A big year for lawmakers

House Speaker Charles McCall chats with members of the Garvin County Retired Educators group. (PV Democrat photo)

Lots of new faces and a much smoother session is the way one Garvin County legislator describes this year's term of bills and new laws at the state Capitol.

At the same time, House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, says the recently completed session was a productive one as Oklahoma's financial picture is much brighter than in recent years.

McCall offered some of his thoughts on the 2019 legislative session during a visit with the Garvin County Retired Educators group in Pauls Valley.

For this area McCall is the senior state representative as the other three with a piece of Garvin County were among the large class of brand new members to the House this year.

“They came in, rolled up their sleeves and went to work,” McCall said about the rookie lawmakers.

“The outcome of the first half of the 57th Legislature was very productive. It was the best session of my seven years of service.

“There were significant steps taken in addressing some things we've talked about for years.”

At the top of that list was turning around Oklahoma's recent budgetary struggles.

McCall says the state has gone from deficits in the billions of dollars to a surplus this year of around $600 million with a third of that tucked away into reserves.

“That was the first time we've had a surplus since my first year. It was great being able to do a lot of things that needed to be addressed for some time,” he said.

“Today we have more reserves than at any other time in our state's history.”

One area that got some attention was education.

“I think the most important thing with education and teachers is to get the pay on par with the state's around us.”

One measure approved will pay student teachers as one of the ways to “break down barriers” and attract more students into the education field.

“In education we have some momentum. We just have to build on that,” McCall said.

“Along with teacher pay raises we pumped $70 million into the formula for school funding.”

A bill was passed setting the minimum number of school days at 158 in a year. It's also up to local school officials decide if they want their school district to be a five- or four-day school week.

Two local officials attending the recent meeting agreed the five-day school week is a good thing.

PV school Superintendent Mike Martin says he's a big supporter of the five-day week, while Sherri Wing, president of the PV Chamber of Commerce, says it's a good thing for businesses looking at Pauls Valley.

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Maybe the most hotly contested issue for McCall this session was a bill on fines for trains blocking vehicle traffic in towns for long periods of time.

“There were people who were rabid about this train issue. That was a tough, tough issue. I had to push hard to get that through the Senate.”

He says the train issue has been a big problem between Wynnewood and Davis.

According to McCall, this was one of the issues showing the big obstacles were not really political differences but geography.

“It's not so much Republican versus Democrat. It really falls more down the line of rural and urban. They have different needs. We have had to work together to get things done.”

The speaker says an important thing done during the session was agency reform.

With the changes directors of state agencies and commissioners are to be named by Gov. Kevin Stitt, while appointees to those groups are named by legislators.

“Truly that was transformational. It will benefit the people of Oklahoma for decades.”

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