It’s been a busy week in the Oklahoma Legislature as we have returned to the Capitol to begin the 2022 Legislative Session. The House Majority Caucus began the week by electing a new Speaker Pro Tempore. Representative Kyle Hilbert was selected by our members to replace Rep O’Donnell who resigned his position in January.
Governor Stitt and the Oklahoma Senate joined the House for the State of the State address. The Governor laid out his priorities for this session including further regulating the marijuana industry, making citizen interaction with government service providers easier, more education reform including Education Savings Accounts and training students to join the Oklahoma workforce. He stated, “No new taxes, just more taxpayers”. As a proponent of limited government and a representative of the individual Oklahoman, some of his priorities raise concerns. Governor Stitt certainly has been one of the best governors in the country by stating government should let citizens have the freedom to make their own medical decisions. On the other hand, most governors in our country have set the bar very low.
Based on the governor’s priorities, the questions I will be asking pertain to individual liberty and economic freedom:
Marijuana Industry- The explosion of this industry has caused challenges in many areas across the state including around my neighborhood. Employers have been unable to compete with jobs in the marijuana industry. We certainly have many questions about property rights and about foreigners owning Oklahoma property and about the effects of grow houses on surrounding property. As for restricting the number of state-issued grower licenses, history and an understanding of basic economics suggests this will only exacerbate the problem. Will limiting licenses be a successful solution if the demand for the product shows no signs of slowing? More importantly, would deregulating other industries allow for similar economic explosion in Oklahoma?
Government Services- If interacting with government services is burdensome for Oklahoma citizens, is the answer to expand government services to “help” the citizen; or should it be to reduce the licensure and fee requirements so fewer citizens are in “need” of the government?
Education Reform- Governor Stitt would like to reform education in order to train students for the Oklahoma workforce. He said, “No new taxes; just more taxpayers.” I agree wholeheartedly with “no new taxes”; but should we look to students as providers for the state?
If the disruptions before, during and after Governor Stitt’s State of the State address are any indication, this legislative session is going to be wrought with conflict as the struggle between individual liberty and the administrative state comes to a head. The People of this state are demanding a voice in the decisions being made by their Representatives.
A few House committees began hearing bills this week. I am vice chairman of State Powers. (Last session, this committee was named States Rights. Chairman Steagall requested the name change to better reflect a Constitutional understanding. After all, States have no rights. People have rights.) This committee typically hears important bills seeking to protect Oklahomans from federal overreach. I will mention a couple.
HB3280 by Rep Humphreys will restrict state and federal governments from owning more than 10% of the property in Oklahoma. As the federal government is collecting more land across the country, it is important to keep Oklahoma land available for private development. According to Rep Humphreys, 7% of land in Oklahoma is currently owned by state and federal government.
HB2973 by Rep Olsen will protect the practice known as “conversion therapy”. This bill makes a distinction between conversion therapy and aversion therapy. Conversion therapy is defined as “change efforts” and aversion therapy is defined as therapy causing pain, such as electroshock or other torture to achieve results. This bill protects “conversion therapy” from being banned. Pastors and counselors have been banned from offering conversion therapy to clients in Norman, OK. This bill will supersede that city ordinance and will protect pastors and counselors across the state who are simply offering requested help.
It is truly a blessing that the legislative process is more deliberative than productive. It may slow a few good bills from making it through the process, but it prevents even more bad bills from becoming law.