Oklahoma Capitol Update With Senator Bill Coleman; Ponca City
Beverly Cantrell - February 10, 2022 8:14 pm
Capitol Considerations by Senator Bill Coleman – The first day of session began with Governor Stitt sharing his legislative agenda. There were some particular areas that will be of great interest to our Senate district.
The Legislature and governor realize the dire situation happening within the medical marijuana industry. Our local counties have been hit hard by illegal grows and black-market activities—a disturbing trend that is being seen throughout the state. Unfortunately, State Question 788 that passed overwhelmingly in 2018 was too vague and has exposed the state to numerous problems. This is a common issue we see in the Legislature even as we’re considering bills. People support an issue, but don’t think about the system needed to institute the idea, the positive and negative impacts of that issue, and the overall financial burden created.
The Legislature has been scrambling trying to address all the unforeseen problems arising from this exploding industry. Foreign entities are buying up farms and land around the state for astronomical prices. Robberies of dispensaries, cases of human trafficking and other related crimes are skyrocketing. Last session, we approved additional funds to put toward policing illegal grows, but there is so much more that needs to be done. Governor Stitt pointed out that perhaps our grower’s license is too cheap at only $2,500, while in California growers can pay upwards of $180,000. We’ve got to figure something out because we have seven times the grows of California, but just one-tenth of their population. Arkansas only has eight licensed grows, but we have an unbelievable 8,300. The math isn’t adding up, and we’re seeing the negative impacts right here in our own backyard.
I was pleased that he emphasized the importance of workforce development. Our state has made tremendous strides recruiting companies offering high-paying jobs with more waiting in the wings, but our employee pipeline is sparce. We need more qualified workers with the training, licensing, or education to meet the demands of these industries flocking to our state. The aerospace and aviation industry is a great example. Tinker Air Force Base has hundreds of engineering and other technical positions and are projecting to add 6,000 to 10,000 more in the next five years, but we don’t have enough students graduating with STEM backgrounds and degrees. Last session, we approved legislation to allow more high school students to participate in apprenticeships to help them get career-ready. This session, there is legislation to allow aviation courses to count for core graduation credits, rather than as electives. There’s also a push to exempt military retirement from state income taxes, helping attract more of these highly trained professionals to settle in our great state. Workforce development is crucial for the sake of our economy and families.
Lastly, I’m for investing more in our transportation infrastructure. Like the governor said, having a modernized transportation system is vital to economic development and tourism. He’s proposing investing an additional $13 billion in transportation over the next 10 years. This could truly change the face of communities, businesses, and tourism around the state.
In closing, there has been some misunderstanding regarding the state grocery tax. Some have said it’s an “elimination” of the tax, but it is actually just an “exemption” of the state’s 4.5% portion of the grocery tax. Local municipalities will still be able to charge their portion of sales tax for groceries. Leadership feels with historic revenues, this is a good time to provide all Oklahomans with some much-needed financial relief, and the grocery tax is one that all families can benefit from.
As always, I’m anxious to hear your thoughts on the governor’s proposals and other bills working their way through the legislative process. You can contact me by calling (405) 521-5581 or emailing [email protected]