Lawmakers adjourned the Second Regular Session of the 56th Legislature on May 3, wrapping up work three weeks earlier than is statutorily required. Despite the early Sine Die, legislators were able to accomplish some significant policy gains this session. “Sine Die” is the end of session; it is a latin term that means “without day” or adjournment.
The reforms I have the most hope for concern our state’s criminal justice system. My colleagues and I passed nine measures aimed at streamlining our sentencing structure, authorizing bonds to fund repairs at state penitentiaries and creating risk assessment tools. By investing money into the front end of people’s lives, instead of stacking felonies and increasing sentence lengths, Oklahoma should be able to reap millions of dollars in savings.
The Legislature’s hope is to transfer those savings to intervention and diversion programs as well as mental health services. By doing so, Oklahomans will have a better chance of staying out of prison and getting their lives back on track. I’ve heard concerns about these reforms not going far enough, but I know we can all agree these are important steps toward bettering the future of so many Oklahomans.
Of course, the biggest achievement this session was balancing the state budget. As our economy continues to rebound, more money flows into our state’s general revenue fund. When you combine those additional dollars with the revenue measures lawmakers passed this session, our state agencies should feel the difference. These departments have undergone years of funding cuts, and providing them with budgetary increases was a welcome relief. My goal is to properly fund core services without bloating government and do so without waste.
I am keenly aware the money the Legislature doles out belongs to you, the taxpayer. Thankfully, we have developed important checks and balances that should constantly evaluate government spending. The Incentive Evaluation Commission is integral in ensuring the money we spend on tax credits and incentives reap a good return on investment. The Agency Performance and Accountability Commission will be invaluable as lawmakers move toward forming each year’s budget. As those experts relay their findings to the Legislature, we will consider our practices and adjust as necessary. Also, we saw the legislature return to line-item budgeting this year. This is huge because line-item budgeting keeps bureaucrats accountable to the legislature and, ultimately, the people. We are on the right track, but there is still much work to do.
Some people have asked why lawmakers opted to adjourn three weeks early instead of sticking it out through the end of May to continue policy work. The short answer is this – the Legislature absorbed hundreds of thousands of dollars in unexpected cost through both special legislative sessions and other major events that occurred this year. By ending formal session early, lawmakers are saving taxpayer dollars while spending much-needed time back in their districts. Work continues at the local level, and I know we’re all glad to be home for a bit.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need anything. I’m at Marcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7327. Thanks, and may God bless you and this great state.