Capitol Considerations by Senator Bill Coleman
Senator Bill Coleman-Ponca City-District 10 - May 31, 2022 11:27 pm
Senator Bill Coleman-Ponca City
After months of work, we adjourned session on Friday, May 27 as our state’s constitution requires. With so many people involved, we never quite get everything accomplished that we want, but we got really close this year. Overall, I’m very happy with what policies and reforms we were able to get to the governor’s desk.
As I mentioned last week, one of our greatest accomplishments, thanks to our state’s soaring revenues, is the $32.5 million appropriation to the state Department of Human Services (DHS) to address the current waiting list for developmental disability services (DDS). DDS serves Oklahomans ages 3 and up who have a primary diagnosis of intellectual disabilities. These individuals may also have other developmental disabilities like autism, cerebral palsy, or Down syndrome, among others. Oklahoma uses the federal definition of developmental disabilities and also adds that someone must have a primary diagnosis of intellectual disabilities to qualify for DDS.
Currently, there are around 5,000 Oklahomans waiting for in-home or community-based services, including children who have been on the waiting list most of their lives. These services are critical for these individuals to live full, productive lives. Their skills and abilities can be developed through individualized education, job training, and specialized therapies such as physical, occupational and speech therapies. Having this type of support can improve how they function on a daily basis. While support from family and friends is vital, it’s also important that they have access to services like DDS. For more information about developmental disabilities or available services in Oklahoma, call (405) 521-6267 or toll free (866) 521-6267.
Some other major victories include the creation of Service Oklahoma that will drastically transform our state’s tag agency system. This reform will create a franchise system where all tag agencies will offer the same services and hours of operations, so no matter where you go in the state, the agency you choose will be able to meet all of your needs, including faster driver’s license services.
We also worked hard on addressing employment shortages, especially for nurses and teachers. Legislation was signed to provide $55 million in grants to 20 colleges, universities and CareerTechs to help these institutions expand existing nursing programs, create new ones, or provide scholarships or other incentives to nursing students. Some institutions close to our district that will be participating in this program include Connors State College, Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, Northeastern State University, Northwestern OSU, Rogers State University and Tulsa Community College. Each institution will be allowed to decide how best to use their funds to produce nursing graduates. Funds will also be provided to Care Providers Oklahoma, which offers workshops, training and professional development for long-term care nurses and administrators. Oklahoma was already facing a critical shortage in nurses before the pandemic and it’s even worse now. We must help our students see what an incredible career opportunity this can be.
We also passed the Oklahoma Future Teacher Scholarship and Employment Incentive Program that will provide scholarships to students in college pursuing a teaching career. Those who agree to teach in Oklahoma for at least five years would get a $1,000 annual scholarship their first three years and $2,500 their final year. After graduating, teachers in good standing with their local district could receive up to a $4,000 annual incentive bonus for up to five years. Hopefully, this $25,500 financial incentive will make a career in teaching more appealing. Work on this program will begin in July.
There are so many exciting opportunities and programs coming to grow our economy, and I’m anxious to see them get started.
You can contact me by calling (405) 521-5581 or emailing [email protected].