In order to help make sure members of the House and Senate stay on track with their work on proposed legislation, we have a set of deadlines each session to keep the process moving. April 11 is the deadline for the various Senate committees and subcommittees to hold hearings and votes on bills that made it all the way through the House. This week we began to see committee work pick up as more of those House bills were available for votes — that’s going to intensify over the next couple of weeks as we approach the committee deadline. After that, we have until April 25 to hold floor votes on the House measures that made it out of committee.
Work on the Fiscal Year 2020 budget, which starts on July 1 of 2019, actually began shortly after the 2018 session ended. Meetings between leaders of both chambers, including our appropriations chairs, and the governor, have been held throughout the session. Budget bills are not subject to the same committee and floor deadlines as policy measures, but it won’t be long before you begin seeing more exact information about the various funding agreements being finalized and voted on.
There’s another internal deadline coming up next week. The president pro tempore of the Senate has appointed members of the Senate to two working groups — one is a caucus working group examining a House proposal on a 4 percent cost of living adjustment for retirees in the state’s seven pension plans. The second is a bipartisan working group looking at the Senate’s confirmation process for executive nominations.
Now that the governor has the power to hire and fire the directors of five of the state’s largest agencies, it is particularly important to revisit the Senate’s confirmation process. It’s a critical check and balance to ensure the best candidates are appointed to those positions. We want to make sure the process is as rigorous and thorough as it should be.
I know we have many retired educators, firefighters, members of law enforcement and other state employees who have gone many years without a cost of living increase. I believe our state retirees deserve a cost of living increase. I know the price of everything has gone up — food, medicine, the cost of keeping a roof over your head — while pensions have remained flat. But we have got to be certain the pension plans can afford it without threatening the stability of those funds.
In the past decade, the Legislature has made great strides in reforming our pension systems to strengthen and improve the funding levels. Just looking at the teachers’ retirement system, in 2011, its funded level was 47.9 percent. Thanks to those reforms, by 2018 it was 72.9 percent. The COLA that’s been proposed for the state’s systems would cost $850 million. We must ensure that any proposed changes to our public retirement systems do not undermine those reforms or threaten the strides we’ve made to ensure those funds will be there now and in the future.
The working groups on both the executive nominating process and the proposed COLAS must report their recommendations to the Senate president pro tempore by April 4.
I am honored to serve you in the Oklahoma State Senate. If you have a question about a legislative matter, please do not hesitate to contact my office at 405-521-5541 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.