The First Session of the 58th Legislature is finally upon us, and the Senate, House and governor are going to have to work together to address some pressing issues in our state, many stemming from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
In my opinion, the biggest crisis we will address is funding Medicaid expansion that was passed by Oklahoma voters last June when State Question 802 was approved. While we are dealing with a shaky economy, we will need to determine the best way to fund expansion, which will cost the state anywhere from an estimated $160 to $247 million. I have been communicating with hospital administrators to determine how to achieve the best outcomes for our Medicaid population, and I’ll continue to include these groups in the conversation as we explore different sources of revenue for expansion. I am opposed to raising taxes on hard-working Oklahomans to fund Medicaid.
While we are determining how to fund expansion, we also must ensure we are adequately funding our core services like education, public safety and transportation. I’m specifically focused on ensuring education is funded at a level to keep the advancements we’ve made in previous sessions, like teacher pay, in place. We also must address the learning loss that’s happened across the state—trying to remediate our students and get them back to grade level following the pandemic may be a challenge in some districts.
I’ve filed seven bills for consideration this session and am looking to sign on as a co-author for a handful of other Senate and House bills once language is finalized. Three of my bills are re-filed from last session. These bills passed in the Senate, but never made it to the House due to the shortened legislative session last year. Senate Bill 339 would require seatbelts for passengers 17 years old and younger in the backseat of a vehicle; SB 335 would allow cemetery associations to resell a cemetery plot if there’s been no contact with the owner of the plot in 75 years; and SB 142 would allow a school to accept an out-of-state student free of charge if the local board does not object. Since the student is out-of-state, the school would not receive state funding for the child, either., I’ll share more details of my other bills as they work through the legislative process.
As we move forward with the pandemic, vaccine distribution is a top priority. If you’d like a vaccine, please visit www.vaccinate.oklahoma.gov to register for the shot. You’ll fill out a short questionnaire to gather your background and health information to determine if you’re immediately eligible to receive it. If you are, you’ll be able to access the portal to schedule an appointment. Appointments are limited based on supply and fill extremely fast, so please continue to check the portal if no slots are immediately available. If you aren’t eligible to receive the vaccine at this point, you’ll be notified by email once you are. Health care workers, first responders and Oklahomans 65 years old and older are currently able to get the vaccine. We’ve been told that vaccines will be opened up to teachers this month.
My office has still been diligently working to assist constituents with unemployment claims, and we’ve also been receiving calls about driver’s license issues. Please be assured I’m working with all parties necessary to find solutions to these problems. I’ve also received many emails and calls regarding several of President Biden’s executive orders. There is now legislation being presented this session regarding social issues that I thought would never need to be proposed. If you’re interested in looking up any bills that have been filed, you can do so at www.oklegislature.gov.
We held a redistricting town hall meeting in Enid last month, and I’d like to thank all of those who attended. Redistricting will be an important matter we address this legislative session, and I was proud to see so many constituents get involved with the process.
Finally, I’d also like to send my deepest condolences to the Waynoka community for the firefighters and family that died in the terrible housefire last week. I’m praying for all those impacted by this tragedy.
I’m thankful to serve in the Oklahoma State Legislature. These are difficult times in our country, and I’m hopeful Oklahoma can lead the way and be an example for civil democracy. Please pray for our nation. If there’s anything I can help you with, please contact me at 405-521-5630 or via email at Roland.Pederson@oksenate.gov.