Oklahoma's 2021 legislative session officially began on organizational day, January 5, but the 58th Oklahoma Legislature returns to begin the bulk of its work on Monday, February 1. That day, Governor Kevin Stitt will provide his priorities for the year ahead and give lawmakers their first glimpse at the executive budget. While the executive budget is largely a ceremonial document, it lays out the governor's proposed guidelines for spending each year. KGOU will present a live broadcast the State of the State address beginning at 12:30 p.m. on Monday, February 1. KGOU's Dick Pryor and Shawn Ashley discuss what to expect in this Capitol Insider.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley. Shawn, the first session of the 58th Oklahoma Legislature resumes Monday at noon with the governor's State of the State address to come at about 12:45. What do you expect him to say?
Shawn Ashley: You know, this year we really don't know. Unlike previous years where governors have had an opportunity to go out during the holidays and at the start of the new year to talk to various groups, because of COVID-19, Governor Stitt did not have that opportunity. And even the Associated Press's annual legislative forum that usually the governor closes out had to be canceled this year. The last time we heard from the governor was back in early January, where he was talking about encouraging school districts to offer in-person classes for students. I suspect that’ll be something we hear as well as his other priorities for the session.
Dick Pryor: The House chamber is normally jam-packed for the State of the State with House and Senate members, the judiciary, cabinet secretaries and other elected officials on the floor. How will seating be handled this year?
Shawn Ashley: Well, first of all, the public will not be allowed into the chamber during the joint session where the State of the State takes place. Instead, all of the seating is going to be utilized in the gallery for some of the members of the legislature, the judiciary, cabinet secretaries and the governor and legislators’ guests. When I was in the chamber on Thursday, much of the area had already been set up or taped off so that social distancing could be observed, significantly limiting the number of seats there.
Dick Pryor: KGOU will be airing live coverage of the State of the State Monday beginning at 12:30. You and I will be part of that program along with Logan Layden. How are members of the news media going to be able to cover it?
Shawn Ashley: Well, that's going to be interesting as well. A total of fourteen reporters are going to be allowed into the House chamber during the State of the State to report on it. Three of those, The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World and the Associated Press were designated in advance. And two lotteries will decide the remaining members of the media who will be allowed to be in the gallery and watch the speech live.
Dick Pryor: We expect the Office of Management and Enterprise Services to release the governor's executive budget for fiscal year 2022 during the speech. How much money is available for appropriation and what are the governor's budget priorities?
Shawn Ashley: Well, Governor Stitt has eight-point-five billion dollars with which to write his fiscal year 2022 budget. Now, that's six hundred and thirty-one million dollars more than was actually spent for the current fiscal year. But nearly two hundred and thirty-four million less than he was working with a year ago to write the fiscal year 2021 budget. We really don't know what's going to be in the budget because much like the State of the State, he has not had an opportunity to talk about what his budget priorities will be. But one thing we do know is that this will be the first budget prepared under the advice of Amanda Rodriguez, the state's first chief financial officer who Governor Stitt appointed back in November. Now, she sort of succeeds former Senator Mike Mazzei, who was secretary of budget, and one of her duties includes working with the governor on the executive budget.
Dick Pryor: More than 3,000 bills and joint resolutions have been filed. Have you been able to identify any themes in the filings?
Shawn Ashley: You know, I've said it before and I'll say it again, particularly when you have more than 3,000 pieces of legislation, there's a little something for everyone among all those bills and joint resolutions that were filed. There are measures, for example, that would make it easier to vote and those that would restrict voting opportunities. There are bills that make it easier to get out of prison, but there are also bills that increase prison sentences or create new crimes leading to imprisonment. There are even proposals to change driver's education and driver's license testing. And one of the larger pieces of legislation that was filed this year updates the state's primary business incentive program, the Quality Jobs Program. Then there are also bills that make it easier to transfer trust or insurance companies to move to the state of Oklahoma. And there's even legislation that would create a Bigfoot hunting season.
Dick Pryor: And, of course, Medicaid expansion is on the table.
Shawn Ashley: Medicaid expansion is going to influence the legislative session in a number of different ways, both from the policy standpoint as well as from the budget standpoint and will probably be one of the big drivers on the budget side of the ledger.
Dick Pryor: Thanks, Shawn.
Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.
Dick Pryor: And that's Capitol Insider. If you have questions, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us on Twitter @kgounews and @ecapitol. You can also find us online at kgou.org and ecapitol.net. Join us on KGOU Monday at 12:30 for the State of the State. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.