Wrapping up an unusually tough week at the Capitol, local lawmakers gathered Friday at Gordon Cooper Technology Center to visit with area residents.

Wrapping up an unusually tough week at the Capitol, local lawmakers gathered Friday at Gordon Cooper Technology Center to visit with area residents.

Sponsored by Shawnee Forward, a collaborative partnership between the Greater Shawnee Area Chamber of Commerce and the Shawnee Economic Development Foundation (SEDF), the noon meal entertained more than 70 constituents as state Sen. Ron Sharp, state Rep. Dell Kerbs, state Rep. Josh Cockroft, state Sen. Jason Smalley and state Rep. Zack Taylor offered insight into recent activities at the Capitol.

During the hour-long event, the five lawmakers shared their thoughts and then answered a few questions from the gallery.

Regarding the recent battle to secure funding for teacher pay raises and education, Smalley said though there were elements of the bill no one liked, lawmakers did what they needed to do to get the job done.

As far as some teachers still choosing to walk Monday, he said he's fine with that; they should be involved — whether that be to thank, ask questions of or offer protests to their legislators.

“No one is going to get everything they want; it's a process,” he said. “But we can't be complacent.”

He said this week's action was a step in the right direction.

Taylor talked a little about the gas tax.

“About 40 percent of that is paid by out-of-state travel,” he said. “It has not been adjusted since 1987.”

His take on the $1 cigarette tax was that each year smokers cost Oklahoma households about $700 to $900 in increased health care costs.

“So, I kind of take the approach that maybe we front-load that a little bit, and they pay up front for that.”

He said a lot of Oklahomans are confused about the gross production tax.

“It was an increase on the incentive rate, which was at 2 percent for the first 36 months of a well's life,” he said. “We have now changed that to 5 percent.”

Taylor said there are a lot of people thinking that can somehow be passed on to the consumer.

“That is impossible. There are no producers in this state that own the wells, the refineries and the gas stations,” he said. “The only way that can be passed on is if you have all three.”

Another topic touched on was the hotel/motel tax that was ultimately repealed.

It would have certainly caused the bill's failure, Sharp said.

“We didn't have the votes going in,” Smalley said.

Cockroft said as frustrated as he was to see it repealed, he understood the Senate's position.

At this point, Cockroft said looking at the $40.6 million gap left by the hotel/motel tax repeal is not going to be too difficult to remedy.

“We had a $20 million cushion that will be absorbed into that,” he said. “And when you consider a $6.9 billion budget, in the grand scheme of things $20 million is not much to have to make up for going forward.”

He explained there are several options for filling the hole, such as looking into internet sales tax to capture some of that revenue.

Sharp added ball-and-dice and wind energy also are options.

“Revolving funds can easily make that up,” he said.

Taylor discussed for a few minutes the need for an occupational licensing reform bill to help get former inmates back on their feet.

“We are allowing someone to be trained as a barber in prison, but when they get out they can't get a license,” he said.

That creates recidivism, and that creates a snowball, Taylor said.

“There are too many barriers to reintegration into society,” he said. “We just keep sending people back; we've got to quit that.”

He said it just doesn't make any sense to him.

Shawnee City Commissioner James Harrod said there are rumors of the state planning to build a new prison.

Smalley said if it was to build one, it's going to have to be bonded out.

“I just don't think you probably have a lot of the legislation willing to go into debt,” he said.

He said he understands the need for one, and there's been a request for two — and would like to relocate them.

“And there's also the question of where to relocate,” he said. “We've looked into areas, and all of sudden we're too close to a church camp or school district.”

That in itself will be very interesting, he said.