In this episode of Capitol Insider, KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley discuss an ongoing effort in Oklahoma to reform occupational licensing. Right now lawmakers are considering making it easier for military spouses and for people with felony convictions to work.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics and policy. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley. Shawn, every year crafting the state budget is the top priority of lawmakers, and it is largely done in secret between the House the Senate and the governor. But the process looks different this year. How is it different?
Shawn Ashley: Well, agencies requested about $1.4 billion in additional spending, and lawmakers do have about $575 million more which they could appropriate. But, rather than applying a strict percentage in terms of how much additional money agencies might get or have cut, or just applying any other across-the-board metrics, they are actually delving into the agencies and coming up with agency-by-agency numbers, according to those involved in the process.
Pryor: So does it look like it may be more transparent this year?
Ashley: It certainly does. First of all, you have more members involved in the process, not just the appropriations chair people, as well as the governor's office. Now, on the other side of that coin, what you do see, as Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd mentioned on Thursday, is that you really don't have Democratic involvement in this process.
Pryor: Lawmakers are reviewing various laws concerning occupational licensing, which impose fees to practice certain professions. Why is this an issue this year?
Ashley: Well, for several years lawmakers have been expressing concerns about fees, and then that began to transform into a look at occupational licensing in particular. Oftentimes these are just paying fees for permission to work. In other cases there are reciprocity issues, particularly for those in the military. Spouses of military members who have moved to the state of Oklahoma they may have a license from another state, but when they move into Oklahoma they would have to start the process all over again. There's legislation this year that would deal with that issue. And this even finds its way into criminal justice reform, where some individuals, because of felony convictions, are prevented from getting licenses for some of the simplest occupations for which licenses are offered. And they're looking at legislation which would eliminate those barriers as well.
Pryor: Licensing, though, is often required because of concerns over health and safety. How are they going to balance that?
Ashley: Well there is the Occupational Licensing Advisory Commission, which has been meeting for a little more than a year to individually examine those and make that determination.
Pryor: These are the things that the legislature deals with every year.
Ashley: They may not seem particularly important in the grand scheme of things like perhaps the budget itself, but for individuals who are trying to find a job and they have skills in a particular area, as some members of the commission pointed out, the licensing requirements can be barriers to entry into a particular field.
Pryor: Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell's nomination to be the Secretary of Tourism and Branding won the approval on Thursday of the Senate Business, Commerce and Tourism Committee and it now goes...His nomination goes to the full Senate for approval. What does he want to do to improve Oklahoma's brand?
Ashley: Lieutenant Governor Pinnell spoke of a couple of issues. One of those was better promotion of tourism both inside out of Oklahoma and outside Oklahoma. In particular, what he pointed to was the fact that tourism is the state's third largest industry behind the energy sector and agriculture. He also pointed out that we have some assets that other states don't have, like Route 66, which he has begun promoting in the state of Oklahoma, as well as agritourism, which he said is one of the fastest growing areas of tourism in the state but is also under-promoted. On the branding side of things he was a little more vague, but he said work is taking place now to come up with a new brand for the state of Oklahoma.
Pryor: In terms of branding, will there be a component of fixing those issues that have had a negative impact on the state's image?
Ashley: Well the plan itself probably will not address various shortcomings that anyone could identify within the state of Oklahoma. But any branding effort has an aspirational element to it. This is what we want Oklahoma to be, and then of course that is what we want people outside of Oklahoma to see.
Pryor: Thanks, Shawn.
Ashley: You're welcome.
Pryor: That's Capitol Insider. If you have questions e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us on Twitter at @kgounews. You can also find us online at kgou.org and ecapitol.net. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.