom for weeks or months at a time can permanently set them back and reduce the likelihood that they succeed in school or beyond.
In addition to school suspensions, legislators also continue their good work on criminal justice reform. Lawmakers should be applauded for continuing to file and advance bills that will help reduce the prison population while ensuring victims receive justice for violent crimes committed against them. OICA is at the table with lawmakers working on both of these issues to provide a voice for children who would be impacted by these changes in the laws.
Unfortunately, some issues which we feel strongly about did not survive “deadline week.” That includes the use of federal dollars to help underwrite health insurance for working-class Oklahomans, and the reinstatement of the Earned Income Tax Credit. Both would have directly helped lower-income families and children. Despite the lack of legislative progress on these fronts this year, we are still hopeful these issues can be addressed through final budget negotiations with Gov. Stitt and the legislative leadership in May.
OICA is also delving into federal policy by encouraging our federal delegation to look at ways to improve government savings plans to benefit the youngest Oklahomans. While current 529 savings plans only provide benefits for older students, OICA would like to see amended language to assist with costs applied to daycare. Not only would this allow people to contribute and save for early childhood programs, but it would improve the quality of daycare curricula across the state for them to qualify for these funds.
We need activists and readers of this column to engage on these issues. If you are not receiving our action alerts, please sign up at oica.org to be immediately updated on when you can make a call or send an email and make a difference on whether a good bill is heard or a bad policy is voted against. Believe it or not, a few phone calls to the office of a lawmaker can oftentimes make the difference on a vote. Legislators infrequently hear from constituents, the people who live in their districts, so five or six calls can sometimes help with the effort to see better policies become law.
OICA has almost 30,000 people signed up to receive our weekly newsletter and advocacy alerts, but we need more of you who are interested in seeing better for Oklahoma’s children to be willing to help with those calls and emails. In addition, your lawmakers appreciate knowing that you are willing to engage and help them make a better-informed decision for policy and that you recognize their effort to vote for better for Oklahoma’s children. Please sign up at oica.org today!