By SEAN MURPHY, Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Improving health care, education, infrastructure and the business climate in Oklahoma was to be a priority set by Gov. Kevin Stitt on Monday during his fourth speech on the state of the state.
The first-term Republican, who faces re-election this year, will present his executive budget proposal and deliver his annual address to help kick off the 2022 legislative session. The Legislative Assembly will meet at noon and Stitt is expected to begin his speech around 12:45 p.m.
Stitt said his budget will focus on health care, education, infrastructure and find ways to attract more businesses to the Sooner State.
Although the Legislative Assembly is expected to have a record $10.3 billion to allocate to next year’s budget, about $2 billion more than was spent on the budget of the current year, both Stitt and legislative leaders have said they expect spending to remain relatively stable.
Stitt and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Roger Thompson said they want to keep at least $2 billion in reserves to better position the state for a future economic downturn.
Among the education policy changes Republicans are expected to pursue this year is one that would allow parents to use state education tax money to follow a child to another school. , even a private school. Stitt’s education secretary, Ryan Walters, also embraced a similar proposal. The plan is likely to face extreme opposition from groups representing public educators.
Another contentious issue likely to arise early in the session is that of COVID-19 vaccination mandates. Several Republicans have suggested a ban on vaccination requirements to stop the spread of the disease, even for private employers, to which groups representing Oklahoma businesses and businesses, including the State Chamber, objected. opposites.
“Obviously, this is a hot topic that many members are interested in, so I anticipate it will come up throughout the session,” said Senate Pro Tempore Chairman Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City. “It’s a tough question for people, but I think all of us have a desire to protect individual freedom and the ability for businesses to operate freely in Oklahoma, and we’ll find a balance.”
Another contentious issue likely to stoke divisions among Republicans is further easing state gun laws. The Oklahoma 2nd Amendment Association, a grassroots group that has grown politically powerful in recent years, successfully removed many restrictions on where guns can be carried and on the use of deadly force.
A coalition that includes the State Chamber, an association of state business and industry, as well as the Oklahoma City and Tulsa Chambers of Commerce, said allowing private businesses to ban guns and keeping a gun ban on college campuses in place will be legislative priorities for them this year.
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