A senate review by Senator Al McAffrey

Oklahoma State Senator Al McAffrey. Photo by Robin Dorner.

There’s a good possibility that we will be adjourning early this year. The Senate approved the General Appropriations bill Wednesday and sent it on to the Governor and legislative leaders have accomplished everything else that they wanted.

The legislature adjourning early is good news for the state as it will save taxpayers around $27,000 per day that we’re not in session. Constitutionally, we have to adjourn by 5:00pm on Friday, May 31st. We could possibly adjourn on Friday, May 24th, though, saving the state around $108,000.

While I’m happy about this potential savings, I was disappointed that we didn’t have more time to debate the budget. I was especially upset with the fact that the House wouldn’t consider issuing a bond issue to pay for Capitol repairs and other needs. Instead, $120 million will be appropriated in the next two years to fix the building. This isn’t a wise use of our financial resources as interest rates are at historic lows and had we taken advantage of them, we could have diverted that $120 million to common and higher education, both of which desperately need more funding. Hopefully, revenues will continue to climb and we’ll have additional funds next year to help properly fund education in our state.

The Governor has signed nearly 300 bills into law and more are awaiting her signature. Two of the House bills I’m serving as the principal Senate author for were sent to a conference committee and will be voted on this coming week by both chambers. I hope both of these important bills make it to the Governor’s desk.

 HB 1418 will create the Josephine Meade Anti-Hunger Act. The bill directs DHS to adopt rules that will allow patrons of senior nutrition project sites to take home leftover food and requires the State Department of Education to adopt rules to allow the redistribution of leftover food to needy students. The measure also provides that a donor who makes a good-faith donation of food to a charitable or nonprofit organization be required to provide the food source name of all ingredients that could contain major food allergens.

 It was brought to the House author’s attention that schools around the state throw perfectly good food away every day because they don’t believe they are legally allowed to give this extra food to their students. The same problem is happening at senior centers around the state. Oklahoma is one of the hungriest states in the nation and as legislators we must do something to ensure that none of our citizens go hungry especially our children and seniors.

 HB 1623 allows for each school district board of education to adopt a policy on suicide awareness and training and the reporting of student drug abuse. Each board of education may provide school-wide training to all students in grades 9th-12th and staff addressing suicide awareness and prevention. The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services will develop and make available applicable training at no cost to school districts.

 This is another important bill given that Oklahoma also has one of the highest suicide rates in the country, especially among youth. Students are dealing with peer pressure, hormones and the stresses of school and family. To a child, the most minor problems can seem insurmountable, which is why we need to educate them and make them understand that every problem has a solution and nothing is worth taking one’s life. Suicide among youth is also common because they can’t truly comprehend or understand the finality of suicide. As adults, it is our responsibility to protect them and keep them safe even from themselves.

 To learn more about these bills and others, please visit our website at www.oksenate.gov.

If you have any questions or comments, I can be reached by email at mcaffrey@oksenate.gov or by phone at (405) 521-5610. You can also write me: Senator Al McAffrey, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 527A, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105.