There’s a lot happening at the Capitol.  Since session adjourned, we’ve been attending meetings around our districts to talk to constituents about session and new laws as well as issues to be addressed next session. 

            This month, we’ll turn our attention back to the Capitol as interim studies and other legislative meetings start to get underway.  The Senate Pro Tem has approved 72 interim studies and the House Speaker has approved 96.

            Interim studies are assigned to the committees that have jurisdiction over that topic.  For instance, education interim studies are assigned to the education committee while farming interim studies are assigned to the ag committee. It’s now up to the committee chairmen to decide whether to hear the studies or not. If the chairman decides to hear it, then he/she will work with the member who requested the study to plan the date and speakers for the hearing.

            Three of my interim studies were approved.  Two of them deal with charter schools - how they’re funded and the cost per student as well as oversight responsibilities of charter school sponsors. My other study will look at limited liability corporations.

            During session, we don’t have time to research issues in depth.  We have thousands of bills to consider and only have time for a brief description and some debate. This is why interim studies are so important.  Many bills come from interim studies.  They give us the opportunity to call in experts in the field, business owners, private citizens impacted by an issue and representatives from other states to tell us how they’ve addressed an issue.  To pass the most beneficial legislation for Oklahomans, we need to have all of the facts, good and bad, on each issue of interest.

            If a topic is of mass interest, a working group may be created. These include both House and Senate members and usually state agency representatives. We saw this last year to learn more about medical marijuana and how to legalize it in the state.  That study took 13 weeks and testimony from numerous entities. 

            This interim, we’ll be holding a Healthcare Working Group to figure out how best to address the state’s high uninsured rate and increase access to healthcare statewide.  Oklahoma ranks low in many health indicators and it seems many of these could be addressed by providing easier access to high quality healthcare for all Oklahomans and figuring out how to insure more citizens.

As with anything, “better” typically means more money.  Healthcare is extremely expensive so the group will look at the short- and long-term fiscal impacts on the state versus how more funding and access will affect Oklahoma’s overall health outcomes.

            I say it all the time but the state legislature is not the federal government.  When an issue arises and funding is needed, we can’t simply print more money or increase our debt like the feds.  We’re a Balanced Budget Amendment state.  We can only spend the revenue we have available each year. Increasing healthcare services will cost the state millions of dollars.  That money has to be taken away from other state services or new revenue must be created through taxes and fees. 

            For this reason, the working group will be looking at all aspects – how many citizens would be impacted, the cost vs. any cost savings from better health outcomes, possible future changes in federal funding/regulations…and the list goes on and on.

This is an extremely complex issue but one that must be addressed this coming session. Like interim studies, the working group will collect all of the information and data from their meetings and use that to request bills for the upcoming session. 

            Interim studies and the working group are all open to the public.  They’ll also be streamed Live on the Senate website (www.oksenate.gov).  Meeting schedules and agendas will be posted on the website once they’re available.

            In closing, our Senate email server will be down from August 1-6.  If you need to reach me during that time, please call my office. 

            To contact me at the Capitol, please write to Senator Ron Sharp, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 412, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105 or call (405) 521-5539.