As of midnight, Kris Steele is free from the obligations of legislative service to the state of Oklahoma, as his term as Speaker of the house officially ended.
Steele addressed the Shawnee Rotary Club on Tuesday and discussed his accomplishments and disappointments he experienced after 12 years in the legislature, two of which were spent as Speaker of the House.
The legislature tried to create an environment that is more conducive to job growth and creation by advancing lawsuit and worker’s compensation reform among many other policies, Steele said.
“Another issue that I think is directly related to creating that economic environment that is going to allow us to reach our potential is making sure that we take care of our transportation infrastructure,” he said. “For years our roads and bridges were neglected.”
Another area where the state has improved and saved taxpayer money is government modernization.
“We consolidated about five different agencies that had, in essence, the same or similar function and in the process we saved the … taxpayers of Oklahoma about $10 million, and improved customer service in the process,” Steele said.
During his time in office, Steele said legislators made improvements in other priority issues like education, state pension reform, DHS reform, and correction reform, which was a personal issue to Steele, he said.
Currently, the state’s prisons are 99 percent full, and altogether the state currently has 26,438 prisoners. It costs around $24,000 a year to hold those prisoners. Despite the number of people incarcerated, Oklahoma’s violent crime rate has increased over the last 10 years, Steele said.
“So, for all the money that we are spending and all the people that we are incarcerating, we are not getting the results that we need to get as far as public safety is concerned,” he told the crowd.“ Oklahoma incarcerates women at roughly three times the national average per capita, and to combat the problem, legislators past a “justice reinvestment initiative,” Steele said.
There were some disappointments where legislators fell short during Steele’s time in office, he said.
While not a fan of the Affordable Health Care Act, Steele did say there were some elements in it that would benefit the state. The state’s inability to set up its own exchange, which will allow the federal government to set it up for the state instead, was something that disappointed Steele.
Page 2 of 2 -
“We can fight about it all you want, but we are about to get exactly what we don’t want in the state of Oklahoma,” Steele said. Steele, who is stepping down due to term limits, said there were pros and cons to term limits, but ultimately he is ready to move on.
“If you listen really closely at 12:01 [last night], you’ll hear me hollering the powerful words of the effective and valuable civil rights leader of yesteryear ‘free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, free at last,’” Steele said.