OKLAHOMA CITY — Democrats in the Oklahoma House of Representatives announced a four-point legislative agenda Monday, calling for full Medicaid expansion, a reform of the state’s cash bail system, increased spending on education and the restoration of the Earned Income Tax Credit.
The proposal – named A Brand New State Plan – was announced Monday during a press conference at the state Capitol.
The Democrat’s leader, state Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said state classrooms remained overcrowded and far too many people don’t have access to health care. “It’s because of those Oklahomans that we’re putting forth this agenda,” she said. Virgin said all 23-members of the House Democratic caucus helped craft the proposal.
State Representative Melissa Provenzano, D-Tulsa, said Democrats want to increase per pupil spending to the highest in the region and ‘reinvigorate’ the teacher pipeline. She said Democrats would also push for increased funding for school counselors, a student borrowers bill of rights and the development of a more accountable A-F system to evaluate public schools.
“We have a plan for education that puts Oklahoma children first,” she said. “A well trained, experienced teacher makes the single biggest impact in the educational experience of a child.”
Provenzano said Democrats want changes to the A-F school evaluation system so the state doesn’t “hang a questionable letter grade or a child or a community.”
Oklahoma City Democrat Collin Walke said his caucus heard the message sent by voters with the passage of state questions 780 and 781. He said House Democrats would push to increase state funding for programs such as Drug Court and Mental Health Court. Expanding those programs, he said, would save taxpayers $15,000 per participant and would allow the state to invest the savings in the court system.
Walke said the current system of court financing using fines and fees has left Oklahoma’s judicial system with $600 million in delinquent debt over the past six years.
“Wealth,” he said. “Should not decide justice.”
Representative Mickey Dollens, D-Oklahoma City, said Democrats filed 17 bills to raise strengthen the economy. He said the caucus would push for an increase in the state’s minimum wage, a permanent cost of living adjustment for retirees and restoration of the Earned Income Tax Credit.
“At the end of the day Oklahomans just want to know that they can pay their bills, put food on the table, spend time with their families and know that they can progress forward up the ladder,” Dollens said.
Representative Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City, said Democrats want to accept Medicaid Expansion through the proven, tradition method. Bennett also called for full funding for mental health and substance abuse prevent and legislation that would lower the cost of prescription drug costs.
Had Oklahoma embraced Medicaid expansion when it was originally offered eight years ago, he said, the state would have more than $3.5 billion to put into communities for better health care. “We have waited far too long along with hundreds of thousands of frustrated Oklahomans for that long-promised Oklahoma solution to come along,” he said.
Oklahomans, Bennett said, have waited while 36 other states have improved their health outcomes. He said straight Medicaid expansion “was the quickest and most efficient way” to improve health care in Oklahoma.
“We’ve watched 36 other states implement it and see success,” he said. “What we don’t know is how successful the block grant model will be. We don’t know if it will meet the same standard but all available information suggest that it will not.”
Bennett said Democrats didn’t want the state’s poor to be used as test subjects. “We simply cannot afford to use our state’s most vulnerable population as test subjects in the newest latest Washington D.C. effort to gut health care protection,”
Along with the high cost of prescription drugs, many Oklahomans struggle with substance abuse and addiction, he said. Bennett said the state needs to provide more services for mothers and infants.
“Oklahoma loses a mom every month and a baby every day,” he said. “Our infant mortality rate is among the highest in the nation. We have said it before and we’ll say it again: The difference between being pro-life and pro-birth is how we treat those moms once their babies are born. In Oklahoma we have a long way to go.”
State lawmakers have until May 29th to finish their work.